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Twin Skeletons

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Fall Semester, 9th Grade

It started off almost normal.

They had Health class together.

“Hey,” Georgia said, poking him in the back so Connor whipped around fast. “Remember me?”

It took him a second to place her. The summer had been weird and full of forgetting, and for just a second Connor didn’t know who she was or why she would be talking to him. When he placed her, he stared. For a full fifteen seconds. “I thought you were moving,” Connor said stupidly. That’s what she’d said last time he saw her.

“I was,” She shrugged. “Now I’m not. My mom’s shitty boyfriend or whatever… it doesn’t matter. I’m stuck here now with my dad.”

“Sucks to be you,” Connor said. He didn’t know why. Like what the fuck was wrong with him, saying something like that to like the only person who bothered to be nice to him all last year? He was seriously just operating on asshole mode.

“Tell me about it,” She said, grinning a little. “What lunch period do you have?”

Connor told her he was in B lunch.

“Thank god, please sit by me. The only other person I know in this whole fucking place is in A lunch.”

Georgia was smiling at him. Like. Smiling.

What the fuck.

Connor stared. “Sorry, what?”

She was like… smiling and looking at him, like just fucking looking at him, and it was freaking him out. “Lunch. Sit with me. Or let me sit with you, if you like, already have people to sit with.”

“Why would I have anyone to sit with?” He said flatly.

Georgia shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe you know people from other middle schools or whatever. Met someone at summer camp. Sit with your weed guy.”

Connor glared at her. Georgia glared back.

“Fine. I’ll sit with you.”


 

Before long, Georgia Stern was just… a part of his daily life. They took the same school bus, sat together at lunch and in Health class, hung out in the library during study hall.

Smoked weed together sometimes too. After school. They’d stick around Central’s campus, getting high and taking the late bus home, until one day Georgia said that he should just come over to her place after school since her dirtbag dad wouldn’t be around.

It was weird.

He thought it was weird. Hanging out with her and whatever. He didn’t know what the fuck this thing they were doing was, but it beat sitting in his bedroom thinking about killing himself, so he said he’d go to Georgia’s house after school.

Connor texted his mom to say he was going to a friend’s house after school. She responded with about a hundred questions, about who this person was and if their parents would be around and blah blah blah before finally telling him he should be home by ten at the latest. Since it was a school night.

He wished he hadn’t bothered to text her.

He met Georgia at their usual bus seat, and got off with her at her stop. A few stops before his, one neighborhood over. Some asshole kid in the back was playing a trombone and Connor found himself briefly distracted by Brian Harris starting to say something idiot in his direction before Georgia yanked his hoodie sleeve, pulling him toward the front. The moment she got off the bus, Georgia’s hand went into her messenger bag, and she pulled out a beat up pack of cigarettes.

“Want one?”

“Please.” His dad had found the last pack he had a few nights before and trashed them, telling Connor to “get his shit together” but not telling his mom for some reason. Connor planned to buy more when he got his allowance in a few days. And some weed.

They lit up, and Georgia led Connor down the block a bit, past a number of small houses with dull siding.

“Oh hang on, I need to say hi,” She said suddenly, pointing ahead a little before sort of jogging a bit and shouting “HEY HANSEN!”

Connor choked on his inhale. Georgia was friends with Evan Hansen? He knew she knew him from last year and whatever, but he didn’t think they were like… friends.

Literally who the fuck was this girl?

Evan, who was hunched over and gripping his backpack like a parachute, whipped around and then gave a sort of half hearted wave to Georgia. Georgia beckoned Connor forward, and he walked slowly in their direction.

He didn’t really know Evan, exactly. They’d sort of hung out at Jared’s once in the seventh grade, and Connor had signed Evan’s shirt at Field Day last year, but their interactions had been limited and mostly awkward.

“Oh, um, h-hey Connor.”

Georgia beamed like she had assembled some sort of dream team. “Evan, do you wanna come over and get high with us?”

His face paled considerably. “Oh, um. N-no thanks? My mom is, she’s uh gonna be home kinda earlier today and I don’t, um, really, um, smoke or whatever, but thanks, yeah. Thanks.”

“He’s so cute,” Georgia said. “Isn’t he cute Connor?”

He blinked. “Adorable,” he said, taking a drag on his cigarette. He didn’t know what the fuck was going on here.

Evan’s face flamed red. “Are you… you’re making fun of me?” He said, weakly, like he was trying to get in on the joke.

“With love,” Georgia said, pinching Evan’s cheek. “Well we’ll catch you later. Text me if you wanna hang out this week, yeah? This honors geometry shit is no joke.”

“Um, y-yeah.”

“Bye Evan,” Georgia called, waving and pulling out a comically large set of keys from her bag, steering Connor toward a sad looking brown house with the blinds drawn. She dropped her cigarette into a flower pot filled with cigarette butts, and so Connor did the same.

Connor couldn’t help but feel… weird about Georgia being friends with Evan. Like. That had worked out so well last time.

Georgia kicked open the front door, saying with a lackluster wave of her hand, “Welcome to Casa de Stern.”

Inside the place was… dark. Kind of musty smelling. The blinds were all drawn and there were empty food bowls on the coffee table in the living room.

It was nothing like Connor’s parents’ pristine foyer and cream colored walls.

He sort of liked it.

“Let’s go in my room.”

“Okay.”

The only girl’s bedroom Connor had ever been in before was Zoe’s. Everything in her room was pastel pinks and purples and she had posters of pretty boy pop artists on the walls and shit.

Georgia’s room was nothing like Zoe’s. In the far corner, Connor could see what looked like pale pink floral wallpaper that had been ripped off the walls. The rest were covered in overlapping posters, magazine pages, and drawings. Her bed was just a mattress on the floor, shoved into a corner, with crumpled up purple blankets at the foot of the bed. There were clothes scattered across the floor and a bong on her dresser. The only space that was devoid of cluttered decorations was the wall by the door. It was painted green, and there was a mural of zoo animals on the back of the door.

“Ignore the weird painting. I got really high over the summer and thought about freeing all the animals from their cages.”

“That’s… legit,” Connor said. He sort of waited in the doorway until Georgia gave him the okay to have a seat on the bed. She grabbed the bong and her stashed and had a seat beside him. It was weird, her being so physically close. He could move his elbow to the right an inch or two and nudge her if he wanted.

That was weird.

He watched as she packed a bowl and took the first hit off the bong.

She passed to him. He took a hit.

They were quiet for the first few turns, but then Georgia laughed and announced she had bong burps and then sort of fell over laughing.

“What the fuck,” Connor said, laughing too.

Georgia was sort of… just laughing and lying on the bed. On her back. Her shirt had ridden up a little, and he could see a bit of her pudgy white belly. Her boobs seemed to be in danger of escaping her bra and smothering her. Connor snorted, wondering if anybody had ever been smothered by their own boobs before. Like was that physically possible? Death by boobs?

“Gross, are you checking me out?” Georgia said, laughing.

Connor felt the back of his neck heat up. “No. I-”

“You super were,” Georgia said, sitting up, still laughing. “You were looking at my boobs!”

“No, I fucking wasn’t,” Connor said, clenching his hands into fists, thumb outside, jaw clenched too. This wasn’t funny. “I wasn’t.”

“I get it, they’re nice boobs-”

“Fuck off, I wasn’t looking at your fucking boobs.”

Georgia stopped laughing. “Shit, I was just giving you a hard time.”

“Well fuck you then,” Connor said, standing up, grabbing his bag from her floor, heading toward the door.

“Sorry, hey, wait,” Georgia called, racing to cut him off at the front door. “Don’t leave. Like. Just stay, okay, I’m sorry. I was being an asshole, I was just giving you shit… I…” She sorta looked down at her feet for a second. “Most guys who come over here just want to fuck me.”

Connor crossed his arms over his chest. “So?”

“I… Well I’m kind of a slut, honestly,” She said, shrugging. “Or at least that’s what everyone at school tells me.”

“Are you?” Connor asked.

Georgia shrugged. “Maybe. I dunno. Sorry, though. I was just… being a bitch.”

“Whatever.”

“Please stay. I’ll order pizza or something?”

“Jesus you really don’t want me to leave do you?”

Georgia shook her head kind of anxiously. “Please. I’m so fucking baked and if you leave I’ll probably get all paranoid and blow up your phone being like convinced the aliens are going to take me.”

Connor set his bag down. “They are though. The aliens.”

“Oh fuck you,” Georgia said. “What do you want on your pizza?”


 

Connor didn’t care for his birthday. Hadn’t in a long time… probably around the time he decided he would really rather be dead.

The Friday before, Connor vaguely asked his mom if it was okay if he asked his friend Georgia to suffer through dinner with them. When he was younger they were always told to bring a friend along to dinner. Zoe still did - her birthday was a few weeks back and she brought some girl named Madison along to some stupid-fancy sushi place downtown.

Connor had stopped bringing anyone along after he and Brian Harris stopped talking.

But his mom’s face went all stupid soft and weird and she said that of course he could bring Georgia to dinner and that he should pick anywhere that he wanted to go.

It was stupid, he realized, to get excited about something like turning fifteen. Especially when fourteen was the year he officially threw in the towel. But Connor said that maybe they should do pizza for dinner and then rushed off to the bus stop.

Georgia wasn’t on the bus. Which was weird, but not that weird. Sometimes her dad dropped her off or whatever.

Evan slid into the seat beside him (the bus was sometimes packed and they’d pack all three of them into the seat). “Hey.”

“Hi.”

“It’s…” Evan made a face that Connor supposed might be a smile. “Your birthday’s tomorrow?”

Connor stared at him. “How…?”

Evan flushed scarlet. “I just. I’m. We had the same class a few years ago and you…” He pointed to Sabrina Patel in the back, wearing a tiara and a sash. “You and Sabrina Patel have the same birthday.”

“Oh. Yeah. Our moms used to coordinate treats.”

“Yeah. You brought in strawberry shortcake once.”

Connor nodded.

“Jared’s tongue swelled up. He’s, uh, he’s allergic to-to strawberries but he ate it anyway.”

“Dumbass.”

Evan kind of smiled at him. Connor kind of smiled back.


 

Georgia didn’t show up for Health class. Connor tapped his pen against his desk anxiously. He was an idiot. Why did he ask his mom about bringing Georgia anywhere? Why did he do that? He was fucking stupid.

She wasn’t here. She just didn’t show and she hadn’t texted him when he texted her earlier. He kept checking and checking and checking and she wasn’t going to fucking text him back. Probably, ever, honestly.

She didn’t like. Like him or want to hang out. She wouldn’t want to come to his stupid fucking birthday. Why did he say anything, why did he say anything to his stupid mom? Fuck, fuck, fuck.

He was an idiot.

She didn’t want anything to do with him, clearly. Why would she? He was horrible. He was boring and weird and didn’t have any friends and skipped classes and he was an asshole a huge asshole who broke things, broke jaws, and obviously Georgia wouldn’t want to come to his idiotic birthday dinner.

Fuck.

Fuck.

Connor checked his phone again. And again. Fifteen times in as many minutes.

He broke down and texted her again asking if she could please please please text him back.

By lunch, Connor had chewed his fingernails until they bled. He hid out in the library because he wasn’t going to risk the cafeteria alone.

“Georgia I get if you’re sick or whatever but will you please text me back.”

“Did I like do something to piss you off?”

“Are we done then? Are we just done?”

Connor never heard back. He felt sort of sick to his stomach for the rest of the day, his head pounding, his throat itching like he might throw up. He rode the bus home again and in a super weird and desperate move, got off with Evan muttering something lame about Georgia’s Health assignment.

He nodded. Then said, “I um… Well. Happy birthday tomorrow.”

Connor nodded because he didn’t want to talk to Evan right then. “Yeah, thanks.”

He noticed Evan kind of looking back at him when Connor turned up Georgia’s driveway, but he didn’t wave to acknowledge it.

He walked nervously up onto Georgia’s porch and knocked softly on the door.

And waited.

After a few minutes, Connor knocked louder. Maybe she hadn’t heard. Maybe she was watching tv and not checking her phone, maybe she was sick or something, maybe if he kept rationalizing this in his head he’d stop assuming she hated him so much that she up and transferred schools.

Because that was crazy right?

There was no answer. Connor felt like he had been punched in the stomach. Fucking stupid, fucking stupid.

Now he had to go home and make up a lie about why Georgia wasn’t coming with to his stupid dinner and Zoe was going to laugh at him from across the table for being a loser who had no fucking friends and. Fuck.

He had to walk all the way home.

Connor felt stupidly betrayed. Like how dare Georgia just drop off the face of the planet.

Fuck her. Fuck her for making him feel like he had a friend, fuck her for making him feel this idiotic and look bad in front of his mom who was going to suggest in that way too patient voice that maybe he call someone else to go to dinner even though they both knew full well that there was nobody else.

He smoked on his way home and on the walk he kept sort of idly hoping that maybe a car would skid off the road and hit him.

Connor’s mom was waiting excitedly to tell him she had booked a reservation for five at the restaurant he had picked out this morning in a fit of utter insanity.

Connor bit his lip and then said, “Maybe… could you call them back and make it… just four?”

Connor hated the way his mom’s face crumpled, like a ball of paper, just for a second. “Sweetie what happened? Did you two have a fight?”

He shrugged, like this was no big deal. “Georgia wasn’t at school today? And like, I texted her and didn’t hear back so… I dunno maybe she’s sick or something?”

Sick of me, Connor thought.

Some of the light came back to his mom’s eyes. “Maybe she’s under the weather. I’m sure she’ll text you. I bet she’s just not looking at her phone. I’ll give her dad a call, how about that? See what’s going on?”

That felt babyish and stupid to Connor who was twelve hours shy of being fifteen but at this point he was kind of convinced Georgia had fled the state in an effort to avoid him, so he agreed to let his mom call. She left a message for Mr. Stern on their voicemail and Connor chewed on his cuticles at the kitchen table.

His mom swatted his hand.

A very momlike move that Connor super wasn’t expecting so he recoiled. They didn’t have the sort of easy relationship where she could smack him playfully. If his mom hit him, Connor expected her to mean it.

“Sorry honey,” His mom said suddenly. “I was just trying to be silly. You shouldn’t bite your nails like that… look. See? You’re bleeding.” She seemed to conjure a kleenex from midair to hand to him.

“Sorry.”

“I used to bite my nails too,” his mom said, like this something she had been meaning to mention. “All the way up until college.” Connor looked at his mom’s perfectly manicured fingers and debated calling out her bullshit. “I drove Auntie Chris crazy with the noise. I guess I didn’t realize how loud… anyway. I ended up having to keep them painted all the time for two whole years to break the habit.”

“Do you want me to paint my fingernails?” Connor said drily.

His mom sort of laughed. “Well, if you think it would help.”


 

She didn’t fucking call him or text him back and now Connor was stuck suffering through his shitty birthday dinner alone.

“Maybe something came up suddenly,” His mom said in this weird soothing voice that made Connor want to punch something.

“Yeah or she doesn’t exist,” Zoe muttered from the backseat.

“Zoe. Enough.”

“Just saying. I’ve never met her, you’ve never met her -”

“She fucking exists!” Connor snapped, turning to look at Zoe.

“That’s enough you two,” His mom said sternly. “Can’t we please just have a nice family dinner?”

Their dad was meeting them at the restaurant, so that was probably out of the question in Connor’s mind. He crossed his arms across his chest and frowned. “Why’s dad at work today again?” he asked, just embracing the fact that he was sulking.

“He has a very big new client coming in on Monday and all of the partners got together to prepare,” His mom answered evenly. “Your dad is sorry Connor, he really did want to spend you birthday together.”

“Yeah. Sure.”

“Maybe the two of you can go do something tomorrow?” She said hopefully. “He mentioned maybe going to the batting cages…?”

Connor imagined that and his stomach flipped in like… pre-embarrassment. He wasn’t bad at baseball… not anymore, after his dad’s freak out when he tried to quit little league years ago. The two of them had even gone to the batting cages together a few times, way back then.

But Connor could just hear his dad’s criticisms already: “Hold your hands apart more! Really swing at the ball Connor this time,  you can’t just expect it to bounce off your bat… You’ve got to follow through with your swing!”

Not fucking happening.

Like. Fuck no.

“Sure. Sounds great,” Connor said shortly, crossing his arms and looking out the car window.

They pulled up to the restaurant and his dad was already parked, a dorky blue gift bag with a cupcake on it in his hand. Connor wanted to stay in the car, or melt into the ground. Fuck.

His mom usually did all the birthday shopping and he’d already opened a few gifts from her. A new pair of jeans, some nice noise cancelling headphones, a couple of t-shirts and a new hoodie…

Fuck.

Connor kept pretty quiet throughout dinner, just listening to his dad bitching about work and Zoe talking about the middle school’s jazz band and his mom fretting that he wasn’t enjoying the pizzas they ordered.

“No it’s fine. It’s good. I’m good.”

“I was sorry to see your girlfriend couldn’t join us,” Larry said.

“Friend,” Connor corrected quietly. “Just… friend.”

“Imaginary friend,” Zoe mumbled.

“Zoe, enough!” His mom said, glaring at her.

His dad covered a laugh with a cough.  

His mom shot him a dirty look with a “ Larry !”

He cleared his throat. “Here you go, son,” he said, trying to act like he was smiling because he was handing Connor a gift.

Connor took the bag with numb fingers, reaching into the flutes of tissue paper and extracting a brand new baseball glove.

“Oh,” Connor said. He felt… stunned. Stupid. Why… why would his dad get him a baseball glove? Why would he…? He was trying to make him look stupid, he was getting him something that pointed out how bad he was at being a guy, he was making fun of him…

“I thought…” His dad said, his smile drooping a little. “We could play catch or something?”

“Oh.” Connor stared at the baseball glove, feeling like someone had thrown a bowling ball directly into his ribs. He tried to smile but his face crumbled and wrinkled strangely and his throat felt swollen suddenly. “Thank you,” He said, his voice coming out watery and weird and Connor clenched his hands into fists, thumbs outside, blinking rapidly. “Um. Really. Thanks.”

His dad looked away, sort of smiling, looking weird and Connor wished for a tree to crash through the roof, a falling piano, a lightning bolt. He looked out of the window to see the sun sinking, setting.

His dad was…

Why did his dad…?

Zoe rolled her eyes.

“Zoe!” His mom said, and his dad took a gulp of his beer.

“I’m going to the bathroom,” Connor announced loudly, shoving his chair back loudly and stomping off toward the bathroom. Thankfully a single stall. He hated urinal situations.

Connor rolled back his sleeve and pulled the pocket knife that had been his grandpa’s out, pressing the sharpened edge against his forearm until blood bloomed brightly against it and he felt his headache start to subside a little.

Connor rinsed the blood off the knife in the sink. Wiped up the drips from his arm. Splashed some water in his face.

His dad was being weird.

His mom couldn’t stop yelling at Zoe, and Zoe wouldn’t shut up about Georgia not being real and Connor couldn’t stop feeling like he was being punched in the stomach, in the kidneys. He was choking he was falling…

Connor pulled out his phone, pulled up Georgia’s contact and hit dial.

The phone rang three times before Georgia finally fucking answered.

“Shit, dude -”

“Where the fuck have you been?” Connor shouted, screamed. “I’ve been texting you for two fucking days.”

“Jesus, sorry, it’s… It’s Yom Kippur.”

“What? What the fuck is that?”

“A holiday, you’re not allowed to-”

“I asked my fucking mom if I could invite you, and you disappear!”

“Sor-”

“I look like a fucking moron, my dad’s getting me weird pity presents and my sister thinks you’re an imaginary friend because they’ve never seen you.”

“I-”

“Are we even fucking friends? I mean, what the hell are we ever doing here?”

“...Of course we’re friends!”

“Well how the fuck am I supposed to know if you don’t show up to school or answer your goddamn phone? I had to fucking… ride the bus with Hansen yesterday, I went over to your fucking house I… I don’t know how to do this. I’m bad at this, and you’re not fucking helping.”

“I’m sorry, okay. My dad freaked out and made us go to the synagogue and… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to miss your birthday, and I’m super fucking sorry.”

“You’re Jewish?” Connor said suddenly coming to halt.

She sighed. “Yeah, didn’t I say that? Like, Jared Kleinman goes to my temple.” She laughed slightly. “I started a rumor that they cut off his dick by accident at his bris so now he has to pee sitting down after he asked me to the Halloween dance last year.”

“Why?”

“Because he’s an asshole.”

Connor didn’t deny that. But he also thought maybe Georgia didn’t know about the whole seventh grade thing and he wanted to keep it that way. Especially after he just… lost his entire fucking mind t her. “He is an asshole. He asked you out?”

“I know. Apparently rumor has it that I’m a big ol’ slut so he thought maybe he’d get some action. Or so Evan said.”

Connor blinked, trying to imagine any of those words coming out of Evan Hansen’s mouth.

“He didn’t say it like that obviously,” Georgia said. “More like… ‘Jared, um, he, uh, he said that y-you were a… he said you were, um, uh, kinda, like slutty and I t-told him to knock it off and…’”

Connor blinked. It was a… surprisingly spot on impression.

It was also super fucking mean.

He didn’t make Evan Hansen his business anymore because he was Jared’s friend and Connor didn’t associate with anyone who Jared was friendly with (which meant, like, most of his middle school graduating class). “Why’d you do that?”

“Because that’s what he sounds like.”

“Yeah but…” Connor didn’t go on.

“I can be kind of a bitch,” Georgia said after a minute. “You should know that. Since we’re friends.”  

“I just thought you two were like friends or whatever.”

“We are. I guess. Or whatever. I dunno. He was visiting his dad this summer, so I didn’t see a lot of him. He’s nice but sorta… too nice. I dunno. We’re friends, but like… Not like you.”

“Oh.”

“I’m sorry about missing your birthday.”

“It’s okay… sorry I freaked out I just… People have screwed with me before, and I freaked out and… Fuck. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it. We all freak out sometimes.”


 

Georgia dragged Connor back to her house after school that Monday. She rushed him off the bus so fast that they didn’t even say goodbye to Evan. Connor sort of wanted to say something but…

They were friends.

Georgia thought they were friends. Better friends than she was with Evan. She was good friends with Connor. With only Connor.

“I got you a late birthday present,” Georgia said as they walked into her bedroom.

Connor’s heart sank and rose so quickly he thought he might throw up. “Wh-what?”

Georgia thrust a small pink paper bag at his chest. Connor reached inside the bag with trepidation and pulled out a small green glass pipe. “Oh.” There was a terrifying fifteen seconds where Connor thought his throat might close up, where he might cry. Outside of family, nobody had ever gotten him a birthday present. He didn’t know how to interpret that. “Thank you,” he said softly, and then because he was nuts and weird, he pulled Georgia roughly into a too tight, too awkward hug.

He pulled back fast mumbling, “Sorry that was weird.”

Georgia laughed at him, slapping his cheek almost gently. “You’re so weird. I think I’ll keep you.”

Connor thought that he wanted that. A lot. A lot a lot.


“Are you going to homecoming?” Georgia asked Connor as they got off the bus. They were going to his house for a change. His mom was getting sort of insistent that he bring Georgia over after her went to her house for two weeks straight. She was starting to get sort of annoying about it, popping into his room before school and after he got home. It was becoming her new thing, and Connor was still annoyed with her over the Pilates thing because she kept trying to get him and Zoe to go with her and he was just not going to do that.

“No,” Connor said. “Why would I go to homecoming?”

“I dunno,” Georgia said. “People do stuff like that.”

Connor shook his head. “I’d hardly say we’re people.

Georgia grinned at him. “True.”

“I should warn you,” Connor said as they approached the cul-de-sac. “My family is kinda… uptight.”

“Shit,” Georgia said, frowning. She sort of helplessly pulled at her hair. “Do I look okay?”

She looked like she always looked: too tight jeans, too loose shirt, black hoodie with thumb holes cut out, hair kind of all over the place. If anything she sort of… looked like Connor. Like if he got put into a magic gender-swap machine, it would probably spit out someone who looked like Georgia.

“Yeah, I mean. Don’t freak out.” He led the way up to their red front door (another one of his mom’s phases; when he was like ten or something she was all about home improvement and curb appeal and stuff even though they weren’t selling the house… which had disappointed Connor). He opened the unlocked door, waiting a second before giving Georgia a sort of friendly shove and following her into the house.

“Hey mom,” Connor yelled. He knew she was probably lurking. She probably watched them walk up the driveway. Connor was glad he had the foresight not to smoke on the way. He took off his beat up sneakers and Georgia, watching him, did the same thing. Her socks didn’t match; one was blue and the other was gray with little cartoon peaches on it.

“Hi honey!” She called, swooping in from the kitchen. She looked Georgia up and down uncertainly before beaming at her. “You must be Georgia. Connor’s told us so much about you!”

Georgia’s eyes slid over in Connor’s direction, and he subtly shook his head because he super fucking hadn’t told his mom “so much” about her. He’d said they had Health together and that they rode the same bus and that she lived one neighborhood over.

Though distantly… Connor remembered making up some shit about her after his eighth grade graduation, some shit about them being friends, because he wanted to give his mom a happy thought before he…

Whatever. Didn’t matter.

Georgia smiled awkwardly at his mom, and she even let his mom hug her quickly. His mom never used to be a hugger but he didn’t always keep track of what her thing was all the time.

“I put out some snacks for the two of you in the kitchen,” His mom said, sort of herding them out of the foyer and into the kitchen. It smelled sort of distantly of bleach.

His mom wasn’t fucking kidding about the snacks. There were apple slices, grapes, carrot sticks, hummus, pita, and like an entire second plate of cookies and those individual bags of potato chips. Partly because he felt bad that his mom went through all of the effort, Connor made himself eat an apple slice and some grapes. Georgia, who looked embarrassed at the way his mom was watching her, shoved an entire Oreo into her mouth like this was her grand plan not to have to talk first.

“Thanks mom,” Connor said after a while. It was kind of embarrassing how desperate his mom seemed to impress his friend for him. But she was smiling so whatever, he didn’t need to think about it.

“You two can have the kitchen if you want to work on homework. Otherwise you can also head upstairs to your room.”

Based on the way Georgia’s eyes pled, Connor nodded saying they’d go upstairs. He took two plates from the cabinet and scooped a bunch of snacks onto them, leading Georgia out of the kitchen and away from his mom’s anxious smile.

“And Connor?” She called suddenly. “Door open please.”

He rolled his eyes. “Okay.”

His mom had clearly cleaned his bedroom, Connor realized, sort of annoyed. Good thing he had hidden all of his weed last night.

“I guess I wasn’t expecting it to be so… blue.”

Connor frowned at her.

“I just thought it might be darker. More… brooding.”

He rolled his eyes, setting the plates with snacks on his desk. “I stole the sign on the door,” he said with a shrug, pointing out the “PRIVATE PROPERTY” sign. He took it over the summer one day when he was high.

“Nice.” She had a seat on his bed without him having to tell her to sit, and Connor didn’t know whether or not he liked that about her. “Wanna get high?”

“Not a great idea to do it here,” He said, shrugging awkwardly, because obviously his house sucked in comparison to hers. Parents crawling all over him, this new “door open” policy, and any second Zoe would get home and things between them were super weird so. “My mom’s kinda. She hovers.”

Georgia nodded. “My mom’s like that. Or well. She was. I don’t know what she’s like anymore.”

Connor waited, trying to keep his expression blank, for her to say more.

“She left like two weeks after my bat mitzvah. Ran off with some dude, I dunno. I haven’t seen her since.”

Connor nodded.

Closer to four o’clock, Zoe got home from school. She came into the house complaining about her English teacher harassing in her halls so loudly that Connor and Georgia could hear her plainly from his room. “She collects everyone’s phones at the start of class,” Zoe said. “And I asked, like, what if we wanted to hang onto them in case of like an emergency. And then she wouldn’t give it back to me after class or at lunch!”

Connor could tell his mom wasn’t going to be super sympathetic, considering she went through a whole anti-screen time thing a couple of years back that only ended when Zoe had caught her sneaking into the bathroom to play Words With Friends on her phone. As if on cue, Zoe stomped up the steps into her bedroom and slammed her door without acknowledging him.

Connor let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding.

He just…

He didn’t want to scare Georgia off. It was bad enough with his mom and the hovering, but soon his dad would get home and if Zoe was a bitch to him on top of it, then Georgia might see that Connor was such a freak that even his own family hated him and stop talking to him immediately.

“I always wanted a little sister,” She said suddenly. “Begged my parents for years, before I had totally wrapped my mind around the whole sex thing.”

“How’d that work out?”

“Might have convinced my mom to start banging the neighbor by mistake.”

“Oops.”


 

Dinner passed in mostly awkward silence. His mom made some kind of stirfry thing that was actually fairly decent. Connor was almost impressed.

Georgia sat quietly through most of dinner, nodding and smiling unnaturally at Connor’s parents. His dad seemed to have a lot of questions for her. What clubs she was in (none), her hobbies (reading, she said, which made Larry roll his eyes), her parents (divorced). He frowned at each other answers.

After dinner and brownies and Zoe hogging the TV to watch Titanic, Larry insisted that it was time for Georgia to go home. “Come on,” He said in his annoying voice for guests. “I’ll drive you home.”

Georgia nodded, and Connor stood up. “I’ll come with you.”

The ride to her house was awkward. Connor sat up front because it wasn’t like they

could talk with his dad in the front seat. Like. It wasn’t like Connor could make a joke about getting high, which was about all they did together. In the backseat, Connor could see Georgia picking at something on her wrist.

They pulled into her driveway. Georgia mumbled “thanks for dinner” and got out of the car. Connor waved.

But his dad didn’t pull away. Larry nudged Connor with his elbow.

“What?” Connor said.

“Go walk her to her door,” Larry said, like Connor was an idiot, and maybe Connor was a fucking idiot. He got out of the car quickly, rushing to catch up with Georgia on her sidewalk.

“Did I forget something in the car?” She muttered. She looked mad, like pissed.

“No I just… I’m gonna walk you to your door.”

“Why?”

“So you don’t… get murdered or whatever? I dunno. It’s a thing people do.”

“Oh so now we’re people?” Georgia said, eyebrows up, challenging.

Connor pushed his hands into his pockets. “Whatever.” He rolled his eyes.

“I think I’m going to ask Evan to go to the Homecoming dance with me,” She said.

“Evan, like, Hansen?” Connor asked, glancing over to his tiny house next door. “You want to ask him… like as a date?” He felt the hair on the back of his neck prickle, a thrill of something like anger down his spine and into his kidneys. Was this… jealousy? Was Connor… jealous? He had sort of, like, thought that maybe… Maybe he was like gay or whatever or something but.

Connor really really really did not want Georgia asking Evan Hansen out on a date. Or anyone. He didn’t want her dating somebody, anybody, ever. The idea of that freaked him out so badly, his hands started to sweat.

“No, not like a date,” Georgia said harshly. “I don’t want to go to dance by myself, okay? I want to go. I know Evan’ll go with me… and you could too, if you weren’t acting like you’re… too cool for a dance or whatever.”

Connor felt a bubble of panic well up in him. If he… if he didn’t go to the dance, then she’d… she’d stop talking to him, probably. He’d have to find somewhere else to sit at lunch and nobody else would put up with his weird parents or… If he didn’t go with her she’d leave.

She’d leave.

“I’ll… I’ll go. I’ll go to the fucking dance.”

“Good,” She said, smiling. “I’m still going to ask Evan though.”

“Why?” Connor asked, demanded, wanted to know.

“Because I like him.”

“Like… like him, like him?”

Georgia rolled her eyes. “I’ll see you at school.”

Connor stared at her door as it swung closed in his face. He walked sort of numbly back to his dad’s car, where Larry was sort of stupidly smiling at him.

“How’d it go?” His dad asked.

“How’d what go?”

“I saw you talking… did you kiss?”

“What? No.”

“Are you thinking of asking her out.”

“I… I-I don’t know, I…” Connor blinked a few times, confused. “We’re going to go to Homecoming together.”

His dad punched his arm in this sort of friendly, dude-ish way that Connor didn’t totally understand or think he was okay with. “Nice job, bud.”

Bud? Since when am I “bud”?

Connor felt sort of sick to his stomach when he got home and his dad announced loudly, “Guess who got himself a Homecoming date?”

“You did?” his mom said, eyes lighting up, and she swooped in to hug Connor. He felt his guts squirm with guilt as she started asking what color Georgia’s dress was and if she should rent them a limo and Connor felt his face getting redder and redder.

“I dunno if she has a dress yet mom, it’s not like a real date… we’re just friends or whatever.”

“I know, I know… I’m just excited that you’re…” She hesitated and Connor filled in the blanks. Glad you’re not such a lonely pathetic loser. “I’m just happy for you honey.”

“Thanks.”


 

In the end, Connor’s mom drove the three of them to the dance. Georgia wore a black dress with tiny straps, leaving her pale shoulders and arms exposed. Which freaked Connor out a little, because there were some scars on her forearms and she… wasn’t hiding them.

Connor wore the same suit he wore to his eighth grade graduation. He self consciously checked to make sure the sleeves covered his whole arm, wrists included.

His mom took a million pictures of him at the house, while Zoe was like… pointedly ignoring him or pouting or something at the top of the stairs. Watching. Looking pissed off.

He didn’t know why she was upset. She’d get to go to Homecoming next year if that’s what she wanted. She’d probably make Homecoming court or something. He couldn’t, like, take her to a high school dance with him. He didn’t even want to go.

His mom drove them to Georgia’s next. She shook hands with Georgia’s dad, a sad looking guy who smelled sort of like stale beer or something else rank when Connor shook his hand. Things got sort of uncomfortable when Mr. Stern told Connor to “take care of his little girl.”

“Um,” Connor said.

“Dad, stop being sexist,” Georgia said, glaring at him. “You’re embarrassing me.”

Connor’s mom covered the awkward silence by asking for Mr. Stern’s email address so that she could email him their photos.

After about ten minutes of this nonsense with the pictures, Evan Hansen appeared at the edge of the driveway, followed by a blonde woman who was smiling brightly, all the while keeping her hand on Evan’s shoulder. “Hi there,” the blond lady said. “I’m Heidi. Evan’s mom.”

“So nice to meet you,” Connor’s mom said, smiling and shaking Mrs. Hansen’s hand.

Mr. Stern nodded, smiling briefly.

“Hey Evan,” Georgia said as he made his way over to them.

“Hi Georgia… hi Connor,” Evan said, smiling awkwardly, his fingers plucking at one of the buttons on his blue button down. “Thanks for um. Inviting me.”

“It’ll be fun, I swear,” Georgia said.

“Better be,” Connor said under his breath.

“It will,” Georgia said, and it sounded like a threat if he was being honest.

The moms insisted they take a group photo, so they did, posing in front of a pine tree at the edge of Georgia’s yard. Connor, Georgia, Evan, all smiling uncomfortably at the camera and Heidi’s off brand phone.

After spending way too fucking long taking pictures, Georgia and Evan climbed in the back of his mom’s SUV and Connor hopped up front to go to the actual fucking dance.

“Please please take pictures while you’re there,” She was saying, giving him this smile that seemed to suggest that she genuinely didn’t fucking know that Connor hated having his picture taken.

The dance was held in the school cafeteria. They’d put up streamers and twinkly lights and weird 50s themed decorations, but in Connor’s mind it didn’t cover the fact that the place still kind of smelled like steamed vegetables and adolescent trauma. He shoved his hands into his pockets as the three of them walked inside, feeling unsure of himself. What the fuck was he supposed to do now? He could see a photobooth set up in the far corner, a DJ set up near where the lunch line usually started, and there weren’t a lot of people who were there yet and he really just wanted to turn around and bail.

Evan looked helplessly over at Georgia. “Wh-what do we do, do you think? Um, just… nobody’s… nobody’s, like, dancing or whatever.”

Georgia shrugged. “I’m going to the bathroom. I’ll be right back.”

Connor rolled his eyes, groaning. Of course she made him come here and ditched him with Evan Hansen immediately.

Fuck.

“So, I, um…” Evan started, probably to fill up the uncomfortable quietness that started building between them punctuated by the pounding bass of the music. Connor debated if he could use his stupid fucking tie to hang himself somewhere. “Georgia, she, uh… looks nice.”

“Yeah, I mean. I guess.”

“Are the… are you guys, like, going out?”

Connor gave Evan a dirty look. “No.”

“Oh,” Evan said, his face going a blotchy pink.

Connor bit the inside of his cheek to keep from mumbling that he was sorry. He didn’t want to apologize to this kid. He didn’t want Evan here. He didn’t want to be here, but he especially didn’t want to be here with Evan when he came here with fucking Georgia. Connor shifted his jaw, clenched his hands into fists.

Fuck.

He bit his lip.

And Georgia appeared. “You guys want to go outside until it’s less empty in here?” She was holding her purse awkwardly under her arm.

“Um,” Evan said.

“Yeah, I want a fucking cigarette anyway.” Connor headed out through the back doors of the cafeteria. Georgia followed right behind him, and the second they were outside he pulled his cigarettes from his coat pocket.

“Let’s go under the bleachers,” Georgia said brightly, strolling ahead of them. Evan followed behind her, biting his lip. “Then nobody will see us and tattle for smoking on school grounds.

Connor lit his cigarette once they ducked under the bleachers, looking at Georgia expectantly. “Well. We came to the dance, and now we’re outside.”

Georgia smiled this stupidly big smile. “I… have a present.” She went into her bag and pulled out two smallish plastic bottles of vodka, followed by a can of Sprite. “Stashed these in the bathroom this week.”

“Where did you get vodka?” Evan asked. Squeaked. His voice must still be changing, Connor noted.

“My dad stashes the smaller plastic bottles around the house, thinking I won’t find them. I’ve been collecting these for a few weeks.”

Connor took in the peeling “SMIRNOFF” labels and thought, idly, that one can of soda wouldn’t be enough for two whole vodka bottles. He’d drank a little. Wine at holidays if his dad was feeling nice, that time he drank beer with Aiden, Sarah, and Jake…

“Yo,” Georgia said, snapping her fingers in his face. “Let’s get drunk.”

Connor nodded because really, like. Of course he was going to do this. He didn’t even have to think about it. But it wasn’t the same as chugging beer with kids too old to hang out with him to impress them. Connor doubted Georgia could even be impressed with him, honestly. But she brought vodka so he would drink it. She said she wanted to go to Homecoming, so he was here.

Georgia took an impressive pull from the bottle, swallowing it like water, and chasing it with a small sip out of the Sprite can. “You ready?” She asked Connor.

He nodded.

So she passed him one of the bottles and Connor took a huge swallow, wincing at the way it tasted how nail polish remover smelled and stung the back of his throat and made his eyes water and stomach turn. Georgia handed him the can of Sprite, and he took a swallow to rinse out his mouth.

Knowing it was what he was supposed to do, Connor held the bottle of vodka out to Evan.

“I don’t… I. This isn’t…” Evan’s face was blotchy pink again, and he looked between Georgia and Connor anxiously. Connor thought he seemed like the kind that would have freaked out and taken notes during D.A.R.E. classes in middle school. “I’m not sure I should, um, do this.”

Georgia rolled her eyes. “Come on. It’s just a little booze. It won’t kill you.”

“I’ve… I’ve never, like… I haven’t drank? Before?”

“It’s not a big deal,” Connor said, lying, because it sort of was a big deal to be totally honest. But Georgia wanted Evan to drink, so here he was. “If you hate it, we won’t make you drink more or whatever.”

Evan sort of looked over at him gratefully, which made Connor’s insides squirm on top of the weird heat left behind by the vodka. Evan took the bottle and tilted it back and swallowed a mouthful, immediately coughing and gasping and reaching for the soda can. Connor handed it over, and Evan took a big gulp.

“Easy killer,” Georgia said, looking annoyed. “Save some soda for the rest of us.”

Evan nodded awkwardly, and then Georgia took the bottle again. They passed it around the circle until they ran totally out of Sprite, each of them choking back like five shots.

“That should loosen us up,” Georgia said, grinning as she put the mostly empty bottle back into her purse. “We can always come back for more later.”

They headed back into the dance. Evan seemed to be feeling it more than Connor and Georgia, because his stride was slower and a little unsteady.

“You alright?” Connor muttered at him. Evan nodded, looking a little frantic.

Once they managed to get back inside, the cafeteria was packed with people. Some techno song was playing, and Georgia dragged both Connor and Evan by the wrist until the were in the middle of the crowd of sweaty people, dancing. Connor was grateful for the booze, because at least he wasn’t super fucking self-conscious about dancing. He didn’t really dance, outside of dancing it out with Zoe, which was mostly just jumping and head bobbing. So he did a bit of the same here. Georgia twirled in circles, swinging her hips in a way that made Connor wonder if he thought she might be like, sexy or whatever. His head was pleasantly cloudy, head a little heavy. Evan was keeping up with Georgia, dancing like he didn’t give a fuck, though it was a little more white boy shuffle than sexy.

As a slow song hit, Georgia declared it was cigarette time, and Evan was sort of weaving drunkenly behind her, so Connor said he would meet them by the bleachers with a soda. He ended up getting two, so that maybe Evan could drink one and sober up a bit.

Georgia passed him his own cigarette when he met them outside. Evan smiled kind of dopily at them, mumbling partly to himself, “I like hanging out with you. It’s almost like having friends.”

Connor decided to ignore that Luna Lovegood-level sadness by asking Georgia for another drink. This one went down super painfully, flooding his chest with sudden warmth and making him regret ever being born. Georgia called him a lightweight, and the both of them had two more shots a piece.

“Back inside,” She announced, and they followed her.

Maybe ten minutes later as they were dancing to a fast song, Evan grabbed Georgia’s arm saying “I don’t feel good.”

“Shit, he’s gonna puke,” Georgia said looking pissed.

Evan’s eyes looked glassy suddenly. “I’m gonna… I. We’re going to-to get into trouble, they’re gonna call my mom , they’re-” He seemed to choke on the air then, gasp like he was drowning.

“We’re fucked,” Georgia said, throwing her arms up defeat. “Shit, shit, we are so fuck.”

“No, no, hold on,” Connor said, trying to think fast. His brain was sluggish and shitty but he could… he could do something. “Shit. Okay, Evan, we need to walk to the bathroom, alright? Do not puke until we get there, understand me?”

Evan nodded pathetically, his face screwed up in concentration, breathing too heavily. Connor led him and Georgia toward the boys’ bathroom off of the cafeteria. Georgia refused to go in even though there wasn’t anybody else around, and Evan was still muttering drunkenly about his mom finding out he got drunk and being “soooooo disappointed, I’m a disappointment” and wheezing so Connor didn’t waste time arguing. He dragged Evan toward a stall and kind of… pushed him into it.

“If you’re going to puke, do it here.”

“I don’t…” Evan looked confused, still gasping like a fish scooped suddenly out of its bowl, twitching and breathing raggedly.

Connor had a betta fish when he was a kid. It was bright red. Connor’s used to help his mom clean the fish’s little tank. The fish would thrash and twitch when he scooped it out, it’s mouth opening and closing frantically. The fish died when he was eleven.

“I don’t have to puke, I’m totally fine I-”

Whatever he thought he was, Evan interrupted himself by throwing up. Thank god he was already facing the toilet. Connor waited by the sinks, keeping an eye on the door, thinking of lies he could tell as the bathroom started to smell more and more like vodka and vomit.  He was concocting a story about being forced to drink mouthwash when Evan emerged from the bathroom, looking pale. His eyes were clearer. He looked super bummed out, and being a little drunk himself, Connor tried to smile at him.

“Hey.”

“Hi,” Evan said miserably. He twisted the sink faucet, cupping his hands to bring water to his mouth. He swished the water in his cheeks and spit. “Sorry.” His face was blotchy and pink again.

“It’s cool,” Connor said even though it wasn’t.

“Georgia…? She’s probably mad, right?”

Connor shrugged. “I think she’s always mad.”

Evan nodded. “S-sorry. Again.”

Connor shrugged.

“My mom is totally… she’s going to freak out at me. She never even told me not to drink because she knows I’m a huge l-loser and, and, and now she’s going to be super mad and yell at me-”

“So don’t tell her,” Connor said simply.

“But I have to go home…” Evan said, shaking his head.

“No you don’t.”

He looked a little green. “But I’m drunk and sick and you guys don’t want to hang out with me so I need to go home, my-my mom she’ll pick me up, she’ll come and get me so I can go home I have to I have to go home because I-”

Evan dashed into the bathroom stall again.

Connor frowned. “Dude… you can’t just go home. If you go home, everyone will know we got drunk and then we’ll all get into trouble.”

Evan responded by throwing up some more.

“Look… I’m sorry if I made you feel like you had to drink with us,” Connor went on, standing in the stall door. “That… sucked. I’m only here because Georgia’s here and… I don’t know why I’m telling you this. Fuck.”

Evan emerged from the stall a few minutes later, walking past Connor looking super pale and sweaty. He rinsed his mouth out again. “I just want you guys to like me,” Evan sputtered, turning around and looking at Connor. He was basically crying. It was. Unnerving and sad and weird and Connor looked away. “That’s… I mean it’s, like, stupid. It’s st-stupid because I-I already know you, like, you don’t like me so, and you’re both kind of assholes so... I don’t… don’t know why I…”

“We like you,” Connor interrupted him, not even sure if he was being honest or just desperate to shut Evan up before he started to properly cry again. “Georgia, she like. Totally thinks you’re like. Friends and whatever.”

“She told you that?”

Connor shrugged. “She didn’t, like, have to? She’s always talking about you and stuff.”

“Oh.”

“Plus you two are neighbors and you were friends, like, all last year. I’m the… the loser third wheel, okay?”

He didn’t realize that’s what he thought until he said it.

“You’re not a loser,” Evan said. He looked so fucking earnest.

“I am. It’s fine. You don’t have to-”

“I mean. I know that like… I know that I’m a loser, but I… I guess I always kinda thought you were? Like cool or something,” Evan said, looking away. “Sorry, I don’t know why I said that, that’s like… super weird and I’m drunk, I’m sorry, just like-”

“It’s fine,” Connor said. “Just. It’s fine. Please don’t cry anymore.”

Evan flushed red.

Once they were certain he was done panicking and puking, they walked out of the bathroom together. Georgia was chewing her nails outside the bathroom, face sort of pale. “You good?” She said to Evan.

“Yeah, uh, f-fine.”

“Good,” Georgia said. She looked awkwardly at Connor then. “You good?”

“Fine. Whatever.”

“Should we go, like, dance or whatever?” Georgia said sheepishly.

Connor looked awkwardly toward Evan, who nodded. Georgia led the way back into the cafeteria. All three of them danced until they were sort of sweaty and tired and before long it was the end of the dance and Connor realized he had stayed for the whole dance.

It was weird. Weird weird weird to be doing something so normal.

His mom picked them up, and thankfully didn’t seem to notice that they were all drunk.

“Did you have a good time sweetheart?” His mom asked when they walked back into the house at the end of the night.

“Yeah. I did.”

“Evan and Georgia too? Did they have a good time?”

He nodded.

She gave him a hug, tight and unexpected. He hoped he didn’t reek of booze because he really didn’t need to have that conversation with her about if he’d been drinking. “I’m so happy, baby.”

“Mom, come on,” He said, embarrassed. “It was just a dance.”

“I know. I’m just… I’m glad to see you coming out of your shell a little more these days. I’ve… I’ve missed seeing you so happy.”

Connor looked at her blankly.

Happy?

He didn’t remember the last time he felt happy. Being around Georgia didn’t make him happy… it just helped to patch up the hole inside of him where all the goodness leaked out of him.


 

Evan Hansen spent the Sunday after the Homecoming dance with an awful headache and a lump in his throat from lying to his mom about it.

“You’re not warm,” She said, looking concerned as she felt his forehead which Evan knew was all greasy and sweaty and gross. “But you really don’t look good sweetheart.”

“Just a headache,” He lied. “Maybe… maybe a migraine? I don’t know, just… just hurts.”

His mom frowned deeper, but gave him some Excedrin and and ice pack and sent him back to bed.

Evan pulled the shades in his room closed and tried to figure out what on earth was the matter with him. He got drunk. He got so drunk that he puked. He embarrassed himself in front of Connor and Georgia… and now he was lying to his mom. Lying to her by leaving out the drinking, lying about why his head really hurt… When he got home the night before he was super glad that she was already in bed. It meant she peppered him with questions about the dance when he got up… but last night Evan was sure he would have been super obviously drunk and then his mom would have been disappointed in him and he spent two hours obsessively googling side effects of mixing his meds with alcohol and…

Georgia barely talked to him at all at the dance. She talked to Connor.

Evan thought she probably liked Connor. Evan thought she probably didn’t like him, like, at all.

Evan thought he was an idiot for going to the dance. For thinking maybe he had friends now, because two people wanted him to tag along. Obviously he could see now he was a cover story, an albi because nobody would get drunk with a loser like Evan. Obviously Connor and Georgia weren’t his friends. They were asshole who wanted someone to throw their parents off the scent.

He put the ice pack to his forehead and closed his eyes, his stomach churning with guilt (or maybe it was just the hangover), wish he was a stronger better person. The sort who said no to things. The kind who didn’t just let things happen.

The type of person who wasn’t so totally desperate that he knew on Monday he’d stand at the bus stop with Georgia and try to talk to Connor in English.

He knew that they weren’t really his friends. That they cared about each other more than they’d ever care about him. He was the third wheel, the leftover, the remainder. Evan knew. He wasn’t stupid.

He just knew he was going to settle for this.

Because he was sad and pathetic and had no other friends and this was all he was going to get.

Chapter Text

Spring Semester, 9th Grade

 

“Fuck, Zack, I told you to keep it out of my hair,” Georgia growled, looking at the tangle of red curls coated in his disgusting jizz.

“You wanna start making demands, you’re gonna have to start paying for the shit I sell you. With, you know, money.”

Georgia ran the water in the sink and did her best to rinse off her hair. Zack was such an asshole. “I already told you,” She said, squeezing the water out of her hair, getting her t-shirt drenched in the process. “I’m working on it, alright? As soon as I can get my dad to sign off on the work permit I’ll get a job.”

“You better,” Zack said, frowning. “You’re not as good of a lay now that you’ve got a boyfriend.”

Georgia prickled at that. She didn’t know why exactly Zack thought that she and Connor were dating, but she didn’t correct him. He was such an asshole and she wasn’t giving him anymore ammunition. It was bad enough that after she went through all of her bat mitzvah money that she had to start sleeping with him to get drugs.

“Thanks for the sex,” Zack yelled after Georgia when she slammed the door of his trailer. Fucker. She was going to have to find a new dealer once she got a job.

She pulled her beat up phone out of her pocket and texted Connor. “Stay over tonight.”

A minute later: “Driving with Fucking Larry, please hold.”

Georgia smirked. The upside of her best friend having a bougie ass family was that she could basically bank on Connor having a car by the time he turned sixteen. His parents were the sort who would let him skip half a day of school to go officially take his driver’s test and present him with a Benz for a birthday present.

A lot of the time, Georgia just kinda… let Connor pay for shit. Dinners, movies, weed… he got an insane $50 a week allowance.

But she felt bad sometimes that she didn’t contribute, so then she’d go let Zack play with her tits for a while and get some decent shit in return. And she didn’t tell Connor because… well she just didn’t tell Connor.

Around six, Connor texted to say his mom would drop him off shortly and did she want leftover food?

Georgia said yes immediately. Connor’s mom couldn’t fucking cook, but their cabinets had been empty for a couple of days and her dad was ignoring the slip from the power company warning them that the bill was overdue. Last time that happened had been in November, and her dad didn’t come home for three days and Georgia had lied to Heidi about their water being out because of an issue with their hot water heater so that she could wash her hair and warm up a little.

She went into her bedroom and lit a candle and some incense. It was stupid, because she knew her dad didn’t give a shit, but Georgia never wanted him to smell the weed and cigarettes coming from her room. They didn’t talk and Georgia wanted to keep it that way as best as she could.

She didn’t bother making the bed or anything. Connor knew what her room looked like. The only thing that had changed since the first time he came over was that now Georgia had added their Homecoming pictures of her photo collage on the wall. Nothing exciting.

Connor got there at six thirty, pushing a tupperware container of some kind of mashed potato looking thing at her.

“What is this?” Georgia asked, already popping the top off of it and grabbing a fork. It was still kind of warm.

“Shepherd’s pie. It’s actually pretty good. My aunt made it.”

“Is this cool Auntie Chris?” Georgia asked, taking a bite. It was pretty decent.

“Yep. She had some kind of work thing? I dunno. She cooks now I guess.” He shrugged. “She’s like… bipolar or whatever, so I’m sure this’ll last like a week.”

Georgia snorted.

“Your hair’s wet,” Connor said, pointing to the place where she had erased the evidence of her afternoon with Zack. It was still damp, even though hours had passed.

“Oh yeah I got something in it.”

Connor’s eyes narrowed for a second, but he didn’t say anything. Georgia kept eating. “Wanna get high?” She asked when she finished her last bite.

Connor sort of smiled.

So forty-five minutes later, they were in her room, stoned and watching an episode of Grey’s Anatomy on Connor’s laptop. She had forced it out of him that he used to watch the show with his mom and sister when he was younger, and Georgia need to embarrass him right that second, so she made him watch it with her.

He passed her the bag of Jolly Ranchers as Callie and Erica had some awkward as fuck scene where Eric was all “I am so gay!”

Georgia noticed his tongue and lips and teeth were tinged a little bit blue.

For the millionth time, Georgia debated kissing Connor. He was fucking weird. He cut but acted like she didn’t know that about him. He hated his family, especially his sister, but he wouldn’t let her say a word against them. He read a lot but didn’t seem to want anybody to know he liked to read.

He was alright looking, Georgia reasoned. Tall. His eye had this little fleck of brown in it, which was cool. He had a decent face. His hair would be better if he washed it or brushed it ever. It was sorta shaggy.

He always smelled sort of like weed, but he wasn’t sweaty or gross or overly greasy. He slept over sometimes. When her dad was home, he crashed on the couch. When he wasn’t, Connor slept in her bed. He didn’t snore and he was always cold, and once she woke up with his long limbs wrapped around her.

So maybe she should just kiss him. Callie on Grey’s wasn’t seeing leaves, and Connor’s mouth probably tasted like blue raspberry.

So Georgia sort of looked at Connor and started to make her move, sort of going to straddle his lap when Connor caught her wrist and squeezed it so tightly she yelped, before pinning her back against the mattress. “You’re sleeping with that Zack guy.” It was an accusation.

“So?” She said.

“So? He’s an asshole. And he’s like twenty.”

“And?”

“You’re fifteen.” He was so so mad, and Georgia was stupid baked because she thought for a second he was hot when he was angry.

“What is your problem?” She said, finally wriggling free. The laptop had been shoved away. Connor’s face went red with anger.

“My problem is that you’re fucking Zack to get weed.”

“Why does that bother you?” Georgia pressed.

“I don’t know!” Connor shouted. “But it does. So stop it, alright? I fucking hate it.”

“But why?” She demanded, shoving him. “Why can’t I fuck whoever I want?”

“I never said you couldn’t!”

“But you don’t want me to!”

“Well… yeah.” He looked confused.

“Just fucking tell me why not then!”

“I already told you, I don’t like it.”

“But-”

“If you ask me why one more goddamn time, Georgia, I swear to god I’ll-”

So she hit him.

She wanted to kiss him and instead she hit him. Punched him right in this stupid mouth. It was satisfying to watch him look stunned and hurt because it was how she felt all of the time. He hit her back. She knew he could fuck her up, really hurt her, someone had told her that Connor had broken someone’s jaw in the seventh grade. But he just slapped her. Hard enough that her ears rang. Open hand against her cheek. Hard enough neck snapped.

“What the fuck? You can’t hit a girl!”

He hit her again, another open palm slap. “Stop acting like such a fucking bitch Georgia.”

“No!” She said, and this time she kicked him in the nuts, and Connor hit his knees fast. “Also fuck you.”

“Fuck you.” Connor said through gritted teeth. “Oh wait, you’d be into that, right? You’d fuck anybody .”

“So I’m a slut. So what? Why do you care ?”

“Because I thought we were friends?”

“Friends don’t care who their friends fuck,” Georgia spat. “Oh right you don’t know that. Seeing as you don’t have any friends.”

Connor’s eyes went dark. “I’m so fucking tired of your pathetic crush on me making you act like such a cunt.”

Georgia...started to laugh.

And to her surprise, Connor started laughing too. “What the fuck is wrong with us?” He said, laughing.  

“Fuck if I know,” She said giggling. “We’re a mess.”

“Look… you’re my best friend okay? And I don’t… want to share you with sleazy dealers like Zack, okay?”

“Okay.” She smiled at him. “Just tell me one thing.”

“What?”

“You’ve never kissed anyone right?”

“So?”

“Well, if I’m gonna stop fucking Zack… I think you owe me something. First kiss seems fair.”

“Fuck you, I’m already gonna get stuck buying all the weed,” Connor said, laughing.

Georgia kissed him. He did taste like blue raspberries. He froze, didn’t move, didn’t react. It wasn’t what she wanted, but she figured it was what she was getting. “There. Now you’re not a loser who hasn’t kissed anyone.”

“Fuck you,” Connor said, looking a bit… spooked. He wiped his mouth on the back of his hand.

“Don’t give me ideas.”

He laughed. It didn’t sound quite right.

Connor slept in her room, but he seemed to be holding himself apart from her intentionally. She didn’t wake up with his noodle legs in her space or his arms wrapping around her shoulders.

“Morning,” She muttered when the alarm went off. Her shirt was thin and in the morning light Georgia knew you could see through it.

“Bathroom,” Connor said quickly, rushing off.


So she had kissed Connor and Connor seemed to be pointedly ignoring it. That’s where Georgia’s life was at right then. They both took the bus to school the next morning like nothing had happened and Georgia kind of hated it. He read a book on the bus and she stared out the window and Evan kept looking between them like a kid whose parents were fighting.  

He was probably pissed off at her. What the fuck was wrong with her, kissing him like that? Like, seriously, did her brain just have a slut switch that went on in the presence of a penis?

School dragged. Second semester meant Georgia had gym class with Connor and frankly they weren’t actually like talking so neither of them came up with a plan to ditch so then they were just… in gym.

It was March which mean their sadistic gym teacher sent them outside to play softball even though it was still freezing and there had been freezing rain twice that week.

Georgia hated gym. Running with boobs should be illegal, the gym teacher was a creep, and also Connor was about as athletically inclined as a giraffe in roller skates, so he rarely participated. She purposely stood apart from him when the two idiot jocks in the class picked teams, hoping that maybe she could end up on Connor’s team.

“Harris, you start,” Said the gym teacher. Georgia wondered if she could get away with smoking if she played the outfield.

He picked some other jock and then the other team captain picked some other other jock and the whole thing was tediously stereotypical. Georgia was actually pretty good at softball. She had played first base in sixth and seventh grade at her old school. Back when she still cared about stuff. Back before her mom left and her dad started gulping down vodka like water.

She got picked for Harris’s team (he had pointed at her and said “Red, come on” which really pissed Georgia off). Connor did end up on her team, but only because he was the last kid picked.

Georgia felt bad about that. She hated getting picked last. She always squirmed, uncomfortable, until somebody finally let her off the hook and onto their team. She hated the pleading pathetic look she got on her face, the way her pulse ticked faster and faster, the way her palms started to sweat.

Connor trudged his way toward her, head down. “Fucking hate Brian,” he said.

“Brian?”

“Harris. Team captain.”

“Oh,” Georgia shot the team captain a glare. “Why do we hate him?”

“Family friend,” Connor said shortly. He shoved his hands into his hoodie pocket. Georgia remained impressed by his continued commitment to not letting anyone see his arms. Frankly, she didn’t see the point. Nobody looked at people like them. Just… nobody looked.

They were sent out to the outfield with gross gym class gloves. Georgia decided she needed to bring hers with if she was going to keep doing this gym class thing. This one smelled like someone’s old hand sweat.

“Did you ever play?” Georgia asked as Connor pulled on one of the other gloves.

“Little league for a while.”

“Any good?”

“I sucked at first, but my dad… Wouldn’t let me quit.”

“Oh Larry.”

“Yeah.”

“...Are we cool?” Georgia asked Connor.

Connor shoved his fist into his glove. “Yeah, sure. Whatever.”

So they clearly were not cool. Georgia frowned. She didn’t know what Connor’s fucking problem was anyway. It was one stupid kiss. It wasn’t even a big deal.

Georgia caught a fly ball which ended the inning and Connor didn’t look at her when they all lined up to bat.

Fucker.

When it was her turn at bat, Georgia hit a triple. She probably could have ran home if she had been a little bit faster.

Connor was at bat after her. Despite the fact that he wasn’t usually one for gym class, he still managed to get on base and send her home.

“Bet that’s not the first time Murphy’s helped Red score,” Some dude said to Brian Harris. “She’s like his fag hag or whatever.”

Brian laughed, “Careful now, don’t piss the psycho off in front of his girlfriend.”

Georgia looked over at Connor, still standing on first base, obviously in earshot. She didn’t know what her job here was. Should she defend him? Deny being his girlfriend?

Connor wasn’t looking at her.

Georgia smiled slightly at Brian. “You know, I’d rather fuck the psycho than someone like you.”

A chorus of “oooohs” erupted from the field.

“What did you say to me, bitch?” Brian said, rounding on her. Connor had stepped off the base, walking toward them. He looked pissed, he looked like he might hit someone.

Georgia smile. “I said -”

“Alright break it up, that’s enough,” Their gym teacher said, starting in their direction.

“You gonna let your girlfriend talk to me like that Murphy?” Brian said, puffing himself up to his full height. Connor was still taller, but only half as wide. “Tell your bitch to keep her mouth-”

It happened so fast that Georgia nearly missed it. One second Brian was in Connor’s face, the next he was on the ground, bleeding. Three other dudes tackled Connor then, and the gym teacher had to physically pull one of them off of Connor.

“Fucking shit!” Brian moaned from the ground. “What the hell Connor, you broke my nose!”

Connor’s lip was bleeding a little and the collar of his gym uniform was torn.

“Murphy! Stern!” The coach said. “I am taking your asses to the principal’s office.”

“Georgia didn’t even do anything!” Connor said, turning. “She didn’t-”

“Enough. Harris, take yourself to the nurse.” He gave Connor a push forward. “Principal’s office. Now.”

“Sorry,” Georgia mouthed at Connor as they took a seat in the principal’s office.

He half smiled at her, blood in his teeth. She noticed his eye was starting to swell.

Connor was suspended for a day. His mom picked him up, and he texted Georgia that he was grounded for an undetermined amount of time.

Georgia had to spend the rest of the day in In School Suspension.

She sat next to Evan on the bus ride home.

“How much do you know?” She said, sitting down.

“Connor and Brian Harris got into a fight over you in gym class,” Evan said. “Or so Jared said.”

“He’s fucking wrong. They got into a fight because I told Brian I wouldn’t fuck him if he was the last person on earth and Brian told me to shut up and called me a bitch.”

“Oh,” Evan said.

“I thought Jared was pals will all of those neanderthals.”

Evan shrugged. “I guess they haven’t been talking to him as much this year. He doesn’t play football or anything. I dunno.” He picked at a thread on his jeans. “Did the school call your dad?”

“Yeah. He didn’t answer, of course.”

“Right.” Evan gave her a strange look. “Are you okay?”

“Peachy.” She shrugged.

“Want to come over for dinner? My mom wanted to do Taco Tuesday but got stuck working late so now we’re doing… Taco Friday?”

“Sure. If she doesn’t mind me mooching off of your food.”

“She doesn’t.” He frowned. “Are you okay?” Evan asked suddenly.

“Why?”

“Well I saw you and Connor at the bus stop this morning and it seemed like weird.” He flinched. “Not like, not like you’re weird or-or whatever, just that, like, normally you guys are always like talking and whatever and today you were both, like, s-super quiet and he like was reading, reading a book and… are you in a fight or something?”

Georgia shifted her jaw a little. Her face still stung a little from where Connor had slapped her. “I dunno. Probably. He’s always pissed at me about something.”

Evan dropped it. They got off the bus together, and Georgia walked straight to Evan’s house. They put on some music and didn’t really do homework. It was a Friday after all.

“What do you think this song is even about?” Evan asked her after a while. The playlist she had put on was a lot of songs from The Perks of Being a Wallflower soundtrack, and right now “Asleep” was playing.

“Death, I think.”

“Oh.” He took a breath. “Is it weird that I still like it?”

“Nah man. Liking songs about death is pretty cool.” She cleared her throat. “I think it’s about killing yourself, honestly.”

“Oh.” Evan picked up his pen. Put it down. Picked it up again, but didn’t write anything. “I… Um.”

Georgia looked his way, sitting up properly. “Yeah?”

“Do you ever think about killing yourself?” Evan blurted and Georgia’s eyebrows nearly flew off of her face.

“Yeah. Sometimes,” She said evenly. “Like when something embarrassing happens or when I don’t want to do something. I dunno.”

“Oh yeah. Me, uh. Me too.”

Georgia narrowed her eyes at Evan. “How would you want to do it? If you killed yourself?” He stared at her, face sort of white. “Hypothetically.”

Evan shrugged. “I guess I don’t know. Something quick? I don’t think I’d want to draw it out.”

“Oh I super would. I’d be a total dramatic asshole about it,” Georgia said. “I think I’d slit my wrists. Leave a note in my own blood, something like that. Really make a scene.”

Evan’s lips almost twitched into a smile. “That’s kinda morbid.”

“This whole conversation is morbid.”

“I thought about, like, taking pills before,” Evan went on, his voice careful, guarded. “But I read some-somewhere that usually what happens then is that you choke on your own puke.”

“Gross,” Georgia commented. “I wouldn’t do it at home.”

“Don’t want your dad to find you?”

“More like, don’t want my dad to take two weeks to find me. I’d be all rotting and gross by then.”

Evan sort of laughed nervously. “Having a body is sort of weird.”

“You’re telling me. It’s stupid. I hate it.”

“You-you hate having a body?”

“Yeah dude. You have to feed it and water it. And bodies do gross things like piss and shit and bleed. If I had my way I’d be a sentient cloud of smoke.”

Evan kinda laughed then. “That’s… weird.” He flinched. “Just like, just the image, not the, not the idea? It’s a neat idea, it’s just, like, just a funny visual, you know, a cloud of smoke that could like… talk.”

Georgia laughed at him. “You’re a nervous wreck, you know that?”

“Yeah,” Evan said, his voice suddenly lower and sadder.

Georgia gave him a lopsided smile. “I have to pee,” She announced, heading up the steps toward the bathroom. When Georgia was sure Evan wasn’t looking, she ducked back across the hall, into his bedroom. Beside Evan’s bed was a small bedside table and on the table sat a box. Georgia knew that he kept a bottle of anxiety meds in that box. She flipped it open.

EVAN HANSEN

ALPRAZOLAM 0.5 MG TABLETS

TAKE 1 BY MOUTH UP TO 3 TIMES DAILY

Georgia shook the bottle experimentally. There weren’t too many left. Maybe a quarter of the 90 day supply.

Georgia shoved it into the pocket of her jeans, then rushed back across the hall to pee. She stuffed toilet paper into the bottle to quiet the rattle of the pills, then shoved the bottle in between her boobs. She had on a too big hoodie that day, so she knew Evan wouldn’t notice. She knew objectively that stealing drugs from her friend was pretty fucked up but…

Georgia was a fucked up person. And Evan’s mom would just go and get him a refill of his meds. And since her weed supply had just dried up for the foreseeable future, she needed a backup.


 

“So you got into a fight with Brian Harris over your girlfriend?” Larry sort of laughed a little. “Oh to be young and in love again.”

“It’s not funny, Larry. He got into a fight over his girlfriend. This is serious!”

Connor lifted his head slightly to meet his dad’s gaze over his dinner plate. Then he turned to his mom. “Would you be less pissed off if that’s what actually happened?”

“Connor, come on -” His mom started.

“We’ve been over this. She’s not my girlfriend. Brian called her a bitch, I told him to shut up, and we got into a fight. It was stupid, but I was just… standing up for her or whatever.”

His dad kept this stupid smile on his face that made Connor feel even madder. He just wanted his dad to shut up about Georgia and laughing about “young love” and all that stupid shit.

His mom was the only one having an appropriate reaction.

“This is ridiculous. Connor, I don’t want you seeing that girl anymore.”

Connor rolled his eyes. “It’s not her fault.”

“I think that girl is trouble,” His mom said, her hands on her hips. “Fighting! Fighting because of her. With Brian, who used to be one of your best friends.”

“Yeah. In like fifth grade,” Connor said. He didn’t know what her issue was. He’d gotten into worse fights before. Way worse. Like beat the shit out of sophomores in high school worse. Dislocating Josh Carter’s jaw worse. This was… this was almost normal. The most fucking normal thing, fighting to defend Georgia.

Connor knew that he’d do more than break Brian’s nose for Georgia if he had to… But he was still pretty pissed off about having to. She’d been stupid. Trying to talk smack to someone like Brian would could literally snap her in half. He was pissed off Georgia with no way to yell at her about it. His mom took away his phone. She was talking about grounding him for a month.

“Connor go up to your room,” His mom snapped when Larry started to laugh again. “Your father and I need to talk about this.”

“Whatever,” Connor said, stomping past them and up the steps.

He caught Zoe listening in at the top of the stairs. “How screwed are you?” She asked, smirking.

“Oh fuck you,” Connor said, rolling his eyes. “It wasn’t even a big deal.”

Zoe looked down at the cuffs of her jeans. She’d drawn stars all over them. She looked pale, her face hard. “So how badly did you fuck him up this time?” She said in a low voice.

Connor stopped. Stared. “I broke his nose,” He said. He didn’t want to say.

Zoe’s face went pale. “Jesus, you don’t know when to stop do you?” She got up from her seat at the top of the steps, hurrying into her bedroom. Connor heard the lock on her bedroom door click.

Connor felt his heart sink. His throat close up, just for a second.

He hated that Zoe was scared of him.

Half of the time they hated each other. Half the time he wished that their parents would split and they’d each get to live with their favorite parent, apart. He wished they could just stay away from each other because being forced to live in the same house, in bedrooms down the hall, just hurt them. But he always hated that she was scared of him. That he had lost it in front of her and now she got scared if he stepped too close or got too mad.

She was scared of him. Scared of how he could hurt people, injure and maim them with nothing but his fists and the spike in his blood pressure that accompanied anger. She was scared of the twitch in his fingers, the urge to ball his hands into fists, thumbs outside.

He didn’t blame her.

He couldn’t blame her.

But he hated it nonetheless.


 

“Wake up!”

Connor groaned, pushing a pillow over his face.

“Come on kid, it’s 7:30 and you’re wasting daylight. We’re going driving on the interstate today.”

Connor could not think of a single thing he wanted to do less than go driving with his dad at 7:30 on a Saturday. “Saturday. No school. Sleep.”

“Up up up!” His dad said, yanking back the covers on his bed. Connor jumped, rolling over onto his stomach and hiding his arms under his pillow.

“Just give me, like, an hour. It’s Saturday.”

“Time’s a wastin’,” His dad said, still way too damn chipper. “Come on, you’re girlfriend’s itching for you to learn how to drive I can tell.”

“She’s not my girlfriend,” He groaned helplessly, but his dad had taken off down the hall whistling. “SHE’S NOT MY GIRLFRIEND !”

His dad didn’t come back.

Connor sighed. His heart rate slowed slightly. His dad hadn’t seen, hadn’t seen, hadn’t seen.

He grabbed a hoodie and dragged himself toward the bathroom. His dad pitched a fit if he didn’t shower every day and Connor wasn’t in the mood for a lecture of how his pits reeked or how his hair was greasy.

His dad was already pretty pissed off that his hair was shaggy again. He refused to cut short again after his dad had forced him into getting a buzzcut.

Connor showered, annoyed to find that the inside of his left arm had a smear of dried blood on it. The water rinsed off the rust colored mark and Connor frowned at the mark on his arm. It had bled more than he expected. He might have a stain on his sheets. He’d have to try to do laundry sometime when his mom wouldn’t notice, except that she always noticed because she had nothing better to do than be up in his business.

He needed to be more careful.

He thought…

This was a stupid thought, honestly, but it was the one that kept circling around in his mind. Like a CD stuck on repeat or the slow rotation of an overflowing drain. Over and over and over and over.

He thought maybe once he wasn’t such a lonely pathetic loser with no friends that he would… be better. Be less fucked up. Be more normal.

But Connor was realizing as he washed the dried blood off of his arm, that having a couple of people who talked to him didn’t make much of a difference. And Georgia…

She was.

Complicated.

It was weird.

He didn’t… She had kissed him. And it wasn’t like bad. It wasn’t like he still thought kissing was gross or whatever it was just that.

Connor didn’t want her to kiss him. He didn’t want that at all.

She was his friend. He liked her. He didn’t want other people touching her, especially not that skeeze Zack.

But he didn’t want her touching him.

He just…

He didn’t. But he didn’t want her touching anyone else, and that was weird. He knew that was weird. There was no getting around the fact that that was possessive boyfriend kinda shit. He just didn’t want to be Georgia’s boyfriend.

He tried to picture her getting a boyfriend, some other dude who would kiss her and touch her and hold her hand and it pissed him off so much that he got shampoo in his eye from lathering too hard.

What the fuck was his fucking problem?

Jesus. Now he was definitely going to be stuck wearing his glasses all day because trying to put in contacts would feel like he was stabbing his eye. He thought about trying his contacts despite the shiner that Brian had given him, but now he knew he was fucked.

….This wasn’t the first time his shower thoughts led him to be pissed off about Georgia.

God he was pathetic and weird.

Connor got out of the shower, rushed into his bedroom to pull on some clothes and met his dad downstairs.

“You’re wearing your glasses?”

Connor scowled at his dad.

“Well as long as you can see and you don’t kill us both,” Larry said, laughing to himself like this was some hilarious joke.

“Are you boys excited about going on the interstate today?” His mom looked so pathetically hopeful, like maybe driving with his dad would cure him of his ridiculous obsession with Georgia and calm his more violent tendencies.

“Thrilled,” Connor deadpanned. His mom put a glass of orange juice in front of him.

“Honey, can I make you something to eat?” His mom tried.

Connor dragged himself out of his chair to get himself some cereal. He couldn’t stomach her eagerness and effort because she was trying to make him be different, be better. He poured some Honey Bunches of Oats into a bowl, filled it to the top with milk, and slouched into his chair to hunch over his bowl and shovel spoonfuls into his mouth. He crunched the cereal loudly to drown out his mom and dad talking about driving and Georgia and whatever else they talked about in front of him like he wasn’t there.

“Ready?” Connor announced, loudly clanging his spoon against his bowl and getting up to drop it into the sink. He wiped his mouth on the back to his hand and looked at his dad expectantly.

“Let me grab the keys!” He said brightly.

He met his dad outside of the garage, noting that they were taking his mom’s SUV and now his dad’s Lexus. Typical.

Connor caught the keys when his dad tossed them (left handed, which made his dad make a whole big deal out of his reflexes because he was pretty sure Larry genuinely thought he was going to join the baseball team). Connor had to push his mom’s seat all the way back to fit his stupid long legs into the driver’s seat.

“Right so you’re going to head north,” His dad said.

“North?” Connor asked. He didn’t know cardinal directions.

His dad sighed. “Turn right.”

Connor gripped the steering wheel tightly, then started off. Driving through their little neighborhood was easy enough now. Fine. He’d done it like fifty times.

“Okay so when you’re merging, you want to get up to speed by the time you-”

“I know,” Connor said, gritting his teeth. “We’ve gone over this like fifty times in driver’s ed.”

“If you’re not up to speed, you’re going to cause -”

“I know!” Connor said, louder. “It could cause an accident. I got this. It’ll be fine.”

His dad told him to take a left and then he was at the on ramp for the interstate. He felt his heart speed up just a little bit. He hadn’t ever done this and his dad was trying to talk to him and was he supposed to keep speeding up until he saw the yellow line or was he supposed to start speeding up once it turned white?

“Check your blind spot -”

“I’m trying-”

“Connor, check your blind spot you have to look over your sh-”

“I’M TRYING!”
A semi laid on its horn, and Connor hit the brakes immediately, nearly slamming into the guardrail before correcting at the last second.

“Connor what the fuck are you doing?”

“I’m sorry, I-”

“You have to already be at the speed everyone else is-”

“I know, I know -”

“No, you don’t know because you almost fucking totalled the car -”

“Fuck, I know, fuck -”

“Get off at the next exit,” Larry said, his voice all pissed and stern and Connor felt his hands start to shake and he gripped them into fists over the steering wheel.

“Fine,” Connor said, flipping on the turn signal. He carefully slowed to a stop as he pulled off of the interstate, and his dad directed him to pull over into a rideshare lot.

“What the fuck was that Connor? You said you know how to do this-”

“I’ve, I mean, I haven’t actually done it before. I’m, I’m sorr-”

“You almost got us both killed. Why did you hit the brakes?”

“I don’t-”

“Do you know how dangerous-?”

“I KNOW OKAY.”

His dad raised his eyebrows. Connor felt a lump in his throat.

“I screwed up. I’m sorry.”

“You’re obviously not ready for this,” His dad said in disgust. “Get out. I’ll drive us home.”

“What? I want to try again,” Connor said.

“Like hell you are. Get out and give me the keys.”

“No.”

“Connor, I’m serious.”

“So am I!” He protested. “Let me try one more time.”

“No, haven’t learned yet -”

“I can’t learn if you don’t let me try!” Connor said angrily, putting the car back into drive.

“Connor, no, stop the fucking car!”

He ignored his dad, turning carefully back onto the road and taking a left to merge back onto the highway heading back toward his parents’ house. While Larry screamed his head off about how he was so totally grounded, Connor checked his blind spots and got up to speed and smoothly merged onto the highway.

His dad shut up.

Connor drove them back home. He handed his dad the keys and went back up to his bedroom, ignoring his mom when she asked how it went.


 

A  few hours later, Connor heard his dad barking for him to get downstairs. Expecting the worst, he dragged his feet. Zoe peaked out of her bedroom, eyes watchful and careful and she closed the door with a quick snap when she caught him looking at her.

Fuck.

His dad was standing in the foyer, frowning. “I think I was too hard on you earlier.”

Connor stared. He quickly looked around for video cameras, assuming that this was a prank. He wasn’t paranoid. His dad just never admitted to being wrong. It was about as likely as unicorns being real or his mom smoking weed.

“You were right. You won’t learn unless you practice.”

Connor blinked, waiting, for the “but,” for the shoe to drop.

“So let’s go practice.”

To Connor’s great surprise, he managed to merge onto the interstate six times.

“So…” His dad said as they were driving home. “You’re sure Georgia’s not your girlfriend?”

Connor rolled his eyes. “I’m positive. Brian was just being an asshole. She was… she was trying to tell him to leave me alone.”

He didn’t know why he admitted it. Something about his dad watching the way he was driving, every tilt of the wheel or flick of the turn signal of check of the rearview mirror, had him spooked. On edge. He couldn’t stop the words tumbling out. “Brian’s a dick to me. The whole thing started because of a softball game in gym class.”

His dad frowned a little.

“Basically… Georgia’s in my class, right? And she hit a triple, like, right away, first swing.”

“Impressive.”

“She’s pretty good,” Connor admitted. “And I was up to bat next, and I got on base and sent her home.”

“Nice.”

“Yeah, but then Brian starts making cracks about me scoring with Georgia or whatever, and she basically told him to knock it off. He got in her face and called her a bitch.”

“And that’s when you hit him?”

“I mean, yeah. Like. She was… we were both on his team. He was being an asshole.”

“So… you and Georgia look out for each other?”

Connor nodded. “I guess. I dunno. He shouldn’t be talking to her like that... “ He stopped. “Or anyone, really, but-”

“Especially not her,” his dad said with this obnoxious, knowing smile.

“Yeah. I guess. Whatever,” Connor mumbled, checking his mirrors before turning onto their street.

After dinner, his dad insisted they play a game of catch. He gave Connor hell about how his new glove was all stiff and needed to be broken in. “If you’re going to be playing in class, you don’t want to make an ass of yourself, right?”

Connor said nothing. They played for a while, not talking about too much because Connor didn’t talk sports and his dad didn’t speak Connor. They went back and forth on whether the warm weather would hold (Connor said no, Larry was more optimistic) and then after it got too dark to play, they went inside. His dad made a big fuss about rubbing shaving cream into the glove and wrapping it in rubber bands. “Go stick this under your mattress. We’ll do it again tomorrow, and it’ll be broken in in no time.”


 

“Georgia,” Evan said Monday morning at the bus stop.

It was a gray, slushy day. She hugged the hoodie she wore tighter around her middle. She hadn’t slept. She hadn’t heard from Connor in two fucking days and she had a dull headache and an empty stomach. She hadn’t seen her dad all weekend, and she’d spent the weekend reading by candle light and getting high on stolen Xanax.

“Hey Evan.”

He wasn’t smiling. Which wasn’t normal for him. He usually gave her a nervous half smile. He shoved his hands into the pocket of his jacket and said, not looking at her, “Can I please have that bottle of pills back?”

Georgia rearranged her face to look surprised. “What are you talking about?”

“Don’t-” Evan started, loudly, yelpy. He shoved his hands deeper into his pockets. “Don’t, just-just, don’t lie okay. I’m not. I’m not an idiot or whatever. I just. I need. I need those. I need them for my, my anxiety. So can you just give them back? Please?”

Georgia frowned. “I don’t have them. I don’t know what you’re-”

“Stop lying!” Evan said, his voice dropping low, his hands grabbing at her elbow. “I know. I know you took them, that-that they were in my room and you were the only person at my house so just. I’m not, I’m not even mad I just need those before my mom finds out.”

She said nothing.

“I told her I left them in my locker. But, like, I’m not going to lie for you again. I need those meds.”

“Oh please, no you don’t. Not really-”

Evan’s grip on her arm got tighter. “Yes. I do. Give them back.”

“Fine,” Georgia said, relenting and yanking her arm out of his grip. She pulled out the bottle from her bag and thrust them into his hand. “Jesus. Lighten up.”

“No!” Evan said, his face getting redder. “This is a big deal. This isn’t okay, this is… this is fucked up Georgia. You stole drugs from me.”

The bus pulled up, and Georgia stomped up the steps and onto the bus. She threw herself into the seat next to Connor, who looked pretty shitty. “Evan is not sitting with us today,” She said in a low voice.

“Why?” He asked, sounding disinterested.

“He’s being a prick.”

Connor nodded. Evan walked up to their seat, looking at them, like he was waiting. “What?” Connor said, barely looking at him.

“Can’t I, um, sit?” He said, holding Connor’s gaze.

“Sorry. Seat’s full.”

Georgia felt a swell of satisfaction as Evan’s jaw dropped open slightly. “Fine,” He said shaking his head. “Just… fine.”

“Hey kid, sit down!”

Evan shook his head again before stalking toward the back of bus.

Georgia caught Connor looking over at her. “What?” She said.

“Just curious why we’re mad at him.”

“He called me a liar.”

“Were you lying?”

She shrugged. “I swiped like, a couple of his anxiety meds and he lost his shit. It wasn’t even a big deal.”

Connor frowned slightly. “I mean. I’ve seen him have panic attacks before.”

Georgia felt a rush of anger from her throat to her sternum. “Oh? So now you’re on his side?”

“No,” Connor said, backtracking. “No. Just. I dunno. Why’d you take them?”

“Because I wanted them,” She said.

Connor raised his eyebrows.

She rolled her eyes. “Fine. Apparently I’m not allowed to see Zack anymore and we smoked most of my stash and you’re grounded indefinitely so I was trying to have a contingency plan.”

Connor frowned. “You know that he makes shit a lot… easier though right?”

“What do you mean?”

Connor shrugged, looking around pointedly. “He, I dunno. Keeps my parents off of my back. No lectures about spending too much time together or whatever if I say we’re all three hanging out. If I ask to go to Evan’s, I might even get out of being grounded earlier. The parents love him, you know?”

“I guess,” Georgia conceded. She hated it when he was right. She hated that the Murphys loved Evan and tolerated her. “Still. He’s making a huge deal out of this.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“Talk to him?”

Connor frowned. “I wasn’t even around. I was stuck with my dad. You know he made me play catch with him? And my dumbass opened my mouth so now he knows all about softball in gym class and I’m getting dragged to the batting cages tonight.”

“You’re not a bad hitter.”

“Not the point. I didn’t do this, and I’m not getting involved.”

“Please, you’re already involved. You’re always already involved because you’re my person.”

Connor frowned. “You watched more Grey’s didn’t you?”

She shook her head. “Power was out all weekend.”

“Sucks.”

“I know.”


 

Connor found Evan in the library. They had the same study hall, and sometimes they went together, eating their lunches so they could avoid the cafeteria all together.

They did this more last semester, but Georgia mentioned to Connor once that she wished they wouldn’t hang out so much without her, so he’d sometimes just avoid Evan if they were both there. It was easier not to piss Georgia off.

But today he found Evan in the library. He was looking at a book with a tree on the cover and picking at a sandwich. Connor had a seat across from him. “Hey.”

Evan looked up, a little startled. “You’re… you’re like. Really quiet.”

“Sorry.” Connor went into his backpack and fished out the brown bag lunch he had packed, and started to noisily chew his way through a small bag of pretzels. When he was nearly finished, he pointed a pretzel twist at Evan and said, “Why are you being a dick to Georgia?”

“I’m…. I’m being a dick?” Evan blinked a few times in surprise. He put down the book he was reading. “She stole something. From me.”

“Yeah. She mentioned swiping some pills.”

Evan’s eyebrows went up. He looked a bit affronted. “Like… that’s, like, really messed-messed up?”

“I guess,” Connor said, shrugging. “She gave them back though.”

“I mean, yeah, but she took like almost half of them,” Evan said, his face starting to go a little pink. Connor watched a few small beads of sweat appear on his upper lip. Evan seemed to notice and lick his lips self consciously.

He bit his lip. “Look, Georgia’s… you know, shit isn’t always great for her.”

“I know,” Evan said, sounding almost offended. “I’m her neighbor. I know her dad’s a… her dad’s not around. And, I’m… I’m not an idiot. I know she’s… But like. She had no right to take my stuff, and it’s like super messed up that you’re defending her.”

“I’m-” Connor started. Stopped. Considered. Took a breath. “Look, I’m not. That was… weird. Even for her. But sometimes it’s easier just to let her do what she wants to do. Pick your battles, you know? Like. This isn’t really a big deal.”

“It is though,” Evan said, coldly. “You know . You know I… That I, that I have anxiety.” His voice went soft at “anxiety.” “You’ve seen me panic and hyperventilate and puke, like. It’s - It’s a big freaking deal, Connor. I need to have these for emergencies.”

“And she gave most of them back!” Connor said, sort of laughing in disbelief. It really, in the grand scheme of things, didn’t matter if Georgia swiped a mouthful of Xanax. It didn’t. Just like the kiss didn’t matter, or getting punched. Like. None of that meant anything. “Look, I know you guys are neighbors and you’ve been friends for a while, but let me give you some advice: Get over it. It’s not a big deal.”

Evan looked… pissed. “It is to me.”

“You’re being kind of whiny, don’t you think?” Connor said.

“I’m not!” Evan whined.

“You just have to get over shit with Georgia. Like last week she totally kissed me out of the blue, and I didn’t want her to, and she got pissed but… like whatever. You know? There’s no point in trying to change who she is.”

“She kissed you?” Evan echoed, eyes going big.

Connor shrugged. “Yeah.”

“And… and you didn’t want her to?”

Connor shrugged again. “Well no, not really. It was my first kiss. It was weird. Whatever.”

“That’s…” Evan frowned. “That’s really messed up, dude.”

“Nah, I mean -”

“She kissed you when you didn’t want her to. That’s a big deal. You should talk to her about that.”

Connor laughed. “You’re making it out like she like… raped my mouth of whatever.”

Evan didn’t laugh or smile. “I… I don’t like that. I’m sorry she did that.”

“It’s really not a big deal.”

“Well… did you like it?”

Connor wrinkled his nose. “I am so not doing the whole ‘tell me more, tell me more’ thing, Evan.”

Evan almost smiled then. “Okay, fine, but like… did you?”

Connor shrugged. “I dunno… It was weird. I’d never…” He didn’t know why he was telling Evan any of this.

“Right.”

“She seemed kinda pissed at me afterward.”

“Why?”

“She’s always pissed off at me,” Connor said, shrugging. “I think it’s how she keeps from getting bored.”
Evan frowned.

“You’re really not dropping this, are you?” Connor said in disbelief. Usually Evan was such a pushover. Georgia said jump, he said “how high,” and then freaked out if it wasn’t even higher. He was a chronic people pleaser. This was… weird. “It was a stupid kiss. Just like it was some stupid pills. Nobody got hurt or sick or died. So, just. I dunno. Lighten up, okay?”

Evan kept on frowning. “Look… You have a little sister, r-right?”

Connor nodded.

“If she said that someone kissed her but she didn’t wanna kiss them, what would you tell her?”

“I’d kill the guy,” Connor said shortly. He could hear the crack of the guy’s nose under his fist already, the sickening whack of his head bouncing off of pavement. Connor would out and out murder anyone who ever tried to hurt Zoe. That’s why he stayed away so much. It was his job to protect her, keep her safe. That’s why he stayed away.  “I wouldn’t even think about it, I’d just fucking take the guy out.”

“Well, it’s the same thing. R-right? Someone kissed out without asking, and that’s… that’s messed up.”

Connor shook his head. “No. I mean. I’m a guy . And like… It’s Georgia, you know? We have… I dunno… Weird thing. It’s just how it works. I’m me, and Georgia’s… Georgia.”

“Yeah,” Evan said, sounding uneasy. “I’m still pissed at her about taking my meds.”

Connor sighed. “Whatever.”

“I think you… Maybe you could, like, mention not being okay with her kissing you?”

Connor laughed loudly enough to get shushed by the librarian, who usually just turned a blind eye to Connor goofing off there when he skipped class or ate his lunch. “Dude. Trust me. That’s not how it even works, okay? You’re making a big deal out of nothing.”

Evan didn’t smile or duck his head or do any of his normal nervous Evan things. He frowned more. “I’m not. That’s… that’s the problem.”

 

The bell rang, and Evan gathered his stuff and headed out of the library. Connor shook his head, annoyed, and decided he was going to skip his next class. He texted Georgia and ducked out of the building through a back entrance, crossing the field outside where another gym class was suffering through softball.

Connor ducked under the bleachers, lighting a cigarette and waiting. Georgia showed up after about five minutes. “Hey,” she said, breathless. “Skipping history?”

Connor nodded. “I talked to Evan.”

“Yeah? We cool then?” She reached across him to take his pack of cigarettes out of his hands, took one out, and then held hers between two fingers to light it on the end of Connor’s.

He took a surprised step back. “Just… just ask for my lighter next time. Jesus.”

“Sorry,” She said, not looking at all sorry.

Connor took a drag on his cigarette, shoving his free hand into his hoodie pocket. “Evan’s still being… whatever.”

Georgia groaned. “Oh come on. You were supposed to smooth things over. You’re the one all worried about your parents.”

“Fuck, I know okay? I fucked up.”

“Whatever,” Georgia said. “We’ll just avoid him for a while.”

Connor thought back to what Evan said in the library. “Yeah. Good idea.”

“Want one of the Xanax I swiped?” Georgia asked with this sort of… feral smile. Connor knew better than to say no.


 

Despite her promise to Connor to avoid Zack at all costs, as March stretched into April and Connor was still grounded indefinitely, things were… pretty fucking bleak.

Georgia forged her dad to get her work permit, but all of the applications she had submitted had gone unanswered.

Now that it was hovering around fifty degrees, the power company could legally cut off the electricity. Which fucking sucked, since Georgia wasn’t prepared to give up her Evan embargo in exchange for a shower.

“Dad,” Georgia tried one evening when he stumbled in from the bar around one in the morning. The living room was dimly lit with a number of old Bath and Body Works candles from a phase her mom had before she disappeared. “The power’s been out for almost a week.”

“I’m working on it,” He slurred. “Shouldn’t you be in bed?”

“I tried, but I’m hungry. Haven’t eaten. Since, you know, we don’t have any food in the house. And we haven’t had the lights on in days.”

His dad heaved a sigh like he couldn’t be bothered. “Can’t you call that boyfriend of yours? I’ve seen his parents’ cars. You want money for food and lights, get a job or ask your rich boyfriend. I’m going to bed.”

“Seriously? That’s it?” Georgia said. “You’re just… going to bed?”

Her dad gave her a twisted smile. “We’ve all gotta grow up, Georgie. You just got unlucky.”

So that’s how she ended up at Zack’s house after a month apart. Despite her promises to Connor, things were getting… bleak.

“Georgia,” He said, answering the door shirtless. “What can I do you for?”

“I… I need cash,” She said.

Zack’s eyebrows went up. “Cash?”

“Please.” She stepped out of the cold night and into his trailer. “I’m… I need some cash. Please.”

He grinned at her wolfishly.

And paid her upfront.

Georgia had had sex with Zack more times than she could count. He wasn’t even the first person she had given it up for. He wasn’t special. He wasn’t anything to her but a transaction to her.

Until he insisted on going without a condom and the money he pulled out was too precious to say no to him.

But when he finished and the result spilled down her thigh when Georgia stumbled to get dressed, she felt… Sick. Scared.

She wasn’t on the pill. She’d been getting her period for years now.

She was an idiot.

Fuck.

Fuck fuck fuck fuck.


 

Sometimes Connor crashed Georgia’s art class. The art teacher was tortured over his own failure as a painter and usually stoned, so Connor could slide in without being noticed. Ninety percent of the time, everyone was just working on their various projects and if he kept his head down, Connor was virtually undetectable.

Georgia was fiddling with a bottle of india ink and inking in a drawing of a tree. She looked like shit. Tired and drawn and Connor wordlessly slid a granola bar at her from across the table. She took with without looking up at him, wolfing it down fast, before looking up at Connor, her face hard, unreadable.

“I’m ungrounded,” Connor blurted.

Her face split into a smile. “Oh. Good.” She went back to her inking before she looked up at him again. “Let’s go somewhere.”

“Okay.”

They both got up and left without anyone saying a word because this teacher was shit at his job. Georgia led the way, down to a hallway that only led to the cat walk of the auditorium which nobody ever used. They crept over to the catwalk, the small patch where they was some light, and Georgia had a seat.

Connor sat too.

She pulled off the sweater she was wearing. Her arms were more scarred than they had been at Homecoming. More criss cross cuts and scabs.

“I showed you mine,” Georgia said softly.

Connor couldn’t get what Evan has said to him in the library the last time they talked out of his head. But he swallowed hard and pulled the zip on his hoodie without hesitation. He pulled his arms out of the sleeves and started slightly at the cold.

Georgia’s face was weird and open and he didn’t like the way she was looking at him. Connor folded his arms over his chest, sort of defensive. “Okay. Why’re we doing this?”

“We match,” Georgia said.

Connor looked from her mutilated arms to his own. It was a pretty fucking uncanny resemblance.

“You know you’re my favorite person, right?” She said it desperately, frantic. “Like. You’re the absolute best person I know.”

Connor stared.

“Am… am I yours?”

“My what?”

“Favorite person?”

Connor smiled slightly. “Obviously. I don’t… I don’t. Do this in front of anyone else.”

She smiled. “So I have a crazy idea.”

“Yeah?”

Georgia’s idea was pretty fucking crazy.

“You want us… to get tattoos?”

“It’s not like anyone else looks at our arms,” She said reasonably, pulling out a needle and a bottle of india ink from her bookbag.

“...Fair.”

“You’re just the most important person to me, and I want that… I want you to know that. I want you to know that you’re… always first. You’re always the most important.”

Which was how Connor ended up tattooing his own initials into Georgia’s wrist with a shaking hand.

“You’re not gonna hurt me,” She kept saying each time she flinched. He’d never done this, but they youtubed it a few times and it seemed… easy enough.

The letters CM appeared inside her wrist, bloody and jagged, but Connor liked the way it made her smile.

“Okay. Do me now.”

She used the same needle, which Connor knew was unsanitary at best and potentially going to give him AIDS at worst. It hurt like a bitch. Nothing like cutting. It was a dull, constant, spreading burn. And it took forever. And bled a lot. He just kept gritting his teeth, reminding himself that Georgia needed this from him, she needed this, she needed him. This was important so he let her keep going.

But after a while, Connor looked to see “G.S.,” small but vivid on his own wrist.  

“Like it?” She asked.

“Yeah. I do,” he said, giving her hand a squeeze.

The bell rang, which seemed to break the spell they were under.

“I fucked up,” Georgia confessed tearfully. “My dad… our lights have been out for a while. And there’s no fucking food and I… Nobody’s calling me for jobs, and… I slept with Zack.”

“Oh come on Georgia,” Connor said, raging filling him up.

She grabbed his arm painfully. “Please. Listen. I… I know I fucked up. But he didn’t use a condom and I’m scared I -”

“He didn’t use a fucking condom ?” Connor shouted. “This is why you did this, isn’t it? This whole tattoo thing was supposed to distract me from the fact that you fucked that asshole when I asked you not to and now you might be fucking pregnant with his gross baby.”

Georgia actually started to cry. “I fucked up, I fucked up,” She cried, rocking back and forth. “I’m sorry, okay, I fucked up and I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

Connor did some fucking quick thinking because he was pissed and wanted desperately to hit Georgia, to call her out, to hurt her the way she just hurt him.

But he couldn’t.

“We’ve gotta find Evan after school.”

“What? Evan? We don’t need him.”

“Isn’t his mom a nurse or whatever?”

“Nurse’s aid,” Georgia murmured.

“Not important. She knows like... medical stuff, okay?  We’ll… we’ll ask her. She’ll know. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Okay.”


 

“Evan.” Georgia was quivering behind him when he found Evan sitting beside Jared Kleinman on the bus. “Can I…. Can we talk? For a second?”

Evan stared, then shook his head. “Sorry. Seat’s full.”

Connor frowned. “Evan. Come on. I’m not fucking kidding.”

Evan looked between Connor and Georgia and Evan looked briefly at Jared before getting up and following Georgia and Connor back to their usual seat.

“What do you want?” Evan looked… pissed.

“Georgia… needs help.”

“From me?” He sounded utterly unimpressed.

“Yeah,” Connor said, nodding too quickly. “And… and maybe your mom.”


 

Evan’s mom Heidi was a nice person, Connor thought. She came home from work early when Evan called her, bringing with her a plastic CVS bag.

Evan sat beside Georgia who was gripping Connor’s hand like otherwise she might have slid off the face of the planet.

Heidi walked in, all business, and asked to speak to Georgia privately.

“They both know,” she said miserably. “Thank you but… they already know.”

Heidi nodded. She pulled out a small box from the plastic bag, and explained that Georgia would need to take it right away, since she had unprotected sex the night before. She got up and got Georgia a glass of water. They all watched, awkward and quiet, as Georgia swallowed the pill and then choked out a thank you to Heidi before bursting into tears again.

“Boys, can you both run upstairs to my room quick and get Georgia a pair of sweatpants? Go grab that sweatshirt I have too. Evan, you know the one, with little hole in the shoulder. I feel like Georgia could use some sweats and relaxing right now, don’t you?”

Connor looked at Georgia, mouthing, “You good?”

She nodded.

So he followed Evan up the steps to Heidi’s room.

“Your mom is… like. Way more chill about this than mine would be,” Connor said for lack of something better to say.

Evan was rummaging around in the closet. “I guess. I dunno. She just… she’s good in a crisis, you know?”

Connor nodded.

“I told my mom. About Georgia taking my pills.”

“What? Why?”

“So she’d understand why I was worried about this,” Evan said. “My mom’s gonna call Georgia’s mom, I think. I know that-that she left and whatever, but her dad is… her dad’s never there and -”

“Why would you do that?” Connor said, his heart starting to speed. “You told your mom to call her mom? What if… what if she has to move to go and-and-and live with her mom?”

Evan frowned. “Wouldn’t that be better? I mean. I know, I know that it would s-suck to like, have her far away or whatever but like. He dad? He’s… he’s a drunk and she’s miserable.”

“She won’t go,” Connor said, shaking her head. “Even if her shitty mom wanted her there, she wouldn’t go. She wouldn’t.

Evan folded up the sweats and the hoodie and looked at Connor with this weird, sad expression. “Maybe not. I dunno.”

They descended the stairs to see Georgia shoving a box marked “female condoms” into her backpack. She had been crying more, Connor could tell. Heidi looked up at Evan gratefully.

“Well, I’m going to give Georgia’s dad a call. I think she’s going to stay here tonight.” She looked over at Connor. “I can call yours too, Connor, if you’d like…?”

Connor looked between Georgia with her red eyes and Evan’s frown and nodded. “Yeah. Thanks, Mrs. Hansen.”

He couldn’t leave her here. He couldn’t. Just like he knew that she would never leave him here either.

His wrist throbbed.

He peered into his sleeve. The black outline of the letters G.S. still stark against the pallor of his skin.

He couldn’t leave.

Not even if he wanted to.

Chapter Text

Summer After 9th Grade

School let out on a hot day in June. Connor picked miserably at the sleeve of his hoodie, feeling sweat dripping down the back of his neck as they rode the bus home. It was a bit of a tight fit these days, the three of them crammed into a seat. Evan had hit some kind of growth spurt or whatever over the Spring, and suddenly the three of them were sardine packed into the single bus seat.

The ride home after exams was miserably warm, a cacophony of voices and some kid in the back making fart noises with his tuba.

“Hey. Evan. Evan!”

Connor turned his head to see Evan turn to look at Jared Kleinman, sitting behind them.

Jared looked at Evan with this sort of strangely hopeful look on his face. “Hey, uh, want to come over later? My mom’s making a big deal out of Shabbat tonight, so they’ll be tons of food.”

Georgia turned before Connor could say a word. “Evan’s busy tonight.”

Jared pulled a face. “I think he can speak for himself.” He looked at Evan expectantly.

“I um. I actually am busy tonight,” Evan said, looking sort of nervously over at Georgia. “Sorry. Um. I should be free later in the week though? If you wanted to, you know, hang out or whatever.”

Jared frowned. “I’m leaving for camp soon, so...”

“That’s cool. Let me know how it goes.”

“Yeah. Whatever.” Jared sank back into his seat and Evan and Georgia both turned to face the front.

“Evan are you Jewish?” Georgia asked suddenly.

He shrugged. “Not like really? My mom’s mom was, but like she died when my mom was little… I dunno. We like. Do the Menorah at Hanukkah? But we also do a Christmas tree. We’re not really anything.”

“Cool,” She said.

Connor bit the inside of his cheek, reaching over to grab Georgia’s wrist and press down hard on her tattoo.

He got it. Ever since Evan and his mom had saved her ass with the whole morning after pill thing, Georgia was all about making nice with Evan. They were pals again. She went over there for dinner at least once a week. Evan was encouraging her to audition for choir next semester because apparently Georgia liked to sing and Connor never knew that.

It was pissing him off.

Like a lot.

And every time he tried to tell Georgia, she just laughed at him for being jealous and hung out with Evan anyway.

They hung out without him a lot. They could just walk across a yard and hang out and it really fucking bothered him.

Did they talk about him? What would they say if they did?

Connor bit the inside of his cheek harder, because he could already hear Georgia’s laugh, like a bell ringing or glass breaking, as she said something adorable about how consistently misspelled “received” on the first try or how he could quote the movie Titanic from beginning to end, or how two weeks ago his dad decided he needed to have The Talk with Connor and he almost fucking died.

Larry had asked Connor to come into his home office, and frankly he assumed that they’d found his pot and he was grounded again.

“Have a seat,” his dad said pointing to the chair where he did weird dad stuff like read novels about World War II and drink scotch and whatever. Connor sat, and his dad leaned back against his desk like he was a cool teacher in a movie and Connor thought about killing himself. “So, I wanted to talk to you about… your relationship with Georgia.”

Connor tried to subtly pull his sleeve down over the tattoo with her initials.

“Are the two of you having sex?”

“Wh-what?” Connor sputtered, shocked. “No! Oh my god, no!”

“You don’t have to lie for my sake. I was young once too.”

Connor seriously thought he was going to throw up. “I’m not sleeping with Georgia. She’s not even my girlfriend. We’re just friends.”

“Yeah, yeah, I get it. Kids these days don’t want to put labels on this kind of stuff.”

“That’s not -

“I just want to make sure you’re being safe about it. And… not doing it in the house.”

“What?”

“Your mother and I would be more comfortable if you were not having sex in our house -”

“I’m not having sex, period. Anywhere. Oh my god, can I please just go?”

“Connor. It’s not a big deal if you are. You know how to use a condom, right? You’re a bit young to be a dad.”

He was going to pass out. Connor was sure he was going to pass out. He unzipped his hoodie a little. When did it get so hot in there? It was like Larry was deaf or just…just so fucking stupid. Literally for the last few years all Connor had heard was how he was going to turn out gay, and now his was was convinced he was sleeping with Georgia.

“I… I.”

“Here.”

His dad went into his desk and pulled out a box of Trojans and Connor seriously nearly grabbed the letter opener and shoved it into his own throat. “I. Don’t. Need. These.” He ground out.

His dad shook the box at him until Connor took it and put it into his hoodie pocket. “Well. For. When you do. You should practice putting them on when you’re alone. Heat of the moment can make things tricky. And let me know if they fit -”

“DAD -”

“You can take a toilet paper roll and -”

Connor seriously put his hands over his ears. “THANKS FOR THE TALK I GOTTA GO,” He said loudly, rushing out of the room.

He passed Zoe in the hallway, knowing his face was scarlet, knowing she just fucking knew what that conversation was about and snapping at her to “get the fuck out of my way.”

Back on the bus, Connor was convinced Georgia had told Evan all about that fucking fiasco, that the two of them had spent an entire afternoon laughing at him all about it.

“Come on, we’re going to my house,” Georgia announced when they got off the bus.

Connor followed miserably, thinking that at least if they went to his house there would be air conditioning. He pushed the sleeves of his hoodie up the tiniest bit, not even past the wrists, but just a little. Just for a little relief.

“So it’s fucking boiling in here,” Georgia said, “So I packed us a little picnic, and we’re all going to the beach.”

“I’m not going to the fucking beach,” Connor said, looking at her harshly. “You’re joking.”

“It’s way too hot for this bullshit,” Georgia said, eyebrows up, challenging. “Come on. Don’t tell me you’re not both excited about seeing me in a bikini.”

“It’s not a bad idea,” Evan said, looking thoughtful. “I might have an extra pair of swim trunks Connor?”

“No that’s-”

“A great idea, Ev!” Georgia said loudly. “Go grab that, I’ll pack up the rest of this stuff up. My dad actually went shopping, so I’ve got sodas and sandwiches in here.”

“Cool. I’ll be right back,” Evan said happily, hurrying out of the house.

“Georgia what the fuck?” Connor shouted the moment the door swung closed. “I’m not. I can’t. I can’t go swimming.”

“Why not?” She said. “It’s not like Evan’s gonna perv on you or whatever.”

“Georgia.”

“What?” She said, turning to look at him without smiling.

“I can’t. Like. Take my shirt off.”

“Yes,” She countered. “You can.”

“You can’t just keep trying to force me to do stuff!”

“I’m not,” Georgia said. “You’re more than welcome to leave. Evan and I can go to the beach without you.”

“What?” His heart dropped. “That’s not… no.”

“We’ll have a grand time without you being around to pout and ruin it.”

“Georgia,” He said, grabbing her bare wrist, pressing too hard, “I can’t. I can’t do this.”

“Evan’s not going to say anything,” She said in this frustratingly calm voice. “He won’t even notice.”

“It’s fucking hard to miss,” Connor said, pled, pushing his fingers into her wrist harder, hard enough to feel the tendons and nerves under his fingers twitch. “What is wrong with you?”

“Evan’s cool,” She said, nodding, like that decided something. “He won’t care. He’s cool.”

“Why do you keep saying that?”

“He’s like us, okay? He’s like us!”

“What?” Connor said, dropping her wrist in disgust. “No. He’s not. That’s the… the whole fucking point.”

Evan walked back through the door then, wearing a white shirt that said COLORADO in big letters over a graphic of some mountains and a pair of blue swim trunks. “I grabbed some sunblock too? I think it might be old, but it’s pr-probably better than nothing right?”

“Totally. I’m going to change, okay?” Georgia turned on her heel and walked toward her bedroom.

“I um. Brought some swim trunks if you want them?” Evan held them out to Connor. “They um. They’re kinda old, but you’re, um, skinnier than me and there’s a drawstring and… yeah.”

“Thanks,” Connor mumbled, thinking about how stupid his skinny, pale legs were going to look in these trunks. He chanced a glance quickly at Evan’s legs, which were like… normal human sized and had like proper hair on them. “I’m just going to go… I’ll be back,” he muttered. In Georgia’s bathroom, Connor toed off his beat up converse and undid his belt, pulling his legs out of his skinny jeans and frowning down at his bony ankles and weird leg hair. He took a few minutes to psych himself up, but eventually he pulled the damn trunks on and folded up his jeans and put his feet back into his shoes.

Georgia was in the kitchen in some kinda tiny dress, and he could see a string tied at the back of her neck. Her hair was tied up in a really high, high ponytail. “Ready?”

“Yeah.”

He carried the cooler, and Evan had some towels, and Georgia smoked a cigarette as they walked the half mile to the lake in the sweltering heat. Connor desperately wanted to strip off his hoodie, but he wasn’t going to do that under any circumstances.

Considering the weather, the beach was empty. “Too hot for the yuppies with air conditioning,” Georgia said, laughing a little. She laid out a towel on the sand and stripped off the dress she was wearing to show off an extremely revealing bikini.

Connor looked away, almost… embarrassed for her, only for his eye to catch on Evan, taking off his shirt.

Connor had sort of expected him to be… skinny and awkward under his shirt, but.

Well it wasn’t like Evan was ripped or whatever.

But he was a lot more solid than Connor expected. His shoulders were broader. His arms more muscular.

Connor was so not taking off his fucking shirt, Jesus Christ. He was just gonna go drown himself in the fucking lake. While Georgia and Evan rushed into the water, splashing each other laughing and carrying on like children.

Connor took his pack of cigarettes and grabbed a seat on the pier. He used to come here a lot as a kid. He and Zoe used to beg to be allowed to jump off of the pier into the deeper water. He lit his cigarette and watched as Georgia and Evan goofed off in the water.

He had tried to drown himself in this lake when he was about ten. Playing mermaids with Zoe. His dad had to drag him up to the surface.

He exhaled smoke and frowned at the sweat that dripped down his forehead. Georgia jumped on Evan, shoving his head under the water. He came up laughing. Connor was envious of the two of them and their carefree splashing.

He set his phone and cigarettes on the dock. Maybe if he jumped in fast and stayed in the deeper water… but then there was getting out of the water. So that was out. He was staying on dry land.

“CONNOR!” Evan shouted, splashing Georgia. “COME ON!”

“Yeah come on!” Georgia said laughing. Her hair was soaked and sticking to her face. She looked happy.

Why didn’t he just put some rocks in his pockets and jump into the lake?

Georgia swam up to the pier where he was sitting. “You should just come in,” She said.

“You know that I can’t.”

Evan had swam up as well. “You’ve got to be dying,” he said, frowning. “You’re in hoodie . It’s at least ninety degrees.”

And before Connor could protest, they each grabbed one of his bare feet, hanging down off of the pier, and yanked him bodily into the water. The water was cold, and when Connor resurfaced, gasping, he splashed Evan and Georgia shouting, “You assholes.”

“Will you take the f-fucking hoodie off now?” Evan said. “Before you get heatstroke?”

So Connor climbed out of the water, stripped off his soaking hoodie and t-shirt, laying them out on the pier to dry before he cannonballed back into the water.

They swam and splashed until Georgia pointed to Connor’s shoulder and said “Shit!”

“What?”

“You’re sunburned!” Evan said, “You didn’t put on sunscreen.”

“Fuck!”

He crawled out of the water, pulling on his still damp shirt.

Connor didn’t bother pulling his hoodie back on.

Evan didn’t even look at him when he walked over to the towel Georgia had laid out. She went into the cooler and pulled out a bottle of wine.

Evan shook his head. “I don’t know if I should really be drinking again.”

“Just have a toast with us,” Georgia said, laughing. “To getting Connor in the lake!”

“Very funny,” Connor said. She nudged his shoulder, and he flinched.

Evan did take a sip of the wine. A few actually. Connor thought it tasted pretty shitty, but he didn’t know anything about wine. They tore through the sandwiches that Georgia packed, and chased each other around trying to put ice cubes down each other’s backs.

It was… fun.

Low pressure.

They all walked back to Evan’s house after a while, Georgia and Connor running across the yard to change back into their real clothes before they returned. Evan had left the door open.

“Fuck I am so burnt,” Connor said, frowning when he caught a glimpse of his reflection.

“Go ask Evan if he has any aloe,” Georgia said.

So Connor climbed up the stairs and barged in, stupidly, only to find Evan standing in his boxers.

“Shit, sorry,” Connor said, averting his eyes.

Evan laughed, pulling on a t-shirt. “It’s cool. What’s up?” He was pulling on a pair of cargo shorts now. He didn’t seem to mind, to care that Connor had just stared at him in his underwear like a total creep.

“Do you… have any aloe?”

Evan nodded. “Yeah. Hang on.” He walked over to a planter sitting on his desk and plucked a leaf off of it.

“What the fuck?” Connor said.

“It’s aloe. Like. The plant.” He smiled at Connor, then headed down the stairs. Connor followed him, confused, as he went into the kitchen and basically... Filleted the plant. “Tada,” Evan said, laughing nervously.

“What… what do I…?”

“Here,” Evan said, and he picked up a small section the weird gel he had just cut out of the plant and… rubbed it on Connor’s sunburnt nose.

Connor swallowed hard. His heart wasn’t beating right. Something weird was happening.

“Like that,” Evan said. “Don’t rub it too hard or rinse it off. Just let it soak in. I know it can feel like… slimy.”

“Thanks,” Connor said, rubbing some on his cheeks and forehead.

Evan looked at him sort of nervously. Then said, voice sort of quiet… “So um. Is that… why you’re always wearing hoodies?”

Connor stopped rubbing in the aloe. He was still in short sleeves. He’d.. almost forgotten to be self conscious. He crossed his arms across his chest, hiding the worst of the damage. “Yeah. So?”

Evan bit his lip, looking.

Weird.

Sad.

Connor didn’t know.

“Are you like… okay?”

Connor shrugged. “I guess.”

Evan held his gaze for a long second. “Good.”

Connor felt his face get somehow even warmer.

“Why G.S.?”

Connor swallowed hard. “For… for Georgia.”

Evan nodded. “Makes sense… hers is for you, right?”

Connor nodded.

“Didn’t that hurt?”

“Like a bitch.”

Evan sort of smiled at him. “Do you want anything to drink?”

“Water,” Connor said, nodding. And Evan got him a glass. And they went back into the living room, turning on the television to watch a Harry Potter marathon that was just starting.


 

Georgia got a job that started the week after school let out. She was bussing tables at a restaurant about a mile from her house. She rode her bike there and usually worked the lunch rush through dinner time, getting home around eight o’clock.

Often, Connor would come over after.

Often, Georgia would have new things for them to try when he did, courtesy of the other busboys she had befriended at work.

Things like, tequila. Her coworker Jesus had gifted her a bottle after she covered a few of his shifts while he was getting his wisdom teeth out.

Connor liked tequila. Better than vodka, in his opinion. They made a botched attempt at

DIY margaritas on their second night of experimentation, but they were missing triple sec, so the result was a tangy tequila and lime thing that got them extremely drunk and also extremely hungover. Georgia nearly called in sick after that night, and Connor had to fake food poisoning to get his mom off of his back.

He knew she knew he was drinking.

He stunk of alcohol when she picked him up that morning.

But since his mom hadn’t said anything, Connor said he’d eaten something expired for dinner and felt sick. He spent a good portion of the morning hogging the bathroom so he could throw up.

Which pissed Zoe off. She was stressing out over some kind of… jazz band audition thing. Apparently she was trying for honors which required an in person audition and for some reason that meant she had to straighten her hair to practice.

Connor didn’t get it.

He just locked the door and threw up a few more times, ignoring her insistent knocking and frequent shouts for their mom to kick him out.

Connor crawled back to bed after that, his head pounding, and pulled the curtains and locked the door and slept until eight o’clock at night. He woke up to a dry mouth and sweat matted hair and a text from Georgia which said, “I cannot hang out tonight. Still sick. Wtf, next drinking tequila again.”

Connor texted back, “More for me.” Even as the thought made him nearly gag.

They tried other things too. Mushrooms once. Georgia liked them; Connor did not. It wasn’t that he had a bad trip or anything… he just physically hated having to eat mushrooms. Connor hated mushrooms. The texture was gross. It wasn’t worth the high, though he did enjoy the sort of pleasant tingly sensation that came with mushrooms.

Georgia said the experience had really opened up her mind. She mentioned wanting to try acid. Connor called her John Lennon and she called him Paul McCartney and Connor thought that wasn’t a super fair comparison until he remembered Paul wrote “Eleanor Rigby.”

“That’s a depressing song,” Connor said later that week. The Beatles had come up again, somehow, some joke Georgia made about how Evan was like the Yoko Ono of their trio, and Evan had frowned and looked away.

“‘Eleanor Rigby’ is a depressing song,” Connor said to change the subject.

“It’s beautiful,” Evan said, sounding annoyed.

“I didn’t say it wasn’t,” Connor backtracked. He didn’t like the way Evan was looking at him. The way Evan was looking at all. Paler. Twitchier. He snapped more and smiled less and Connor half wanted to ask what was happening and half was concerned that Evan was in fact Yoko Ono, that he was going to pull Georgia away and away until she and Connor had to split up over artistic differences.

Connor followed Evan into his kitchen not long after that. He leaned back against the kitchen counter, watching as Evan fumbled through getting a glass of water. “You good?” Connor asked after a few minutes and Evan flinched so hard he sloshed water on the floor.

“Shit,” Connor said, grabbing the dish towel by the sink to help soak up the puddle.

Evan wasn’t looking at him. He wouldn’t meet Connor’s eye. He just picked up the soaked towel and rang it out in the sink.

“Are you… like pissed at me or something?” Connor asked, eyes down, suddenly realizing that maybe that was Evan’s problem. He was pissed off. It was obvious. Connor’s existence was generally annoying. He got it. He was bothering Evan. Probably.

“No,” Evan said shortly. He sighed, rubbing a hand over his arm. “Just…. Nevermind.”

“No, come on,” Connor said, grabbing Evan’s arm before he tried to turn away. Evan flinched. “Sorry,” Connor said, dropping it fast. “Sorry.”

“You guys… Sometimes, it’s, it’s hard. Being fr-friends with you. You’ll… you’ll ignore me for weeks, then come over like, like nothing happened. It’s… I don’t know when you’re going to be here.”

Connor bit his lip.

It wasn’t that they didn’t like Evan.

Just sometimes they… didn’t need Evan. They needed to be alone together. And Evan just obviously didn’t get that. Connor didn’t care what Georgia said; Evan wasn’t like them. Not really. He might be sad and lonely too, but he wasn’t like them. He wasn’t. They were fucked up and they knew it. Evan… tried. Evan still cared.

He wasn’t like them.

“I’m sorry,” Connor said, because he didn’t know what else to say.

“I don’t even know why I said anything, that was stupid, ignore me it’s fine,” Evan said fast and then rushed out of the kitchen before Connor could say anything else.

 

Connor started to say something to Georgia when they walked across her lawn back toward her house for the night, about how Evan seemed weird, how he felt left out and maybe they ought to do something about that when Georgia said that they were going to a party.

“We are?” Connor said.

“Yep. Jesus from work is picking us up,” She said.

Connor didn’t feel exactly… dressed for a party. Not that he had ever been to one. He just suspected that an old Nirvana shirt, holey jeans, and old Chucks weren’t the uniform required.

“You look fine,” Georgia said dismissively as they walked into the house.

“Is your dad home?” Connor asked.

“No. Because he never is.” She walked into her bedroom, immediately pulling off the tank top she was wearing. Connor looked away. She had started to change in front of him recently. He didn’t know why. Her bra was held together with a safety pin in the back. He felt bad about that. She obviously needed a new one.

Georgia pulled on a tiny black flowery dress. “How do I look?”

“Fine,” Connor said. She frowned. “Good. It’s a nice dress.”

“Thanks. I stole it from the mall the other day.”

Connor blinked in surprise.

“You can get off the security tags with a lighter. It was super easy.”

“Cool,” He said, smiling. Frankly, it was about time that she got some new clothes. Most of her shirts were too tight and she got dress coded a few times at school for showing off her midriff or too much cleavage or memorably her shoulders once. Connor honestly thought that was such garbage. She couldn't help the way her body was. And even if her clothes all fit properly, he bet she’d still have cleavage in most shirts. She had, like… really big boobs. Like he imagined she had to be tired from carrying them around all of the time.

Connor shook his head to turn off those thoughts. Georgia had some kind of psychic ability to sense whenever his brain drifted into thinking about her boobs. He was literally never thinking about them in a sexual way but she always seemed to know. And usually she’d tease him and he would get embarrassed and hot in the face because seriously. What was his issue?

Like he knew this wasn’t normal.

In middle school he had been convinced he was gay. He shoved that thought as far into the back of his mind as he could, but it made sense. He never thought about girls. Never. Not even when he tried to on purpose. And when he was asleep and vulnerable, his brain always conjured up ideas about guys. Men. Whatever. So the idea that he was gay like... Fit. So he shoved it away. It seemed like something to be dealt with either never or in college. Far away from here.

But now his best friend was Georgia. And she was a girl (duh). Objectively, she was a pretty girl. She had nice hair. Freckles. Boobs (there he was again, thinking about Georgia’s boobs... She was going to fucking murder him). She was shorter than him, but not by too much. A couple of inches. She was cute. And she liked him. And she was his best friend.

Best friend was not something Connor was willing to risk to find out if he was actually into girls or not. He knew how rare it was for someone to like him at all. She was important. The most important, in fact.

So Connor figured he just… wouldn’t know. It didn’t matter anyway. He didn’t want anything to change.

Georgia was putting her hair up in a high ponytail. She turned to look at Connor. Her eyeliner was sort of smudged, but it looked good that way. “Ready?”

“Yeah,” he said.

They waited on her front porch, smoking cigarettes, until Jesus rolled up in an old Toyota. “Hey Jesus,” Georgia said. “This is my friend Connor.”

“Hi,” Jesus said. They took off speeding before Connor even had his seatbelt on. Georgia was chatting with Jesus all about some work drama. Apparently the wait staff didn’t love having to tip out the bussers and were making a fuss.

The party was at some house not far from Connor’s neighborhood. A real yuppie McMansion, like the one his parents’ had. “Come on,” Georgia said. So he followed her, feeling especially young and obvious into the house with a blue front door. Everyone was going to know that he was only fifteen at this party.

Georgia didn’t seem to care about how obviously young they were. She grabbed his hand and dragged him into the kitchen to find something to drink. There was a garbage can full of some kind of punch, which Georgia said was called wop. They each helped themselves to a plastic cupful, and then a second when they decided it wasn’t too terrible. Better than their experiments with vodka and tequila at least.

After a few drinks, Georgia and Connor got pulled into a game of beer pong. Jesus and some guy named Isaac played them. Isaac was awful, but Jesus had super good aim, so the game was pretty even until the end when Jesus kicked their asses.

“We fucking suck,” Georgia said.

“Isaac, that was pathetic,” A booming voice declared. Connor spotted the owner quickly. This guy in a flannel who looked like a tattooed lumberjack had appeared next to Isaac. He was smiling easily. “Let’s reset. I need to make sure Isaac beats these fifteen year olds.”

“We’re not -” Georgia started, and this guy cracked up.

“Sorry, sweetheart,” He said, smiling in a way that made Connor suspect he was being genuine. “How old are you pretending to be tonight?”

Georgia’s smile slid off of her face. Connor glared at the guy. “Pretty pathetic, that your buddy needs you to beat a pair of fifteen year olds.”

The guy chuckled. “Where’d you find this one?” Isaac shrugged. “Alright, kiddos, let’s play.”

Naturally, the Lumberjack kicked ass. He probably came out of the womb playing beer pong. By the end of the game, Georgia and Connor were less than steady on their feet.

“Let’s go out for a smoke,” She muttered, grabbing his arm. Connor followed her gratefully. The air outside was cool and breezy, and they each parked themselves on the back porch to smoke in peace. “Having fun?” Georgia asked

“I guess,” Connor said. “Yeah. At least there’s free booze, right?”

“Right.”

“You hate this,” Georgia declared, pointing her cigarette at Connor.

“I mean. It’s…” He couldn’t lie to her. She would know. “Kinda, yeah.”

“Maybe Jesus can give us a ride home?”

He shrugged. Connor had some doubts that Jesus was sober enough for that. They ended up back inside, looking around for Jesus, but he was nowhere to be found. Connor was going to have suggest that they walk to his house, he just knew it. It was a shorter walk to his parents’ house. Georgia would hate it, of course, but it was better than hoofing it all the way back to her dad’s house.

The pair of them ended up walking into the dining room where the Lumberjack was… snorting a line of something next to that guy Isaac.

Connor’s response was to grab Georgia’s arm, planning to haul her out of there.

Georgia’s plan was to march up and ask them what they were doing and why they weren’t sharing.

The Lumberjack looked pretty annoyed, and started to tell her off, but Isaac got in his way. He smiled at Georgia wolfishly and explained that they’d crushed up some oxy, and usually he would charge, but the first one was always on the dealer.

“Perfect,” she said, and Connor tried to catch her eye like… They weren’t really doing this, were they?

“Come on Connor.”

So that’s how he ended up doing a line of oxy off of a stranger’s dining room table with a guy named Isaac and a Lumberjack, who introduced himself as Dave.

The high hit Connor pretty fast. After he finished coughing and choking and feeling like his nose was on fucking fire.

And frankly, it was… awesome. Better than weed or alcohol and way fucking better than mushrooms. He felt immediately relaxed. Like all of the rage and garbage that bubbled inside of him like lava just settled, solid, impenetrable.

“Whoa,” he said to Georgia. Her eyes were half lidded. She smiled this slow, molasses smile at him. “Pretty good right?” He said.

“Fuck yeah,” She said, still smiling slowly. “Isaac, can I get your number?”

He grinned over at Dave the Lumberjack, who looked a bit like he had a stomach ache. “Another one bites the dust,” he said, chuckling.

“There’s two of us,” Connor slurred, laughing a little. “So it would be… another two bite the dust. But that’s not… Queen.”

Georgia laughed at him. “How high are you right now?”

He nodded. She laughed more.

“I think it’s time for the kiddos to get home,” Dave the Lumberjack announced after a bit.

“What? Why?” It had been some time, he didn’t know how much. Enough that he bought another line for him and Georgia off of Isaac.

“The sun’s coming up. Come on.”

He shepherded Georgia into the back seat, and Connor climbed into the front seat. Dave had an ashtray full of cigarettes, a water bottle, and a Redbull in his car.

“Where are we going?”

Connor started giving directions back to his house. He didn’t know why.

“You shouldn’t be messing with that shit,” Dave said. “Trust me. It can really fuck stuff up for you.”

Connor rolled his eyes. “Sure. That’s not hypocritical.”

“Wish I’d never started.” He took a swig out of a water bottle. “My family doesn’t talk to me.”

Connor rolled his eyes. “Sign me the fuck up for that.”

Dave shook his head. “You think that now, kid, but you won’t when you get a little older. Trust me.”

Connor snorted. “Like I’m gonna take advice from you. You’re what? Forty? Come on. You don’t know anymore than me just because you’ve got… a lumberjack beard.”

Dave snorted. “Lumberjack beard?”

“It’s so lumberjack-y, dude.”

He laughed. Connor forgot what it was like, making someone who wasn’t Georgia laugh. She was looking out the window, not saying anything, until they pulled into Connor’s driveway. “Thisn’t my house.”

“It’s mine. Thanks for the ride,” Connor said. He got out of the car and pulled Georgia out and helped her to the door, waving at Dave. “Come on. We’ve gotta be quiet.”

“Okay.”

Connor pulled her through the door, locking it behind them. “Skip the third step… from the top,” Connor whispered. “It squeaks.”

“Okay.”

They climbed the stairs quietly, all the way to Connor’s bedroom. It was cool in his room. His parents had central air conditioning.

“It’s so nice in here,” Georgia said. “Can you give me something to sleep in?”

Connor wasn’t sure what shirts of his would fit over her boobs. He rummaged around in his drawers until he unearthed an old t-shirt from a family trip to Wisconsin of all places that said “WATERPARK CAPITAL OF THE WORLD.” He handed it over to Georgia. “Thanks,” She said, pulling the dress over her head and then unhooking her bra.

Connor turned around. He didn’t like that she kept trying to get naked in front of him. He really didn’t like that.

He kept his back turned, stripping off his hoodie and finding a pair of shorts to wear to sleep. When he cautiously turned around, Georgia was wearing his t-shirt.

It was too tight.

He could see her nipples poking against the fabric. She was laying on his bed, knees open, showing off a pair of black panties.

Connor clenched his hands into fists, breathing through his nose. “When are you going to knock this off?”

“Knock what off?”

“This thing you’re doing. Getting undressed in front of me, all that shit.”

Georgia’s face flushed. “I’m not -”

“You are.” Connor frowned. “I hate it. I really hate it.”

She sat up. “I just…” She frowned. “I just don’t get you. I don’t get this. Why don’t you want me?”

Connor honestly didn’t know. He really, truly, didn’t know why. “I don’t…. You’re my best friend.”

“So what? Are you saying you’re not attracted to me?”

“Why does that matter?”

“It just… it just does!”

“Maybe you should be less concerned over whether or not I think you’re fuckable-”

“Maybe you should stop being such an asshole -”

“YOU’RE MY BEST FRIEND!”

“So?”

“So, that’s like… fucking important to me? I don’t want to go from having a best friend to not having one because we made out once and it fucked everything up, okay?”

Georgia stared.

And then the bedroom door burst open. “What the fuck is wrong with you two?” Zoe said in a harsh whisper. “Are you trying to wake up mom and dad?”

Connor crossed his arms over his chest quickly. Georgia did the same. “Zoe, get out.”

“I have my audition in the morning,” She went on, as if she hadn’t heard Connor at all. “I’ve got to be awake by seven so I can shower, do my hair, and warm up. And you just… don’t care. You’re too busy having an idiotic fight with your slutty girlfriend at four in the fucking morning -”

“Don’t talk about Georg-”

“Did you seriously just call me a slut, you spoiled little cunt?”

Zoe’s eyes snapped wide. Georgia was on her feet. “Don’t pretend like you didn’t hear me, bitch.” She took a step toward Zoe, arm raised, and Connor got between them fast.

“Georgia lay off,” He muttered. “Zo. Go back to your room. I’m sorry for waking you.”

Her face was pale. “I’m waking mom and dad.”

“Yeah go and fucking tattle you little -”

Connor shoved Georgia back, hard, and spat, “Shut. Your. Mouth.” He hooked his arm around Zoe’s elbow, towing her out of his room and shutting the door behind him. He escorted her to the door of her room. “I’m sorry. She’s… drunk.”

“Obviously,” Zoe said, arms crossed. She was pissed. She got to pissed.

“I’m sorry. I fucked up. I didn’t realize your audition was in the morning. I shouldn’t have brought her here.”

Zoe said nothing.

“Look, I’ll shut her up okay? Go back to bed.”

“I really should tell mom and dad.”

“And end up listening to them scream at me all night?” Connor said, eyebrows raised. “Sounds like that’ll make your audition even worse tomorrow.”

“If I hear another word -”

“Yeah, yeah, I got it. We’ll keep it down. Okay?”

Zoe walked into her room.

“Oh, Zoe?”

“Yeah?”

“Don’t ever call her a slut again. Seriously. If you pull that shit again, I won’t hold her back.”

She shut her door forcefully. Connor waited for the click of the lock before he walked back to his own room. Georgia was fuming, sitting on the bed, and she launched herself at him the second that Connor got the door closed. Her fist caught the side of his face. Connor grabbed her by the hair and pushed her to the ground.

“What the fuck?” She spat, punching him in the balls. He hit his knees fast, and she slapped him hard across the face. “Why the fuck would you-”

He hit her back. “If you talk to my sister like that again -”

“What? You’ll what ?”

Connor didn’t know exactly what happened then. He imagined it was something like when people in books and movies saw red. Except he didn’t black out, didn’t see red. He just moved faster than his brain, his fist clenched thumb outside follow through colliding with the side of her head.

While she was struggling back to her feet, Connor said, without intending to but still meaning every single word, every syllable, “If you talk to my sister like that again, I’ll kill you.”

 

Connor slept on the couch. When he woke up in the morning, Georgia was gone.

“So, you got home pretty late last night,” his mom said after shaking him awake.

“Yeah uh. Wasn’t feeling well.”

“And you brought Georgia with you?” She said, voice icy. “Woke up your sister in the middle of the night, even though you knew she has her audition today?”

Connor sighed. “She dragged me to a party and she got drunk. I brought her here to sleep it off.”

“Oh I know. Your dad drove her home after he caught her throwing up in the upstairs bathroom.”

Connor gave his mom a twisted smile. “So dad’s sleeping in the guest room again?”

“Enough,” His mom said. “I have to take your sister to her audition. We’ll talk about your punishment when I get home.”

“I wasn’t drinking! I just brought her here! I’m sorry about waking Zoe, I already told her that.”

His mom heaved a sigh. “I don’t want you going to anymore parties.”

“Okay.”

“And no more sleepovers at Georgia’s.”

“Mom. Come on .”

“Not up for discussion Connor. You’re almost sixteen, you’re not sleeping over at a girl’s house.”

“We’re not doing anything. I sleep on the couch! Mom, come on.”

“Not now Connor. Zoe,” She said, turning into the kitchen. “Let’s go.”


 

Georgia woke up and rushed to the bathroom to get sick. Her dad’s voice greeted her a moment or two later, sounding irritable. “Partying catching up with you?”

“You know, some people have parents that actually give a shit,” She said, spitting into the toilet.

“You think I don’t give a shit?” He said. “I let you do whatever you want. You wanna have your little rich boyfriend over every night? I don’t say a word. You want to smoke and drink, I let you. You’ve got it easy, kid, believe me. If I didn’t give a shit, I would have thrown you out or shipped you back to your mother’s by now.”

Georgia threw up again. “You’re a bad parent,” She said.

“Never claimed I was a good one,” he said. “But on the subject, what time did you get home today?”

Georgia got sick again. “Uh… six or so?”

“And you were where, exactly?”

“Went over to Connor’s.” At her dad’s perplexed looked, Georgia continued. “My rich boyfriend’s house.

“And you didn’t call or text. I was up half of the night worried.”

“Yeah right.”

“I’m serious Georgie, I don’t know where you’ve been lately.” She stared up at him from the toilet. “You’re grounded. Give me your phone. No more boys over, no more weed, no more of me turning a blind eye to everything you’ve been pinching from the liquor cabinet.”

“That’s… that’s not what I meant,” Georgia said, whined.

“Too damn bad.”

She got up to walk out of the bathroom, storm past him, slam her door when she noticed something.

He was drinking coffee. She snatched the mug away, taking a sip, and pulling a face. “There’s… this is just coffee.”

Her dad looked unimpressed. “Were you expecting something else?”

“You’re… sober.”

“As a judge. Your little friend Evan’s mom came and had a chat with me a few months back, and it got me thinking. I could stand to cut back. Be around more. Keep a better eye on you, especially with all of the trouble you’ve been making lately. But then again, you’re never here so you didn’t exactly notice, did you?”
Georgia opened and closed her mouth, shocked. “How long have you been sober?”

“About a month, give or take.”

“And you’re… what? Going to AA?” She spat, disgusted.

“Once a day, after work, then straight home.” He shrugged. “There’s some leftovers from dinner last night if you get hungry for lunch. Landline still works in case of emergency, and I know Evan should be home today if you need something. Otherwise, you’re grounded. Don’t leave the house, don’t get high, don’t go over to … What’s his name? Connor. Don’t go over to Connor’s house. I’ll be back around six thirty tonight, and then you and I? We’re going to have a chat.”


Georgia didn’t call or text. Connor was stupid pissed off at her still, for getting him into trouble, for being weird around him, for not accepting that he just didn’t like her that way, for being a psycho toward Zoe.

He ended up grounded for a week, which was a pretty light punishment, all things considered. Though Zoe prancing around, bragging about getting into honors jazz band was pretty grating.

“We do three concerts a year,” She told their dad at dinner. “Once in the fall, one around Christmas, and one in the spring.”

“That’s wonderful.”

“Plus we’re going on a trip to Florida for spring break. We’re going to play Disney World and SeaWorld and -”

“All the animals at SeaWorld are miserable,” Connor announced. “And they’re all super mistreated. That’s why the orcas keep dying.”

“Connor,” His dad said, sounding just… tired. “Don’t start.”

“Start what?” Connor said, innocently. “I’m just making conversation about Zoe’s choice to take a trip to visit a morally bankrupt theme park.”

His dad rubbed his temples.

His mom frowned at him. “Honey, why don’t you… go visit with one of your friends after dinner?”

Connor glared at her because his mom knew full well that his “friends” were Georgia and she wasn’t talking to him right now. “Fine,” he said. “Can I be excused?”

“Go ahead,” his dad said dismissively, and Connor got up, shot a smirk at Zoe who was glaring at him.

He was just going to go get high in the park not far from his house. That was the big plan. But he liked that it annoyed Zoe and he liked that it pissed off his dad and honestly the only drawback was doing it alone…

Connor had a thought.

Georgia seemed to think it was cool if she hung out with Evan, just the two of them, all the time. So.

Obviously the same rules should apply to Connor. But he knew that they didn’t. Georgia was like that. Double standards, separate rules. It drove Connor nuts. Especially now that she had fucking disappeared off of the face of the entire planet.

So Connor decided to just… go over to Evan’s. See if he wanted to hang out. See if maybe he could convince Evan to smoke with him or at least hang out with him while he smoked. Something. Anything to piss off Georgia.

Connor crossed into Evan’s yard, and he could feel eyes watching him, feel the shifting curtains in the house next door, but he didn’t look back. He strode up to Evan’s door and rang the doorbell and waited.

Evan answered the door wearing a blue shirt, looking confused. “Georgia’s not here,” he said, voice sort of dull.

“I’m not looking for her,” Connor said. “Did you… would you want to do something? Hang out?”

Evan stared at Connor, a strange, blank expression. “I’m not interested in-in playing along with whatever it is that you, that you two are fighting about.”

Connor tried to look like he wasn’t being called out. “Maybe I just wanted to hang out.”

“Maybe… maybe that’s bullshit,” Evan said sharply. “The two of you? You, you do this thing, and it’s… it sucks. You get mad at each other and then you come over here and-and you want me to hang out, but it’s… it’s never because you actually want to hang out. You just… just want to piss each other off.”

“That’s not true!”

Evan gave Connor a withering stare.

“Okay… Okay, you’re right. Maybe… maybe we’ve done that.”

Evan crossed his arms over his chest.

“But I… I just wanted to hang out. Go for a walk or something. I dunno.”

Evan’s expression didn’t soften, but he did get the slightest glimmer of hope in his eyes. “I haven’t seen you guys in weeks.”

“I know. I’m sorry. That was shitty.”

“Yeah. It was.” Evan said. But then he sighed. “Where did you want to go?”

Connor smiled, surprising himself that he was actually happy that Evan was going to come out with him. “I mean, wherever. Usually I walk to the park…?”

Evan nodded. He opened the door slightly and Connor ducked inside while Evan put on  his shoes. It was warm in Evan’s house. Stuffy, like the house had sat empty all day, no fans or AC running. “Ready?” Evan said, and Connor nodded. They headed out. The sun was slowly starting to set. They made their way to the park, walking side by side, their shadows stretching out in front of them. Connor shoved his hands into his hoodie pocket, suddenly unsure what to do. Unsure about admitting to Evan that he knew he had been a shithead to him, unsure about saying he wasn’t doing that now because really, he was. He was still being an asshole to Evan.

Connor didn’t know if he wanted to stop or even if he could. He didn’t know how to do be around Evan without Georgia there to be his other half, to fill the gaps in conversation.

Connor was going to do this wrong, he knew that.

“So…” Connor said. It stretched out, longer than their shadows, taking up miles and making this conversation just so fucking painfully weird.

“You… read a lot, right?” Evan said.

Connor could have kissed him there, he was so grateful.

That was a weird thought.

He put it aside.

“Yeah. I um… yeah I read a lot.”

“Did you… did you ever read Harry Potter? Or, um, is that lame now?”

Connor smiled. “No I read them. And I still like them. I reread them sometimes when…” When things sucked, when he wanted to die, when Georgia disappeared on him.

Evan smiled. “Me too.”

Connor smiled self consciously back at him. “What Hogwarts house would you be in?”

Evan shrugged. “I’m really not sure. Probably Hufflepuff because… I dunno. I don’t think I’d fit anywhere else.” He looked at Connor. “You?”

He shrugged. “I dunno. I’d probably be a Squib. Wouldn’t even get in.”

“Always thought you were a Ravenclaw.”

Connor laughed. “You’ve gotta be smart to be a Ravenclaw.”

Evan sort of nudged Connor slightly. “You’re smart,” he mumbled.

“Yeah? Tell that to my grades.”

“Never said that, that you were good at school.”

Connor laughed, and Evan laughed, and then Connor said, “I used to be good at school.”

“What happened?”

“I stopped caring.” He shrugged, patting his pockets to see if his cigarettes were still there. “Do you mind if I smoke?”

Evan shook his head.

Connor lit a cigarette. He had the weirdest feeling that he had had this conversation before, somewhere, or maybe he’d dreamed it or something. It felt like deja vu or like he wasn’t really there, like he was watching this. They were finally at the park. Evan sort of looked at Connor and then the swings and they each had a seat on a swing, Connor still smoking, Evan looking at his shoes and Connor couldn’t shake the weird feeling that he had been here before, done this before.

Evan was saying something, something about trees, and Connor was doing his damnedest to pay attention but it was like there was a pane of glass had cut him off from Evan, making the sound all muffled and strange and Connor was suddenly extremely convinced he wasn’t there. He wasn’t real. He couldn’t focus or move or do much of anything because he was disconnected and weird and unreal and.

“Connor?”

Evan was touching his shoulder. Connor felt it. Evan’s hand was warm on Connor’s shoulder. “Yeah?”

“You okay?”

“Sorry, I just… spaced out.”

Evan nodded.

“Sometimes it’s like... I’m not here.”

Evan nodded. “I get that. Sometimes that, um, that happens to me?”

“It’s weird,” Connor went on. “Because that’s part of the reason I like smoking weed? It’s like… like I’m not really here? But in a good way. Like I can just… float along, and it doesn’t matter.”

Evan smiled. “That would, uh. I think that would freak me out.”

Connor smiled back. “Yeah, I had a feeling.”

 

“Are you and Georgia in a fight or something?” Evan asked a few hours later. It was properly dark then.

“We’re always in a fight.”

“You know, every time I ask, you say something… something like that?” Evan said.

“It’s always true.”

“That can’t be… great.”

Connor shrugged. “It’s hard to talk to her about that kind of thing.”

“Seems like… like it’s hard to talk to her at all.” Evan picked at the hem of his shirt. “I know it, uh. It’s hard for me.”

“To talk to Georgia?”

“Both-both of you, really. You’re kind of… a pod. It’s hard to know if anything I say even, you know, matters.”

Connor slowed to a stop. “I…”

“Don’t apologize now. It… It’s just. How it is. I get it. The two of you are… I dunno. Whatever you are, I know there’s no way to just. Undo it. Join it. Whatever. It’s fine. Just… just forget that I said a word, okay, just forget about it.”

Connor felt like Evan had punched him. He thought maybe he would have preferred getting punched. A punch hurt for a minute, and a bruise for maybe a week.

Learning that was what Evan thought about him?

Hurt worse. Stuck around.


 

Her dad was being a prick, and Georgia regretted every wish she had ever had that he would clean up his act. Because suddenly now her dad was some sort of hardass.

Since he had grounded her and taken away her phone, Georgia was expected to come home every day right after work. Then she had chores.

Like. Chores.

She had to clean her room and do dishes and take out trash. Her dad searched her room for drugs, so she had to clear out her usual hiding spots. He went over her report cards with her and started talking about getting her a math tutor. He took her shopping, dropping a couple hundred dollars on new clothes that actually fit her. He took her to Planned Parenthood one mortifying afternoon so she could get put on birth control.

“I love you Georgia, and while I think you’re too young for this kind of thing, I talked to your mom and we agreed that you are the one in control here. But if you’re going to have sex, you should really be on reliable birth control.”

“You talked to mom?” She said, her voice cracking. Last time he had talked to her mom, he ended up drunk for two weeks.

“Yeah. She wants to know why you never call her back.”

“Because she hates us? Because she left?”

“She still loves you, honey. And I love you too.”

“Oh my god, please stop.”

She hated it. She hated that her dad was doing this complete 180, that her mom was apparently out there still thinking about her, and worst of all that she was doing this alone. No drugs, no sex, no Connor.

Mostly she hated that she had no way to talk to Connor about any of this shit.

“Can’t I just call him?” she begged her dad after a few days. “Just so he doesn’t think I’m avoiding him?”

“Why?” Her dad said. “He hasn’t called you. No texts either. I think maybe you ought to reevaluate this relationship, Georgie.”

It made her blood boil.

Each day that she didn’t see Connor made her feel worse. More anxious, more freaked out. She took to watching the windows, hoping desperately that he would go over to Evan’s when she was home alone or show up and demand that she talk to him.

But he didn’t.

And her dad left her grounded indefinitely. Georgia hated being alone all the time. It gave her a headache, like her brain was banging around on the inside of her skull all of the time.

It made her think back to eighth grade. Before her dad went off the deep end, before Evan was her friend or Connor talked to her. Back when all she had was a reputation as a slut and kept thinking about killing herself.

That was the real reason her mom hadn’t let her move in, after she finished eighth grade. Her mom didn’t come to graduation and Georgia had called her sobbing, wanting to know why. Why she hadn’t come, why she had left, why she didn’t care about Georgia anymore. And somewhere in all of the tears, it slipped out.

Georgia was miserable. She thought about dying. She hurt herself sometimes. She thought, stupidly, that it would propel her mom to pick her up that day. Scoop her out of the tiny house her dad was renting and take her home and keep her safe from herself and other kids.

But instead her mom said she thought it was a bad time for Georgia to move in, since things were getting serious with her new boyfriend. She said maybe Georgia’s dad should take her to a pediatrician about the depression and that was the last Georgia had talked to her mom.

Until finally, after two weeks, Connor went over to Evan’s before her dad got home. Georgia practically tackled him to the ground when she saw him. He was even taller than she remembered. His hair looked longer. “Where the fuck have you been?” She demanded, shoving him.

“Me? You’re the one who’s been grounded.”

“You… you knew I was grounded?” She said.

“Yeah, of course I do. Evan’s mom talked to your dad. I knew he took away your phone, so I didn’t say anything in case he decided to go through your messages.”

“Oh.” She said, letting go of him. “I thought you were avoiding me.”

“I thought you were avoiding me, at first,” He said, frowning. “I thought you were still pissed, after that party.”

Georgia chewed the inside of her cheek. She didn’t really remember much of the party. But she remembered getting undressed in Connor’s bedroom, and him getting angry, and then his dad having to drive her home. “I’m… I’m sorry. About that night. About being weird and yelling at your sister.”

Connor crossed his arms over his chest. “She’s my sister. I’m the only one who gets to yell at her, okay?”

Georgia nodded.

“How long are you grounded for?”

She shrugged. “Forever probably.”

Connor smiled. “Maybe I’ll sneak by sometime soon.”

“Sounds good.”


 

Connor’s mom was overjoyed that he was spending time with Evan. Overjoyed. She had made no secret of the fact that she didn’t like Georgia. And Larry, while he was usually ambivalent on Georgia, seemed to be a fan of Evan as well.

It was weird.

But it wasn’t the weirdest part.

Zoe was the weirdest part.

Evan joined them for dinner at the end of July. Connor finally broke down and asked him to come over after his mom nagged him for ages.

“I mean… if, if you’re sure.” He pinched at the hem of his khakis. “I don’t, you know… People? Parents?”

“My parents will love you,” Connor said, dismissively. “They just… I dunno. I get it if you don’t want to like come over or whatever.”

“No, that’s not…” Evan bit his lip. “I just. Okay.” He nodded. “Okay.”

So Evan came over for dinner. His dad was grilling out, his mom was making some kind of super duper healthy salad, and Zoe was drinking so much iced tea that Connor caught himself sort of half marveling that she hadn’t gotten up to pee by now.

They ate dinner on the patio. Evan chewed every bite like fifty times, like he was trying to make sure he never swallowed something too big. He kept nervously putting his napkin in front of his face while he chewed.

Connor kept wanting to bat it away. If this were Georgia and she was nervous, he just would have slapped her hand away. But Evan was… different. He wouldn’t react well to a playful slapping of his hand away.

“So, um,” Evan said, taking a small sip of iced tea himself. “Zoe. Are, uh. Are you looking forward to starting high school?”

She smiled at Evan. “Yeah, I guess. I’m excited about jazz band.”

“Oh, y-you’re in jazz band?”

“Yeah. I play guitar.”

“That’s… that’s really cool, I love jazz. I mean. I don’t love jazz, I like jazz like, but you know, like, especially jazz band jazz because it’s um… it’s cool that everyone is like in high school and already so talented... “ Evan sort of trailed off, embarrassed, like he just noticed he had started rambling. “Sorry. I. Sorry.”

“Why are you sorry?” Zoe said, smiling at him. “I like jazz band too. It’s cool that I get to be a part of it. Do you play anything?”

Evan shook his head. “No, my mom and I we couldn’t…” He stopped. “I decided not to, you know, take any band classes in middle school so I just. Never learned?”

Zoe nodded. She seemed like she was genuinely interested in what Evan had to say. Which weirded Connor out. Usually she pretended that Connor (and Georgia by extension) didn’t exist. She tuned them out.

Honestly it kinda pissed him off. Like Zoe was already a better friend to Evan than Connor was. And while Connor had never really counted Evan as his friend, the idea of him being friends with Zoe made Connor feel like he was choking on something. Like a lump in his throat. This wasn’t a competition, but was pretty pathetic to see that he was already losing.

After dinner, Connor and Evan ended up hanging out in the backyard, tossing an old baseball back and forth. Before long, it was a proper game of catch. Connor even lent Evan his old mitt.

“Your family is, like, really nice,” Evan said.

Connor shrugged, throwing the ball back. “I guess. It’s not as cool when you live with them.”

“I feel that way about, about my mom sometimes.” Evan caught the ball in Connor’s old baseball glove.

“Your mom is really cool though,” Connor said. “But yeah. It’s like. Different. If you live with someone.”

Evan threw the ball back, and Connor caught it.

“Do you think…?” Evan started. He stopped then. Connor didn’t throw the ball yet, instead waiting. “Nevermind, nevermind it’s dumb.”

Connor raised his eyebrows.

“I just… Do you think we could still hang out, sometimes?” You and I?

“Yeah, dude -”

Evan shook his head. “Even when Georgia’s ungrounded and school starts back up?”

Connor nodded, feeling a weird, middle school loneliness feeling bubble up inside him. “You know we’re friends, right?” He threw the ball. Evan caught it.

“I know but…”

“But nothing. You’re my friend.”

Evan nodded. “We’ll see about that I guess.”

“Seriously.”

“Yeah. Seriously. We’ll see.”


 

At dinner one night as August began, Georgia asked her dad if he would consider negotiating her grounding. “I get why I’ve been on lockdown. But I’ve gone to work everyday and come straight home every day for two weeks. Can’t we talk about relaxing that just a little?”

Her dad looked like he was considering it. “Fine. You can have Connor or Evan over if you want. But only when I’m home, and only with your bedroom door open.”

“And my phone?”

“Will be returned after dinner,” Her dad said. “I know it sounds weird, but I am proud of you for behaving so well these past few weeks. I know it sucked. But I really think things are going to get better for us.”

Georgia had some doubts about that. But at least she got Connor back.

The most important thing was getting Connor back.

Chapter Text

Fall Semester, Sophomore Year

It was Zoe’s first day of high school.

She turned fifteen the day before. Her birthday sometimes fell on Labor Day. She had pretty shitty luck, in Connor’s opinion, about when her birthday was. Sometimes it fell on the first day of school. His birthday was shit when he was younger, because you didn’t know who to invite or not invite to your birthday party when you had to hand out invitations on like the second day of school. Zoe’s was worse. The terrible combination of being a summer birthday mixed with a beginning of the year birthday.

When they were super little, their mom would do a combined party. Their Auntie Chris would come into town and so would their grandparents, and they’d do cake and party games and play with all of the neighbor kids. Connor always managed to bust open the pinata, so he always had to go last or the other kids didn’t get a turn.

Connor blinked. He was kind of… high. He got up somewhere around four in the morning and never got back to sleep. He rolled around restlessly for ages. Connor had been a nervous anxious mess about school and Zoe and his driver’s test coming up and the whole thing made him angry and want to punch something. He found a bottle of hydrocodone in the bathroom, prescribed to his mom, leftover from an oral surgery she had after Christmas. Because snorting had sucked so bad last time, Connor just swallowed one of the pills, cupping his hand under the sink faucet to swallow it down.

Only when the calm of the painkiller set in did Connor recognize he needed to be at school in less than three hours. Which meant breakfast in an hour and a half. Which meant he was doing his best not to seem like he was high.

Their parents were making a really insanely big deal out of it being Zoe’s first day. Zoe, for her part, looked pale and nervous.

“You’re going to do great, sweetheart,” His mom said to Zoe, clapping her on the shoulder.

Connor almost felt compelled to apologize. He was sure his reputation wasn’t going to make things especially easy for her.  Zoe had a few of the same ninth grade teachers that Connor had, and he knew he’d probably left a bad taste in a few of their mouths. Especially the ninth grade honors English teacher. She had gotten pretty pissed off at him over his To Kill a Mockingbird essay, because he argued that the symbol of the mockingbird stood for innocence, and Jem was a mockingbird because his innocence is shattered. The teacher had been annoyed, claiming that he had misidentified what a mockingbird symbolized and he got pissed and took the thing to his guidance counselor. In the end he did end up getting the A he deserved on the paper, because he knew he had made a good argument, but it had also resulted in a call home and having to meet with Ms. Quale, the school shrink, a couple of times each semester.

Connor blinked slowly at waffle in front of him. He didn’t remember getting this waffle or taking a few bites. He was sort of spaced out.

“Okay guys, bus will be here in ten minutes. Better hurry up.”

So Connor dragged a few more bites of the waffle through the pool of syrup on his plate, and slowly put them in his mouth. Across the table, Zoe was taking a selfie.

Connor felt his own phone buzz as he and Zoe walked out the door. It was a selfie from Georgia, who had finally gotten her phone back after nearly two months without. She was wearing her signature makeup (too much eyeliner) and a new cardigan.

Zoe followed Connor onto the bus when it pulled up. They were an early stop on the route. Some of the first on in the morning and last off in the afternoon. Connor walked to his and Georgia’s usual seat.

Zoe sat down next to him.

He blinked at her in surprise. “I don’t know anyone else on this bus, okay,” She said, sounding almost… angry. “So I don’t want to hear how this is your special seat with Georgia or whatever. I need a place to sit and I don’t know anyone else and I’m not getting stuck sitting next to some dudebro who took a shower in Axe body spray this morning so you and Georgia can look at each other and be emo the whole ride to school.”

Connor stared. “So… you’re nervous?”

“Fuck you,” Zoe said. But she gave him a little smile.

“It’s not a big deal. Who’s your homeroom teacher?”

“Hoffman?”

“She’s not bad. Do you know how to get there?”

Zoe nodded. “We did a tour during orientation.” She was bouncing her foot anxiously. Connor wished she would stop. She kept retucking the same piece of hair behind her ear.

“Hey. Relax. It’s just school. In a couple of weeks, you’ll be bored of it all.”

“Stop being nice,” Zoe snapped. “It’s weird.”

Connor rolled his eyes.

The bus rolled to a stop, and Evan and Georgia climbed in the bus. Georgia had on a pair of brand new sunglasses that Connor just knew she had swiped from the mall when her dad took her back to school shopping.

Two months sober and holding.

Evan had a new backpack. Georgia looked at Connor, frowning a little, but she and Evan took the seat behind. “Morning,” Evan said to them, giving a twitchy sort of smile. “Happy first day, Zoe.”

“Thanks,” She said, turning a little to give him a tiny wave.

“Morning Zoe,” Georgia said in this overly bright voice. “How’s your schedule looking? Anything good?”

Zoe looked at Georgia suspiciously, and frankly, so did Connor. “What the fuck?” he mouthed at Georgia as Zoe handed over a paper copy of her schedule. She had color coded it. There were stars drawn in the corner. Connor had to swallow down and overwhelming urge to rip the paper out of Georgia’s hands.

“Oh, Hoffman’s a huge bitch. That sucks. And gross, you’re taking Honors Geometry? That sounds like torture.”

“I um,” Zoe frowned. “I’m actually pretty good at math so.”

Georgia laughed humorlessly. “And Christ, you’ve got Schmidt for gym class? She’s a huge dyke, so you’d better get your push up bra out, because honey those mosquito bites aren’t going to do you any favors -”

Zoe’s face had gone white, and she was clenching her hands into fists, and Connor glared at Georgia who was being a huge bitch for literally no reason.

“Enough Georgia,” Connor snapped, taking the paper back from her. “Ignore her Zoe, she’s got memory loss from giving herself concussions with those udders.”

Georgia’s jaw fell open. “Excuse me, chicken legs, what did you just say -”

“Guys,” Evan said, eyes shifting left and right. “Please.”

“Oh no, if Connor’s got something to say, we’re gonna talk about it right now.”

Zoe was shrinking in her seat and just for once it would be fucking nice if Connor didn’t have to wreck everything for her. “No, we’re not,” he said, turning around. “Sorry Zoe. I don’t know what her issue is.”

Zoe scoffed. “She’s always been a huge bitch,” she muttered to her brother. “How is this the first time you’ve noticed?”


 

“Hey.”

Connor turned. He’d put on some headphones on his way to his second hour, because if he was going to get stuck enduring gym class, he wasn’t going to make eye contact or listen to anyone’s idiocy on his way there. Connor had heard a rumor once that Alana Beck had talked her way out of having to take gym by promising to power walk to class, but Connor knew he’d never swing that because he barely made it to class ever, let alone on time.

His high had worn off, mostly.

He did turn his head to see who had said “hey.”

It was Evan.

Connor pulled off his headphones. “Hey.”

“Are you in this gym class?”

Connor nodded.

“Any idea if we’re changing on the first day?”

Connor shrugged. “Hope not.”

“You could always fake sick,” Evan said.

“And hear from all the other yahoos in this class about how I’m on my period? No thanks.” He frowned. “Not that there’s anything wrong with having a period, just it… gets old.” He cleared his throat, ran a hand through his hair. It was getting pretty long now. “I should just ditch.”

“On the first day?”

“Start as you mean to continue,” Connor muttered.

“And leave me to face all the, uh, the yahoos alone?” Evan said, and Connor could tell he was joking, sort of, but it made him feel a bit guilty about planning to ditch.

“Fine, fine, we’ll face the yahoos together,” Connor sighed. “But I don’t participate, okay?”

Evan snorted. “Yeah, because I’m s-so athletic.” He rolled his eyes. The pair of them walked into the gym together. Connor had to laugh a little at how weird they looked next to each other. Evan in his very clean cut looking khakis and neatly trimmed hair and pale green shirt… and Connor in a jacket he had fished out of a pile at the Army-Navy surplus store a few weeks ago that was a few sizes too big on him and black jeans. His fingernails were painted black. An experiment that he tried the other night at Georgia’s and ended up… liking it. He liked the way it looked.

Mismatched though they were, Connor and Evan both walked into the gym and waited for instructions from the gym teacher, an aging former football player with a thick neck and inappropriately short shorts that Connor just knew he would be wearing well into November.

He blew a whistle at the class. “Yes, we’re changing today. No, I don’t want to hear it. I’m Mr. Rogers.”

Connor had to cover a laugh. Evan elbowed him, his lips pursed, like he was trying not to laugh too.

“Something funny?” Mr. Rogers barked. He looked down at the clipboard he was holding.

“No sir,” Connor said, but his voice betrayed him. He was going to crack up. Evan was basically wheezing next to him.

“What’s your name?” Mr. Rogers demanded, face going red. He was not especially neighborly, in Connor’s opinion.

“Connor.”

“Connor what?”

“Connor Murphy.”

The gym teacher smirked. “Well, Connor Murphy, I’ll be looking forward to seeing you in detention this afternoon.”

“That’s - that’s not fair!” Evan sputtered. “All he did was laugh!”

The gym teacher looked pissed. “Your name?”

Evan seemed to shrink in on himself. “Evan Hansen.” He said in an extremely small voice.

“Well, Mr. Hansen, you’ll be joining Mr. Murphy in detention.”

Evan’s face went blotchy. The gym teacher walked away, shouting out locker assignments.

“Shit, sorry,” Connor mumbled, eyes down. So much for having someone friendly in gym class with him.

“It’s -” Evan sort of shook his head. “H-his name is Mr. Rogers. He had to know someone was going to laugh.”

Connor grinned. “Still. Dickish of him to put you in detention too.”

“I don’t even know where detention is,” Evan said, rolling his eyes. “You could show me?”

“Or we could just ditch.”

“Connor.”

Connor raised his eyebrows, faking innocence. “What?”

“We still have gym class tomorrow. And don’t-don’t say we could ditch, okay? I know you and Georgia like to go and, and smoke cigarettes under the bleachers and whatever, but-”

“I wasn’t.” Connor blinked a few times in surprise. “My parents are going to be pissed, is all. I’m supposed to make sure Zoe gets on the bus okay after school. I got a whole speech about how I’m not allowed to be a slacker older brother now that she’s in high school. I’m supposed to like, I dunno, defend her honor or some shit.”

“I’m sure she’ll find the bus okay.” Evan tried to smile at him. “You did it last year, right?”

Connor tried to smile back. “Nope. Couldn’t figure it out myself, ended up taking the late bus home.”

“You’re joking.”

“I’m really not.”

“Didn’t you ask anyone?”

Connor shook his head. “Who would I have even asked?”

“Come on ladies, let’s hussle. I want you dressed and out here in five minutes!” Mr. Rogers shouted.

“I-I do not want to be his neighbor,” Evan muttered, and Connor had to practically shove his whole fist into his mouth to keep from laughing.

Connor was extremely glad that Evan was in this class with him. It made the torture of the dodgeball game they were subjected to just a little bit more manageable.

 


Georgia was not in Honors English II. She had scraped by a C+ in Honors English I, so she got demoted sophomore year. Georgia wouldn’t have been especially bothered, but Connor had still pulled off an A in Honors English I, even after his whole To Kill a Mockingbird thing.

So she had English class fourth period and didn’t know anyone. She had been at this school for a year, had gone to middle school with half of these clowns, and didn’t know a soul. It was sort of improbable, Georgia thought, that she wouldn’t recognize anyone.

The bell rang, and the teacher (an older lady with an extremely unfortunate nickname - all the kids called her Mrs. FUPA, because she did, in fact, have a pretty noticeable FUPA) started to pass out syllabi, followed by various beat up copies of a book called Maus.

“Oh Jesus,” A voice behind her muttered. “The syllabus is in comic sans.”

Georgia turned.

Naturally she had missed that Jared Kleinman was also in her English class. She squinted at the rest of the row, noticing that Levi Blau, another kid from temple, was sneaking in late to grab the empty seat in front of her.

She blinked a few times. “Did they shove all of the Jews into Mrs. FUPA’s class on purpose?”

Jared coughed out a laugh behind her. “Nah, Dalton Schwartz isn’t here.”

“Isn’t he only a freshman?” Levi piped up.

“Fair point,” Georgia said.

“Plus Hansen,” Levi added. “He’s not here.”

“He’s not Jewish,” Jared said. “Not really. His mom’s like half-Jewish so I think that

makes him…?”

“Catholic,” Georgia joked.

Jared snorted. Levi laughed.

“Eyes front,” Mrs. FUPA started. “Let’s all get started. The first book we’ll be reading this year is Art Spiegelman’s Maus…

“I swear to God, if I never have to read another Holocaust book it’ll be too soon,” Jared sighed from behind her.

“My great-grandpa died,” Georgia said offhandedly.

“Shit, really?”

She shrugged. “It’s not like I knew the guy,” She said. She wished she hadn’t mentioned it. Now it was weird.

“My grandma’s a survivor,” Levi added. “But I feel you, Kleinman, I’m over the Holocaust books. LIke we get it, it’s sad, let’s move on.”

Privately, Georgia kind of… well it wasn’t that she liked reading about the Holocaust, but she did like knowing her history a little. Her great-grandpa never made it out of Germany; he died in Dachau. Georgia knew all about it after a genealogy project she had done at her old middle school in sixth grade. Her mom and grandma sat her down and told her everything they knew (and everything grandma remembered). Somehow Georgia and her mom ended up sitting down and watching all of Shoah, this like nine hour long documentary on the Holocaust.

She looked down at the book the teacher had passed out, frowning. She sort of thought graphic novels were lazy and debated just reading the wikipedia article.

“Oh shit, the Nazis are cats!” Jared said behind her.

Georgia wished she had been right about not knowing anyone in this class.


 

Georgia knew Connor and Evan had landed themselves in detention. It pissed her off. Laughing at a gym teacher like a pair of toddlers, making it so she’d have to ride the bus alone. She had dragged her ass to school one day last year with strep throat and a fever of 101 just so Connor wouldn’t have to suffer lunch by himself, and the first fucking day he managed to abandon her.

She grabbed her things from her locker and hurried outside to the bus pick up point. As she walked through the hallway where all of the freshmen’s lockers were, she caught a glimpse of Zoe’s hair, her slouching posture which was weirdly similar to Connor’s, her new chucks with their shiny white toes. She was looking helplessly from left to right, her face pushed up against her phone screen.

Georgia hitched up her messenger bag and marched up to Zoe.

“What do you want?” Zoe said, looking… disgusted.

“I’m gonna show you to the bus.”

“Why?”

“Because Connor will kick my ass if I leave you high and dry while he’s in detention.”

“He already has detention?” Zoe said, clearly irritated. “Jesus, he doesn’t waste time does he?”

Georgia ignored her. She might show Zoe to the bus, but she was not making small talk. She drew the line at niceties.

Georgia grabbed their typical seat on the bus, and Zoe sat beside her. It was hot and cramped and the bus smelled like BO and cracked fake leather. Georgia stood to crack the window open, but all that did was flood the seat with the smell of exhaust. She sank back into her seat. “So. You survived the first day.”

Apparently she wasn’t above small talk.

“Yep,” Zoe said coldly. She was looking down at her phone again, not typing or reading or doing anything. Just staring at the black screen.

Georgia rolled her eyes and stared out the window. The bus finally started to pull away, slow at first then faster and faster because their driver drove the route home like it was NASCAR.

“It’s really… It’s really stupid that you hate me,” Zoe said suddenly, maybe five minutes after they had pulled out of the parking lot. Georgia turned her head, confused. “You act like… jealous and weird and like. He’s my brother. We don’t get along. So it’s… it’s a waste of time to hate me. I don’t even - I don’t even matter.”

Georgia wanted to laugh. Wanted to scream. Wanted to grab Zoe Murphy by her perfect hair and bash her face against the window until it was streaked with blood.

Of course Zoe mattered. Zoe was the fucking problem.

Connor loved her. Not in a creepy way, but in a normal sibling way. He told Georgia once that he had beat up a sixteen year old when he was only thirteen because the kid was picking on Zoe.

Connor loved Zoe even though he hated Zoe. He just did. It was infuriating to Georgia. There was no competing with that kind of love. No competing with born and bred loyalty. Georgia knew she was just picking up scraps that Zoe rejected. She knew she wasn’t getting a seat at that same table, and it pissed her off.

Connor would pick Zoe every time. No matter what. If they were both drowning, Connor would save Zoe. He might try to grab Georgia next, but he would prioritize his fucking sister.

Georgia was an only child. She had some cousins, but no siblings and nothing to compare the situation to. Connor just… loved his sister. Even when he didn’t. Even when he hated her. Even when she hated him. He just loved her. He picked her.

And she didn’t even see it.

Georgia rolled her eyes. “Wow. You really are an idiot.”


His mom was pretty unhappy about the detention when she got home. Evan was staring into his Chemistry textbook because he already had homework and he wasn’t absorbing a word he was reading. His head was buzzing with irritation. He had the distinct feeling that his mom was babying him.

“It’s, like, it’s not a big deal,” Evan mumbled. “It was just one detention. The gym teacher is, I dunno, he’s kind of a jerk.”

His mom didn’t look impressed. She rubbed her temples, looking tired, looking like she was trying not to say something he didn’t want to hear. “I know you don’t want to hear it honey, but maybe Connor and Georgia aren’t the best friends for you to have -”

Evan snapped his book shut. “Yeah, well, they’re the only people who talk to me so…”

His mom frowned. “I’m sure that’s not true.” She took a seat next to him. “What about Jared? The two of you -”

“Aren’t friends. Not really. I dunno. He only wants to hang out when nobody else is around.” His mom’s eyebrows flew up, but she didn’t say what they were both thinking: How did that make Jared any worse than Connor and Georgia?

“Look, I’m the one who laughed at the teacher’s name, okay? Connor laughed because I started it. Not him. Please don’t make this some big, he’s-a-bad-influence speech?”

His mom looked like she could tell he was lying, but she didn’t push it. “I just don’t want you to keep getting detentions.”

“His name is Mr. Rogers, mom, it was impossible not to laugh.”

A smile twitched onto her lips then. “I don’t want you getting into anymore trouble.”

“H-how am I supposed to get into trouble? I have anxiety.”

His mom laughed then, bending down to kiss his forehead. “Okay, there’s Trader Joe’s dumplings in the freezer and I should be home by ten at the latest. Don’t stay up too late. I love you.”

“Love you too.”

Evan went to the kitchen to decide if he was hungry, staring sort of absently into the mostly empty freezer. He determined that he could probably eat, and heated up the dumplings in the microwave, sort of self consciously checking his phone, like maybe someone might catch him and accuse him of being a loser who obviously wouldn’t have any texts.

But he did have one. From Jared. “Dude, you didn’t mention that Georgia Stern got hotter over break.”

Evan frowned, texting back, “Don’t be gross. Please.”

The microwave beeped, and Evan took out the dumplings and just sort of looked at them steaming while trying very hard not to stare at his phone.

“Don’t understand why you’re not making a move on that. She’s like your neighbor.”

Yeah, Evan thought, his neighbor who would literally cut off his balls if she caught him thinking about her like that. Besides, Evan knew she liked Connor. Practically the whole tri-county area knew she liked Connor. The only person who seemed unaware of this was Connor… but Evan could never tell if Connor didn’t know or just didn’t want to know.

He ate his dumplings standing in front of the microwave, determinedly not thinking about Connor. Evan had wasted too much of the summer thinking about and then determinedly not thinking about Connor.

It was stupid but there was this second, in Evan’s kitchen, when Evan rubbed like a tiny bit of aloe on Connor’s face where Connor looked super weird. Like in a good way. His eyes were all clear and open and shiny and whatever and it reminded Evan of the crushes he had when he was super little. Like, in first grade, his class took a field trip to a farm and Sabrina Patel was terrified of pigs for some reason and Evan held her hand on the bus ride back to school, his heart feeling super full and warm and soft. He gushed about Sabrina to his mom, about how nice she was, how she was “the most beautiful girl in the world, after you of course,” how she had the coolest shoes and nicest hair. His dad hadn’t left yet, and he kept calling Evan a “ladykiller,” which made Evan worry that Sabrina thought he wanted to kill her.

The crush fizzled out by February, when Evan’s dad loaded all of his stuff in a U-Haul and hauled ass to Colorado and Evan had bigger fish to fry, like, emotionally.

But that second, in the kitchen, had felt like some kind of Sabrina Patel hand holding thing. Like it meant something.

Naturally, Evan went through like the five stages of freaking out. What did that mean? Did he like Connor, was he gay, was Connor gay? Back in middle school Evan thought that people said Connor was gay. What did it mean if he was gay?

Basically the next morning after Georgia and Connor left, Evan broached the subject with his mom carefully. “I… um. Something weird happened.”

“Okay?” She said, putting down the book she was studying from and making room for Evan to sit beside her on her bed. “What’s going on?”

“I um… I don’t think it’s, I don’t think that it’s bad, necessarily, but I…” He stared down at his bare feet, at the fraying hem of his pajamas. “So we all went to the beach yesterday, right?”

“Right.”

“Connor forgot to put on sunblock,” Evan said, practically chewing the words to get them out. “And he’s… you know he’s like, super pale, right? He, uh, I think he said he was Irish? Anyway, uh, he um. He asked if we had any aloe, you know, for the sunburn and so I grabbed a piece of my um aloe plant?”

His mom nodded, like she didn’t understand where this was going and frankly Evan didn’t exactly know how to explain it. “So, I cut up the aloe piece and like… I rubbed it on his nose?”

“Okay….?”

“I. He. It was weird,” Evan said, gesturing with his hands sort of frantically. “It was weird because for like, just like a second I sort of thought that like… well that maybe he um. Wanted to kiss me?”

“Oh.” His mom nodded, like she was processing. “So do you think that…” She was clearly choosing her words carefully. “Do you think Connor likes you?”

“I have no idea,” Evan said in a rush.

His mom nodded again. “Do you… do you like him?”

Evan closed his eyes for just a second. “M-maybe?”

His mom put her arm around him, hugging him tight like he was still little, and pressing a kiss to his hair. “Honey, I love you so much. Thank you so much for telling me. You know that I’m proud of you no matter what, right?”

“Yeah.”

“It doesn’t… it doesn’t matter who you like. That doesn’t matter to me. I just… I want you to be happy.”

“What if…” Evan started. Stopped. “It’s just that… I know I like girls?”

“Well,” his mom said, still in that careful tone. “Maybe you… like both boys and girls?”

“Oh.” Evan picked at the hem of his shirt. “Everything I read says that, like, saying you’re bi means you’re just scared to say you’re gay.”

His mom nodded thoughtfully. “I mean, maybe that’s true for some people. And maybe that’s even true for you. But you don’t need to worry about that. You’ll figure it out. You’re only fifteen. You have so much time to work out the details, okay?” She kissed his head again, smoothing out his hair. “I am so glad you told me, Evan. I am so proud of you.”

Back in the present with a text from Jared blinking on his phone, Evan shoved the last dumpling into his mouth, sincerely hoping that Jared wasn’t crushing on Georgia. That seemed like a one way ticket to him getting punched by Connor.

“I don’t like Georgia that way. We’re just friends.”

Jared responded fast. “She’s hot but in a scary way, right?”

Evan rolled his eyes. “Please do not hit on her.”

“Lol dude, never. Connor Murphy would legit eat me for breakfast if I went near her.”

Evan couldn’t deny that.

“Speaking of things Connor would murder me for, when the fuck did his sister get hot? Like, holy shit.”

Evan frowned at that. “Has it ever occurred to you to just… not be gross?”

“Nope. Not once. Did you get the homework for algebra 2?”

Evan texted back the assignment, thinking back to his stupid detention this afternoon. It was super boring at first. He just did homework at first, because Mr. Rogers collected all of the phones and grumbled about the number of people already in detention on the first day (even though, from Evan’s estimate, at least five of them were there because of him).

Until a folded up piece of paper appeared on the corner of Evan’s desk.

He looked around carefully, before unfolding the paper to see that Connor had started a game of hangman.

Evan smiled.

They traded the paper back and forth. Evan was losing for a bit, so his hanging man already had arms before he finally got on a roll with his guesses.

The puzzle spelled out “KILL ME PLEASE.”

Connor and Evan sort of grinned at each other, before Connor snapped his head to attention while Mr. Rogers started barking about keeping your eyes on your own desk. Evan dropped his gaze to the paper on his desk.

Connor’s letters were big, all caps, and slightly crooked. He pressed his pen down too heavily, so the words left small divots in the paper that Evan could trace with his eyes closed.

Evan blinked, back in the present.

Fuck.

He just…

Connor was chronically unavailable and perpetually in the middle of something with Georgia. Connor smoked and drank and got high and hurt himself and overall was a bad idea. Like, genuinely, the entire concept of Connor Murphy should have been ringing alarm bells for someone as anxious as Evan. Connor drew attention no matter where he went; Evan struggled under the perpetual fear of being noticed and being ignored.

It was a mess. A very bad idea.

Connor had painted his fingernails black and Evan had struggled not to spend the rest of detention staring at them.

If Georgia noticed....

Evan shook his head, depositing the trash from his dumplings into garbage can. If Georgia knew, Evan might as well dropout of high school.

 

Chapter Text

Sophomore Year, Fall Semester Part 2

 

Georgia might not have been smart enough to get into Honors English, but she had landed herself a spot in honors choir class. Evan had sort of nudged her into auditioning over the summer, before the whole sober-dad/grounded-for-life scenario, and when she got her schedule emailed to her a few weeks before classes started, Georgia learned she had been accepted into Vocal Ensemble. It was usually reserved for upperclassmen and there were only twelve girls and twelve boys allowed to enroll.

So it was a kind of a miracle that Georgia had gotten in. She hadn’t expected to get in. She liked singing fine, and she could read music, but still.

She hadn’t expected to get in.

A couple of weeks into the year and she was still sort of marveling over it.

Georgia especially hadn’t expect to be awarded a solo so early in the school year. In the second week of the school year, the choir director Mr. Wu announced that Georgia would be singing the national anthem at the next home football game.

Georgia was kind of losing it. This was a big fucking deal for her.

It didn’t matter that Ariel Hutcherson started to stage whisper from the back row that Georgia had blown Mr. Wu or that the pianist was annoyed when Georgia had elected to sing the song without accompaniment. She had done this.

She was fucking elated. She told Connor after second hour, in the hall when she dragged him out to sneak a smoke instead of going to his Spanish class. She skipped her usual cigarette, suddenly concerned about her voice.

“So you’re singing at a football game? That’s why I’m out here, smoking alone?” He didn’t sound suitably impressed.

“Yeah. By myself? It’s… it’s a big deal.”

“Cool,” he nodded, taking a long drag. “Do you think I bum a couple of extra smokes off of you? My driver’s test is coming up and it might be nice to have steady hands.”

Georgia looked at him, disbelieving. “So… you just. Don’t care about the solo thing?”

Connor shrugged. “No, it’s not that I don’t care it’s… I dunno. It’s a big deal. So is my driver’s test.”

“Unbelievable.”

“What?” Connor said, looking irritable. “What am I fucking up this time, huh?”

“You’re supposed to be excited for me.”

“I am excited,” Connor said. He raised his hands, eyes dead, and said a lackluster, “Woo.”

“You’re an asshole.”

“You’re being selfish.”

“Look… just tell me you’ll come to the fucking game.”

Connor nodded, looking annoyed. “Yeah, I’ll come to the fucking game.”

“Good.”

“It’s not like I have a choice.”

Georgia frowned, starting to open her mouth, to apologize or… or something. She didn’t know. She was super confused about his attitude.

“Can I bring Evan at least?”

“Why do you want to bring him?”

“I thought you’d want a cheering section.”

“Seriously, Connor.”

“Seriously, Georgia. You’re the one who made the three of us hang out this summer, and you’re mad that now I actually like him? Make up your damn mind.” Connor stubbed out his cigarette, leaving Georgia alone under the bleachers.

She was still pretty riled up when she got to her fourth hour English class. They were still talking all about Maus, which Georgia was starting to get super tired of reading. They’d spent nearly a week talking about the “significance” of the panels of the comic that showed Art’s mother killing herself. Frankly, Georgia knew she was sick in the head and generally messed up, but that kind of shit probably shouldn’t be shown to a classroom of fifteen and sixteen year olds.

They were told to split off into pairs, this time to talk about the importance of the frame narrative. Georgia got stuck with Jared, who seemed to immediately notice she was… irritable.

“You and Con-Bon have a fight?”

Georgia glared.

Jared gulped audibly. “Anyway, I think the frame narrative… um. Are you sure you’re okay?”

Georgia continued to glare.

“You’re… it’s just that you’re bleeding?”

Georgia blinked a few times in surprise before the taste of blood flooding her mouth registered. “Shit,” she said, and a few specks of blood hit her notebook.

“Uh. Fuck. Here.” Jared walked to Mrs. FUPA’s desk and grabbed a truly obnoxious number of tissues, wadding them up to hand to Georgia. She took them, using one to wipe off her mouth and then the other to hold pressure on her lip, which she had bitten until it bled.

“Don’t try to be nice to me again,” Georgia said to Jared. “It weirds me out.”

“I’m nice,” Jared said, laughing awkwardly. “What if I can’t help it?”

Georgia frowned. She and Connor had adopted a “we-hate-Jared” policy on the basis of the notes he’d stuck in both of their lockers in the eighth grade, ostensibly to impress his popular buddies. Georgia knew there was some more history with Connor but she’d never asked because… because it was Connor so she knew eventually he would spill. “You’re not nice,” Georgia said, her voice measured. “You used to put notes in my locker.”

“Yeah, like two years ago,” Jared said, but it had lost some of the bravado. “I’m a changed man.”

“Yeah, because the popular kids don’t invite you to the circle jerk anymore,” Georgia said caustically.

Jared looked down at his desk quickly. “Look, you wanna be weird after bleeding everywhere, fine-”

But Georgia really needed someone to lay into, and he was like a limping gazelle. She pounced. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, it was cute when you were telling people to kill themselves and whatever, but I guess I do appreciate that the universe smacked you back down to LoserTown with the kids you used to talk smack about it. It’s… kinda satisfying.” She smiled wolfishly at him. “So, Jared, what happened? They realize that bar mitzvahs aren’t all that cool? Stop blowing each other long enough to notice that you’ve got the wrong body type for football? I’m dying to know.”

Jared shrugged, looking kinda helpless. “Let’s just… I. The frame narrative-”

“Don’t change the subject.”

“You just, like, chewed off your lip over something you didn’t want to talk about-”

Georgia raised her eyebrows.

Jared shook his head. “I dunno. We just, I guess we, uh, we don’t have much in common anymore.” He chewed his pencil for a second. “I guess… It’s just sorta lame when everyone’s talking about the pussy they scored over the summer and all you did was go to camp. Like, they don’t want to hear that they cancelled the color war because it was deemed ‘too violent,’ you know?”

“Cry me a river,” Georgia scoffed.

Jared swallowed, eyes down, suitably cowed. “So the uh. The frame…”

“It’s bullshit,” Georgia said. “Like who cares that his dad told him all this crap while on an exercise bike. Dude probably got paid by the page, and that added more pages.”

“Could be, uh, to show the… what was the thing Mrs. FUPA said last week? About like, generational something?”

“Trauma.”

“Right.” Jared scribbled that in his notebook.

“I’m singing the national anthem at the next football game,” Georgia blurted.

“Cool…” He said apprehensively.

“My best friend isn’t, like, happy for me or whatever.”

“You can just say Connor, both of us know it’s Connor.”

“Fine. Connor doesn’t care. Whatever.” Georgia wanted to chew her lip again, but she resisted.

Jared gave her a sort of lopsided and awkward smile. “That sucks. Maybe he’s jealous?”

“Jealous?”

“Yeah. You’re doing something cool, and all he ever does is like… hunch around, brooding and get into fights.”

Georgia didn’t want to laugh, but one bubbled out of her, cruel and gleeful. “Wearing that fucking hoodie he’s always got on.”

“Does he break out the extra strength deodorant for the summer months, or does he walk around in a cloud of BO?”

Georgia snorted.

“I mean, dude’s clearly got problems. He probably, like, forgot how to be happy for you.”

She nodded.

So Jared was kind of an asshole. But maybe she didn’t mind that as much as she thought she did.


 

“I’m going to the football game later,” Connor said to his mom. “Can I get a ride?”

“Who are you going with?” She asked, looking annoyed. She was looking at her laptop, wearing her reading glasses. He could see in the reflection off of the glasses that she was looking at one of her idiotic diet websites again.

“Evan,” Connor lied easily. It was so easy just to leave Georgia out. Evan was the perfect excuse.

“Does he need a ride too?”

Connor shrugged. “I can text him?”

“You’re going to the football game?” Zoe said, eyeing him suspiciously. “Why would you go to a football game?”

“I love sports,” Connor deadpanned.

“Don’t start, you two,” His mom said wearily. “I’ll drop you off.”

“But… but I wanted to go,” Zoe said. “Steph Perkins is in the marching band and I wanted to see their halftime routine.”

“You can go with your brother.”

Zoe looked horrified. “Um. No I can’t? I actually want to have friends in high school.”

“Fuck you.”

“Connor, don’t you dare start,” His mom said. “Either both of you go or neither of you go.”

“But -” Zoe started.

“That’s not fair!” Connor finished for her. “I don’t want to get stuck babysitting her all night.”

“Babysitting me ? You’re the one who’s always in trouble.”

“Enough!” Their mom stomped her foot. “Now neither of you are going. Go to your rooms.”

“Mom, come on !”

Their mom rubbed her temples, and Zoe rolled her eyes muttering that maybe if their mom wasn’t on another cleanse she wouldn’t get headaches so easily.

“Zoe Frances, that’s enough. You’re grounded.”

Connor crossed his arms over his chest, biting the inside of his cheek while Zoe stomped her way up the stairs to her room. His mom sank down at the table, head in her hands, and Connor opened his mouth to ask if he could still go.

“No. Absolutely not. The two of you are acting like toddlers.”

“Mom, come on, I didn’t even do anything.”

She didn’t lift her head, didn’t look up. Connor knew he was fucked. There was no convincing her to drive him now.

He was starting to feel a little desperate. Georgia would be pissed. She’d be so pissed. It would be like summer all over, not hearing from her for weeks, stuck hanging out with Evan with his weirdly hopeful face that made his insides twist weird, Evan who just didn’t get it the way that Georgia got it.

“Mom please. I have to go.”

She barely looked up at him. “Ask your father then.”

Connor eyed the clock. “If I wait until dad’s home, I’ll miss the start of the game!” He’d miss the national anthem, he’d miss the whole fucking reason he was there.

“So be fashionably late. I’m going to lie down.”

Fuck.


 

Georgia felt like she might puke. Her dad kept giving her these reassuring smiles, like someone who was actually a dad would do.

They were giving Evan a ride too. He was in the back, his fingers pinching the seams of his jeans, looking cautiously every few seconds to see if her dad was checking his blind spots. Evan was in driver’s ed this semester. Georgia had doubts he would pass. He was just too nervous to drive himself anywhere.

“You want me to crank up the radio so you can warm up?” Her dad asked, all smiley and supportive and not like the dad she’d had since eighth grade. She almost missed absent/drunk dad. He was less obnoxious about stuff like this. This made Georgia’s stomach hurt. This made her think of how encouraging he was before her bat mitzvah, reassuring her that she knew what she was reading and that she wasn’t going to barf on the scroll. This was fifth-grade spelling bee dad, who petted her hair when she got eliminated third to last for misspelling “convenience” in front of the whole school (she forgot the i).

Georgia hadn’t liked her dad then. She always, always wanted her mom. Her mom said things like “people will forget about this in a few days” and “honey don’t worry, most of the people here don’t even speak Hebrew.” She added perspective.

She left less than a week after Georgia’s bat mitzvah and rarely called.

Georgia wished she didn’t want her mommy.

Evan picked at the seam of his jeans and Georgia checked her phone to see if Connor

had texted while she vaguely sang along to some Katy Perry garbage on the radio. Nothing from Connor. Her dad’s lips were moving along to the Katy Perry song. Evan picked picked at his jeans. How did the song go again?

Georgia couldn’t remember what came after “O say can you see?”

What the fuck did the words even mean? What was she even singing?

Baby you’re a firework-

Where the fuck was that text from Connor, the on-my-way text? What the fuck what the fuck what the fuck?

“Honey?”

“What?” She yelped.

“We’re here,” Her dad said.

“Right.”

“You’re going to do great.”

“Thanks.”

Evan gave her a thumbs up. The three of them started to walk in together.

“Honey!”

A familiar voice rang out.

Georgia wished she didn’t want her mommy.

But there she was, in a t-shirt that read CENTRAL HIGH on the front, in a pair of well fitting cropped jeans and white keds, looking unfairly young and attractive with her hair in a ponytail poking through the back of her baseball cap. She was already pulling Georgia into a tight tight tight hug, she smelled the same like Chanel No. 5 and some weird brand of hairspray and she kissed both of Georgia’s cheeks saying how she was thrilled to be invited. “I’m so proud of you baby.”

Georgia looked accusingly at her dad, who shrugged. Evan’s eyes shifted between Georgia’s parents, a weirdly understanding look on his face.

He was a divorce kid too.

Georgia thought she might puke.

Her mom was still pawing at her, like maybe she hadn’t been gone for no reason for two fucking years, like maybe this was normal, this was a daily thing, the hugging and kissing and cooing.

“I have to go warm up,” Georgia said distantly.

“I’ll um, I’ll come with?” Evan said. “Wanted to um. To find Connor anyway. Thanks for the ride Mr. Stern.” He walked faster than Georgia, his legs were longer, but he had a hand on her elbow and pulled her to the side once they made it into the building, his face floating in front of hers, when had he started to grow in peach fuzz he wasn’t even sixteen yet she knew Connor didn’t shave yet she was going to be sick…

“You’re, uh. You’re freaking out.”

“What gave me away?” Georgia tried to joke but joking made her stomach flip and what came after “O say can you see?” What were they even fucking seeing?

“Hey,” Evan said, sort of frantically. He shook her shoulder. “What do you do when you have an anxiety attack?”

“I don’t have anxiety attacks,” Georgia mumbled. “I’m gonna puke.”

“Okay, okay,” Evan said, whining “fuck” under his breath. “Okay, let’s go.” He led her to the girls’ bathroom and in an extremely un-Evan Hansen-like move, followed her in. He sort of pushed her toward a stall and said, desperately, “Where the hell is Connor anyway?”

“No clue. He hasn’t… answered.” She spit experimentally into the toilet, not sure if she was actually going to puke, when her stomach flipped over. “If you’re not good with barf,” She said, trying to swallow, “Speak now or -”

Georgia leaned over and puked up her school lunch of pizza, mixed vegetables, applesauce and a chocolate milk, the only thing she had eaten that day. She tried with shaky hands to pull back her hair.

“Shit, I’ll go, shit… I’ll. I’ll get you a water bottle or whatever.”

Evan disappeared. Georgia puked again, this time nothing but stomach acid and she didn’t know what time it even was, she was supposed to be warming up.

“Here.” Evan’s voice again, pressing a cold bottle of water into her hand. His hand was too hot, sweaty, and when she looked up his face was red. He’d ran. He’d ran to get the water bottle for her.

Nice of him. He didn’t need to be this nice to her. Georgia wasn’t nice to him.

“Fuck,” She mumbled, dry heaving.

“Do you… do you usually get stage fright?”

She shook her head slowly. “I don’t know. I’ve never been on a stage before.” She frantically shoved the water bottle back into Evan’s hands, leaning over the toilet again.

A gaggle of giggling girls burst into the bathroom.

One of them stopped in front of the stall where Georgia was dry heaving to snottily say, “Um, this is the girls’ bathroom.”

“I… I know, I just, it’s just that-”

“Oh look, it’s Georgia!” She recognized Ariel’s voice. “Shit! Are you preggo from sleeping with Mr. Wu? Shame you’re about to miss your solo, huh?”

“Fuck off,” Georgia said, spitting one last time. She righted herself, flushed the toilet and walked over to the mirror with her head high. Evan trailed behind.

She didn’t look awesome. She was sweaty and red faced and her makeup was smudged. She wiped her eyes, rinsed her mouth out and said, aggressively, “Come on Evan.”

“Have you heard from -”

“No.”

“It’s just… Who should I sit with then?”

“Figure it out Evan. I’ll come find you.”

She marched off into the field to meet Mr. Wu, who was looking at his watch frantically every few seconds. “Georgia! Thank god, where’ve you been, we’re about to start!”

“Sorry… nerves,” She mumbled. She shoved her phone without a single text from Connor into her pocket. If she squinted she could see Evan sitting near Jared Kleinman in the stands. Her mom and dad had seats near the fifty yard line.

“Please rise for the national anthem, performed by sophomore Georgia Stern.”

Mr. Wu handed her the microphone and blew his pitch whistle.

“O say can you see,” Georgia started, surprised by the echo of her own voice from around the football field. “By the dawn’s early light…”

Her voice was smooth despite the vomiting. She hit her notes, all of them, and the crowd burst into cheers when she went high for “O say does that star spangled banner yet wave -”

Cheers.

Not for her, probably, more for the song and the all around Americanness of all of it.

“O’er the land of the free-”

Her voice cracked.

It cracked.

Right in the middle, obvious and loud and like the crack in the fucking liberty bell and she could see Mr. Wu flinch and Evan and Jared were in the stands and Connor was nowhere to be seen and her mom was there her fucking mom was there…

“And the home of the brave.”

There tepid cheers and polite clapping and Mr. Wu tried to tell her how well she’d done, but Georgia was rushing off of the field, off of the fake green grass, away from the people and the players until she was hiding under the stands where she could light a cigarette and cry her eyes out for fucking this up. She fucked this up.

Eventually she fucked everything up.

A few cigarettes later, she was all cried out and she checked her phone.

Connor finally texted her, finally looking for her. “Where did you go? I’ve been looking for you since you finished singing.”

She laughed to herself, walking out from under the bleachers toward the concession stand where she fully intended to buy a giant pretzel or two so she could eat these feelings. He was looking for her and for the first time she didn’t want it.

“Hey!”

She turned. It was Connor, jogging toward her from the opposing team’s side. “Where’ve you been? I’ve been looking around for almost an hour. Your mom’s here? Evan’s like freaking out looking for you. Are you okay?”

“Did you hear?” She said, pathetically, shoulders dropped.

“Yeah, dude, you sounded awesome.”

Georgia narrowed her eyes. “Really?”

“What? Of course you did. You’ve got a good voice, it sounded great.”

“You weren’t even here, were you?” She said, her voice coming out icy.

“What are you talking about?” He looked too pale under the big big lights that flooded the field. Last year she’d come to a game, gotten high, and laughed to herself that it “looked like the NFL.”

“I didn’t sound awesome,” She said, pushing him, hand flat against his flat chest.  She pushed him again, and again, until he stumbled back. “I fucked up the ending. My voice cracked!”

“I know, I know, but it wasn’t that bad!” Connor tried but she knew when he was lying. She knew. His eyes got too wide.

“Fuck you!” She said. “How could you miss this?”

“I’m sorry,” He said, shoulders dropping, dropping. “My mom was… Zoe and I got into a fight, and I had to ask my dad for a ride and I got here right as you finished. I’m so sorry. I fucked up.”

“I can’t fucking believe you.”

“Georgia, come on, I’m sorry.” He was grabbing her wrist too hard because he always grabbed her too hard, pushed the tender spot where he’d pushed his initials into her skin, pressing until he could feel her pulse under his thumb because she let him.

“Get off of me,” She growled, pushing pushing pushing away from him.

Georgia stomped away, moving fast. She wanted to throw up she wanted to turn around and punch Connor right in his stupid face.

“Woah.”

A familiar voice caught her.

“Shit, Stern, I just encountered your mom. She have work done or something?”

Georgia stared at Jared Kleinman and wished that she had had the foresight to ask Connor to show her how to throw a punch.

“Fuck you Kleinman.”

“Hey, hey, sorry I just meant… she looks good, like, healthy or whatever. Are you… are you alright?”

“Do I look alright?”

“No,” Jared said, almost sounding apologetic. “Sorry dude. About that high note. The rest of the song was good though.”

Georgia stared.

“I mean, the other VE kids will probably give you shit, but the whole thing’s gonna blow over in maybe a week or two. Just, like, fake cramps or something. That’s what I always tell Evan to do.”

Georgia blinked a few times. “You’re kind of an asshole to Evan. That’s why he doesn’t talk to you as much.”

“Yeah, and you and Murphy poached him,” Jared said, annoyed. “He and I were happy being losers together -”

“Bullshit. You used to run with the popular assholes when I moved here. You got all pissy when I said hi to you since I knew you from Hebrew School.”

“I only ran with the popular assholes because we all got our asses kicked by Connor in the seventh grade. And once he faded out of psychohood in high school, I was old news, okay? So stop acting like I don’t know your loserly struggle, okay?”

“What are you talking about?” Georgia said slowly.

Jared rolled his eyes. “Please, like he hasn’t told you his crowning achievement by now. Aren’t you two, like, best buds ?”

“Whatever,” She said, turning around, heading away from Jared.

“Wait!” He made a strangled, annoyed noise. “I’m supposed to be, like, looking for you. Your parents are all concerned and shit.”

“Fuck my parents. And fuck you.”


 

Connor and Evan were in the back of Mr. Stern’s car. Mrs. Stern (Connor didn’t know if she’d dropped her married name when she dropped Georgia) kept texting and calling Georgia’s phone but every text went unanswered and every call went to voicemail.

“I just don’t know where she would be!” Mrs. Stern cried.

“I’ve tried her phone a bunch of times,” Evan mumbled softly to Connor.

“Me too.” He sighed. “She’s… pissed at me. I missed her singing because of my stupid sister.”

“I’m sorry.”

After they searched without luck for over an hour, Mr. Stern dropped Connor and Evan at Evan’s house, hoping that maybe Georgia had just gotten her own ride home.

“She didn’t,” Connor mumbled to Evan. “She just… wouldn’t.”

They walked into Evan’s house, where his mom was waiting anxiously, frowning a little. “Hi guys. Any news from Georgia?”

Connor and Evan both shook their heads.

Mrs. Hansen sent them up to Evan’s room while she called Georgia’s dad again.

“She’s getting so fucking grounded,” Connor sighed.

“She’s, like… missing,” Evan said, annoyingly reasonable.

“Because she’s pissed off at me.”

“It’s probably not about you,” Evan said. “I mean, singing is a big deal to her… and she kind of messed up, like, a little, and her-her mom showed up and -”

“And I missed her singing. She’s pissed off at me.”

“This isn’t about you!” Evan said, voice higher, face flushed.

“Yes. It. Is.”

“Well then, explain, because that… that makes no sense Connor.”

“It’s just… We’re best friends.”

“And that’s it?”

“Why are you being weird about this?” Connor said, rounding on him. “I know Georgia, I know her better than anybody, and I know this is what’s going on. Why do you have to get weird about it?”

“Because I’m worried about Georgia and you’re making this about you! Has it occured to you that some way bigger things happened tonight and it has literally nothing to do with you?

Connor lashed out, shoved him, and Evan went down, hard, knocking his arm into the dresser and letting out this little sad, dog toy squeak.

“Fuck,” Connor said. “Fuck I’m sorry.”

“Everything alright up there?” Evan’s mom called.

Evan looked up at Connor from the floor, his face bewildered. “Fine mom!” He called. “I tripped over my shoelace.” He kept his eyes on Connor as he got to his feet. There was rug burn on his left elbow, and Evan was holding his right arm to his chest protectively.

“I’m sorry,” Connor said softly. “Sorry, fuck, I -”

“Don’t,” Evan said shortly. “Maybe you should call you parents. Go home.”

“But I-”

“I think that-that you ought to leave Connor,” Evan said, his voice colder, way colder than Connor had heard it.

He nodded dumbly, pulling his phone out. He called his mom, explaining that he needed to be picked up, that Georgia was missing and he was worried and his mom was already on her way before he hung up.

“Sorry,” Connor muttered again.

Evan just watched him go.


Jared and Georgia were sitting in his basement, playing Mario Kart. Georgia was bad at it and Jared kept giving her crap about it but it was a nice distraction to the fact that she was a huge fuck up and Connor didn’t want her and couldn’t show up for her and her mom was a cunt and from the itching in her brain that told her to go out and get hurt enough to get noticed.

So she played Mario Kart and bounced her legs and rubbed at her itchy, tired eyes, smearing her eyeliner and leaving smudges on her knuckles. It was after one in the morning. Jared was slurping down a Mountain Dew and it was like the fifth one he had drank.

“You sure you don’t wanna head home? Or crash here?” Jared asked. “As long as my mom doesn’t notice, you’re cool to sleep on the couch.”

She didn’t want to sleep on Jared Kleinman’s couch. Frankly, Georgia didn’t really like Jared Kleinman at all but he was weird and sort of pathetic so here she was in his basement. “I can walk home in a while.”

“Cool.”

“Do you wanna get high?” Georgia asked him suddenly.

Jared hit pause on the game. “What?”

“Do you wanna get high?” Georgia repeated.

“Like… on drugs?”

“Well I’m not exactly high on life right now.”

“I’ve never smoked before,” Jared said.

“Of course you haven’t,” Georgia muttered, annoyed. She started to dig through her purse, super glad she had picked up from Zack after her last payday. She found her pipe buried under some old gum wrappers and her lighter shoved in her pack of cigarettes.

“You like… you weren’t joking?”

“It’s not going to hurt you,” Georgia said evenly. “I’m not here to peer pressure you into doing drugs, dude. If you want, we’ll smoke. If you don’t, I’ll head out and smoke later.”

“Oh.” He sort of chewed his lip, pushing up his smudged glasses. “I mean… I just don’t know, like, how?”

Georgia nodded. Jared took a seat next to her and she showed him how to take a hit. He struggled a lot with the lighter; his fingers kept slipping and then lingering too long over the metal.

“Here. I’ll light, you just inhale.”

Jared nodded and Georgia lit the lighter and he finally managed a hit. She knew he’d managed it because he started coughing like he was dying.

“What the fuck? That tastes so fucking bad?”

“Drink more of your radioactive soda,” Georgia said dismissively. Jared obeyed.

It was weird. The kid was all swagger and bravado and dickish at school, but alone, she seemed to be able to get him to do whatever she wanted. She wanted to go home with him, and she did. She wanted to smoke weed, and now Jared was smoking with her.

Huh.

That was different.

She had to fucking fight Connor for everything.

She made Jared take a couple more hits and then smoked the remainder.

“How do I know if this is working?” Jared said after a couple of minutes. “I don’t really feel much of anything…”

“Just give it a minute,” Georgia said. “It kinda creeps up on you sometimes.”

He nodded a couple of times and then sort of awkwardly laughed. “I feel like my D.A.R.E officer would be disappointed in me.”

“You never smoked before?”

“Nah. Got offered a couple of times when I was like hanging out with Brian and all of them, but I was always too chicken I’d, like, freak out or something. Plus they all quit since they’re you know. Doing the sports now.”

“And they don’t talk to you,” Georgia said pointedly.

“Yeah. Uh. I guess.” Jared’s cheeks looked a bit pink. “Am I supposed to feel kinda like I’m dreaming?”

Georgia smiled slowly. She was feeling pretty baked. The summer had made for one hell of a tolerance break. “Yup. You’re stoned.”

Jared laughed. “I always expected it to feel more like… like the circle scenes on That 70s Show, ” he said.

“That show is so fucking dumb,” Georgia said, rolling her eyes. “Who the fuck hangs out on a water tower. And better yet, keeps hanging out on it after you’ve fallen off. It’s dumb.”

“How do water towers even like… work?”

Georgia shrugged. “I think… something about gravity? I dunno.”

“Lame.”

“You’re lame,” Georgia said absently. “Did Connor really kick your ass in seventh grade?”

Jared chuckled. “Honestly I got off easy. He just broke my glasses. He broke Josh Carter’s jaw .”

Georgia’s eyebrows flew up. “No shit?” She thought of the two of them and their fights, the hitting and shoving and punching and kicking and suddenly felt relieved to have come out with just a smattering of bruises.

“Uh, yeah. I’d have thought he would have bragged all about it.”

“Nope.”

Jared shrugged. “Evan was all pissed off at me about the note.”

“When I first moved here, I thought his name was Mark for like… the whole summer. I even called him that once and he didn’t correct me.”

“Mark?” Jared repeated, laughing. “Now I know you’re high. Fuckin’ Mark Hansen. What the actual fuck.”

“Hey wait… what was the note you mentioned?”

“What note?” Jared was still laughing. “Right. You didn’t live here yet… I was being an asshole… passed around this note that talked shit about Connor. That he was all gay and axe murderery or whatever.” Jared stuck his tongue out experimentally. “I think my tongue is stoned.”

“Connor’s not gay.”

“Right, and I’m Catholic,” Jared snorted.

“He’s not gay.”

Jared looked at her skeptically. “Really? I could have sworn he was.”

“Why?”

Jared looked at her like she was an idiot. “I dunno, he’s just… gay.”

“You’re an asshole.”

“Are you gay?” Jared asked. “I kinda thought maybe the two of you had some sort of double beard thing going on.”

“I’m not gay,” Georgia said. “Are you gay?”

“Who the fuck just asks someone if they’re gay?” Jared said, sputtering.

“You literally just asked me if I was!” Georgia said, rolling her eyes. “And you didn’t answer. I bet you’ve watched like, so much gay porn. You were just curious, you said, until you started beating off in front of it.”

“I’m not fucking gay,” Jared said, his face going from pink to red to borderline purple.

“Sure, that’s what they all say.”

“I’m not gay,” He whined.

“So prove it.”

“What?” He seemed like a goldfish choking on air, his mouth opening and shutting several times.

“Prove you’re not gay. Do something straight.”

“Like… wear socks with sandals?” Jared said dubiously.

“Jesus Christ,” Georgia mumbled, leaning over and grabbing onto the collar of his graphic t-shirt and yanking him until their faces were inches apart.

“Holy shit,” Jared whispered.

So she kissed him to shut him up. To quiet the buzzing in her brain.

She pulled away after a second. “Who was your first kiss?”

Jared blinked. “Um. M-Miriam Stein at camp, last summer?”

“Did she have numb lips or something, what the fuck was that?”

“Fuck you, we can’t all be slutty like you.”

Georgia kissed him again, because he was bad at it and she was doing the world a favor that Miriam clearly hadn’t. His lips were kind of chapped and his mouth tasted like Mountain Dew, but she’d had worse. She pulled off his glasses after a while, because her nose kept bumping them, and then pushed Jared onto his back on the couch so she could straddle him.

He had like an embarrassingly obvious boner.

“Holy shit,” He mumbled when she came up for air. “H-holy shit.”

“Stop saying that,” Georgia snapped.

“Sorry. Sorry… I just. You’re really hot.”

“I know.”

“You’re making out with me.”

“I’m aware.”

“I’m… I’m me .”

“Shut up,” Georgia said with a sigh. Her head was getting too buzzy, too full of noise, so she put Jared’s hand on her boob. His eyes popped open. She could practically see him working his jaw not to say “holy shit” again. He was a bit too hard with the grabbing, squeezing like he was honking a bike horn. “Not so hard,” She said irritably. “Those are attached.”

“Sorry,” He said and relaxed the vice grip on her tit.

She needed to be strategic about this. Jared was about five seconds from blowing his load in his embarrassing cargo shorts.

She sat up. Pulled back her hair. Stood up, watching Jared’s disappointed eyes. She pulled off her dumb stupid dress. Jared’s eyes got comically wide, but this was all for practicality. She’d gotten enough fucking jizz on her clothes to last a lifetime.

She unhooked her bra and let Jared stare at her for a minute.

“Holy -”

“Do not fucking start,” She muttered, climbing back on top of him. His hands flew to her boobs immediately, kind of sweaty and hot but distracting pn enough.

She reached down and unzipped his pants. She did not stop to ask if that was okay. This was all business. This is all boys wanted from her, all she was good for. All boys wanted this from her except Connor. Connor was the only one she wanted and he didn’t want her to she was doing this with Jared. She needed to shut up the buzzing failure fuck up he doesn’t want you he doesn’t want you nobody really wants you. Georgia rolled slightly to the side and reached into Jared’s boxers. They had Simpsons characters on them.

Thank god he was Jewish, she thought, so she already knew he was circumcised.

It took less than three minutes until he was muttering “holy shit holy shit I’m gonna-” and she managed to avoid getting it into her hair.

He kept on breathing heavily as she got up and found a Kleenex to wipe off her chest. She had the smell and the blissed out look on Jared’s face and the fact that some had gotten on her chin. Georgia pulled her bra back on, then her dress. She grabbed her purse and stood up to go.

“Wait, wait,” Jared said, standing up fast, trying to tuck his junk back into his pants and chase after her at once. “I um. Do you want to go to Homecoming with me?”

He looked all earnest and weird and like he actually meant it. Nothing like in eighth grade when he asked her to the Halloween dance, all swagger and jokes and gross about it. This seemed genuine.

It disgusted her.

“No,” She said shortly. “I don’t even like you.” Then she hitched her purse over her shoulder and left.


 

That night Connor stared at his phone until the sun came up. No messages from Georgia. She was done with him, obviously. She was done. He had fucked up and she hated him and she was obviously done.

And Evan…

What the fuck was wrong with him, shoving Evan?

He just… in that second he couldn’t not shove him. He couldn’t not lash out. Because he

was a monster, an asshole, he had already lost fucking everything.  

He went to the bathroom medicine cabinet and poured all of his mom’s old painkillers into his hand, counting out nine of them and trying to figure out if that was enough to kill him.

There wasn’t any reason to stick around if Georgia was finished with him. Connor knew that in his bones. If she was done, then he was too.

He tapped out another message, one saying, “Let me know you’re okay, please. I’m worried. I’m freaking out. If something happened to you I would kill myself, I swear to god.”

He watched his phone, hand closed loosely around nine painkillers which might or might not be enough to kill him. He needed to know if she was done, he needed to hear from her, if he didn’t hear from her by 5:15 he would start gulping down the pills.

5:05.

He filled up a small dixie cup of water, the kind you use to rinse out your mouth.

If she didn’t want him anymore than it was finally over for him. He could feel the thrill of it in his guts. He could feel the relief. He wanted her to want him still, but if she didn’t then maybe he could be done finally. Maybe he could be done.

5:10.

Connor wasn’t sure that nine pills would be enough. He chewed his lip, chewed chewed.

Maybe if he took them all and waited a bit he could finally cut deep enough, manage it because pain wouldn’t be a barrier anymore.

Connor couldn’t believe he still hadn’t heard back from her.

Maybe she was dead. Maybe she finally called it too. Maybe she was done.

Without him. Bitch. She would kill herself and not warn him first.

5:12.

He wasn’t even scared. That probably wasn’t normal, Connor thought, not to be scared of killing yourself. Something was wrong with him. Something was really really wrong with him.

But he knew that already.

5:14.

Maybe he would need more than one dixie cup. Nine pills was a lot.

Nine pills probably wasn’t enough.

His phone dinged and it was so loud that he started, nearly scattering the pills across the floor like beads of a broken necklace.

“Home. Safe. Talk later.”

Connor let out a shaky breath.


Georgia knew shit was bad when both of her parents were yelling at her. Her dad looked like hell, like he’d been on a bender, but when he grabbed her in a tight hug the moment she walked inside, he didn’t smell like booze or cigarettes or anything. Just deodorant and dad and safe. She wanted to relax into the hug but she couldn’t because he was holding her out at an arm’s length and demanding to know where she had been.

“I was at a friend’s house.”

“Which friend?” her mom jumped in. “I know it’s not Connor or Evan, since they were out looking for you with us until ten.”

“No, my friend Jared.”

“All of her friends are boys,” Her mom said to her dad, accusing. “All of them? And this didn’t seem like an issue to you?”

“Sarah, now is not the time -”

“Now is exactly the time, Adam!” Her mom screamed. “She’s running around like some kind of- of-”

“Some kind of what?” Georgia said to her mother, her voice low. “Maybe like some kind of kid whose mom left?”

“Georgia,” Her dad said warning.

“No, you don’t get to talk,” She snapped. “You left, mom. You left and then you just show up out of nowhere? And you honestly think that I’m not allowed to freak out and go hide at a friends for a couple of hours because you showing up fucked up my one chance to do something cool, something just for me, and you show up and I screw up and now you’re here and trying to what? Ground me?”

“I -”

“I don’t want to hear it,” She screamed. “You left so you don’t get a say anymore.” She turned to look at her dad. “Am I grounded?”

“Yes!” He said, exasperated.

“Fine, then I’m sending myself to my room,” She said, frustrated, stomping off to her room and throwing herself on the bed.

She had texts and texts and texts from Connor, all growing more frantic, culminating in him threatening to kill himself.

Georgia debated not texting him back at all. She debated going into the medicine cabinet and finding her dad’s stash of pills and swallowing them all, her and Connor both losing themselves.

But she was too tired to even kill herself, so she sighed and texted Connor back. And then went the hell to sleep.


On the morning of Connor Murphy’s sixteen birthday, his parents presented him with the keys to a used blue sedan.

“I don’t want this,” He said, putting the keys back into the box. “This is too much. I don’t even have my license, I don’t need a car, I don’t-”

“Your test is literally tomorrow,” Zoe said, rolling her eyes. “Does this mean I don’t have to ride the bus anymore?”

“Um no, fuck you. I never said I was driving you to school.”

“Connor, don’t start,” His dad said. “It would be a real shame for you to lose your driving privileges before you even have any.”

Connor, frankly, didn’t want driving privileges. After Friday’s football game he was about ninety percent certain if he was left alone to drive a car he would drive it off the first bridge he could find.

Since Friday night he couldn’t shake the feeling that Georgia was out of his life, that Evan hated him now, that he was a total psycho freak who had the right idea in eighth grade. He had the right idea back then and he needed to get off of this planet, out of this life, he was out of his fucking mind.

“Don’t you want to take it for a ride honey?” His mom said her voice all soft and momlike and Connor didn’t know how to tell her he would kill them both if he got behind the wheel. He’d drive straight into a semi-truck, he’d jerk the wheel all the way to the left the second he got on the interstate, he couldn’t control the twitching in his hands that said he was done. He was done and everyone was done with him and there was no point in pretending anymore.

“Connor?”

He looked at his parents with their pasted on happy faces that were starting to slide off and Zoe with her curious eyebrows and his phone buzzed in his pocket.

“Sorry. Uh. Yeah. We can go for a drive.”

His mom squeeze his shoulder and went to grab her purse and Connor kept holding the keys like they weren’t real, like he was playing pretend, like he was pantomiming holding keys to a new car but he couldn’t work up the happy smiling and self satisfaction.

His mom reappeared on the sidewalk beside him. She patted his shoulder and said, “Don’t be nervous sweetie.”

He drove them around their neighborhood in his brand new used car and tried not to think about killing himself. She asked him to pull over and they preset the radio to a station he liked. They practiced three point turns and parallel parking and Connor learned where the brights on his new car were located.

“You’re so ready for this test tomorrow,” She reassured him. “I can feel it.”

Connor couldn’t picture being alive tomorrow, let alone passing his driver’s test.

 

They all went out to dinner that night. Connor and Zoe and his parents. Georgia was invited, but she was grounded after disappearing to hang out with Jared Kleinman of all fucking people after the football game.

So it was another awkward family birthday dinner where Zoe didn’t want to be there and his dad was distracted and his mom kept worrying he didn’t enjoy his food (they’d decided to do Thai food this year).

He passed his driver’s test the next day. He only got one point off, because he couldn’t remember the dumb rules for parking on a hill. His mom fucking cried when he showed her the dumb laminated license picture. He wasn’t smiling in the photo.

When he showed it to Zoe after school, she laughed and said it looked like a mugshot.

She wasn’t wrong but he still flipped her off anyway.

Connor had a parking pass for the student lot already. Perks of his rich parents, he supposed. On the morning after he passed his driver’s test, Connor got in the car and Zoe got in the passenger seat. “Don’t kill us, okay?” She said, putting in headphones.

He rolled his eyes.

And drove to Georgia’s. Zoe noticed immediately. “You’re only supposed to have one person who’s not immediate family in the car!”

“Yeah. So. You and Georgia.”

“And you’re just gonna leave Evan stuck taking the bus?”

“You just said the immediate family thing!”

“It’s not fair that she gets a ride and he doesn’t,” Zoe said. “He’s way nicer than her.”

“Jesus Zoe, fine, will you text him and ask if he wants a ride?” Connor had wanted to avoid this because he didn’t want to talk to Evan after what happened and he was pretty sure Evan wouldn’t want to talk to him. He was just. He didn’t want to poke that, make it worse.

Zoe rolled her eyes and said “What’s his number?”

“Fuck if I know, it’s in my phone.”

“Fine, Jesus, I’ll just text him from yours. What’s your password?”

“1234.”

“Secure,” Zoe said with a snort. She grabbed his phone and texted Evan. After a few

minutes his phone buzzed with a reply. “He says he doesn’t need a ride.”

“Cool.”

A few moments later, Georgia rushed out, face flushed. “Go go go,” she hissed jumping into the backseat. “Dad’s on the warpath and I’m not in the mood. Go.”

Connor obediently went, backing out of Georgia’s driveway quickly and heading toward the school. “He still pissed off about Friday then?”

“Oh yeah,” Georgia said, slumping back into her seat. “He’s talking about making me quit my job. It’s so fucking annoying.”

Zoe rolled her eyes from the front seat and Connor prayed Georgia hadn’t seen it. He didn’t know how to get blood out of car seats.

“Why were you hanging out with Jared anyway?”

Georgia scoffed. “Do we have to do this right now?”
Translation: Not in front of Zoe.

Which, fair.

So he didn’t say anything else.


 

Evan frowned when he got the text from Connor that morning. But he did feel a slight smile tug at his lips when he read the content.

“Do you want a ride to school? This is Zoe btw.”

“Hey Zoe. Thanks, I don’t need a ride.”

“Cool. See you later.”

Zoe was nice, Evan thought, absently rubbing his arm. He still had rug burn from landing hard in his bedroom after Connor shoved him. He was still pissed too. Pissed that he’d gone and lied to his mom, pissed enough that he didn’t even text Connor yesterday to wish him a happy birthday.

Evan put his phone in his pocket. His mom was on the early shift this week, so she had left already. She had gotten up early enough to pack him a lunch - which when he peeked in the brown paper bag was just a sandwich and an apple, but he was so grateful that he’d be able to avoid the lunch line that he genuinely didn’t care - with a Post It stuck to the bag that said “Have a good day!” with a little smiley face next to it. He pocketed the note because he liked it and wanted to keep it but was aware that it might seem a bit serial-killerish to walk around with a note from his mom stuck on his lunch bag.

Evan went and waited for the bus about two minutes before it usually arrived. It was getting kind of cold in the mornings now, so he shrugged on a hoodie. When the bus pulled up, he was grateful for the heat radiating off of the engine. Evan grabbed his usual seat, where he had been sitting with Zoe for the last couple of weeks, and found that felt weirdly empty without her. He looked out the window and tried not to stress about the Spanish test he had coming up that day.

“Hey.”

He looked up to see Jared, hands in his pockets, still wearing shorts even though it was only about fifty five degrees out this morning. “H-hey,” Evan returned.

“Where’s the rest of your posse?”

Evan tried not to frown. “Connor um. Got his license yesterday so he’s, uh, he’s driving them.”

“And not you?” Jared said, grabbing a seat without asking. “That’s cold.”

Evan shrugged. He didn’t want to get into it with Jared.

“I was gonna wait to tell you this until Algebra, but since you’re alone I can tell you now,” He said, his voice pitching kind of high with excitement. Evan tried not to sigh. It was probably some stupid story about how he found their librarian on OKCupid or something.

“Okay, when I tell you this you can’t freak out and you absolutely under no circumstances can say anything to Connor.”

“Okay?” Evan said because he wasn’t like sure he was even talking to Connor, if he was even friends with Connor, if he was ever friends with Connor.

“I hooked up with Georgia this weekend,” Jared said, his voice like caught somewhere between bragging and telling Evan a secret.

Evan wrinkled his nose. “No you didn’t.”

“I super did though,” he said. He tilted his head to the side a little. “See, I have a hickey!”

Evan squinted and could sort of see a couple of tiny red marks on Jared’s neck. “Are you sure that’s not a zit forming or…?”

“No, shut up, for real. She and I totally hooked up.”

“Like…” Evan didn’t really know what people meant when they said hooked up. Like was that sex? Fooling around? He had no idea. “Like… What did you do?” He tried, flinching at how awkward it came out sounding. He pinched the seam of his jeans, biting down on his lip, watching Jared’s face for a sign that he was going to laugh at him.

“Dude I super got an HJ,” Jared said in a low voice.

Evan was lost. There were abbreviations for sex stuff? Why the hell didn’t they teach that in Health class, instead of useless crap like three weeks on the dangerous of heroin and abstinence? Like people in ninth grade were already having sex with each other, and people like Evan weren’t going to have sex or do heroin probably ever. But it might be nice to know what other people were talking about, like, some of the time. He felt like he had missed a vital tenth grade software update where suddenly everyone knew stuff about like drugs and drinking and sex. Evan had gotten drunk once at the Homecoming dance last year and for a couple of minutes it felt like he had friends, finally, who liked him and then he started puking and Connor was weirdly nice to him and Evan thought that maybe Connor Murphy was sort of cute and Health class sure as hell didn’t prepare him for any of that.

“HJ?” He managed faintly. “I’m sorry, I-I, I’m not-”

Handjob ,” Jared said like Evan was an idiot and Evan was an idiot for not putting it together. “Plus she let me feel her up. Like she even took off her bra. Holy shit, it pretty hot. She’s got like…” He held out his hands to demonstrate, “Huge boobs. Like I couldn’t fit my hand around one, dude.”

“What…?” Evan said faintly. “But like… N-no offense, but why would she hook up with you?”

Jared frowned. “I dunno man, maybe she just likes me.”

“Yeah, I just…” Evan said, feeling his back of his neck get hot, the blood creeping into his face. “I guess I just th-thought she liked Connor.”

“Yeah, I dunno dude. I asked her to Homecoming.”

Evan felt his mouth go dry. “What did she say?”

“No, but I dunno. We were both kinda stoned.”

Evan blinked a few times. “She got you stoned and then gave you a-a,” He dropped his voice, “a handjob?”

“She didn’t get me stoned, Evan, Jesus,” Jared said, rolling his eyes. “She offered me pot and I said yes.”

“Why?”

“I was kinda bored, I dunno. We’d been playing Mario Kart for a long time. It was pretty chill.”

“Huh.”

“I can’t believe they haven’t gotten you high.”

Evan shrugged. “I don’t, uh. I just don’t want to?”

“It’s actually pretty chill,” Jared said shrugging like it was no big deal. Evan knew for a fact that was probably a big fucking deal. He knew all about how the summer after eighth grade Brian Harris and Josh Clark had offered him weed and Jared had been too freaked out to actually smoke with them.

But even telling Evan about screwing up with those guys, Jared acted like he was so much better than him. Like Evan wouldn’t understand a friend offering him pot.

Which was true because Evan categorically didn’t have friends.

Evan rolled his eyes at Jared who was still telling him how chill weed smoking with Georgia was. Something about this seemed to be screaming DANGER AHEAD to Evan, but Jared was too busy wondering if he should ask Georgia on a date or keep it casual. If Evan thought Georgia wanted to have sex with him, because he’d need to buy condoms and he didn’t know if you had to be eighteen to buy condoms. Evan’s mind flickered to his living room, to his mom patiently explaining to Georgia how to use an insertive condom after giving her the morning after pill, how Connor looked so worried worried worried.

“Yo, you listening?”

“What sorry, I was… what?”

“You’re totally perving out on my Georgia story.”

“Screw you, I’m not.”

“Maybe she knows somebody who can, uh, finally give your arm a rest, eh?”

“Stop being gross Jared.”

“You could always see what Zoe’s deal it,” Jared said thoughtfully.

“Why would - why would you say that?”

“I dunno. She’s cute. As far as I can tell, she hasn’t inherited the psychopath gene that Connor got? Plus she’s always, like, talking to you.”

“Yeah but she’s Connor’s sister.”

“He might be cool with it, I dunno,” Jared said, shrugging. “Georgia insists he’s not gay, by the way, which is bullshit if I ever heard it. My gaydar goes nuts when he’s around.”

“You sure it’s not… not just faulty?” Evan muttered.

“Hey whoa I’m not knocking it. I can get down with the rainbow. Whatever man. I just don’t get why he’d lie or hide it. Everyone already knows.”

“Why are you talking to me about this?” Evan said suddenly. “Don’t you have better people to - to tell about your sexual exploits?”

Jared’s face did something strange, like a flinch or a twitch or something. “I just… Nevermind.”

Evan felt guilty then. He wasn’t… he didn’t want to make Jared feel bad. He was just so sick of the hot and cold he was getting from everyone he was supposedly friends with… Evan pinched the seam of his pants, the hem of his t-shirt. “I’m sorry, I just… It’s just that Georgia’s my friend? And I dunno, it feels weird talking about her like this, y-y’know?”

“Yeah well I’m your friend too.”

Evan blinked in surprise, stopping his lips from forming “am I?” “I mean, yeah but… she’s a girl, and like. Like it’s kinda… it’s not cool to talk about girls like they’re, you know, not p-people?”

“She’s totally a person, dude. Just a really fucking hot person.”


 

Connor was not going to the Homecoming dance. He had decided that the moment Georgia got herself grounded for staying the night at Jared’s after the football game.

She refused to explain what the fuck she was doing there.

He kept asking her and getting nothing.

“Just… why Jared?”

“I was pissed at you and at my mom,” She said, irritably, tugging the sleeve of her sweater over her wrist. “It’s not some big conspiracy.”

“Whatever.”

“He’s not that bad,” Georgia said, on lunch when they hid under the bleachers to smoke.

“Jared? Are you high?”

“I smoked with him on Friday,” She said with a shrug. “He can be cool.”

“Yeah, sure,” Connor said, annoyed. Jared Kleinman was an asshole and a liar and a fake and he didn’t want Georgia anywhere near him. He suddenly wished it was Jared’s jaw he dislocated, Jared who needed stitches. He wished he had pounded his fists into that kid’s skull until his blood stained the hall and he never met Georgia.

“What’s your problem?”

“I just don’t like him,” Connor said, trying to shrug it off.

“Please tell me you’re not still pissed about the seventh grade note thing,” Georgia said, rolling her eyes. “So he started a rumor that you were gay. Lighten up it was years ago and you’re not gay so who cares?”

“Um, I care,” Connor said, feeling tension building in his shoulders. “It wasn’t just the note… he like. Pretended we were friends and then fucked me over.”

“Yeah when he was like twelve,” Georgia rolled her eyes.

“Thirteen,” Connor corrected quietly. He immediately wished he hadn’t said anything because this look of recognition flashed over her face and he knew she knew. He could tell she had clocked him for being his usual pathetic self and she’d call him on it.

“Oh my god,” She said laughing. “You’re still mad because you didn’t get invited to his bar mitzvah?”

“No, I’m… No. He just was an asshole okay? Still is.”

“So he acted like you were friends and then didn’t invite you to a party, so you broke his glasses the day before,” Georgia said, chuckling. “Petty, but I like it.”

“That’s not why!”

“Sure,” she said, giggling still.

So Connor wasn’t going to Homecoming. But Zoe was. She was getting ready at home; their mom had spent ages helping her to do her hair and makeup. Zoe didn’t have a date as far as Connor knew, but he didn’t ask either. Frankly, he was better off not knowing. He’d probably just find that person and push them, punch them, kill them for even thinking about Zoe that way.

Because he was awful.

He was so fucking awful.

Evan still wasn’t talking to him and Georgia wasn’t allowed out of the house and Connor hated everything.


 

Evan did not want to go to the Homecoming dance.

But he had bought a ticket and his mom had picked him up a new tie and Evan knew money was tight so it would have been kind of a dick move to her not to go. So he was going to the dance… with Jared. Who, despite knowing that Georgia was 1. Beyond grounded and 2. Not interested, kept saying he hoped she would show up. “She’s always getting into trouble doing stupid stuff, I could see her showing up.”

“I can’t,” Evan mumbled, but he didn’t push it much further.

The dance was a lot different than last year’s dance. For one, Evan wasn’t drunk. Sadly, that actually seemed to make the dance more boring. Jared kept sighing and checking his phone and frowning and Evan honestly started to feel sort of bad for him. Like, he was really convinced that Georgia liked him and was coming to this dance despite there being no evidence to suggest this. It must suck, Evan thought, getting your hopes dashed like that.

Though he supposed he could relate, a least a little.

Connor was…

No longer an option. Not that he was ever really an option. But still.

Evan stuffed his hands into his pockets. So far the highlight of the night had been seeing  a couple of seniors get kicked out for getting caught trying to drink in the bathroom. Evan felt weirdly superior for having pulled off getting drunk as a freshman, considering he had been and was still such a damn loser.

Something unexpected happened as Evan was counting down to an hour left of the dance, when he figured he could reasonably call his mom and claim not to be feeling well. She wouldn’t think he missed out on too much if he called with an hour to go, so she wouldn’t have to be disappointed on his behalf and then she probably wouldn’t ask why he didn’t take any pictures because he could just say he was sweaty and feeling sick the whole time and didn’t want to take pictures when his face was green.

“Evan?”

He turned to see Zoe Murphy standing there in a blue dress with her hair curled. She was sort of smiling and behind her Evan could see a bunch of other freshmen girls.

“H-hi Zoe.”

“Did you… are you here with anyone?”

Evan blinked, shaking his head and kind of mumbling “Jared brought me…”

“I was wondering if you wanted to dance?”

“Oh!” Evan said, so surprised that it came out louder than he meant it to. “Um, oh, sorry I mean - I mean… Yeah! If that’s… if that’s okay, then yeah, I mean, um, yeah.”

“Great,” Zoe said, smiling at him in a way that weirdly felt like she wasn’t making fun of him. She grabbed his hand and sort of led him past all of her girlfriends and when had it become a slow song playing? It was that John Legend song that Evan actually secretly hated because it was wildly overplayed, like every time his mom turned on the radio it was on overplayed, but suddenly with his hands on Zoe’s hips and her hands around his neck it didn’t seem like such a fucking awful song.

“So um… are - are you having a good time?” Evan asked.

“Yeah,” Zoe said. “Better now.”

Evan could swear his face was burning, flushing like crazy, sending out a Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer like beacon into the dancefloor. But Zoe either didn’t notice or didn’t care, which he was grateful for.

“Oh,” Evan said again, for lack of anything better to say.

“I’m sorry I won’t see you on the bus in the morning anymore,” Zoe said after a second. “That was… I hope this isn’t lame, but that was kind of my favorite part of the day.”

“Mine too,” Evan said though he wasn’t exactly sure why.

“You’re nice,” Zoe said, like she was making up her mind about something. “I don’t really get why you hang out with my brother, like, at all.”

“Let’s not talk about your brother,” Evan said.

“And Georgia is just such a -”

Evan didn’t want to talk about Georgia or Connor or anyone. He didn’t want to talk about them, he wanted Zoe to tell him more about jazz band, he wanted to know if she was wearing perfume or if she always smelled like roses, he wanted not to be thinking about her brother.

So.

Because Evan was some kind of suicidal idiot, he leaned down just enough to kiss Zoe Murphy.

He probably had a brain tumor or some kind of tragic neurological disorder. He was probably going to get punched.

But at that moment, Zoe… kissed him back. They kissed each other and her mouth tasted like a breath mint and her lips were really soft and it was just really nice. Like something he had wanted but didn’t realize until he got it. Like something staring him in the face but he was missing.

Kissing Zoe Murphy was like feeling whole, like feeling normal. Not a freak with flaky friends who stuttered and cried and never got anything right. Kissing Zoe Murphy was the most right Evan had ever felt.

Chapter Text

Sophomore year, Spring Semester Part 1

 

The first Monday in January found Connor white knuckling the drive to school because overnight had brought buckets of freezing rain and apparently there was a road salt shortage for the entire county. At least that was what the radio said, when Zoe turned it up to ignore him. They’d had a fight on New Year’s Day, in the early early hours of the morning, a big fight, and now she wasn’t speaking to Connor. Or Connor wasn’t speaking to her. He didn’t remember. He’d been pretty fucked up when he stumbled home at 4:30 to find that among the friends that Zoe had invited over for a party, among the people who were sleeping in their living room for a slumber party was Evan Hansen.

He kind of lost it. Made a huge scene. Embarrassed Zoe in front of everyone there.

At the time he didn’t care. He and Georgia had both told their parents’ lies - Connor saying he was going to Georgia’s to watch movies, Georgia telling her parents that they were going to Zoe’s party - before they climbed into Jesus’ car and went to a house party being thrown by a friend of Isaac’s from the kegger that summer.

The two of them spent midnight getting pleasantly high with that guy Dave, who kept telling them to stop doing drugs between bong hits and snorting lines of oxy. “Seriously, kids, you’ll live to regret it.”

“Yeah whatever old man,” Georgia said.

Connor ended up cutting a deal with Isaac before he left for a sizeable stash of oxy now that he’d depleted his mom’s painkillers down to the last three. He figured it would be stupid to take those, lest she suddenly check the bottle. A few missing pills, sure. All of them gone would be suspicious.

Anyway, Connor came home at 4:30, dropped off by Jesus and planning to tell his parents that he just couldn’t sleep so Georgia’s dad had dropped him off.

Which of course was when he found Evan Hansen sleeping on the living room floor in a sleeping bag next to Zoe’s, and they were holding hands and Connor was high and he’d been drinking and instead of ignoring it because he didn’t even fucking talk to Evan anymore, Connor switched on the lights, shouting “ZOE WHAT THE FUCK” before shaking her shoulder.

She opened her eyes fast, snapping open, big and terrified. “What’s happening?” She said. “Is the house on fire?”

“What’s happening? Why the fuck is he here?” He pointed to Evan, who was blinking his eyes in confusion and still holding Zoe’s hand like that was a place his hand was allowed to be.

“He’s my friend,” Zoe said, voice challenging. She was getting up now, getting into his face. She shoved him away.  “I’m allowed to have friends over.”

“Bullshit. You two aren’t friends.”

“W-we are,” Evan said. He was getting up too, trying to subtly get in between Zoe and Connor, but Connor wasn’t having that either. He just stepped around him, shoving his way back into Zoe’s space.

“Hold hands with all of your friends then?”

“Oh fuck you,” Zoe said. “Why do you even care ?” People were starting to wake up, asking what was going on, wanting to know who’d turned on the lights.

“I care because he’s an asshole and suddenly you’re dating him?”

“He’s not an asshole,” Zoe shouted. “He stopped talking to you after you went all psycho on him.”

“You told her?” Connor said, turning on Evan, accusing.

“I told her the truth,” Evan mumbled stubbornly. “She-she asked why you and I didn’t talk anymore.”

“Zoe, should I go get your mom?” A voice in the room said cautiously.

“No,” Zoe started to say, but Connor cut her off, saying, loudly, “Oh yeah, go get mom. Please go get my mom. Oh no, Connor’s gone off again. What are we going to do this time? Should we do nothing, again?”

“Fuck you,” Zoe said, her voice wobbly.

“Fuck you,” Connor said and he was going to reach out, lash out, he was probably going to hit her but Evan got in the way, not pushing or cussing him out or really doing much of anything other than flinching.

“Don’t talk to her like that,” Evan said quietly. “This isn’t cool Connor.”

“Uncool? Like dumping me as a friend and getting with my sister? Is that your idea of cool, Evan?”

“I didn’t… that’s not-”

“Leave him alone Connor. He stopped talking to you because he thinks you’re a total psycho and obviously he was right!”

“How long has this been going on?” Connor demanded, getting into Evan’s face. He had stubble forming on his upper lip and a little on his chin and there was a fleck of toothpaste in the corner of his mouth and Evan’s face was white and scared and his voice was shaky but he didn’t back away from Connor when he answered.

“Since Homecoming.”
“And you just… went behind my back about it?”

“It’s none of your fucking business!” Zoe shouted.

“What the hell is going on?” Fucking Larry, rumbling, coming down the stairs heavily, wearing a Penn State sweatshirt and flannel pajama bottoms and looking like he’d gone too hard on the whiskey that night. “Why are you all yelling?”

“Larry, it’s fine, I’ll handle this.” His mom in a robe and slippers, looking tired and embarrassed and following one of Zoe’s friends out of the downstairs bedroom. They told people that his dad slept in the guest room upstairs because he kept their mom up with his snoring but Connor knew they’d been off and on avoiding each other since he was fucking thirteen and tonight was no different.

“If you were handling it, I wouldn’t be awake right now.”

“Will you two stop fighting with each other for five minutes and get Connor out of here?” Zoe shouted, voice ragged, on the verge of tears.

“Connor go upstairs to your room.”

“No,” Connor said, crossing his arms over his chest. “I live here, I should get to hang out in the living room if I want.”

“Your sister has people over,” His dad said, like he was too stupid to have noticed that fact. “Let’s not do this tonight.”

“Or any night,” Connor said. “Since, you know, we never want to do this. Whatever this is. Me making a scene, embarrassing you, while everyone else fucking lies to my face for months. I’m allowed to be fucking pissed that Zoe’s a liar.”

“You can be angry at your sister after the sun has come out,” his mom said in this soothing tone, trying to put a hand on his arm.

“Don’t fucking touch me,” Connor shouted, yanking his arm away. “You’re all such fake assholes, having some awesome party while I’m not home, laughing it up about how I’m too stupid to notice my fucking sister is screwing around with someone who used to by friend. Are you still laughing? Are we all still having a good time?”

“Connor enough!” His dad shouted grabbing his arm painfully and physically moving him toward the stairs. “Upstairs. Now.”

“Whatever,” he said, stomping out of the room.  “Happy fucking new year.” He knocked over the lamp on his way out and slammed his door so hard that he heard a picture frame slide off of the wall and shatter.

Inside his room, Connor locked the door and counted the pills Isaac had sold him and tried to decide if that was enough to kill himself. Because things were bad bad bad and he wanted to stop now. He was too tired now.

Georgia was friends with Jared or something and she showed up at school with a hickey

around Thanksgiving and her mom was trying to get her to move in with her and Georgia said she wasn’t thinking about it but she was. She totally was.  

Connor decided he didn’t have enough pills.

So instead he added a few new marks on his wrist, missing the G.S. tattoo intentionally as his dad pounded on his door and demanded he open it and apologize to Zoe and her guests and instead Connor chose to stay locked in her bedroom until January 2nd rather than have to face his parents, face Zoe, find out why the fuck she was holding hands with Evan and what it meant that he was more pissed at Zoe than at Evan.

Anyway.

He was driving to school after an ice storm, trying not to get into an accident because Zoe would assume he did it on purpose.

He picked Georgia up, who looked a bit pale and tired, like she hadn’t slept much. “Hey,” she said.

“Hey,” He said.

Zoe ignored them.

“Heard you had an eventful New Year’s after you got home?” Georgia said kind of cautiously, breaking their “we don’t talk about this shit in front of Zoe” rule.

“So you’re still talking to him then?” Connor said, eyes on the road, foot hovering over the breaks, wishing the guy on his ass wasn’t on his ass.

“I get that we hate him,” She said dismissively, “But he seemed… upset.”

Zoe made some kind of noise and it took a lot of willpower for Connor not to swerve and send them careening off of the road and into a tree or the frozen river that ran through town.

“Can we not talk about this now?” Connor said through gritted teeth. “I’m kinda, you know, trying not to kill us.”

Georgia crossed her arms over her chest but for once in her goddamn life did not push it. When they made it to the school, twenty nerve wracking minutes later, Zoe was out the door before Connor had even put the car in park. “I’m taking the bus from now on,” She said, slamming the door. “Fuck you.”

“Have a good day!” He called out after her sarcastically. “Cunt.”

“Dude,” Georgia said, using her awful fucking “reasonable” voice. “What are you on right now?”

“Nothing,” Connor said. “Which is probably the fucking problem.”

“I just mean, like, freaking out at your sister and Evan? In front of people ? That’s… not smart, dude.”

“I was pissed off.”

“Yeah, well, now everyone knows. This is sort of the opposite of not attracting the attention of the parents, you know?”

“Sorry,” He said, a pit opening in his stomach, an empty hollow feeling overtaking the anger. “I fucked up.”

“Just… don’t keep fucking it up, alright? I will literally blow my brains out if your parents like... Pull the nuclear option and homeschool you or whatever.”

“Please, that would never happen.”

“Your mom already stays at home!” Georgia said with a laugh.

“It would definitely end in a murder-suicide,” Connor said. “A full on, murder-sui. Like the sort of shit that ends up inspiring a cop show.”

“Who’d be the murderer?”

“Really six of one, half dozen of the other,” Connor answered. “Sorry for freaking out.”

“Just… keep it together dude.”

“Yeah yeah, I know.”


So Georgia was, by her own admission, a pretty shitty best friend. But guilt was starting to gnaw at her and she didn’t know what to do about that. As a policy, Georgia didn’t feel guilty.

But this one was getting to her.

She found out about Evan and Zoe and their super duper juvenile flirtation the first week of October, when she went over to Evan’s hoping she’d ignore the whole Connor drama and get some help with her math homework. Honors Algebra II was fucking killing her and she couldn’t wrap her head around Quadratic Equations and there was a test coming up. Georgia was failing as of the last quiz and her teacher was threatening to call her dad who seemed to be white knuckling his sobriety since the holidays hit. He didn’t get drunk as far as Georgia saw but he did 1. Completely forget about Hanukkah and 2. Send Georgia to stay with her mom for a painfully awkward three days when everything shut down for Christmas. She and her mom saw a movie on Christmas Day, that Reese Witherspoon movie about hiking. Georgia’s mom cried through the whole thing basically, and Georgia spent the time wondering who got stuck working Christmas Day matinees at the movie theatre. Other Jewish teenagers? Muslim kids with nothing better to do in the middle of winter break? Poor Christian kids who had to miss out on… Church and turkey to work a minimum wage job?

She thought about applying to work at the movie theatre once she turned sixteen.

So in October, Georgia went over to Evan’s, planning to be all “I’ll talk to Connor, it’ll blow over” because it was Always Connor who got Mad.

Only Zoe was the one who answered the door. Her hair was pulled back off of her face and she had on overalls and honestly it sort of made her look like a little kid in a way that made Georgia’s stomach sour. Zoe Murphy was Barely Fifteen.

“Oh! You’re not pizza,” Zoe said awkwardly like that explained what she was doing at Evan’s house.

“Where’s Evan?” She said, walking into the house because that’s what she did, ignoring Zoe squawking about taking off her shoes. Evan was sitting by the coffee table, Netflix movie paused.

10 Things I Hate About You was an admittedly solid choice.

“Sooooo….” Georgia said, pretend cheerful as Zoe walked back into the room, fiddling with the strap of her dopey overalls. “How long has this been going on?” She smiled smiled smiled and watched some of the color drain from Evan’s face.

“Since Homecoming,” Zoe said, chin jutted out, defiant.

“And Connor doesn’t know?”

“And you’re not going to tell him,” Zoe said.

“Why would you think that?” Georgia said blankly. “I’m definitely going to tell him.” She pulled out her phone. “Say cheese!”

“Don’t!” Evan said, sounding a bit… desperate. “Don’t. He’ll…” he glanced back at Zoe. “He’ll be angry. It’s better if he doesn’t know.”

“Yeah, um, he’s literally always angry? Are we even talking about the same person?” Georgia laughed. “Like, he’s basically the Hulk here guys. He’s gonna go nuclear when he hears his sister and former friend are fucking around behind his back. You should just tell him and get it over with. Save yourself the grief.”

Evan and Zoe exchanged a look. “Don’t tell him.”

“And what, exactly is in it for me?”

“Georgia, come on…”

“Don’t tell him,” Zoe said, biting on her lip cutting across Evsan. “Please don’t. I’ll… I’ll give you my allowance for a month, I’ll let you tell everyone I was born with a tail, I don’t care… Just don’t tell Connor. He’ll… he’ll ruin it.”

“You guys are trying to buy my silence. Seriously.”

Evan and Zoe looked in between each other cautiously.

“This is too fucking good. You’re both idiots, you know. Now you’ve given me leverage.”

Which was how Georgia blackmailed Evan into tutoring her in math and proofreading all of her homework for English and just straight up doing her Spanish homework. How she managed to get Zoe Murphy to deposit over $100 into her lunch account, which her dad always forgot to do. Not to mention that Zoe was totally giving Georgia half of her weekly allowance.

Buy my silence for $25 a week.

It was kind of nice. Especially since her dad had insisted she stop working at the restaurant and focus on school since he wasn’t drinking his paychecks and her mom was coughing up child support now.

It also meant she’d been lying to Connor for months at this point.

The lie was starting to fester, leak out pus and smell.

And now Connor knew about Zoe and Evan. He had ranted and raved to her about it over text two days after he caught them holding hands, going on and on about how it was disgusting that they went behind his back…

And she couldn’t tell him that she knew already. Georgia couldn’t tell him. If she told Connor she already knew?

He’d lose it. Break her jaw. Kill her.

Stop talking to her.

Evan had come over to her house the morning after the party, his face pink with cold and his hands twisting his scarf so much that Georgia (still in her pajamas) thought he might accidentally strangle himself.

Her dad eyed her watchfully as she told Evan he could come to her room, but he didn’t tell her she couldn’t have a boy in her room so Georgia just pretended that her dad watching out was normal.

“What’s up?” She said, sitting on the bed.

“Um,” Evan said, breathlessly, like he was on the verge of tears. “C-Connor found out. About me and Zoe.”

“Oh. Shit.”

“He um. He was really angry. Like. Really angry. He um. He started yelling and he woke everyone up and Zoe’s… Zoe’s really upset and embarrassed.”

“How’d he find out.”

Evan’s face went blotchy and red. “She and I fell asleep holding hands.”

“Idiots,” Georgia said. “You’re lucky he didn’t murder you.”

“I… Can you talk to him?”

Georgia stared at Evan blankly. “And say what, exactly?”

“I dunno, that-that’s it’s not a big deal, that he’s freaking out over nothing.”

Georgia rolled her eyes. “I mean, maybe he would be more chill with it if you hadn’t just quit talking to him and then started dating his sister like five minutes later.”

“That’s…” His face was scarlet now. Evan was pulling, pulling at his scarf still. “That’s not what happened. You know that.”

“Yeah but I bet he doesn’t.”

“He was being an asshole to me,” Evan protested.

“And now you’re porking his sister.”

“I’m not, ” Evan said. “Please don’t tell him that I am, we’re, we’re just… we’ve barely even kissed, we’re definitely not - Don’t tell him I’m sleeping with Zoe.”

“You need to calm down,” Georgia said.

“This is bad,” Evan said, ignoring her. “This is super fucking bad. He’s - he’s gonna be such an asshole to Zoe and-and it’s my fault, it’s all my fault, I should have just stayed away, I shouldn’t even talk to her I’m so fucking stupid -”

Georgia grabbed Evan by the shoulders. “What do you do when you’re having an anxiety attack?”

Evan blinked a few times, rapidly, but then nodded fast and went into his backpack and pulled out his Xanax and a bottle of water. He took a Xanax and then looked at Georgia with these big wet anxious eyes.

“Well fucking sit down, Jesus.”

Evan sat on the corner of her bed, head in his hands, like he was trying to stop himself from hyperventilating. Georgia sat next to him and they just waited until the Xanax kicked in, shoulders almost touching.

“He’s gonna kill me,” Evan said.

“Probably not literally,” Georgia said reasonably. “He would have done it already.”

“Zoe… she was really angry that he got so upset.”

“Well, that’s her choice.”

“I fucked this up,” Evan said miserably.

“Yeah. Probably.”

“You are not being helpful.”

“You came to Connor’s best friend and expected sympathy because he’s pissed you lied to him? You’re in the wrong place.”

“You’re not going to be able to blackmail us anymore,” Evan said.

“I know.”

“That was fucked up.”

“Yeah but I’m not failing math anymore so. That was nice.”

“Fuck you,” Evan said, but there was no menace or angry behind it. Just resignation.

 


Zoe cornered Georgia in the library on the first day back, Evan sort of hovering behind her. “Connor knows.”

“Yeah, no shit,” Georgia said, putting her book down. “Nice going.”

“So the thing where we do stuff to like keep you quiet is obviously over,” Zoe pushed on.

“Obviously,” Georgia echoed. She chewed her lip. “He lost his shit huh?”

Zoe frowned. “I’m not talking about this with you. We’re not friends.”

“I know, but, like…” Georgia didn’t have words exactly to explain why this made her worry. Connor had mostly kept a lid on the explosive rage episodes in front of the adults and Zoe. It was bad if he wasn’t keeping it together. That was… that was bad. “Something is up.”

Zoe rolled her eyes. “Yeah, something’s been wrong with him since puberty.”

Behind Zoe, Georgia could see Evan wringing his hands.

“Evan,” she said. “What’s your take on this?”

Evan shrugged. “I dunno. He did… seem weird.”

Zoe gave him a look. “He’s always weird.”

“I-I meant… his eyes didn’t look right?”

Zoe blinked, turning to Evan. “What do you mean?”

“Well like… it was kinda dark, right? And his pupils were, um, were small? Like when it gets really bright?”

Zoe faced Georgia, face scrunched up. “What was he on?”

Georgia tried, for a second, to grow an innocent face. It failed if the frowns Evan and Zoe wore were any indication. “I mean, we were drinking a little. Smoked some weed. And I think he might have taken some oxy? I dunno…”

“Oh good,” Zoe muttered. “We’re doing hard drugs now.”

It took Georgia a moment to place the sort of hollow feeling that took over her stomach. Guilt. She felt guilty. She was the one who got him to try it and now he was doing shit like freaking out publicly and...shit.

This was her fault.

She fucked up.

“I’ll talk to him,” Georgia said.

“Yeah right,” Zoe said, shaking her head. “Come on Evan.”

 


It was the last week of January and Connor was struggling to stay awake in English class. Evan was in his English class and lately Connor passed the time by glaring at the back of his head until the bell rang, but today he could barely keep his eyes open. He couldn’t sleep at night, couldn’t stay awake during the day. Last week he skipped gym class three days running just to nap in the nurse’s office until she started making noises about calling his parents and he fucked off to nap in the library.

It had nothing to do with the fact that Connor had gym class with Evan and Evan was apparently dating his sister and Connor was sort of genuinely afraid to be alone with him because he just kept picturing what it would be like to put his hands around Evan’s throat, his frantically bobbing Adam’s apple, his pulse racing. And last week he almost concussed Evan with an accidentally-on-purpose volleyball to the face.

Nope nothing to do with that.

Anyway in English he was struggling to keep his eyes open. He’d picked up from Isaac the other day so he had a nice soft focus buzz going at first, but now it had fallen from pleasant and relaxed to drowsy and on the verge of drooling.

Which was why he wasn’t exactly listening when his teacher said something about “classic American Literature” and “presentation” and something about half the class reading Moby-Dick and half reading something else and then, without warning, Alana Beck was standing in front of his desk.

“What?” He said stupidly.

Alana gave him this sort of overcharged, tight smile. “We’re partners! On the Huck Finn project.”

“Right…” Connor said vaguely.

“So I’m thinking we ought to hit the ground running on this. Mrs. Stump said the project is worth ten percent of our total grade this semester.”

Connor blinked. Or maybe he fell asleep for a second.

“Are you paying attention?”

“Sorry,” He said, shaking his head, trying to shake himself back into reality. He was half asleep, he wasn’t paying attention, he was thinking about going to sleep and never waking up. This thought had sort of consumed his waking hours and kept him up at night and he wasn’t paying attention to anything.  “Sorry. You wanted to… hit the project running or, or whatever?”

Alana gave him another tight tight smile. “So I think we should both try to finish reading the book over the weekend, and then we should meet in the library on Monday to come up with a game plan. I think a lot of people are going to get caught up in the racialized aspects of the characterizations, so I think we might what to stay away from that as the theme of our project. What do you think?”

“Uh....” Connor stared for a long second. “Yeah I mean. Whatever.”

“Great! Give me your phone, I’ll put in my number, and you can text me so I’ll have yours.”

“Sure.” He handed over his cracked iPhone.

“Have you thought about having the screen replaced?”

“No,” Connor said flatly. She handed the phone back and he sent her a text with nothing but a Santa Claus emoji.

“Thanks,” Alana said, looking like she was unsure if she ought to laugh or scold him. “Um,” Alana said then, with sudden urgency, her face wrinkling, looking uncomfortable, “I should tell you. You have lines on your face? From when you fell asleep.”

“Shit,” Connor said, rubbing his hands over his face. He thought he had managed to not pass out noticeably. “Thanks.”

“You really shouldn’t swear on school grounds. Technically you can get written up for that.”

“That’s fucked up.”

Alana let out this little surprised yelp of a laugh before she pulled her serious face back on and said, “Honestly. Don’t.”

“Yeah Jesus I better quit fucking swearing.”

Alana did laugh then, like properly. It almost made Connor smile, properly.


 

There was something Connor was forgetting to do, he realized distantly. He was grounded from the stunt he had pulled, ruining Zoe’s party, but his mom never thought to check the inside of any of his books. Sorry, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, but he needed to keep his stash somewhere.

He spent the weekend mostly just stoned, sitting in his room, trying to will himself out of existence. Zoe had Evan over for dinner and Connor watched from the top of the stairs as Evan shook his dad’s hand even though they’d met before. Connor supposed it was different when you went from burn out/loser kid’s friend to good kid’s boyfriend. Suddenly, Evan Mattered. He wore this polo that Connor hated and Connor pretended he didn’t hear his mom when she called him down to dinner. He couldn’t watch Evan be Zoe’s Boyfriend in front of his parents because it pissed him off and that fucked with his high and he didn’t want to think about why it bothered him, why it Really Bothered him, why seeing Evan hold his sister’s hand made he think back to the summer, to Evan’s kitchen, to Evan cutting up that plant and rubbing that runny, gross aloe on his nose and making Connor wish that something, just something about him was different.

Whatever.

He pretended to be sleeping when his mom pushed his bedroom door open. They kept threatening to take off the lock.

So it wasn’t until Monday afternoon when Connor was hiding in the library because it was too cold to go smoke under the bleachers that he realized what he’d forgotten because Alana Beck cornered him with her big big tight smile and her hair a ponytail high on her head grabbing the seat across from him and saying she was excited to get started. She pulled off her glasses and took an actual cleaning cloth from inside of her purse in this small case and rubbed her lenses clean before replacing her glasses primly on her nose and looking his way. “What did you think of the book?”

“I…”

He had two choices: bullshit or honesty.

And he was too high to effectively bullshit. “I didn’t finish.”

“Oh.” He smile drooped. “That’s alright. We’re already ahead of the game. We can talk about everything you’ve read so far to identify some themes. Where did you leave off?”

Connor sighed. He was tired. The inside of his mouth itched a little. “Maybe… chapter ten?”

“Chapter ten?” Alana repeated, obviously dismayed. “But-”

“Mark Twain is an idiot and Huck Finn is a little shithead. I can’t stand him. He’s not a relatable protagonist,” Connor complained. “He should be called Fuckleberry Finn. Fuckhead Finn.”

Alana was looking more and more distraught with each thing he said. “You just didn’t read it?”

“I forgot we were doing this,” Connor said scratching the back of his neck.

“But it’s worth ten percent of our grade.”

“And it’s not due for like… a month,” Connor said. “Besides, you don’t need me to do this project. You’re the smartest kid in class. Mrs. Stump has probably already penciled in an A for you and you haven’t done anything.”

“That is not the point,” Alana said indignantly. “This is a group project.”

“Looks like you got a shitty group.”

“Connor, I’m serious. I can’t just do this project without you.”

Connor wanted to argue that she absolutely could and most likely would carry on doing the project without him. That’s literally what she did all through Chemistry. He was her lousy lab partner and half the time he didn’t even show up on lab days. He knew she, like everyone else, was better off without him.

But Alana was glaring at him with such intensity that he felt himself cave. “Okay, Jesus. I’ll finish the book tonight. Sorry.”

“Great!” She said, the light returning to her eyes. “How about we meet tomorrow after school? I have tutoring at Weatherby until about 4:30, but I could meet you at the public library or Starbucks or something?” She looked so hopeful, sher smile so wide, Connor was afraid her face was going to crack at the seams.

“Um, yeah. We could do Starbucks?”

“You should set a reminder in your phone,” Alana said wisely. “Or write it in your planner?”

Connor didn’t know where his planner was. The school handed new ones out every year and he had put his… somewhere the first week of school and never found it again. “I’ll remember,” he said, knowing that was maybe half true.

“Maybe I’ll text you beforehand just in case?”

“I’ll remember,” He insisted.


 

Connor forgot.

“Connor are you still meeting me at Starbucks? I’ve been here for seven minutes and I haven’t seen you.”

“Shit, fuck,” he mumbled looking at his phone. Georgia blinked slowly at him from the passenger seat. “I have that… I’m supposed to be at Starbucks.”

“Why?”

“This stupid Fuckleberry Finn project, damn it,” he said looking at his phone.

“Since when do we care about school projects?” She asked, lighting a cigarette.

“Since I got paired with Alana Beck who would genuinely yank my scrotum out through my throat if tanked our grade,” Connor said, putting the car in drive. “I can either drop you off or bring you with, your pick.”

“Bring me with,” Georgia said. “You’re buying me coffee.”

“With what money?” Connor said with a laugh. “You still owe me from the last time I picked up with Isaac.”

Georgia rolled her eyes. “You’re right, fine. I’ll buy you coffee? Happy?”

“Ecstatic.”

Connor blew into the Starbucks on a gust frigid February wind. He found Alana immediately crammed into one of the booths in the front, wearing an altogether sensible winter outfit complete with Ugg boots and dropped himself across from her. “I’m sorry, I fucking suck at remembering shit.”

Alana gave him one of her tight tight smiles. “I knew I should have texted you to remind you.”

“I’m sorry,” Connor said, surprised that he actually sort of felt sorry. He didn’t want to blow her off. He knew that feeling, that ninth birthday party feeling when nobody else showed up and you had to play laser tag with your parents.

“It’s alright,” Alana said. “We can just get started after you order.”

“Order?”

“Well it’s considered rude to occupy a table without buying something.”

“Right. Rude. I remember that. Got it.”

Alana gave him one of her half laughs.

There was the sound of a throat clearing behind him and Connor suddenly remembered that he had brought Georgia with him. Fuck. “Um, and, I hope it’s cool that I brought my friend Georgia with me? I’m kinda her ride and like she’s just gotta do homework and stuff so.”

Alana smiled. “I’m Alana,” She said, holding out her hand.

“I know,” Georgia said, not really smiling. “Georgia Stern.”

“Nice to meet you,” Alana said.

“I’m going to get coffee,” Connor announced, “We’ll be back.” He headed to the counter and Georgia followed him. He got a vanilla latte and a scone to give to Alana to apologize for being a forgetful asshole; Georgia got a Frappuccino.

“It’s like, twelve degrees outside,” Connor said to her.

“I like the whipped cream,” She said with a shrug. “Since when were you so buddy buddy with Alana.”

“I’m not, like, really,” He said shrugging. “She’s just like. My partner on this project. And my chemistry lab partner. And since I never show up to chem, it couldn’t hurt to like. Not tank the project.”

“Right,” Georgia said shortly.

“Don’t get pissed at me about this,” Connor said softly, pressing lightly on Georgia’s wrist, in the place where his initials marked her skin.

“Who said anything about being pissed?”

Connor waited until Georgia had her drink before trooping back to the booth where Alana was sitting. Alana immediately started to show Connor her outlined and neatly color coordinated notes, and Georgia put some headphones on and stared into a copy of The Red Badge of Courage.

“Personally, I think that book glorifies war,” Alana said softly.

“Plus the author never even, like, went to war. He just played football. What a douche,” Connor said.

Alana kind of smiled. Connor shoved the scone toward her suddenly with jerky, unpracticed movements. He and Georgia didn’t really do apologies, and it wasn’t like he was hanging out with a lot of other people. “Sorry I was late.”

“It’s okay,” Alana said, smiling, almost. “I was thinking about what you said, about Huck not being an especially appealing protagonist to you and maybe we could work with that?”

“Oh. Really? I was just kinda being a dick.”

“I know,” Alana said. “But I think you make an interesting point. Twain wrote Huck as a specific character, and the intention was probably to make him come across as very sympathetic. So I think maybe we should explore whether or not that works, you know? As modern readers, do we find Huck relatable?”

Connor nodded. The two of them slipped easily into a conversation about how much of an asshat Huck Finn was.

“True, but I maintain that Tom Sawyer is the real… asshat.”

Connor grinned at Alana brightly. “I feel like I should tip you. Like the opposite of a swear jar. I put money in whenever I get you to curse.”

“Oh enough,” Alana said dismissively, but Connor could see a smile creeping on her lips.

“Hey.”

Connor and Alana both turned to look at Georgia and Connor realized that he had almost (but not quite) forgotten she was there.

“What’s up?”

“Alana, I was curious… how do you get your hair like that?”

“Oh,” She said, looking maybe… flattered. Like maybe she wasn’t used to someone commenting on her hair. Alana sort of smiled. “I uh. I get it braided every couple of months? It takes a while, and there’s… not a lot of salons nearby who actually can do braids, so I have to go into the city. I usually go with my grandma.”

“It looks really pretty,” Georgia said.

Connor blinked, surprised by that. He looked over at Georgia, trying to guess what her deal was. He couldn’t figure it out. Georgia gave Alana a lopsided smile, and Alana returned one of her tight smiles and Connor just sort of chewed his lip until they finished.

He and Alana talked out their ideas for another hour, Georgia mostly ignoring them. Connor made Alana laugh exactly three times and swear once more so, true to his word, he gave her a dollar.

Her smile seemed looser, less practiced after that.

It was almost… fun.

It was still a sucky school project with someone who was taking the whole thing far too seriously, but Alana seemed genuinely nice and well meaning and not like she was pretending to be friendly only to get a good grade. If anything, Connor was using her for the almost guaranteed A+ on the project.

“So, do you need a ride home?” Connor asked Alana.

She blinked, surprised, and Connor could see that her eyelashes hit the lenses of her glasses. It was sort of… endearing.

“Oh, I was just going to call my mom…”

“I can drive you,” he said. Connor didn’t know why. It just seemed impolite to leave her alone to wait when he had a perfectly good car parked outside. And apparently, when it came to Alana, he almost cared about being polite. “It’s no big deal.”

“Oh. Well. Alright. I’ll just… I’ll text my mom.”

“Cool.” Connor nudged Georgia was either pretending not to listen or actually not listening. “We’re giving Alana a ride home.”

“Oh.”

The syllable spoke volumes.

“You really don’t have to,” Alana said in a rush.

“Ignore her,” Connor said pointedly. “She’s on her period or something.”

“That’s… it’s actually sort of misogynistic to assume her bad mood is connected to menstruation?”

“He’s right,” Georgia said, rolling her eyes. “I’m totally menstruating. Can we go please?”

Connor didn’t want to be having this conversation about his apparent misogyny anymore so he pulled his keys out, shook them nervously, and headed for the door. “Alana where do you live?”

She mentioned a street maybe a mile away from where Connor’s parents’ lived, on the opposite side of the park from Georgia.

“Okay. I’ll drop you off first,” He said to Georgia.

“You’re not staying?” She said, sounding offended.

“You really don’t have to drop me off,” Alana said for the third time.

“No, shut up, Alana, it’s on my way home anyway,” He said. “Georgia. Stop being bitchy.”

Alana climbed into the back driver’s side and put her seatbelt on immediately. Georgia slammed her door.

“When did you get your licence?” Alana asked as Connor adjusted his mirror. He had smacked his head on it earlier after he dropped a lit cigarette.

“September,” Connor answered.

“Shouldn’t you still be on your probationary license then?” Alana apprehensively. “Doesn’t that mean you’re only allowed to have one non-family member in the car while you’re driving?”

Connor shrugged. “My parents don’t care.”

“But legally -”

“I’m not going to get pulled over,” He said, almost laughing. “And if I do, I will take all of the blame, don’t worry.”

“I just… insurance premiums for teen drivers are already very high.”

Connor laughed, surprised. “I hadn’t thought of that.”

He could see Alana dropping her tight smile from the rearview. “I know you’re making fun of me.”

“I’m not,” Connor said, still smiling. “I’m really really not. I’ll make sure not to get us pulled over for the sake of my parents’ insurance. I promise.”

The drive to Georgia’s was short. The roads were clear. She climbed out with a wave and a slam of the door. Connor waited until he could see her heading inside, then turned to Alana, “Do you want to move up front?”

“Oh. I guess.” She grabbed her backpack and swung around the outside of his car, settling into the passenger seat and clicking her seatbelt into place. “Thank you.”

“Sure. I might need a few directions once we get into your neighborhood.”

“Sure.”

They drove quietly for a little bit.

“I think we’re making some very good progress on this project,” Alana said. “I was thinking now that we have all of our thoughts out on paper, we should start working on the presentation element. Find some visuals that really illustrate our points.”

“Makes sense.” Connor drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. “I can uh. Try to get started on that tomorrow in the library. Maybe we could make like a shared folder or something?”

“That would be great. I would try to do it this evening, but I’ve still got to practice violin for at least ninety minutes and complete my chemistry assignment.”

“Shit there was chemistry homework?”

“Yes, we’re supposed to do five problems on moles.”

“I hate chemistry.”

“Is that why you’re not there much?”

Connor frowned. “I guess.  I dunno. I just don’t ever know what’s going on in that class, and it sorta feels like I missed the boat to figure it out. Plus I’m pretty sure Mr. Fitzwater is some kind of wack job 9/11 Truther.”

“He told me once he doesn’t believe in global warming,” Alana said, sounding alarmed. “I debated going to the school board.”

“Dude, you should. That’s fucked. He teaches a science class! How do you not believe in global warming as a science teacher?”

Alana nodded vigorously. “It’s extremely… fucked .” She seemed surprised at herself for cursing, but didn’t rush to take it back.

Connor laughed. “Damn, I owe you another dollar. I’ll have to get you back at school tomorrow.”

“You really don’t have to.”

“Hey, I’m a man of my word.”

“You forgot we were meeting tonight,” Alana pointed out.

“Well… I never said I have a good memory. Text me tomorrow, I’ll bring you a dollar.”

Alana smiled, and it seemed like it maybe wasn’t screwed on as tightly, like maybe her jaws weren’t wired into a permagrin. She told him where to turn and pointed out which house was hers on the cul-du-sac.

“Thank you for the ride,” She said.

“Yeah, it’s cool. I don’t mind.”

“Do you think we should meet up over the weekend? I’ve got taekwondo on Saturday afternoons but I will be free after church on Sunday?”

“Yeah I should be free. Just tell me where to go.”

“Okay.”

“See you at school.”

“Bye.” She gave him a little frantic wave and hurried inside. Connor waited until she was inside the house to pull away.

He didn’t know what the fuck his issue was with Alana. Like. He just… liked her. She was weird and he liked that. He liked that she was so proper and smart and whatever. She was like the opposite of him, and she was nice. Yeah.

Connor wondered vaguely what that positive feeling was. Did he want to be friends? Did he like… like Alana?

For the longest time he assumed if he was going to like any girl, it would be Georgia but she didn’t provoke the same kind of reaction out of him.

Who the fuck knew?

When he got home, Connor ignored his parents and went up to his room. He had a bunch of texts from Georgia, all bitching about how boring studying with Alana was and how obnoxious Georgia thought she was and Connor got tired of reading them halfway through so he put down his phone and dug in his pocket and popped a full brand name OxyContin.

He just needed to chill.

He just needed to stop thinking.

So he did.


 

Georgia found Evan and Zoe in the library.

They were holding hands.  

Gross.

“I need to talk to you two,” She said, voice too loud, drawing looks from the librarian. Evan’s face flushed. Zoe shifted her jaw. “What is the deal with Alana Beck?”

Zoe said, “Who?”

Evan said, “What about Alana?”

“She’s working with Connor on his weird English project. They’re together like… all of the time?”

“So?” Zoe said. “Maybe he needs to hang out with somebody else sometimes.”

“Alana’s… she’s really smart and a-a hard worker,” Evan said, obviously agreeing with Zoe. “It’s not like she’s, you know, gonna get him into uh… into trouble.”

Georgia rolled her eyes. “Yeah, like that’s what I’m worried about.”

“It should be,” Zoe said, rolling her eyes. “A good friend would worry about that. You’re worried that he likes her more than he likes you and he’ll stop hanging out with you.”

“That’s not-” Georgia began to argue and then decided she didn’t want to dignify Zoe’s bitchiness with a response. “Whatever.”

 


Zoe rode the bus in the mornings again. She sat next to Evan, and she held his hand even if it was sticky or sweaty.

Zoe always smelled nice. Girly. Something like flowers and girl and fabric softener and the little unnecessary pots of potpourri scattered around the Murphys’ house. Her fingers had calluses from playing the guitar and sometimes they were stained with blue or black ink after she doodled on her jeans or her sneakers.

Zoe always had mints on her and she religiously read Teen Vogue while insisting she knew it was garbage. She liked Buzzfeed quizzes and liked making Evan do Buzzfeed quizzes with her, pushing her Macbook into his lap to make him find out what kind of pizza addict he was (Unrepentant Pizza Maniac, apparently).

She had the best, realest smile. It was perfect and not overly flashy. Subtle. Not too much teeth. Like she didn’t have to work hard to get her face to do what she wanted. Like she just liked smiling.

Evan liked her smile a lot. It made him want to smile more, but he usually bit his cheeks or his lips to keep it from going weird, grotesque, clownish.

Zoe let him put his arm around her sometimes. Which was nice. People looked at him now, like he was a person, like he was visible and real and tangible. People said hi to Zoe and then turned and said “Oh hey Evan” or “what’s up Evan?” or memorably Steph Perkins said “Hiya Hansen” which made Zoe laugh which made Evan smile.

Evan thought maybe he loved her.

He thought… maybe he just needed to find her. Like he had been waiting for that, waiting for her.

“So I was talking with Walter and Carly in jazz band, and we think we should throw Sam a surprise sixteenth birthday party. You know, since her dad is still deployed?”

Evan blinked. “Okay?”

“They want me to host. And I-I know my house was sort of shitshow last time,” Zoe said. She was squeezing his hand tightly. “But it might be our only option. Do you think people won’t come?”

Evan had no idea how to answer that. People didn’t talk to him without Zoe by his side, usually. Nobody was going to talk smack about her in front of him. “I think, I mean. Yeah. They will. That was… that sucked, but it’s like. M-maybe he won’t be home?”

“He’ll probably show up just to ruin it,” Zoe said glumly. “Maybe my mom will kick him out for the night or something.”

“Maybe.”

“Anyway, I’ll need some help with the party? Do you think you could help me like pass out invites and whatever?”

Evan absolutely, 100% could not help pass out invites. “Um.”

“I know you’re shy and stuff,” Zoe said and she kissed his cheek and Evan felt his face light up. “But you’re nice and also Sam totally wouldn’t suspect you. Please help me?”

“Okay,” Evan said.

He had no idea how the fuck he was going to do that.


 

Connor had a headache and he really wanted to ditch school.

But Alana Beck had texted him “Please make sure you meet me in the computer lab during lunch today.”

And Connor texted back, “Do I have to?”

And she responded, “Don’t be an ass.”

So Connor texted back, “You’re cleaning me out.”

“Pay up Murphy.”

Connor twitched a smile so he drove to Georgia’s and waited out front. After a few minutes, he took a pill out of his baggie in his jacket pocket and crushed it up with the small pill crusher he’d bought at the drug store and poured out the powder to snort it off of the dashboard to cure his headache and the crackly anger that popped up when he saw Zoe out front waiting for the bus this morning.

He didn’t like driving her.

But he didn’t like that she wouldn’t let him drive her either.

Whatever.

Connor peered through the windshield to see Georgia’s dad looking out at him. Connor didn’t know how to deal with parents, so he… waved.

Georgia’s dad waved back, equally as awkward. Georgia rushed out of the house a second later, her coat still unbuttoned, hissing “let’s go!”

Connor didn’t have to be told twice. He put the car reverse and backed out of the driveway.

“You’re high already?” She said when he had to overcorrect drifting a little.

“No. Just tired.”

“Yeah. Tell that to your nosebleed.”

Connor reached up and sure enough his nose was bleeding a little. “Shit,” He muttered. “Hand me a napkin or something? They’re in the glovebox.”

“Jesus Connor,” She said, shaking her head and handing him a napkin from Starbucks.

“It’s not a big deal.”

“Just like New Years Eve wasn’t a big deal?”

“It wasn’t.”

“People are starting to look at us,” Georgia said, annoyed. “The whole point is that nobody pays attention so we can do whatever we want. But you’ve gotta keep it together.”

“Yeah. Got it.”

“I’m serious.”

“I got it, really.”


 

Evan was in the hallway on his lunch trying to figure out just how he was going to deliver all of these invites without being spotted. Zoe had provided him with a stack and a piece of paper with locker numbers printed in her handwriting. Sort of sloppy, sloping, with hard dots over her I’s. Like she pressed the pen down hard fast and deliberate.

It reminded Evan of his game of hangman with Connor on the first day of school but then he decided not to think about Connor.

Because he had twenty invites to put into twenty lockers and only twelve minutes left in his lunch period and he felt a fat bead of sweat drip down the side of his face and his hands were clammy and starting to wrinkle the notebook paper with Zoe’s sloping blue handwriting.

“Evan!”

He spun too fast, sending his stack of envelopes scattering to the floor. “Fuck,” he moaned under his breath, stooping to try and scoop them all up before the person could say something else. He couldn’t make himself look up, look up and see the person looking at him pathetic and hunched on the floor trying to pick up invitations to a party he didn’t even want to attend because he hadn’t been to a party since Jared’s bar mitzvah and mostly he stuck to his mom’s side and he couldn’t bring his mom to Sam’s birthday party -

“Are you alright?”

Alana Beck was on her knees as well, despite her sensible skirt and blazer combination, neatly piling all of the envelopes she collected and handing them to him.

“Fine,” He said, not meeting her eye.

“I’m a bit stressed,” She said, as if he wasn’t borderline hyperventilating in front of her. “My blue belt qualifying test is coming up soon but I’ve been doing some extra tutoring lately and we’ve got that Classic American Literature project for English.”

“Uh-huh,” Evan said, not listening, just letting the words wash over him, just letting each syllable bounce off of him trying to get the hitch in his breathing to ease.

“I know colleges want your applications to show you’re a well rounded individual, but I’m just not certain that taekwondo really helps with that aspect. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been doing it for years and I really enjoy it, but I worry it’s taking away from the time I’m devoting to my studies.” Alana got back to her feet. “Are you passing these out? Let me help you.” She took the invitations out of his hands and waited until Evan climbed to his feet, his head still spinning, before speed walking down the hall, stopping every few yards to deposit an invitation into a locker. “Any way, I’m meant to be an intern at a law firm this summer which I think would be very rewarding, although the firm mostly deals with divorce and I am hoping to either become a human rights attorney or surgeon, I haven’t decided. So are these the invitations to Sam Beasley’s party?”

“Uh huh,” Evan managed to gasp out.

“That’s great that you’re helping Zoe hand these out. That’s a sign of a good and committed partner. I really admire you for supporting her interests outside of your own -”

Evan thought he might vomit. “I have to - bathroom,” He said through his teeth, sprinting as fast as his jello legs would carry him down the social sciences hall and into the bathroom so he would puke in peace.

Zoe was going to find out he freaked about handing out the invitations and she’d find out what a huge mess he was and she wouldn’t hold his hand or look at him like he was something, actually something once she knew he couldn’t slide a piece of cardstock through a locker grate because he was so terrified someone would see him doing that and laugh and remind him that he didn’t belong at a place like Sam Beasley’s surprise party or handing out invites for Zoe Murphy.

“Evan?”

Alana had followed him into the bathroom. Fuck.

“‘M sick Alana, you don’t have to -”

“I know,” She said. “I’m sorry.”

Evan hit the flusher and watched his vomit swirl down the toilet, disappearing with a hollow sucking noise. Gross. Toilets were gross, throwing up was gross, he was gross, he was gross and disgusting and sweaty and tearful and huge loser and it was only a matter of time before someone alerted Zoe to that fact and then he’d be all alone again, by himself again, watching Connor pick Georgia up while he got on the bus because he was too nervous to even start behind the wheel classes and his mom kept sighing and reminding him that they paid $400 for him to take driver’s ed and maybe he should talk to Dr. Sherman and -

Evan pulled himself off of his knees, sweaty and miserable and exited the stall, thankful nobody else was in the bathroom. He had to get up or he’d puke again.

“Are you alright?” Alana asked. “Do you need to go to the nurse? You look… awful.”

“I’m dating Zoe Murphy,” Evan blurted. “And I think Connor might kill me for it and she’s totally going to realize how-how much a loser I am and dump me and I am going to fail behind the wheel for driver’s ed and I haven’t even started on my English project yet.”

“What book did you get assigned?”

Moby-Dick,” Evan said, sighing. “I got partnered with Josh Clark too.”

Alana frowned. “I know how you feel. When I first heard Mrs. Stump was pairing me to with Connor I… I actually begged her to reassign me.”

“Oh,” Evan said. He didn’t have anything else to say. He might have done the same thing.

“I’ve been his partner in chemistry since the start of the year, and I’ve had to do nearly all of the labs on my own because he’s always ditching. And when he is in chem, he’s never prepared. He doesn’t do the preparatory assignments. It’s really very frustrating because I feel it’s hindering my ability to grasp the concepts in the labs.”

“So why don’t you say something?” Evan said. “It’s not fair to you to do all of the work.”

“Well,” Alana winced a bit. “Connor has a reputation of… generally being a bit…temperamental.”

An understatement if Evan had ever heard one. “Uh-huh.” He rinsed his mouth out using a cupped handful of water from the bathroom sink.

“I just… I remember the time in second grade when he threw that printer at Mrs. G. At first I -”

“Thought he might throw a printer at you?” Evan supplied dully.

“I suppose I just… I am a bit concerned that I’ll end up finishing the project myself. He has flaked a few times and it took him a while to actually finish the book.”

“Right. Can we get out of here?” Evan asked.

“But I mean, it hasn’t been awful,” Alana said. She led the way out of the boys’ room, back out into the deserted halls where Alana had apparently taken over the task of delivering the envelopes. She immediately deposited the invitation for Stephanie Perkins in the appropriate locker and headed off down the hall.

“I’m sort of surprised to hear that,” Evan said, frowning. He rubbed his arm absently, thinking of the rug burn and sting and hurt from that night in September when Evan and Connor stopped talking.

“Why’s that?”

“Well he’s... He’s a bit of a slacker when it comes to school work?”

“Aren’t the two of you friends?” Alana said, eyebrows up.

“Not really. Not anymore.” Evan tried to take a proper, slow breath. “I’m not trying… I don’t want to be a jerk, he just doesn’t-doesn’t care about school.”

“That’s… probably fair,” Alana admitted. “But he is pulling his weight on this project.”

“That’s good. I guess.”

“It is good,” Alana said. “I actually loathe group projects, but this one is pretty fun.”

“Yeah don’t like, uh, don't let Georgia hear you say that you’re having fun with Connor,” Evan said, rolling his eyes.

“What does that mean?”

“She’s… sort of jealous?”

“I thought they were just friends?” Alana shook her head. “I don’t even… I don’t like Connor that way.”

“They are just friends,” Evan said, shrugging. “She’s just… jealous.”

Alana nodded. “She’s been nice to me. She came with one of the last times Connor and I studied together. She asked how I got my hair done.”

Evan privately thought that this probably meant Georgia was a racist, but he didn’t say anything else. Alana kept handing out his half of the invitations and with each one Evan felt worse that he was asking her for help and she wasn’t even invited to the party. He thought maybe he’d ask Zoe to give her an invite tomorrow… but then he’d have to explain that Alana had to hand out the invitations for him because he started to panic about people seeing him handing them out and if he explained that panic he’d have to explain that he was always panicking and she’d dump him and go out with some other guy who wasn’t a disaster and Evan would be all alone just because he wanted to be nice to Alana Beck for being nice to him.

Fuck.


 

Connor flinched when he heard the bathroom door swing open and immediately pulled his feet off the ground. He was hiding from his history teacher because he’d forgotten to do his project on Islam for the world religions section and also had forgotten to go to class for a couple of weeks. So he was hiding in a bathroom stall, reading over his notes on Fuck Finn and getting ready to meet Alana in the computer lab at lunch. He’d normally go hide in the library, but suddenly the librarian was a stickler for having a pass to be there and Connor never had a pass so…

Anyway about five seconds after the door was pushed open and Connor pulled his feet off of the ground, the person interrupting his solitude was throwing up loudly.

Gross.

“Evan?”

Connor heart sank.

“I’m sick Alana, you don’t have to -”

His heart dropped more.

“I know. I’m sorry.”

The toilet flushed. Connor held his breath. Why were they talking, why were they in the boy’s bathroom what made Evan barf suddenly?

“Are you alright?” Alana asked. “Do you need to go to the nurse? You look… awful.”

Evan let out a stream of consciousness confession, fast and stumbling. “I’m dating Zoe Murphy. And I think Connor might kill me for it and she’s totally going to realize how-how much a loser I am and dump me and I am going to fail behind the wheel for driver’s ed and I haven’t even started on my English project yet.”

“What book did you get assigned?”

Moby-Dick. I got partnered with Josh Clark too.”

Alana tutted. “I know how you feel. When I first heard Mrs. Stump was pairing me to with Connor I… I actually begged her to reassign me.”

“Oh,” Evan said.

Oh, Connor thought, feeling a sudden pain in his stomach, his chest, a hollow feeling. Right. Of course. Of course. He was so stupid. So fucking stupid.

“I’ve been his partner in chemistry since the start of the year, and I’ve had to do nearly all of the labs on my own because he’s always ditching -” Alana went on, but Connor couldn’t really hear anymore. Alana Beck hated him. She thought he was an idiot, she talked shit about him to people like Evan, she thought he was tanking their project while he had been idiotic enough to think they were doing okay, having an alright time. How stupid must he have looked with his ridiculous Fuck Finn jokes and how pathetic was it to keep giving her a dollar every time he convinced her to swear. He was so stupid. So fucking stupid.

Alana was saying, “Connor has a reputation of… generally being a bit…temperamental.”

Connor felt sick.

It wasn’t like he didn’t know…

He just thought…

Alana had been nice, had laughed when he made dumb jokes, had agreed with his points on the themes of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. She said he had a “literary mind” once and he had flushed with something like pride because it had been so long since he felt like he was good at something.

He was so fucking stupid.

“I just… I remember the time in second grade when he threw that printer at Mrs. G. At first I -”

“Thought he might throw a printer at you?” Evan said, and he was laughing, they were both laughing at him, he was a big fucking joke he was a big fucking idiot.

Fuck.

“I suppose I just… I am a bit concerned that I’ll end up finishing the project myself. He has flaked a few times and it took him a while to actually finish the book.”

“Right. Can we get out of here?” Evan asked.

The door creaked as it opened and closed again.

Connor felt like he might be sick.

The bell rang sometime while he was staring distantly at the graffiti on the bathroom wall. His phone buzzed after a moment. “Are we still meeting in the computer lab? I want to show you what I’ve started for the Powerpoint.”

Connor stared at Alana’s text, eyes unfocused, words not processing.

Right.

Right. He was supposed to meet her.

He got, left the bathroom, heading down the stairs toward the computer lab, which was freezing and empty except for Alana in her glasses and her blazer with her ponytail full of braids which nobody knew how to properly do in the suburbs.

“Hey,” he said to announce himself.

“Hello Connor,” She said, voice bright and chipper and lying she was a liar she was lying to his face right now. “Are you ready to get to work? I’ve typed up the major themes we’ve identified on the Powerpoint and I want your opinion on the background.”

Connor barely glanced at her screen. The Powerpoint was blue.  “It’s fine,” he said.

“But what about the themes? Can you take a look at those?”

Connor nodded. He sat heavily in the chair she had pulled out for him and clicked through her slides. They were good. He fixed a typo he caught without saying anything, and mumbled that he thought they ought to include a slide on authorial intent and the death of the author. Alana nodded, so Connor added it without having to be asked.

“We good?” he said.

“I think we’re in really good shape,” Alana said. “We should start practicing the actual presentation soon. Make sure we’re in the fifteen minute window.”

“Yeah,” Connor said.

“Would you want to come over this weekend? My mom and grandma are going to be getting ready for this church bake sale so they’ll be a lot of leftover cookies and cupcakes.”

“No,” Connor said, sort of sharply. “I’m busy.”

“Oh,” Alana said, her smile drooping slightly. “That’s alright. I’m sure we can practice during the week.”

“Yeah.”

“Are you alright?” Alana said with an awkward hand reaching out like it might touch his shoulder. She pulled it back fast when she saw he was watching its approach, instead tucking a loose braid behind her ear.

“Peachy,” Connor said. “We good here? I have to go give something to Zoe.”

“Oh yes, I think we’re set. Are you going to the party she’s throwing for Sam Beasley?”

Connor didn’t know Zoe was throwing any kind of party, but either way he was definitely not invited. “No.”

“Me either. I tutor Sam in math but I doubt anyone would think to invite me.”

Connor thought maybe yesterday he might have felt bad for her.

Now he just went to head out of the computer lab without a word.

“Oh Connor?”

“What?”

“You owe me a fucking dollar,” Alana said with this secretive grin, like she was biting the insides of her cheeks.

“Two now,” Connor mumbled. He pulled two crumpled singles from the pocket of his jeans, dropping them on her desk and walking away fast.

 


Three days before the surprise party Zoe was throwing for her friend Sam, Mrs. Murphy knocked on Zoe’s door while Evan was over doing homework. The door was kept respectfully open, and Evan made sure to keep at least a foot of space between himself and Zoe which Zoe rolled her eyes about and then pushed him down and kissed him and Evan freaked out worrying that Connor would walk past her room and see them and that’s what he was thinking about when Mrs. Murphy came and knocked on the door.

“I’m so sorry honey,” She said, “But your dad and I have to go out of town this weekend. One of the partners at his firm passed away, and they’re having the funeral in New York and we have to go.”

“So you’re cancelling my party?” Zoe said, sounding angry. “That is so unfair!”

“I know sweetheart and I’m so sorry -”

“Why can’t dad go without you?”

“Well honey I -”

“This is bullshit,” Zoe said, eyes glittering. “I just wanted to make up for the shitshow that New Years was after Connor came in and ruined it! And now I’m the jerk who planned and cancelled a surprise party! We’ve already done all of the shopping!”

Her mom looked genuinely very sorry. “I… I was going to ask Auntie Chris to come stay with you kids for the weekend,” She said. “Let me see if she wouldn’t mind supervising.”

Zoe looked at her skeptically. “Auntie Chris is nuts.”

“Zoe,” Mrs. Murphy said sternly. “Do you want to have this party or not?”

Zoe frowned. “I’ll go call her.” Her mom walked out of the room.

“Fuck. I should just cancel the party,” Zoe said morosely.

“Is your… is your aunt that bad?”

“She’s nuts,” Zoe said, shrugging. “I don’t mean it in like, a bad way? She’s just. Genuinely kind of crazy. My parents don’t talk about it but we’re pretty sure she spent like a couple of weeks in a mental health hospital and whatever.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah. I don’t really want to have another crazy family member around.”

Evan nodded a couple of times. “I understand.”

Maybe five minutes later, Zoe’s phone buzzed. She turned it around to show Evan the text, “ Alright missy, your mom talked me into chaperoning this little party.  But I’m not gonna buy you alcohol.”

“Your aunt… is she, uh, is she joking?”

“Who knows,” Zoe said, shrugging. “Like I said, nuts.”

“R-right.”

“You’re going to be there right?” Zoe said. “I need someone to hold my hand if this goes shitty again.”

Evan chewed his lip, twisting his fingers in the hem of his shirt. “I’m… I’m not great at parties.”

“Come on. You have to come.”

“I -”

“If you’re going to be my boyfriend, I need you to do boyfriend things,” Zoe said. “Like come to my parties.”

“I…” Evan nodded. “I’ll be there. Sorry. I wasn’t… I’m sorry.”

“I know you’re shy, but you’ll get over it once you get to know everyone.”

Evan was still thinking about that when his mom picked him up on her way home from work that night. “Did you have a good day?”

“Fine,” Evan said, looking out the window as the fancy cul-du-sacs faded to smaller and smaller houses. “Zoe’s throwing a party this weekend. For her friend Sam’s birthday.”

“That sounds like fun!”

Evan swallowed. “I don’t want to go.”

His mom frowned. “Evan, you’re supposed to be talking to Dr. Sherman about this sort of thing…”

“It’s hard to talk about how-how nervous people make me when I’m sitting in front of a stranger.”

“You’ve been seeing Dr. Sherman for almost two years.”

“He’s still a stranger. He just wants to tell me all of the things that I’m doing wrong.”

“I don’t think that’s true,” His mom said softly. “I think he just wants you to actually try new things. I think going to this party will be good for you. And it’ll make Zoe happy.”

“I guess.”

They pulled into the driveway, and as they walked into the house, Evan watched his mom digging in her bag for something. Probably she’d already lost her keys in her bag and they’d end up stuck out here all night…

Evan pulled his key out and opened the door for her.

“Here!” She said, triumphantly. “One of the girls at work told me about this and I think it would be perfect for you.” She handed him a piece of paper, folded three times over. Evan unfolded it to reveal a bolded headline: “Ellison State Park Hiring Apprentice Park Rangers For Summer Program.”

“It sounds like a really interesting program,” His mom pressed. “You would work at the park this summer, and you can earn up to nine dollars an hour. Doesn’t that sound good?”

“How would I even get there?” Evan muttered.

“I could drop you off. Or, or , you could drive yourself when you get your license.”

“With what car?” Evan muttered. He folded the paper back up. “Thanks. I’ll think about it.”

“I really think you should apply Evan,” His mom pressed on, stubbornly. “It sounds like the perfect fit for you.”

“Yeah.”

“So you’ll do it?”

“Maybe.”

Evan.”

“I’ll try okay? Don’t push so hard, Jesus.”


 

Georgia got home on Thursday to see her dad was waiting for her at the kitchen table, with a mug of tea in front of him. He drank tea like it was about to be banned these days. It drove Georgia nuts; the house always smelled like English Breakfast even at six o’clock at night.

“Come sit a minute.”

“I swear, I better not be in trouble this time,” Georgia said irritably. “I’m not behind in school, I haven’t been drinking or smoking. What?”

Her dad almost smiled. “I wanted to talk to you about Connor.”

“Oh come on, what now?” She said, throwing herself into the chair across from him.

“I don’t want you riding to school with him anymore.”

Georgia was halfway out of her seat when he dad added, “I don’t like that he drives you when he’s obviously high.”

“What are you talking about?”

“The other day I watched him take something while he was waiting for you to come out of the house.”

“He probably just had a headache or something,” Georgia said defensively. “It was probably Tylenol.”

“So you usually snort your Tylenol.”

Georgia stopped dead. “Dad-”

“How long has that been going on?” He asked her. He didn’t sound judgey or angry. He sounded worried, like “don’t worry you’ll be fine at your bat mitzvah” worried, like “how long have you been partying this hard” worried.

“I don’t know,” Georgia said and to her immense surprise and disgust, her voice and chin began to wobble. “It’s my fault. I got him to try oxy at a party and he’s been doing it since and I don’t know what to do. He’s high all the time and I’m scared.”

Her dad hugged her then, a big dad bear hug that made her feel like she was five and like maybe he could fix this for her.

“It’ll be okay,” he said, petting her hair.

What if he hurts himself or someone else what if he dies what do I do this is my fault.

“I think I should call his mom and dad,” her dad said. “Maybe they don’t know how bad it’s gotten.”

Georgia was certain that they didn’t know.

Georgia also knew that they probably wouldn’t do anything if they found out.

“I’m not sure if that’s a good idea. His parents… they sort of suck.”

Her dad almost laughed. “Well as a shitty parent, I can understand that language.”

“You’re not shitty,” Georgia mumbled.

Her dad gave her a look.

“Well not anymore. You’re almost too parent-y now.”

“That reminds me, your mother called. She really wants you to come over to hers for Passover this year.”

“Yeah, no way.”

“I’m going to talk with Connor’s parents. Maybe try to get him to come to a meeting with me. I’m not saying you can’t spend time with him, honey. I know he’s going to need friends. Addiction’s no joke.  But I don’t want you in his car until I know he’s cleaned up his act.”

“He’s not going to be happy about that.”

“Tough. He can be pissed at you alive. If he gets you killed -”

“Alright. Alright. Got it.”


 

“Pick me up around the corner today.”

Connor didn’t know what was going on, but nonetheless he parked around the corner and waited for Georgia. She climbed into the car after he’d be parked for a minute and said, icily, “I’m not allowed in your car anymore.”

“What?”

“My dad saw you - ” She shoved his shoulder roughly. “He saw you do a line in our driveway. Now he’s convinced you’ve been driving me everywhere high and he said he’s going to call your parents.”

“What?” Connor said, pissed.

“Have you? Been driving me around while you’re high?”

“Maybe once or twice…?”

“Connor what the fuck? This is the opposite of lying low. Your parents are going to freak out!”

“They don’t have to know.”

“And how are we doing to stop them knowing?”

“What number did you give your dad? My house number?”

“I mean yeah it’s not like I’ve got Cynthia on speed dial.”

“Good. They’re not home this weekend.” Connor’s face relaxed.

“That’s not - This is bad Connor!”

“It’s really not that bad. We’ll just… if he leaves a message, we’ll delete it. They don’t have to know. And I’ll… I’ll cut back okay? I swear.”

“Right.”

“I will.”

“Right.”

“Georgia come on.”

“Alright, alright.”


 

Connor was still in a state of shock about the whole Alana and Evan shittalking thing and then getting smacked in the face with the fact that Georgia’s dad knew he was sometimes getting high before school?

Time for a fucking personal day.

He drove Georgia to class and then went back home, knowing his parents had a flight at 10:00am and were long gone knowing he was supposed to do his final practice of the presentation with Alana during lunch because it was their turn to go on Monday. He let himself into the house, hacking into his dad’s email to send one to the office at school which claimed Connor wasn’t feeling well after a dental procedure and would be out for the day.

He went up to his room and napped for a few hours. He was asleep fast and out hard. When he woke up he was disoriented and his Auntie Chris was leaning over him.

“Wha-?” He said.

“Jesus, you we out so hard I wasn’t sure you were breathing at first,” His Auntie Chris said. “Why aren’t you at school?”

“Personal day.”

Chris rolled her eyes. “Your sister is throwing that party, and your mom left me a list of things to pick up. Wanna come with me?”

Connor did not.

But he liked his aunt, so he nodded and climbed out of bed. He trailed her down the stairs and followed her into her car, a beat up old VW bug.

“You drive such a manic pixie dream girl car,” Connor said.

She laughed. “I won it in a card game.”

“You’re full of shit.”

“If you say so.” She laughed. Connor realized he hadn’t been driven anywhere with another person in a long time. “So what’s up, beanpole? You still hanging out with your redhead friend?”

“Georgia. Yeah.”

“That’s cool. And Zoe’s got a boyfriend now?”

Connor crossed his arms. “Yeah. He and I used to be friends.”

“And now you’re not?”

“Yeah. It’s whatever.”

“Right.” Chris pulled into a Super Target and the two of them got out and filled the cart with the the items on the list that Connor’s mom had left.

He couldn’t shake the feeling that things were about to… blow up. Explode. He couldn’t get Alana and Evan’s words, echoing around the bathroom, reminding him of how little he mattered. He couldn’t stop seeing Georgia’s face, pale, telling him that her dad knew about the drugs…

He didn’t have a problem, Connor reasoned. He wasn’t addicted. He didn’t get high every day. Just every couple of days. He could stop if he wanted to stop.

He just wasn’t sure he wanted to stop…

“Hey beanpole, do you think we need to grab anymore chips? Your mom only wanted like… kale chips or whatever.”

“Yeah, probably should get some real chips.”

“You doing okay?” His aunt asked him in the checkout.

“Fine.”

“Do you want me to buy you Starbucks or something?”

He shook his head.

“I used to be able to get you and Zoe to do whatever I wanted with a tall frappuccino,” Chris said, smiling. “It’s a real bummer getting old, huh?”

“Something like that.”

“So really, why’d you cut school today?”

Connor pulled his hands into the sleeves of his hoodie. “I just… wasn’t feeling great.”

“Uh-huh.” She rolled her eyes. “I get it. I’m old, I’m here because your parents asked… I’m the enemy. But I’m here if you need to talk, yeah?”

“I just… I’ve been working on this project,” Connor said. “And I overheard my partner like… talking shit about me. And it pissed me off and I went home.”

Chris nodded. “I’m sorry. You’ve got rotten luck with school projects, huh?”

“Tell me about it.” He sighed. “She’s friends with Evan and she was talking to him. Saying what an asshole they think I am… I’m dreading this stupid party because I don’t want to see him.”

“Hey you can drive. Why don’t you go out with your friend Georgia, huh? See a movie or something.”

“Not a bad idea,” Connor said. “Thanks.”

So he texted Georgia, picked her up as school let out. They tooled around the mall for a while, doing some mild shoplifting and eventually ended up watching some movie called Kingsman about some British kid who became a spy.

“Why’d you ditch today?” Georgia asked Connor as they grabbed food in a Perkins after the movie.

“I dunno. The thing you said this morning sorta freaked me out,” Connor said, pushing a piece of his waffle around his plate.

Georgia nodded. “I know. I’m sorry. I… I overreacted. My dad just got in my head, being all ‘I was an addict and everyone’s an addict too.’ Ignore what I said. I know you’re not in trouble. I know.”

“Okay.”

“In fact, Isaac texted me earlier?” Georgia pressed on. “Let me make up to you. We’ll stop by the party for a bit, okay? We’ll have a little fun. You deserve some fun after spending all that time with uptight Alana.”

Connor would have said Alana wasn’t so bad if this was last week.

But instead he said, smiling, “Okay. I’ll drive.”


Evan kept smilingsmilingsmiling until his face hurt. This party was very, very crowded. Zoe’s Auntie Chris announced that she wouldn’t hover and went upstairs to the guest room to watch television.

Zoe reassured him that Connor was “out doing drugs or whatever” with Georgia so he hopefully wouldn’t be around to murder Evan or anything.

Evan mostly trailed Zoe around all night, taking pictures of her and other people when requested and generally just wishing he wasn’t there. He just… the whole thing was making him miserably anxious. He was dragged into a group shot of Zoe and Sam and Sam’s boyfriend, and when Stephanie Perkins turned her phone for them all to see the picture, Evan only saw how red his face was, how sweat was making his hair curl at the ends. He was ugly he didn’t deserve to be in photos with someone like Zoe, who was breathtaking and gorgeous and wasn’t a nervous anxious wreck…

“I’m just heading… Just need to go to the bathroom,” Evan said to Zoe. He took off toward the stairs, hurrying, walking fast so nobody would look at him, at the sweat staining his shirt. He locked himself in the Murphys’ upstairs bathroom, his breathing starting to hitch. In the mirror he was a sweaty, red faced mess. He took a ragged breath.

He was utterly freaking out.

Zoe said she needed him to do boyfriend things and it turned out he was fucking terrible at boyfriend stuff. He got nervous and sweaty and his hands were so slick he almost dropped a soda earlier.

She was going to dump him.

Zoe was going to dump him. She would break up with him and everyone would know he was such a fucking loser and he hated himself for being like this, for being so uncontrollably sweaty and anxious and there was nothing to be done no helping him no getting better he was better off just not existing not -

Someone pounding on the door interrupted his thoughts.

“Open up!”

Evan was breathing too hard, he couldn’t move, he didn’t, he couldn’t, he wasn’t-

He opened the door.

And Connor stumbled into the bathroom, into Evan, his eyes glazed, something wrong something very very wrong.

“He…” Georgia was in the doorway, panting. “I had to sneak him in… He needs to throw up.”

“What?”

“Just… I need to get help, just… get him to throw up.”

And Georgia was gone.

Connor was sort of sagging against him and Evan smelled beer on his breath.

“Are you okay?”

“Fine,” Connor said, head down not right very wrong. “‘M okay.”

“You’re… Georgia… Georgia says you need to puke.”

“Don’t… want….” Connor’s head bobbed dangerously, his eyes closing, and Evan knew he knew he knew he knew it was not good news.

“Connor,” He said sharply, shaking him. Evan watched Connor’s eyes open slowly, sleepily. “You have to throw up.”

“Okay…” He said, nodding, and Evan sort of ushering him nervously toward the toilet. It was hard to keep him upright and before Evan could stop it happening, Connor’s head lolled to the side and he started to throw up, puke getting all over his shirt.

“Shit,” Evan said, trying to angle Connor’s head so it was over the toilet.

“I’m good now,” Connor mumbled, “I’m… I’m okay I-”

Georgia was back, looking stricken. “Did he puke?”

“A little, yeah.”

“Fuck, get him to puke more,” Georgia said, pulling her phone out. “Can’t find his parents… fuck.”

“What happened?” Evan yelped.

“Motherfucker is like… trying to OD or something. He drank basically an entire bottle of tequila and took a fuckton of pills and shit shit shit-”

Georgia was panicking. Connor’s eyes were closing again.

Evan didn’t know what else to do but he was scared and this was bad this was very very bad so he stuck his fingers down Connor’s throat until Connor began to gag, and then leaned his head over the toilet. It was gross and messy and Connor still didn’t seem totally conscious…

“He won’t… he’s not staying awake,” Evan cried and Georgia was literally crying muttering “fuck fuck fuck” over and over again and Evan, being unable to deal with the lack of movement barked at Georgia to help him. They both grabbed Connor under an arm and hauled him into the bathtub and Evan switched the water on as cold as it would go.

“What the fuck?” Connor mumbled. “Wha’s goin’ on?”

“Where are his parents?” Georgia said, leaning over and tapping Connor’s face when he tried to close his eyes again.

“They’re… they’re not here, they went to a funeral… His aunt! His aunt is here.”

“Go fucking get her,” Georgia said, still tearful and panicked and trying to stick her fingers down Connor’s throat.

Evan took off down the hall, his legs jello, and knocked on the door of the guest room loudly, obnoxiously, rudely…

“Connor needs help,” He said when Zoe’s Auntie Chris opened the door in an open flannel with a Nirvana shirt under it.

“Shit,” She said. “What happened?”

“Georgia said he was… drinking and he took… he took pills.”

“Do you know what kind?” Chris asked. Evan shook his head rapidly. “Okay. Hang on.” She grabbed a small handbag and followed Evan to the bathroom.

Connor was unconscious again in the tub and Georgia was just out and out crying. “I fucked up I fucked up,” She said, and Chris told her to move and then reached over and rubbed her knuckles hard over the middle of Connor’s chest.

He didn’t move.

“What did he take?” Chris asked Georgia.

“Some oxy and he-he’s been drinking.”

“Shit,” She said. “Turn this water off okay?”

Evan reached over to switch of the tap, and Chris rolled Connor onto his side. She wiped his mouth off and stuck her finger into it. She rolled him onto his back.

“What are you doing?” Georgia asked, but Chris didn’t seem to hear. She pinched Connor’s nose and breathed into his mouth like she was giving him CPR.

“You,” She said, grabbing Evan. “Pinch his nose and breathe into his mouth every seven seconds okay?”

“Seven?”

“Yeah, seven. Quick breaths, yeah, nothing too big. Keep his nose pinched.”

Evan nodded. He could see Connor’s chest wasn’t moving. He sucked in a breath for himself, pinched Connor’s nose and then breathed out into his mouth.

“Here, okay, here,” Chris said and she had a syringe in her hand and she stuck it into Connor’s arm.

“Keep breathing for him,” Chris said, checking her watch.

So Evan did. He tried hard not to think about how Connor just puked, how Connor’s mouth was on his, how Evan’s mouth had been on Zoe’s just hours before.

After a couple more breaths, Connor’s eyes flew open.

“What is going on?”

Georgia had stopped crying. “You asshole, ” She said, and she tried to get passed them but Chris caught her by the arm.

“Let’s go get you some water, okay?” She said. “You. Kid. Evan?”

“Yeah.”

“Stay with him for a bit, okay? Don’t let him close his eyes again.”

Evan nodded.

Connor looked at him, eyes clearer. “What are you doing at my house?”

“Zoe’s… Zoe’s throwing that party?”

“Why’s it smell like puke?”

“You threw up,” Evan said.

“Why are you here?”

“I was in the bathroom,” Evan said softly.

“Right. You were hiding from the party then,” Connor rolled his eyes. “I’m wet.”

“I was trying to uh. To keep you awake.”

“That guy totally…. Totally sold me the wrong shit.” He tucked a piece of hair behind his big goofy ear, then pulled his hand back in disgust. “I have puke in my hair.”

“You do.”

“You were talking shit about me,” Connor said, pointing an accusatory finger at Evan. “You and Alana…”

“What?” Evan said, not understanding.

“Get out, I want to shower.”

“N-no. Your aunt, she uh. She said not to leave you.”

“Fine,” Connor said. He got to his feet unsteadily and looking Evan dead in the face he pulled off his hoodie and then his shirt, letting them fall to the shower floor with a dull thump. He had new cuts on his arms, a few bruises too. He started struggling with his belt and Evan.

He didn’t know what was wrong with him.

Said, “Let me.” Reached out. Undid Connor Murphy’s belt. Unbuttoned his jeans. Unzipped his fly.

Connor looked at him, his hair dripping wet with puke in it, eyes clearer, face pale and said, “I don’t think Zoe would be happy about that.”

“I-”

“But I don’t think Zoe would be happy to know about the crush you have on me either.”

“What?”

Connor smiled lazily. “You know.”

Evan felt caught felt cheated felt guilty. “You smell like puke. You should take a shower.”

Connor yanked the curtain closed.

Evan sank to the floor on shaky shaky knees.

Just as Zoe ran up the stairs. “What the fuck is going on?”

“Connor’s… drunk,” Evan lied and he didn’t know why he lied. “He got sick. I’m making sure he doesn’t pass out while your aunt deals with Georgia.”

“Yeah, she parked Connor’s car like an asshole. People aren’t able to leave.”

“Um.” Evan sighed. “Let me go find his keys… Stay with him, keep him talking… I’ll move the car.”

“You don’t have your license yet,” Zoe said, smiling.

“Zoe we’re in the same behind the wheel class. I can back up and park the car.”

She smiled at him, her usual dazzling smile.

Evan went off and found Connor’s keys stranded by the back door and walked out to the driveway. His fingers shook and he pulled himself into Connor’s car.

Connor’s legs were longer than his but Georgia had left the seat pulled up closer to the steering wheel. A few of the older kids were watching Evan has he fumbled to find the headlights, but he eventually managed to get them switched on. He backed out of the Murphys’ driveway slowly, barely going two miles an hour. He parked the car on the side of the road, as close to the curb as he dared.

“Thanks Evan,” Stephanie Perkins said, getting into her junior boyfriend’s car. He waved at her. His shirt smelled like his sweat, his deodorant, and Connor’s puke. He went back inside. Zoe was standing outside of the closed bathroom door.

“I don’t care how drunk he is, I’m not watching him get dressed,” she said.

“That’s… that’s fair. Sorry I disappeared,” Evan said. “I was just… I was using the bathroom when they came in.”

She frowned slightly. “You smell like puke.”

Evan flinched.

“Connor!” Zoe said, banging on the bathroom door. “I’m lending Evan one of your shirts since you puked on him.”

She went into Connor’s bedroom, which smelled a little like weed, switching on the light and going straight for his closet. She pulled out a plain black t-shirt and handed it to Evan. “It’s big on him so it should fit you.”

“Are you calling me fat?”

He meant it as a joke, as something silly and meaningless, but it came out bungled and flat and Zoe’s eyes went wide as she rushed to say, “No no, just your shoulders are a lot broader than Connor’s, shit, sorry-”

Evan gave her a sad pathetic twitchy smile and pulled his puked-on shirt over his head.

He bent to pick up the shirt Zoe had handed him and realized, like, Realized, that he was not wearing a shirt and Zoe Murphy was his Girlfriend.

“Hey,” She said.

“Hey,” He said back.

His mouth had been on Connor’s.

Connor knew about the crush he had.

Zoe was smiling slowly, putting her hand in the middle of his chest where a small amount of chest hair had sprung up sometime in the last year.

“Oh um.” He said because Zoe was going to kiss him and he didn’t want to kiss her after his mouth had been on Connor’s and it wasn’t romantic it was because he was dying.

But he didn’t know what to say so Zoe kissed him and Connor was alone in the bathroom and Evan wasn’t wearing a shirt and it was definitely not what he imagined taking his clothes off in front of Zoe for the first time would have looked like.

They were (mercifully) interrupted by Georgia. “Hey. He still okay?”

“He’s getting dressed,” Zoe said.

“Right, okay.” She stomped away.

Evan looked sheepishly at Zoe. Then he pulled on Connor’s shirt which smelled a little like weed and a lot like Connor and Zoe smiled at him and thanked him for coming to the party and Evan was a fraud.


 

Connor got the lecture of his life from his Auntie Chris. Irresponsible. Mixing drugs and alcohol. Could have died. Had to hit him with narcan.

Connor was too tired to ask his aunt why she had narcan in the first place.

He was took tired to argue.

“I screwed up,” He said softly, head down, picture of apologetic and regretful. “I’m so so sorry for scaring you like that. I didn’t mean to. I think… I think the guy I bought the oxy from gave me something else? I just know I went from buzzed to blacking out super fast and I’m sorry.”

Chris decided not to tell his parents. She swallowed his apologies. “Don’t… don’t get mixed up in drugs kid,” She said, pulling an arm around him. “My misspent youth has taught me that. Especially heroin. Don’t touch heroin.”

“Have you? Done heroin?” Connor asked.

“A couple of times. I prefered uppers in my hay day,” She shrugged. “A couple of my friends got mixed up in that life though. Which is part of the reason I had narcan on me… my roommate uh. She overdosed in front of me once and I had to call 911 and she moved out when she got back from the hospital.”

“That sucks.”

“So you better not be fucking with me kid. I will call your mom right now if you are.”

“I’m not. I’ve just been… experimenting. I smoke a lot of weed but that’s really it.”

“Okay.”

“Thanks.”

“I just need you to be safe kid. You’re my favorite nephew.”

“I’m your only nephew,”  Connor pointed out.

“Well, that doesn’t matter. If your mom had another boy I’d still like you best.”


Georgia chewed her nails bloody when Connor came out of his room with his aunt. “Can I talk to him?” She asked.

Chris nodded, and headed downstairs, muttering that she had to make Evan some tea before he “shit his pants and died.”

Georgia glared at Connor. “You told me you were fine.”

“I was wrong,” He said. “That guy… I dunno, I thought he was selling me a generic but it was way stronger. I don’t know.”

“We gotta stop,” She said, shaking her head. They were done, they were officially done they were not doing any of this shit anymore. She was becoming a D.A.R.E. officer, she was joining a straight edge cult, she was never going to watch Connor overdose again that was too much too much death was a joke until it nearly happened in front of her. “No more partying. We’ll… be good kids. Go to school everyday and hang out with Alana Beck. We’re not doing that again.”

“We’re not hanging out with Alana,” Connor said darkly. “She’s a bitch.”

She blinked. “You were all about her!”

“Yeah but then I heard her talking smack about me with Evan. She’s as bad as everyone else.”

“Connor…” Georgia said slowly. “Is that why you’ve been high as a kite these days? Because Alana Beck doesn’t like you?”

“No,” He said, crossing his arms defensively. “I was just… dicking around. Whatever. It wasn’t anything to do with her.”

“Bullshit,” Georgia said. “Did you like, like her or something?”

“Oh my god, no,” He said quickly. “Let it go. It’s not a big deal.”

“I’m going to kick her ass.” She meant it to. She pictured grabbing a fistful of Alana’s hair and slamming her face into a locker. She imagined punching her right in her dorky glasses. She imagined blood on her sensible blazer.

“Not worth it,” Connor said. “Sorry for scaring you.”

But Georgia was still seething.


 

“Where were you on Friday?” Alana demanded when Connor strolled into English class.

“Out sick, sorry,” He said, not feeling especially sorry. He did feel sort of sick though. Nauseated and headachey and feverish. He had thought about ditching school today to sleep it off but decided he wasn’t about to prove Alana right about him and his work ethic.

“It’s fine,” She said in a clipped voice which meant it was Not Fine. “I think we’re in decent shape anyway. Do you have your parts on notecards?”

“Uh. Yeah.”

“Alright then. Let’s volunteer to go first.”

“Why?”

“So we can judge how we did against everyone else.”

“Or we could go last and try to just do better than all of them?”

“Connor please don’t be difficult.”

When Mrs. Stump asked for volunteers, Alana’s hand shot up so fast that it practically made Connor’s head spin. Alana introduced their presentation, talking about the concepts they were exploring.

When it was Connor’s turn to speak, his voice came out first too soft, then too loud. He cleared his throat, looking at his notecards and trying not to notice the fact that someone in the back had let out a little titter of laughter.

It was just a stupid presentation, Connor thought, grinding his teeth.

He kept reading, reading and then suddenly another bubbled of laughter interrupted him.

“What?” He snapped, turning to look at Alana whose face showed pure terror as she whispered to him that he had said “Fuck Finn” in front of the entire class.

“Uh, shit, I-”

“Mr. Murphy, if you could please watch your language,” Mrs. Stump said, sounding bored.

Connor tried to start again but his face was flaming and kids were laughing and Evan was in the dead center of the room laughing laughing laughing and Connor kept stumbling over his words which made Alana talk faster and in the end they finished a full two minutes too early and Alana, looking horribly embarrassed, said, “Any, uh. Any questions for us?”

The room was silent.

Connor slunk back to his seat and sunk down as far as he could, trying to keep his burning face from showing as he watched the other, smoother presentations.

As the bell rang, Alana shot out of the classroom and Connor chased after her. “I’m sorry!” He said.

“Oh save it,” Alana said tearfully. “You’ve been weird for weeks. Probably planning this to embarrass me. Screw you Connor!”

“Alana, come on -”

“Hey, Beck!”

Connor turned to see Georgia storming down the hall toward Alana.

“Hi Georgia, I’m sorry, I’m not really in the mood to talk right now -”

“Fuck you,” Georgia said suddenly shoving Alana back into the lockers.

“Hey, what the fuck,” Connor said, trying to grab Georgia’s elbow.

“You think it’s cool to fuck with my friends,” Georgia said, shoving Alana again. “Well fuck you.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Acting all buddy buddy with Connor and then talking smack behind his back. You’re an asshole.” Georgia shoved her again.

“I didn’t do that!” Alana said, her face growing more twisted. “I wouldn’t do that.”

“You’re a liar.” She shoved Alana again. “And a bitch.”  Georgia shoved her again, knocking Alana to the ground, her books scattering across the floor.

“Connor’s my… I thought he was my friend!” Alana insisted. Getting up. “I’m not going to argue with you.” She turned to go.

Georgia reached out and grabbed Alana by the hair, causing her to cry out. She pushed Alana to the floor, calling her a bitch.

Alana got back to her feet, looking…

Scary.

Pissed.

Murderous.

She locked eyes with Georgia. Then took out her earrings. Pocketed them. And said. “You wanna fight? Let’s go.”

Georgia charged at her, but Alana punched her hard and fast, right in the jaw, and then kicked her feet out from under her. Georgia hit the ground hard. Someone had yelled fight, a circle was forming around them as Georgia slowly got back to her feet. Once on her feet she her fists flew and she tried to hit Alana with spastic, violent energy. Alana seemed to be blocking maybe half of the blows and she pushed Georgia away. Georgia just lunged at Alana again, only this time Alana spun around and kicked her in the face, hard, sending Georgia sprawling, spitting blood and Connor broke through the circle of people to pull Alana away before she went at Georgia again, before she killed her.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” He shouted at Georgia.

“You said… you said…”

“I never said get your ass kicked,” Connor said, turning back to Alana. “Are you okay?”

“Oh my god,” She said, eyes swimming with tears. “Oh god I hurt her I really hurt her oh my god.”

There was a teacher rushing forward, followed by someone in a cop’s uniform and Alana, weeping openly, put her hands on her head, saying, “My name is Alana Beck. I’m sixteen years old. I’m unarmed.”

A teacher was bending over Georgia, who had blood rushing from her mouth, and another was trying to move Connor away from Alana who was nearly choking as she continued to repeat herself, still crying, “My name is Alana Beck. I’m sixteen years old. I’m unarmed.”

“Alana it’s okay,” Connor said, trying to reach out and touch her arm. “It was just a fight, you didn’t even start it -”

“We’ll need her to come with us,” Said the cop who was flanked by the principal and vice principal.

“She didn’t start it,” Connor repeated. “She only her hit her twice because she kept getting hit and pushed. She didn’t start it.”

“You’re defending her?” Georgia cried from where she was being led away by some teachers.

“She didn’t start this!”

“My name is Alana Beck. I’m sixteen years old. I’m unarmed.”

Chapter Text

Spring Semester Sophomore Year Part 2

Alana Beck was suspended for two days for the fight. The cop who arrived on the scene tried to spin the fight as like unsolicited violence and blamed Alana but Connor and a few other witnesses insisted that 1. It was stupid fight and 2. Georgia started it.

Which was why Georgia found herself suspended for a week. Well that and the fact that she fucking told everyone that she started it.

She was pretty pissed off at Connor for taking Alana’s side… but according to Jared people at school sorta got the vibe that the on campus cop was racist and wanted to like… write Alana a ticket and threatened her with a misdemeanor.

Georgia was pissed and needed five stitches in her lip but she didn’t think Alana Beck deserved a misdemeanor assault charge. When she got hauled into the principal’s office, Georgia didn’t deny starting the fight. She outright said she started it. She pressed an ice pack to her bleeding mouth and said, eyebrows up, “I pushed her and called her names and she only hit me because I hit her first. I hit her a couple of times.”

She didn’t know she said that. Maybe it was Connor screaming “What the hell is wrong with you?” Maybe it was the fact that they had three people surrounding Alana and only one keeping an eye of Georgia and while she didn’t finish the fight she sure as fuck started it.

Her dad was so pissed at her. For fighting, for violence, and worst of all because he noticed immediately upon taking her home that she wasn’t sober.

“Georgie, we just had a conversation about how I didn’t want you riding around with Connor if he’s high, and you go to school stoned. Explain to me that rationale.”

She had no explanation.

Georgia was freaked out. She was freaked out after Friday and she’d stolen most of Connor’s emergency stash from his copy of Goblet of Fire. She was scared he might actually kill himself, scared that she wouldn’t even know if it was an accident or on purpose.

At the party she only noticed something was wrong after that big guy Dave told her Connor wasn’t making sense.

She drove him home thinking he had gotten too drunk but on the way back to his house he started breathing funny and wasn’t really awake and she knew it was bad but she was high and…

And yeah. She got high before school that day. Because she never said she wasn’t a hypocrite. Because she didn’t want to think about Connor’s lips starting to turn blue. When she woke up the first thing she thought of was that she nearly got Connor killed and how miserable she’d be without him, so she washed down some oxy with her orange juice and waited for Connor around the corner so he could give her a ride to school.

She was still pretty out of it when she went after Alana, like, starting to sober up, the prickle of reality setting back in as she realized that this was Alana’s fault.

She got too close. She made Connor think she was nice, kind, and then talked shit about him behind his back.

Part of her was pissed because she was the only one allowed to do that. Talk shit about Connor. Get close to Connor. He was hers, he had her initials on his wrist to prove it, nobody else was allowed to hurt him like that.

So Georgia saw Alana in the hall and it made perfect sense to her to beat the everloving crap out of her.

It was Alana’s fault Connor had overdosed so Georgia went after her.

Apparently, according to Jared, Alana had been in taekwondo most of her life. She was working on her blue belt. She would be tested on the kick she used on Georgia’s face. Georgia hadn’t realized she wasn’t picking a fair fight.

Jared stopped by to give her her English assignments from Mrs. FUPA’s class. Her dad stayed just in the next room while Georgia offered Jared some tea and he spilled what he knew about the situation.

“I heard she knocked out your teeth.”

Georgia shook her head. “Just knocked my lip into them pretty good.”

“Is Connor pissed at you?”

“Not sure,” Georgia said. “I’m grounded. I haven’t seen him. My dad took my phone.”

“He just… he like threw a fit over how it wasn’t Alana’s fault.”

“It wasn’t,” Georgia sighed. “I started it.”

“But like… He’s your guy, you know. I thought there was some kinda wonder twin code of conduct.”

She shrugged. “I dunno. I did start it. And he and Alana are… friends or whatever. I dunno.”

Jared frowned. “You okay dude?”

“I dunno. Probably not.”

Jared left after he finished his tea.

Georgia’s dad said she might want to call her mom. She ended up spending three days of her suspension at her mom’s place, avoiding her shitty boyfriend Tony who among his other flaws wasn’t Jewish so Georgia hated him.

“Honey,” her mom, sitting pretzel legged across the couch from her as if they had some kind of fucking Gilmore Girls relationship. “What is going on with you lately?”

Georgia shrugged. She really didn’t know. She just didn’t know. Everything was out of control. “I just don’t want to exist sometimes,” She muttered, but she didn’t think her mom heard her.

“I don’t like that boy Connor you spend all of your time with… you dad thinks he’s doing drugs!”

Georgia wanted to spit, “I’m doing drugs! I’m fucked up too!”

Instead she chewed on a loose thread of her stitches and dreamed about having to go back to the emergency room.

“I just… I know that I haven’t been as involved in your life…” Her mom tried.

Georgia didn’t have any interest in hearing it. “So why am I here now? Why do you want to be in my life now. Why not thirteen to fifteen, mom? What did I do wrong in there?”

“Sweetheart it… your father and I…”

Georgia clenched her hands into fists. “No. You chose to be a parent. You don’t get to unpick that because of fucking marital problems, okay?”

“I am sorry sweetheart. I wasn’t a very good mom then.”

“Then? And what about now?”

“Georgia.”

“Why do you want to be involved now? Is it because now I’m a fuck up like dad? Because now Tony’s not as interesting in the sack? What is different now mom?”

“Now I am trying to be better.”

“Well it’s too fucking late for that.”


 

On Wednesday, Connor drove to Alana Beck’s house, armed with a packet of Oreos, a venti Chai, and a strange compulsion to apologize.

He remembered her drink order. He didn’t know why.

He didn’t know what he was doing here. Why he was doing this. Why he wanted to apologize.

He didn’t know why but Connor was certain this was his fault. The fight was his fault. He got Alana involved with Georgia, he fucked up the project… he did this.

It was just after school let out and Connor was standing outside the door. It took a moment to convince himself to ring the bell.

An older woman answered the door. She frowned at him, her dark brown eyes casting disapproving glances at him, hair to combat boots, old jacket to torn jeans. “Who’re you?”

“Connor,” he said, feeling stupid. “I’m, um, I was… Is Alana here?”

“She’s taking out her braids.” She went to shut the door. “Go away.”

“Grandma, it’s okay.”

Alana appeared in the doorway. She wasn’t smiling. Alana looked small behind the older woman. Her hair was still in braids on the left side of her head, but the right was in a loose, curly pigtail. She had a dark bruise on her cheek. Connor felt his heart sink.

“Hey,” Connor said lamely.

“Grandma, will you give us a minute?” Alana asked.

The woman locked eyes with Alana, but nodded, heading off toward the back of the house, muttering that she might make herself some tea.

“Are you okay?” Connor asked the moment they were alone. Alana was still shutting the door.

Alana shrugged. She headed back to the sofa where Connor assumed she’d been sitting. He followed.

“I brought this for you…” Connor said, setting the coffee and the Oreos on the coffee table, feeling stupid. “I’m really sorry about what happened.”

“It was my fault. I should have walked away.” Her voice sounded hollow, not excited or up or any of the things Connor had come to associate with Alana. She didn’t smile or frown or do much of anything. Her face was blank. “You didn’t have to come here.”

“Oh,” Connor said. “I just… I just wanted to say sorry.”

“So now you did. Do you feel better?”

He didn’t. He felt worse. She looked like hell, and it wasn’t just her half undone hair or the bruise on her cheek. It was her eyes. Alana’s eyes were dull, and red, like she’d been crying a lot. Connor didn’t know what to do. “I… what can I do?”

“Just leave me alone Connor,” She said softly. “You made it clear you didn’t like me that day in the computer lab and it was stupid of me to think we were friends.”

“I didn’t…” Connor pulled his hands into fists. “I heard you… I thought you and… You told Evan you didn’t want to be my partner on the project.”

Alana looked at him, puzzled. “You heard that?”

“I was in the bathroom.”

“I also told him how it was going well and how I was having a lot of fun with you,” Alana said. “But you didn’t hear that.”

“No, I…”

“So you tanked the project to get back at me for not wanting to work with you? And you told Georgia to get me into trouble?” Her eyes were dangerously shiny. She was going to cry, Connor realized, and he didn’t think he could stop it.

“No, Alana. I’m sorry. I didn’t -”

“Just go. Please go.”

“You heard her,” Alana’s grandmother barked from the doorway.

Connor looked to Alana again. She was ignoring him pointedly, eyes downcast, fingers untangling a long braid.

Connor mumbled “sorry” again and let himself out.

He didn’t know why he went there. Why he didn’t text, why he brought her Starbucks and cookies, why he did anything.

On Saturday he overdosed after a party and his aunt had saved him and on Monday Georgia tried to kick Alana’s ass and none of it was fair or okay and Connor wanted to fix something and he just couldn’t.

Georgia wanted to lay low.

Connor sort of just wanted to be laid to rest.

He had overdosed on Saturday and Connor distantly registered that he didn’t even care. He didn’t remember it. He just remembered waking up in the bathroom.

He wanted nothing to do with any of this shit anymore.

And not remembering seemed nice.

So he went to Isaac’s. Dave the lumberjack guy wasn’t around this time. Connor thought that might be for the best.

One of Isaac’s friends, this girl Connor had met before, he didn’t catch her name, took one look at him and said, “Oh god tell me you’re not still snorting that shit.”

He didn’t know her. Isaac mentioned something about prison and furlough.

She was making fun of him for still snorting pills.

He knew what she meant but Connor had told himself that it wouldn’t ever get that bad. Wouldn’t ever get that far. He wasn’t going to go there. That was too much. He was just dabbling, he was just trying it on for a bit, he’d stop eventually.

He’d never do something stupid like shoot up.

Or so he said as the girl he didn’t know showed him how to tie off his arm, how to find the best vein.


 

Zoe Murphy was fifteen. In her eyes, she was pretty average. She played the guitar pretty well. She was an okay student. She was learning to drive. She had a nice boyfriend. She was pretty average.

Her brother, however? He was a fucking disaster. Uniquely qualified to ruin the carefully cultivated averageness of Zoe’s fifteen year old life. He lied, he smoked, he was genuinely kind of a psychopath and Zoe was pretty sure he was, like, actively trying to die.

And there was the whole thing with the drugs.

She’d overslept the other morning and was forced to take a ride to school with Connor and she had popped open the glove box in search of a napkin or something when instead she found a small baggie of white pills.

Connor wasn’t looking but Zoe knew better than to say something.

Her brother was kind of a psychopath. He’d probably swerve the car into a tree just because she mentioned it. So she put the pills back and said nothing. She knew what they were. Georgia had spilled the beans back in January. She made it sound like no big deal, a one time thing, he was trying oxy but the second Zoe spotted the pills in his car she knew he wasn’t just trying anything.

So.

Zoe was fifteen and average and the most dangerous thing she had ever done was sneak a little bit of alcohol at a party, so she knew herself well enough to know she didn’t know what to do about this.

Zoe went to her mom. “Mom. I think Connor’s on drugs.”

Her mom was researching Buddhism on her laptop in the living room. “I know. The pot is getting to be something of a problem. It’s probably just a phase, but I think he’s been going to school high. He can’t be going to school high. I’ll talk to him.”

Zoe knew she should say more. She should tell her mom about the baggie of pills in his glove box, she should explain herself better.

But she didn’t.

And then there was her party and Connor came home drunk and puked on Evan and Georgia had been crying in the kitchen with Auntie Chris.

Zoe felt like something wasn’t quite right.

Evan said Connor was only drunk but…

Something wasn’t right.

So Zoe went to her dad. “Dad. I think something’s wrong with Connor.”

Her dad was in the garage, tinkering with some old radio. He sighed, putting down his screwdriver. “What’s he done now?”

“He hasn’t done anything,” Zoe tried to explain. “Just… doesn’t something seem weird to you? He’s always tired, he doesn’t argue with anyone anymore -”

Her dad stood up from the bench where he was sitting, heading toward the house. “CONNOR!” He shouted when he walked inside and Zoe tried to grab his arm, tried to say “What are you doing?” but her dad ignored her.

Connor yelled back, “YEAH?”

“GET DOWN HERE.”

“WHY?”

“CONNOR GET YOUR ASS DOWN HERE.”

A minute passed. Maybe less, maybe more. Her dad was exhaling louder and louder out of his nose, clenching his hands into fists, face going red.

“CO-”

“What? Jesus, what do you want?” Connor stood in the kitchen, in a baggy t-shirt and an old, loose sweater, his eyes tired and half lidded. His socks didn’t match.

“What did you do to your sister?”

“What? Nothing.”

“Dad,” Zoe tried.

“Your sister is coming to me all concerned about you, so what did you do to her?”

“I didn’t do fucking anything!” Connor said, glaring at Zoe. “What did you say I did? I just fucking drove you to school, I didn’t even -”

“Don’t use that language!”

“Oh don’t start with that bullshit on me,” Connor said, throwing up his arms. He started to walk away.

“We are not done talking -”

“Yes we fucking are!”

Connor stomped up the stairs, slammed his bedroom door, and her dad followed, shouting and grunting and talking about taking away Connor’s keys.

Zoe sighed.

She was bad at this.

She was fucking lost. You couldn’t really google “I think my brother is on drugs” and get any useful resources.

But she googled. And finally ran across something that might be useful.

Naxolone.

“Evan.”

She was sitting next to him on the bus. He was looking out the window, and there were bags under his eyes, and Zoe wondered about them.

“Hm?”

“Can you come somewhere with me after school?”

His eyes widened just a little. “W-where?”

“I need to go into the city for something, and I don’t want my parents to know. Is that okay?”

He swallowed, loudly, and then nodded. “Is everything… are you okay?”

“Yeah.”


 

Her first day back after being suspended was kind of boring. Her dad drove her. She bought a coffee in the cafeteria before first hour and didn’t try to fight anybody.

She didn’t see Connor. Hadn’t seen Connor in over a week, since getting dragged down the hall while he stood up for Alana and Georgia was angry about it even though she knew it was stupid to be angry about it.

She saw Alana in the hall before forth hour. Her hair was different. Tight curls, shorter. Less aggressively groomed than it had been before. Her shoulders were hunched and she was hugging her books to her chest and Georgia swallowed and loudly said, “Hey.”

Alana flinched, nearly dropping her books.

Georgia took a few steps closer. Alana looked scared, like she might bolt, like she might run out of her shoes.

“I just… Sorry. Okay?”

Alana narrowed her eyes and walked away.

Georgia didn’t know what to do about that.

Part of her knew she was only apologizing because she was supposed to. Part of her knew she wasn’t especially good at apologizing.

But part of her didn’t exactly know what the fuck her issue was that day and she thought she needed to do… something.

Jared practically skipped into Mrs. FUPA’s class that afternoon, and Georgia could tell immediately that he wanted to share some piece of juicy (in his mind) gossip with her. She didn’t know exactly how or why she and Jared were sorta-kinda still friends, but sometime after she jerked him off that fall he just decided to be nice to her. She made out with him sometimes, when she got bored or when being around Connor hurt too much.

So he plopped himself in a seat and said, “I think Zoe and Evan are gonna bang. Like. Soon.”

Georgia hadn’t bothered to spare a thought to Zoe and Evan since returning to school. “What makes you say that?”

“Because she asked him to go somewhere downtown after school, if you know what I mean.”

Georgia wrinkled her nose, trying to imagine Zoe being bold enough to ask Evan to eat her out. “Doubt that’s true.”

“Dude, for real, I heard her on the bus today. She wants to go downtown after school and doesn’t want her parents to know. I think she’s thinking about going to, you know, Planned Parenthood.”

Georgia thought that was possibly the worst guess in the history of guesses. But she didn’t say anything. “Has Connor been here?” She asked instead.

“I dunno. I think I saw him smoking in the parking lot before school. Why? I thought the two of you had like super twin telepathy or whatever?”

She shrugged. “My dad drove me today so.”

“Right.”

Georgia found Evan hiding out in the library at lunch. Alone. It was unusual to see him without Zoe glued to his side. He was biting at his nails, a flash of blood appearing on his bottom lip.

“Are you and Zoe planning to have sex?” Georgia said without preamble.

Evan looked like he might throw up at the sight of her. “Why would you say that?”

“Jared said you two are going downtown later?” She sat down across from him. “Why not just ask your mom for condoms or whatever? She’s cool.”

Evan looked up from his fingernails miserably. “I don’t think she wants to have sex. She’s… worried about something.” He wiped the bubble of blood from his finger on his jeans. “Also I don’t want to talk to my mom about that.”

“You talk to your mom about everything,” Georgia said reasonably.

“I don’t.”

“You totally do though. You probably even told her about how you made googoo eyes at Connor all summer.”

“I -” Evan seemed to choke on the air. “You know about that?” he wheezed. His face was pale. His bottom lip still had a smear of blood on it.

Georgia shrugged. “It was sort of hard to miss.”

Evan blinked at her like he was confused. “But… but…”

“Did you expect me to freak out?”

“I thought that… I thought you liked him?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“But-”

She grinned because getting Evan flustered was the best way to get him to slip up, spill something he didn’t mean to tell. “So why are you going downtown with Zoe if you’re not going to be going downtown with Zoe ?

“I have no idea,” Evan confessed. He was pinching the seams of his jeans, chewing on his lip. “I really don’t. She-she just asked me to go somewhere with her after school.”

“Well make sure you pick up lube if she does take you to Planned Parenthood or whatever,” Georgia said reasonably. “The key to a decent first time is enough lube.”

Evan’s face flushed scarlet. “I don’t think…. I’m not sure that I…”

Georgia wasn’t actually interested in Evan’s sex life. She just wanted to throw him off before she got to the heart of what she wanted to talk about. “Have you told her about what happened at the party? Zoe?”

“No,” Evan said, rasped. “I just… I said he was drunk. I didn’t…  I wasn’t sure… I didn’t want to scare her.”

“Good.”

“Shouldn’t… Should we do something? Like, sh-shouldn’t we talk to his parents or, uh, a teacher or something?”

“No,” Georgia said, confidently. “I talked to him. We agreed we were partying a bit too hard. It’s going to be fine.”

“But… An overdose is pretty serious? Like, um. What if he has a problem?”

“Not if it’s a wake up call,” Georgia said, crossing her arms. “Promise not to say anything to Zoe.”

“Why should I promise you anything?” Evan said, looking genuinely confused. “We haven’t been friends for months. You blackmailed me into doing your math homework. I don’t owe you anything.”

“Don’t you think telling her would be worse? She’ll think you lied to her. All the time. She’ll think you’re a liar. She’ll hate you.”

“That’s not…”

“And if she hates you, then everyone will hate you.”

Evan opened his mouth but closed it again. “I… You’re wrong.”

“Am I?” She said, shrugging. “You think all your new friends are going to stick around if you stop being Zoe Murphy’s boyfriend? Face it, Evan, you’re an accessory, and a poorly dressed one at that. People don’t care about you; they like Zoe . And once she finds out you lied, it’s over.”

“No, that’s not true… She’d understand, she’d-”

“Hate you,” Georgia repeated.

“But she hates Connor,” Evan said in this small, puny voice.

“No, dumbass, she loves him,” Georgia said because it was so obvious that Evan didn’t understand. “The two of them are like… I dunno. They don’t like each other but they love each other. They’d go to bat for the other one even if it was over something stupid, yeah? It’s some kinda weird sibling thing and we’re never going to be able to compete. So you can lie to yourself all you want, but at the end of the day, Zoe would pick her brother over you a million times. And you and I both know it. So don’t fucking give her a reason not to pick you. Got it?”

Evan nodded.

“Good. Glad we’re on the same page.” She got up from the table and left Evan in the dust.

 


So Connor had… forgotten to go to school.

Which.

It sounded bad.

He knew that sounded pretty bad. But Georgia’s dad was dropping her off and Zoe took the bus and Alana Beck hated him so.

He kinda just left the house and went to a park and smoked a little weed and read for a bit. He dozed off and woke up feeling.

Sick.

His hands were shaking badly. Like. Badly. He felt achey and sore and he barely managed to lean out of the car before he threw up and Connor knew.

He knew it was bad.

He knew it was fucking bad because it knew immediately that he needed to get high.

Like.

He knew that sounded bad.

Objectively that was pretty fucking bad.

But he had a crushed up pill already so he snorted it and after a couple of minutes he…

Well he didn’t get high.

But he stopped feeling sick.

And he knew it was bad, but he forgot to go to school because he was texting his dealer to say that this supply was fucking garbage and he couldn’t even get high on it what the fuck.

And Isaac said, “Come here I’ll get you something better.”

So Connor did.

And long story short, he was considering how bad it would be, how bad it would really honestly be if he just… Tried heroin.

Like he knew. That sounded fucking bad. He knew.

But Connor did think about it. He really considered it for a long, long minute.

But he said no.

Good job, Connor.

He said no to heroin and got some Percocet instead.

And he forgot to go to school because he was in his car kind of freaking out because he had told Georgia he’d chill out with the drugs and then he’d stuck a needle in his arm like two days later. He was kind of freaking out because he had ODed and it hadn’t seemed like a big deal. He was freaking out because like.

He almost just did heroin and how did he get so fucked up that he found himself almost doing heroin in the middle of a school day like what the fuck what the fuck what the fuck.

He was freaking out.

But also, he wasn’t. Not really. Because really freaking out would have meant he was worried about getting hurt, dying.

He wasn’t. Connor was worried about how this looked.

He couldn’t tell Georgia because if she knew she’d lose it, accuse him of trying to abandon her, accuse him of trying to get them caught.

And it wasn’t like Connor had a lot of other options.

But he did come up with one.

And frankly it was pretty stupid but whatever, he’d already gotten to noon before remembering he was supposed to be in school so.

He ended up driving around for a bit before he found the place. That lumberjack dude, Dave, who was sort of on the scene had mentioned it to Connor once. Where he worked. The tattoo parlor.

Connor walked in, greeted by a woman in her forties who said, immediately, “You’re definitely sixteen. Your fake won’t work here, sweetheart. Come back in two years.”

Connor felt his face get warm, his fingers clench. “I was actually… I’m looking for someone.”

“Who?”

“Uh. Dave? Does he work here?”

The lady laughed. “He does, but you just missed him going on his lunch. But I’d bet you ten bucks you’ll find him at Chipotle.”

“Thanks. Where is that…?”

“Block or two down, take a left on Emerald Ave.”

Connor did exactly that.

And inside, he did find Dave, still looking too big to be allowed, like Hagrid sized next to the normal folks, chomping on a burrito.

Connor walked up to him. “Hey.”

Dave looked up from his burrito. He was apparently surprised, based on the way he let a small blob of guac fall from his lip and into his basket. “What the fuck?” He wiped his mouth with a napkin. “I know you.”

“Yeah,” Connor said, his confidence in the situation rapidly draining. “Connor.”

“Right, right. I’ve seen you with Isaac.”

Connor nodded.

“What’s up? You want some chips?”

“No,” Connor said because he had no appetite and he didn’t know why, exactly, he’d sought out this dude in a Chipotle. “I uh. Do you remember telling me to stay away from shit like oxy?”

“No,” Dave said, almost laughing. “Sorry. Did I?”

Connor nodded. “Do you… do you know how to do that?”

Dave’s smile vanished. “Fuck dude, I don’t know. I’m not the guy to ask.”

Connor felt his heart sink a little. “But…”

“Look. Kid. Caleb?”

“Connor,” he said in a small voice.

“Right. I’ve been to rehab twice, I tried Vivitrol, which was the worst fucking month of my life. I puked my guts out for a long ass time and couldn’t take a drink or get high… Anyway. What I’m saying is I can’t help you.”

Connor swallowed hard.

Fuck.

Fuck.

“Look. I don’t, like. We don’t really know each other. I’m not your friend or somebody you should even be talking to about this. I’m old as fuck and I don’t have any answers. I’m fucking high right now, okay?”

“Right. Sorry,” Connor said, head down, embarrassed, he was stupid he was so fucking stupid.

“But my advice is if your parents don’t know, go tell them. Do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars. Call your mommy right now and tell her you’ve been snorting pills. Okay? Don’t wait around until nobody wants to help you anymore.”

“What if that already happened?”

“You steal from anyone?”

Connor shook his head.

“Lie about something big?”

“Sorta.”

“Then you’re still fine. Yeah? Nobody hates you yet. Go home and get your mom. Tell her you need help. Get out before you can’t.”

Connor nodded.

“You try heroin yet?” Dave asked.

“No.”

“Good. Keep it that way. Don’t bother trying to come back from that. You either end up dead or in jail, kid. Why I stayed away from it myself.”

“Right.”

Dave took a breath, rubbed a hand over his face. “Look I don’t have answers. I’m just barely getting by, you know?”

“Sorry,” Connor said. “Sorry this was… I don’t know why I bothered you, I’m sorry.”


Zoe and Evan met outside of the school, bundled up still in their jackets and hats, and made their way to the county transit bus stop.

“Are you… Zoe where are we going?” Evan asked. His cheeks were pink. She wanted to kiss one.

“I…” She looked around, cautious, because getting overheard would not fly. “I need to go get something in the city.”

Evan chewed on his lip. “It’s not - we’re not going to Planned Parenthood, right?”

“What?” Zoe said, taken aback, confused.

“I just… you said that you didn’t want your parents knowing?”

Her face flushed despite the cold. “No. I… That’s not where we’re going.”

“Oh good.” Evan seemed to suddenly realize what he’d said. “Not that -  I didn’t, I mean, that-that came out wrong - fuck - I just. We’ve only been dating for a few months and you’re only fifteen and I… fuck .”

Zoe tried to smile. “I’m already on the pill anyway.”

“What?” Evan wheezed.

“I have like awful periods… It’s not important. That’s not what we’re doing. We’re going to a needle exchange.”

“A… what?” Evan’s brow furrowed. “Why?”

“Because my brother’s an idiot and my parents are too and he’s going to overdose one of these days if he’s not careful. And he’s just… he’s never careful. So I’m going so I can learn how to use narcan and I’m fucking scared, so you’re coming too.”

“I don’t… I’m not sure I know what narcan is?” Evan was looking awfully pale. Sometimes it was hard for Zoe to remember that Evan and Connor had been friends. That maybe this was a little hard for Evan too.
Regardless, Zoe really didn’t want to be explaining why she wanted to go get an emergency drug for her drug addict brother because nobody believed her that he was a drug addict.

“It reverses overdoses, okay?”

“Oh.” Evan went pale. “I… Should I be coming with you? R-really?”

“I really need someone to hold my hand,” Zoe said, lifting her chin stubbornly. “You’re my boyfriend. You used to hang out with Connor… I thought you of all people would get why I don’t want to go by myself.”

Evan nodded, saying, “Sorry. I… I’m sorry, that’s not what I -I mean that, I mean, will they let me be there? W-with you? Since I’m not f-family or whatever?”

“I called and checked yesterday.”

“Oh. Good.” Evan’s face betrayed that it was anything but good.

“You don’t have to come with me,” Zoe snapped, crossing her arms.

“What, no-no , I didn’t -”

“I can tell when you don’t want to do stuff, Evan. I’m not an idiot. You get all twitchy and pale and start pulling at the bottom of your shirt.”

“I don’t -” Evan tried, cutting himself off because he was, in fact, pulling at the bottom of his jacket.

“I don’t know why I even asked. Nevermind. If you hurry you can still catch the bus home. I’ll go by myself.”

“I don’t want you to go by yourself,” Evan plead. “Just because I… Because I don’t want to be doing this doesn’t mean that I, I don’t want to be doing it for you.”

Zoe’s frown loosened a little. She looked at Evan expectantly.

“I’m… I’m trying to be better about a-actually doing boyfriend stuff, okay? I-I know I’m not always good at it but I am really trying to be better.”

“I know you are,” Zoe said, smiling a little. “I appreciate it.”

Evan’s cheeks turned a bit pinker.

The two of them were quiet once they boarded the bus into the city, their fingers laced together, Zoe sharing her headphones with Evan so they could listen to a playlist of songs Zoe had liked when she was in middle school.

By the time the forty-five minute long journey ended, Zoe felt almost calm.

She could almost relax.

She counted them lucky that the bus stop was only a short walk from the building they were looking for. Evan kept squeezing her hand, but Zoe couldn’t tell which one of them he was trying to reassure. Zoe followed the map on her phone as it directed them to the office building in a shabby part of downtown. They walked inside, turning to see a small office with a paper sign on the door that said “NEX. Please knock.”

Zoe gathered herself, taking a breath, trying not to let Evan’s obvious nervousness seep into her. She knocked, just twice, not too loud or timid and then took a step back.

A moment later, a Latino guy wearing a flannel and a nametag that read “GABE WESTON” opened the door. “Uh. You guys here for the exchange?” He sounded a bit… Put off. Like maybe he hoped not.

“Narcan training,” Zoe said, her voice stronger than she felt. “We called yesterday. My brother…?”

“Oh gotcha. Yeah, come on in.”

Zoe took Evan’s hand, cold and kind of limp, in hers and pulled him inside the office with her. It was a bit dingy and cluttered, with a lot of people buzzing around and a loud conversation happening about someone needing “to stop sharing their shit before that whole neighborhood gets Hep C, you know?”

Zoe swallowed hard.

“Alright, so we’re going to set you up in here,” The guy Gabe said, showing them a cramped back office with two folding chairs and a laptop set up. “We show you a short video and then we’ll talk for just a bit about it. Just a heads up that the video shows an actual overdose so… Yeah.  I’ll be just around the corner if you’ve got any questions, okay?”

“Thanks,” Zoe said, taking a seat. Evan sat beside her, holding his winter hat in one hand, looking anxiously at Gabe.

“Just hit play when you’re ready.”

Zoe didn’t wait. She it play immediately. If she waited to be ready she would be here for years. Beside her, Evan took a sharp breath.

Zoe couldn’t think about that right now. She focused on the video.

She took notes, about stuff like rescue breathing and how to determine if someone was actually overdosing. Zoe swallowed down shit like being scared, being really really really scared that she would sometime fine Connor passed out and unresponsive with blue lips like these people in the video, but she couldn’t think about that. She’d be useless if she was just scared. But scared and prepared was something she could do, she could be.

She didn’t know why this was important to her.

Part of her thought that if Connor got himself killed by doing something as stupid as drugs he deserved it. It would make her life easier, not having him around.

But there was another louder part of her that thought if she just let that happen, she wouldn’t get over it. If Zoe let him get himself killed, she’d be guilty and ashamed forever and her parents would be even more messed up so.

She took notes. And remembered the places where you could inject someone if you saw them overdosing.

The video ended on a recap. Evan was looking awfully pale beside her.

“You all finished in here?” Gabe said, returning with some papers and a small white package in his hands.

“Yeah.”

He talked with Zoe and Evan about where to hit, how to make sure someone was definitely safe to be left alone after an overdose. About withdrawal and how sometimes higher doses made people a little nauseated.

“Any other questions for me?”

“Is there… Do you have any information about, like, rehab or whatever?” Zoe said. “My parents are sort of, like, in denial about the whole thing and I… I just want to have all of the information.”

Gabe nodded. He walked away and came back with a stack of pamphlets. “Is your brother under eighteen?”

“Yeah.”

“Here’s a few places that specialize in youth services, and a few who will admit kids over sixteen,” He said, showing them to Zoe. “You’re really a good sibling, coming here for him.”

“I’m really not,” Zoe said, embarrassed.

“Do you need any other supplies for him at all?” Gabe asked. “I know you said you’re pretty sure it’s mostly pills but…”

“Can’t hurt,” Zoe said. “He’s always wearing long sleeves anyway, so he could be shooting up for all I know.”

“Come on back then,” Gabe said. “Evan, right? You’ll be okay here for a couple of minutes, right bud?”

“Yeah,” he said, still looking pale.

Zoe followed Gabe.


 

Fuck.

Fuck.

Fuck.

Fuck .

Evan realized, with each moment Zoe was gone, that this was bad this was veryveryvery bad. He had seen Connor overdose. He had watch Zoe’s aunt revive him just like the video people and he was super fucking terrified.

Evan tried to take a breath come up with a plan.

Tell his mom.

No, bad plan, she’d be angry he hadn’t mentioned it before, she’d be angry he’d ever hung out with Connor.

Talk to Georgia.

But she might punch him or worse tell him not to worry about it only to tell Connor and then Connor would punch him.

Go to Connor.

Pass, that was in the punch pile.

Call the Murphys from a payphone and tell them to search Connor’s copy of Goblet of Fire because Evan knew that’s where he used to stash his pot back when they were friends, he’d hide the dime bags behind the dust cover, he’d told Evan once during one of the few and far between times that Evan crashed at his house.

They might not believe him.

Tell Zoe the truth…

She’d hate him.

She would just... Hate him.

He could kill himself.

It wouldn’t solve anything but his tragic existence.

Evan took a shaky breath, trying to wipe his sweaty hands on his jeans but that only seemed to make them even sweatier and god when had it gotten so hot in this room? He was pouring sweat, absolutely soaked, sweating through his t-shirt and his hoodie, sweat dripping down his neck and forehead and he was sure he looked so fucking gross and he couldn’t really make himself breathe, not properly, not really, but then Zoe was there and it was so much worse.

“Evan? Hey what’s going on, are you alright?”

“I’m having… I’m having an anxiety attack, I’m…” He choked out, his breathing still not right and he knew he was breaking down, embarrassing himself, his eyes watery and betraying him. “In my bag, I’ve… I’ve g-got meds in my-my bag.”

“Hey, dude, alright. It’s okay,” Gabe the needle guy said and Evan thought distantly, distantly, that he was way too familiar and Evan was choking and Zoe was looking in his backpack, looking and looking in all of the wrong spots until she finally unearthed his water bottle and the bottle of Xanax he carried around.

“Here,” she said softly and Evan took it but his hands were shaking too fucking hard to open the childproof cap and he was a child he shouldn’t even be here he wouldn’t even be sixteen for another week and Gabe took them gently and put one single pill in his hand. Evan swallowed it immediately, a reflex.

“You’re safe, okay? I’m just going to shut the door, yeah, and the three of us are just going to hang out until you feel a little better. Is that okay?”

Evan shrugged then nodded because he didn’t know he didn’t know he was scared and Connor might die and he wanted his mom. He wanted his mom to tell him he didn’t have to deal with this because it wasn’t his problem, he wanted Zoe to stop looking at him with these big concerned eyes, looking at him like he was dying and he might be dying and…

Zoe took his hand, despite it being slick with sweat and absolutely gross. She gave it a squeeze.

Evan sucked in a breath and for the first time in a while it seemed to work properly. The minutes passed slowly. Gabe kept saying reassuring stuff, like that Evan was safe and he was a good friend for being here and that it would all be alright. Zoe was holding a brown paper bag that had needles and stuff for drugs in it and nothing about this was going to be alright nothing about this was okay.

Eventually, Evan quit hyperventilating and all he wanted to was to get the fuck out of the cramped, musty office with Gabe and Zoe and the stupid fucking narcan video that was too much like his real life. Zoe put her sad paper bag into her backpack and shook Gabe’s hand and then took Evan’s and they left. It was still too cold outside, especially for March, and it cut through Evan’s coat, hitting his sweat soaked skin like knives.

“You alright?”

“Can we please just… just go home?”

Zoe nodded. She took out her phone, frowning. “The next bus isn’t for twenty minutes,” She said, frowning.

“Fuck,” Evan mumbled.

“Do you want to go to the Starbucks around the corner?”

“I don’t have any money,” Evan muttered, knowing he was coming across as stricken and bitter and god he didn’t want to be here, he didn’t want to do this not in front of Zoe.

“Come on, I’ll get this one,” She said, frowning slightly. She led the way, looking at her phone and not looking at Evan and he wished a car would swerve and hit him, just hit him, just get him out of this scenario.

Zoe bought them each a hot chocolate.

Evan thought Starbucks hot chocolate tasted like shit and pulled a face with every swallow.

They didn’t talk much on the bus ride home, and Evan faked sick to get out of school for the next two days.

Zoe wasn’t on the bus on the day that he came back.


 

Things were not going well with Connor.

He had gone up to his mom three times over the last couple of weeks, planning to just say fuck it and be like “hey mom I have a drug problem oops.”

But he kept chickening out. He was a goddamn coward, honestly. His mom was this kind lady who loved him no matter how much he fucked up but he just couldn’t spit out the words to her. He was fucking scared of what came next.

Because he didn’t even know what came next.

Would they send him to rehab? Would they throw him out? What if he got thrown out and was stuck sneaking naps in his car or something?

What if they didn’t even care and he told them and they went “so what?” What if things got worse? What if they stayed the same? What if he told his mom who told his dad who finally lost all restraint and beat the shit out of him?

Connor didn’t want to know what came next if he blabbed to his family.

And Georgia was… he didn’t want to tell her. He worried if she knew how bad it was, she’d just freak out and stop talking to him and he couldn’t bear the thought of her not speaking to him.

He knew if she gave up on him, he’d just have to kill himself. It was that basic, that simple.

So he couldn’t tell her and risk that.

He had to do this himself. Some DIY detox. It couldn’t really be that bad, right? The internet made it seem insanely awful, but Connor was tough. He’d been cutting his arms for years. He could take a little pain.

Connor took three days off of school where he was basically living some kind of movie-version of a take back your life montage. He flushed his drugs, even the pot. He showered and went and hid his knife in the garage, because at this point he might as well go cold turkey. He smoked his last cigarette in the back yard, thinking maybe the last bit of nicotine would help him stop yawning. He hadn’t been able to stop yawning since he got up for school. It was weird.  Connor drank a lot of water because he was starting to feel a little sick, like his nose was running and being hydrated was a good thing and he was like, yeah, he’d just get sober on his own, no big, and be fine and he could laugh this off with Georgia by like next week, like “remember that time I accidentally got addicted to painkillers?” She wouldn’t be mad if he had already handled it.

That was day one. It wasn’t the worst.

Until sometime around midnight.

Because then it  was day two and Connor didn’t have to fake sick to get out of school once the sun came up because he physically could not leave the bathroom. His stomach hurt, like someone was playing cat’s cradle with his intestines but they kept fucking up part way through like he and Zoe always used to do when their grandma O’Connor tried to teach them as kids.

This was hell, Connor was sure of it. Hell.

His throat was sore from throwing up (and he didn’t even want to think about the other places he was sore). His body felt like a million bugs were crawling all over him, his skin crawling and twitching wildly, and things just… they just hurt. His stomach his throat his ass his hair even kind of hurt. He’d been wearing this t-shirt for two days. Or maybe three. He was too afraid of how bad it might feel to try to lift his hands over his head to take it off.

He coughed a few times the last time he threw up, before sitting pathetically on the floor in front of the toilet, scared if he got any farther away he wouldn’t make it and be forced to clean up his puke.

Connor thought distantly that he should have started fuckign Georgia when he had the chance. He knew she loved him. She would come over and take care of him if he’d let her have sex with him. She’d pat his gross hair and crack dumb jokes and make him feel less like he was dying if he had loved her back. Fuck.

He should have just loved her back. He was an idiot and she was going to hate him.

Connor couldn’t do this. He couldn’t.

Zoe banged and banged on the door, shouting that she had to go to school. Connor had been up half the night already, puking and shitting and trying to drink some water only to throw it up. He didn’t know how to he still had anything left in his body to throw up but he managed, somehow, every time he thought that he might be done. He couldn’t even get up to yell at her to fuck off. He just threw up again, loudly enough for Zoe to hear him and stomp off.

His mom eventually came up the stairs and just forced the door open to see Connor, pale and sweaty and shaking in a bathroom which stunk of sick and he muttered, “I think that I’ve got the stomach flu or something.”

His mom ushered Zoe downstairs, telling her to use her mom’s fancy shampoo and soap. She returned a few minutes later to bring Connor some Pepto and a glass of water. “You don’t look good, sweetheart,” She said in this soothing, nice mom voice. She felt his greasy sweaty forehead. “You’re a little bit warm. Maybe you should try to go back to sleep for a while.”

Connor casually hadn’t slept in two days because he was restless and sick.

Now was the moment.

He ought to tell her what was really going on. Confess. He remembered confession from being a kid. He never really felt better afterward, but it was something to do with the guilt that welled up in him. He should do something with this guit. He should tell her. This was hell. He wouldn’t make it. He was going to cave and call Isaac any minute now. He should listen to Dave and tell his mom.

“Mom, I…” He took a breath. “I don’t… I don’t feel good.”

“I know honey,” She said sympathetically. She made him take a dose of Pepto, it’s gross peppermint pinkness almost making him throw up again. He guzzled the water she gave him and let his mom sort of guide him back to his bedroom. “You just need to sleep this off.”

“No, no, listen to me,” He said, desperately. “I really really need to tell you something, it’s important.”

“Honey, please just get some sleep. You’re not making sense.” She leaned forward, on her toes, and kissed his forehead, despite it being sweaty and greasy and gross and despite the fact that she had just felt his forehead for a fever. Maybe she didn’t know what else to do. Maybe she was a flawed human being who would only disappoint him because she wasn’t going to save him. “You’re burning up, honey. Let’s get you some advil, okay?” His mom helped him to bed and came back with two orange pills. “Take these, they’ll bring your fever down.”

Connor just nodded, just did what he was told, and his mom kissed the top of his head and went to leave.

“Mom I just… I gotta tell you…”

“Tell me after you’ve slept baby, you’re running a fever so you’re not making sense.”

“Okay.”

Connor felt this sudden, unexpected welling of disappointment in his chest. For a second it felt a lot like nausea and he worried he’d throw up on his mom. But as he closed his door and his heart squeezed a bit too tight, he realized he was disappointed. He tried and she brushed him off and what was all of this shaking sickness for then if she didn’t even care, didn’t even notice.

He gave up and called Isaac.

He didn’t fucking care if his mom didn’t.

What was the fucking point anyway?


 

March melted into April. Georgia didn’t pick any more fights and Alana Beck didn’t kick anyone else’s ass. Things faded back to the status quo.

Connor kept avoiding coming to her house, ever since she said she wasn’t allowed to ride to school with him anymore. Georgia knew he didn’t want to see her dad. She got it, her dad was being judgemental and it wasn’t like she wanted to make Connor uncomfortable.

But anyway that meant that they weren’t always seeing as much of each other. Because Georgia hated going to the Murphy household. Mrs. Murphy was on some weird vegan New Year’s Resolution (still, in April ) and last time Georgia had dropped by she had gotten an earful about the dangers of animal products and some pseudo-zen stuff about Buddhism.

Mr. Murphy had just sat across the table idly pushing around the chickpea curry that Mrs. Murphy had made for dinner, looking like he was weighing the pros and cons of just getting a divorce.

Connor was quiet, but that wasn’t all that weird when it came to dinners with his family. He picked at his food, pushing rice around, looking sort of tired.

Upstairs, after dinner, Georgia asked him what was up.

“Nothing, nothing,” He mumbled. “Just. Don’t worry about it.”

Georgia grabbed his wrist, because that’s what they did they grabbed each other’s wrists and pressed lightly on the G.S. inked there. “You can tell me.”

“I’m just… Do you ever think about telling somebody something only they don’t listen?”

Georgia thought about being fourteen, about pouring her broken heart and brain out to her mom on the phone, begging her to help fix it and her mom shutting her down. “Yeah. Sorta.”

“I uh. I tried to talk to my mom… I dunno, my head’s pretty messed up lately. After the whole Alana thing?”

“Right.” Georgia still didn’t buy that Alana was purehearted and not talking about Connor behind his back, but she didn’t want to argue with Connor about it anymore.

“She just… I wasn’t feeling great that day and just sent me to bed. And ever since it’s a new thing every week, like vegan diets or cutting fucking gluten.”

“Right.”

“I dunno… it’s like. I wish she would have just talked to me instead of this… this, you know?”

“Yeah,” Georgia said. “Come on. Let’s go for a walk.”

“Why?”

“You’re bumming me out.”

Connor frowned but the two of them pulled on their raincoats and announced they were going to get some air. His parents didn’t even acknowledge them, but Georgia caught Zoe’s eyes following them from the top of the stairs.

They walked to the old playground, Georgia passing Connor a cigarette. They were both smoking. It was sort of cold and drizzling. They took seats on the swings.

“You okay?” Georgia asked him, out in the world, safely away from parents and siblings and reality.

“No,” Connor said bitterly, inhaling smoke, letting it out. “I’m really fucking not.”

“What’s going on?”

He shrugged. “I just wanna fucking die, you know? Everything is just too much and I don’t want to do it anymore.”

Georgia nodded. “I get that.” She dropped her cigarette butt to the ground. “Maybe we should just kill ourselves.”

Connor looked at her, surprised. “What?”

“I mean, come on. Who’d miss us, you know? All we’ve got is each other.”

Connor frowned. “Yeah.”

“It was a joke. Come on, lighten up.”

Connor frowned more. “Can I tell you something without you getting all pissy and psycho on me?”

“Depends on what it is,” Georgia said honestly. She lit another cigarette.

“Nevermind,” Connor said shaking his head.

“Did you want me to lie?”

He shrugged. “Sometimes it might be nice if you lied,” Connor said, hanging his head. He was gripping the chain of his swing, apparently unbothered that it was freezing cold. “Do you even fucking like me?”

Georgia stared at him.

Like him?

She didn’t merely like Connor.

She needed him, she lived for him.

She went to sleep every night thinking about him, woke up with him on her mind, wondered over and over why he didn’t want her the way she wanted him.

“Of course I fucking like you. You’re my person - my best friend.”

“I don’t think you care about me. At all.” Connor got to his feet.

“What the fuck does that mean?” Georgia said, demanded, following after him. Damn, his long legs made it fucking impossible to catch up when he got a head start. “I don’t know what you’re even talking about. Why the fuck would you say that? Of course I care about you!”

“Fuck off,” Connor said, still walking past her.

“What makes you think I don’t care about you?” Georgia shouted, running to catch up with him.

“I don’t fucking know, I just know!” Connor shouted back at her.

“I don’t know where any of this is coming from!”

“Well me either!”

“Fuck,” Georgia said. “Are you high or something? You’re being like really fucking weird.”

Connor stilled. Stalled out, stopped, just stopped dead, not even looking at her.

“You’re… you’re not high right now, though, right?” She said. She grabbed at his wrist, pressed down on his tattoo the way he used to do to her, too hard, too tight a grip, demanding his attention. “Connor. Tell me you’re not high.”

He rolled his eyes. “Nice of you to finally notice.”

“What the fuck?” Georgia said, shoving away from him. “What is the matter with you, it’s a fucking Tuesday and you’re high ? What are you on?”

Connor shrugged. “I’m not good at keeping track.”

“What the fuck does that mean?”

“I mean, I know there’s some pills and I know there’s some other pills, but all of them are white you know?”

“Fuck,” Georgia said. “What the fuck is this about? The Alana thing still? Evan and Zoe still dating? Me? What is the issue?”

“There is no issue,” Connor said. “I’m just… Like this. I can’t stop. I tried and I can’t so. Whatever.” He lit another cigarette. “Maybe we should just kill ourselves.”

“Fuck you that’s not funny.”

“Who’s laughing?”


 

Zoe flopped onto the couch beside him, smiling happily, grabbing at his laptop and saying, “Well come on, let me see!”

“It’s not even done,” Evan complained, eyes darting to his mom who was carrying in a plate of store bought cookies she had picked up when he texted her to say Zoe was coming over to “help” him with his apprentice park ranger application. By help he meant, harass.

“Oh, I like the font,” Zoe said. “Very profesh. Don’t you think so, Mrs. Hansen?”

“Zoe, please, call me Heidi,” She said, smiling. She looked tired. She looked exhausted, actually, Evan thought. “It’s a good choice honey. Makes your resume seem really strong.”

His resume was fucking crap, and Evan knew it. All he had to show for his time on earth was his Eagle Award and a few elective classes on the environment. He was really stretching out his brief involvement with student counsel at Jared’s insistence this winter. He was pathetic. He had no experience, no skills, just a weird hobby where he knew shit about trees.

“Do we really have to do this now? The application isn’t due until the end of May.”

“And it’s nearly the end of April now,” His mom said, annoyingly reasonable. “You want to turn it in early, get ahead of the other kids.”

“Evan, you’re going to be so good at this,” Zoe said. She was rereading the list of qualifications. “Like this is the perfect job for you and it’ll look great on college applications.”

“I’m a sophomore,” Evan mumbled irritably.

Zoe passed the laptop over to his mom and the two of them went about rereading his cover letter, checking for typos and making sure it didn’t sound too much like the sample he’d read online.

“You’re a really good writer, Evan,” Zoe said thoughtfully.

“I’ve always thought so,” His mom said, smiling. “He used to write these stories for me when he was little, like they were newspaper reports? About school and recess and stuff? It was adorable. They would have headlines like, ‘BREAKING NEWS: PEANUT BUTTER BANNED IN MR. REID’S THIRD GRADE CLASS’ or 'Local Student Throws Printer at Teacher -’”

“Oh,” Zoe said.

And Evan felt his face heat up.

“That was my brother,” She said, nonchalantly but Evan could see right through it. Zoe fought back a frown. “My brother threw a printer at a teacher in the second grade.”

“Oh,” Evan’s mom said, looking horribly embarrassed. “I didn’t know that, I’m -”

“Don’t worry about it,” Zoe said, brushing it off. “I like this opening line, Evan.”

“I heard a story on NPR once about cover letters, and they said the worst thing you could do is start a cover letter with ‘I am writing to inquire about the job listed on blah blah blah…’ It’s boring for the people reading the applications to see that. I think you have a really good application, honey,” His mom said.

“It’s not finished  yet.”

“I think it probably is,” Zoe said, nodding. “You’ve got a good resume, cover letter, and you’ve answered all of questions.”

“It’s not finished yet!” Evan snapped. “What do either of you know about resumes anyway?”

Zoe and his mom both looked embarrassed for him.

“Why don’t we put it away for now then, huh?” His mom suggested quietly.

“Fine,” Evan muttered.

“Are you kids hungry?” His mom, a bit louder than she needed to be. “I was thinking maybe we could do tacos? A real taco Tuesday, huh?”

“Sounds awesome,” Zoe said enthusiastically. “My mom’s on some veganism kick and… I dunno she’s talking about being a Buddhist but she’s banned all animal products from the house and… Yes. Tacos sound great. Do you need any help?”

Evan’s mom smiled. “I’ll be alright, but thanks Zoe.” She hurried off the kitchen.

Evan and Zoe sat in an uncomfortable silence for a long minute. Evan chewed his nails, and the noise was deafening.

“You were sort of mean to your mom.”

Evan knew she was right. But he still crossed his arms over his chest and said nothing.

“We’re just trying to help,” Zoe said.

Evan said nothing. Instead he sort of idly picked up a copy of Cosmo that his mom had left on the coffee table, flipping irritably through the pages and pages of makeup ads and fragrance samples and Not Looking At Zoe.

“You know, I have to deal with this sort of shit at home,” Zoe said quietly. “I don’t need it from you.”

Evan felt his heart sink.

 

Later, after Zoe had left and his mom was washing dishes in the kitchen, Evan went to get a glass of water. He waited, irritated, while his mom switched the running water from hot to cold so he could get some from the tap.

“Honey,” She said, setting down the sponge in her hand. “I don’t like how you were acting when Zoe was over earlier. I understand this application process is stressful, but there is no reason to be rude.”

Evan took a sip of his water. “I don’t even want to be applying!” He said, whined, whatever. “You’re the one who pushed me into doing it.”

“Evan, come on, that’s not true,” She said, a sadness taking over her expression. “I just… I think it’s a great opportunity for you. Make a little money, learn some new things.”

Evan scowled. “Why is it so important to you that I get a job? I can barely handle school, why do you think I’d be any good at this?”

His mom definitely looked sad. “Of course -”

“And why are you so hung up on money, anyway? If you’re that worried about money maybe we shouldn’t eat takeout like five times a week.”

“Evan -”

“Oh but we can’t because you barely shop and you’re never even here!”

“That’s enough,” His mom snapped. “I don’t know what’s gotten into you! I am trying the best that I can, and you know that. I am trying to encourage you so that you don’t end up like me!”

“Like you how?” He spat. “Stuck with a shitty kid like me?”

“No, stuck living paycheck to paycheck! Stuck with bills I can’t pay, never getting to actually see you!” Her voice was shaking. “I am really trying here Evan. It would be great if sometimes you could try a little bit too.” She threw the sponge down in the sink and hurried up the stairs to her bedroom, slamming the door.

Evan thought distantly, as the teenager, that he was supposed to be the one to do that.

He thought he was a pretty shitty kid.

He finished washing the dishes for her, carefully, in scalding water. He watched his hands turn red up to his wrists and waited for the lump in his throat to go away.

It didn’t.


 

Connor learned near the middle of May that he was really and truly failing chemistry. He wasn’t exactly, like, surprised. He barely showed up and Alana had stopped putting his name on the tops of the lab reports so he wasn’t even getting partial credit anymore.

His dad was going to find out. He had this thing about checking checking checking their grades online. He never used to check Connor’s. Because Connor used to be a straight A student with no behavioral issues but then seventh grade happened and he stopped being that kid.

Anyway, Connor knew he had to do something about the F that was sitting on his online progress report because it was only a matter of time before his dad saw it and followed through on the threat to take Connor’s car away. He made it after Connor brought home a failing math test and was too stupid to just forge his dad’s signature.

He thought, idiotically, that it would matter more that he was failing something. That they’d care beyond being embarrassed. They didn’t.

Anyway,  his chemistry teacher Mr. Fitzwater told his guidance counselor that he would need to either make up all of his latework from the quarter or get an A on the final, and Connor knew there was no way he’d actually ace the final without some extremely creative cheating, so he spent every day after school for a week in Mr. Fitzwater’s chemistry classroom, listening to the old man ramble about climate change being a political conspiracy and trying (and failing) to understand heat transfer and entropy. He did every assignment, every problem and worksheet he could get his hands on.

A couple of times he saw Alana in the halls after school, but he didn’t dare try to talk to her. She hated him, he knew it. There was no point in trying to change that.

Connor started to buy some Adderall off of Isaac in addition to his collection of Oxy. Just to help him focus,  help him to study. He was trying hard to space out his allowance, but his habits were getting a bit bigger than $50 a week could buy. Connor sometimes borrowed money out of his mom’s purse or stole change from Zoe’s laundry if she left it in the dryer while he was waiting to dry his.

He pawned some stuff. Nothing major. Some old books, the TV in his room that he never used. His parents didn’t notice or care, apparently.

Anyway, he was worried about the chemistry grade because his parents had threatened to cut the allowance and take away his car if he didn’t get his grades up. And he needed that car and he really needed that money.

So. He spent more money on more pills and tried to study as hard as he could and he actually scraped by with a 93% on his practice final at the end of May.

He didn’t know how it happened, really. Connor himself was pretty shocked.

But he was feeling okay about this chemistry thing.

“You look like shit,” Georgia told him daily and he knew she was right but he was finally finding a fucking balance and he wasn’t going to let her ruin it.


 

Zoe came over to his house after school but it was mostly out of habit. They didn’t talk like they used to, or hold hands much. They just sort of coexisted, side by side, on the bus ride home.

Evan had passed through the phone interview portion of the Ellison State Park Apprentice Park Ranger application process. He had to put down his phone, mute it, and throw up in the middle but he covered it with a cough and said he was simply getting some water.

They bought it.

He hated the phone, but he had spent hours with his mom and Zoe rehearsing exactly how he would answer most of the questions including the dreaded “tell me about yourself.” He even practiced in front of Dr. Sherman who said he seemed very well prepared.

But know he was scheduling the in person interview for the second week of June, as soon as school let out.

He didn’t want to do it. He didn’t feel accomplished or proud. He just felt dread, nothing but dread.

It was similar to how he felt around Zoe these days. Just dread. He was waiting for her to finally be done with him and realizing maybe she couldn’t save him or fix him or make him anything than the mess that he was and he was horrified. He was horrified because she still sat beside him on the bus and came over after school and said things that were nice and smelled nice and let him touch her but it wasn’t like it was before. It wasn’t hopeful. He knew better than than now.

Which was how he found himself sitting in front of the television which was switched off, not studying for finals but pretending like he was, when Zoe looked up and said, “Is everything okay?”

“No,” Evan said, breathed, finally admitted. “It’s... it’s not. Things aren’t. They’re not good with us, are-are they?”

Zoe frowned. “Things have been kinda… tense or whatever.”

“Yeah,” Evan said, picking at the seam of his pants.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Zoe asked.

Evan didn’t. He shrugged. He picked picked picked picked. He tried to remember to breathe, Zoe’s eyes staring staring staring.

“Do you want to talk about it or not?”

“No,” Evan said meekly. “I’m really… I’m really tired of talking.”

“But we haven’t talked!” Zoe said, shouted, her eyes flashing. “You haven’t said anything! I don’t even know what’s going on!”

“I know,” Evan said. “I’m sorry. I’m tired.”

“What does that mean , Evan?”

He knew he needed to say something, explain himself, but he couldn’t spit it out. He knew. He knew she couldn’t save him and he knew he was an asshole, a monster because that’s all he wanted her for in the beginning. All he’d wanted out of this. Evan, he’d ruined this, totally ruined it, just by being his pathetic sad anxious self. He was no good, no good, no good. He couldn’t see a way out so he just stared at Zoe, just looked at her without really looking, getting sadder and madder and more hurt with each blink of her pretty eyes with the long lashes. He felt his eyes tear up but he just couldn’t make his jaw move, couldn’t say what he had to say which was that he was so fucking sorry but he would never be better and she was allowed to hate him because Lord knew he did.

“Evan. What does that mean?”

“I don’t know,” He whispered, mumbled, choked out, eyes spilling over.

“Are you breaking up with me?” Zoe said.

Evan didn’t move, didn’t blink, just sucked in a ragged breath that rattled in his chest loudly. Zoe’s eyes filled with tears too, her face got red.

“Are you fucking breaking up with me?” She demanded.

Evan did nothing, said nothing.

“Seriously? You can’t even… you can’t even just say it? You can’t say it to my face?”

He couldn’t.

“What the fuck Evan!” She said, her voice tearful. “That’s so… That’s mean. It’s cruel. You’re an asshole,” she shouted.

He knew. He didn’t say anything, he was too ashamed to lift his eyes and look at her.

“You can’t even actually break up with me!” She said, shoving his shoulder, hard, because she knew how to shove back she knew how to fight back she grew up with Connor while he grew up soft.

“Fuck you,” Zoe cried, shaking her head. “You’re pathetic.” She grabbed her backpack and started for the door, phone at her ear. She started crying louder as she threw her phone on the ground and cursed the fact that she didn’t even have “ a fucking ride. ” “Of course my mom doesn’t fucking answer today! Of fucking course .”

Evan just watched as she wiped her face angrily, picked up the phone and dialed someone who she told to pick her up.

“Yeah. Just come - no, shut up , just come get me at Evan’s. I want to go home.” A beat. “No just fucking pick me up, Jesus fuck.”

Zoe took a seat on the other couch, her foot bouncing anxiously, arms crossed tightly across her chest and the two of them sat there in total awful, all consuming silence until a horn sounded out front. Zoe swung her backpack over her shoulder and left without another word.


 

Connor answered the phone immediately because Zoe never ever called him so this was probably something he should answer.

He was just hanging out at the park with Georgia, and neither of them had really been talking until she said out of the blue, “So. You’ve shot up.”

And Connor kinda… nodded because he didn’t have it in him to lie to her anymore.

“Pills?”

“Yeah.”

“Show me,” She said.

And Connor ought to have said No. Nope. No fucking way, this was too much for him he wasn’t doing it for her.

But.

It might be nice if she actually understood, if he wasn’t alone in this.

They went back to his car and he had some clean rigs, stuff Isaac had sold him for a couple of extra bucks, in the glovebox and he showed Georgia how to tie off her arm and find a vein. He showed her how to cook a shot.

He watched her eyes flash a bit at the needle because there was no getting around the fact that yeah. It’s a needle.

“I hate needles,” She said.

“Then you shouldn’t do this.”

“Just…. Do it for me. Just this once. Please. You had to find the vein anyway.”

So.

Connor tied off her arm over the center console and found her vein again and wiped the area with alcohol because mainlining wasn’t so bad as long as it was clean, right?

Right.

So he shot her up.

Watched her eyes go wide at the flash of blood that confirmed that Connor had hit a vein. Watched Georgia’s eyes go bigger as the drug hit her veins.

“Holy shit.”

“I know right?”

She grinned lazily at him.

So while she was enjoying herself, he got off too. And it dimmed the nausea curling in his stomach, the jackhammer in his head.

And then the phone rang. Zoe. He didn’t know how long it had been; enough for the euphoria to be passing. Enough that the sun had sunk in the sky a bit, a sunset blooming.

“Hullo?”

“I need you to pick me up.”

“Zoe?”

“Yeah. Just come-”

“Why don’t you call mom?” Connor said stupidly, interrupting.

“No, shut up , just come get me at Evan’s. I want to go home.”

“Did something happen?”

“No, just fucking pick me up, Jesus fuck.”

Zoe hung up.

Georgia looked at him with half lidded eyes. “What’s happening?”

“Gotta pick Zoe up from Evan’s,” He said. “Your dad’ll be home soon anyway.”

“Yeah.” She sighed. “This was nice though. Good. We should do it again.”

“Yeah,” Connor said vaguely.

So.

So Connor put on his seatbelt and checked his mirrors and headed out of the park. Out on the main roads, driving extra carefully, checking his mirrors and blind spots again and again. He parked in front of Georgia’s house and she gave him a thumbs up and he then drove the fifty feet to Evan’s driveway and honked the horn.

Zoe got in the car. Fast.

She’d been crying.

“You okay?”

“Fuck you,” She spat.

“I fucking picked you up, didn’t I?”

Zoe crossed her arms over her chest. Reached over to crank the radio, loud loud loud. Connor backed out carefully, carefully, and headed down the road.

Something was wrong and it was wrong enough that Connor didn’t care that they weren’t speaking, hadn’t been speaking, hadn’t spoken properly since last year.

Literally.

He turned down the radio. Zoe was sniffling, trying to pretend she wasn’t crying.

“What did he do?”

“Nothing.”

“Zo, what did he do?”

She shook her head. “Nothing, he didn’t do anything… that’s the problem.” She wiped her face.

Connor waited.

“We broke up.”

“I’m sorry.” Connor checked his blind spots. “Do you want me to kick his ass?”

“Haven’t you done enough already?” She said venomously.

Connor was genuinely confused by that one. Since his blow up at New Years he had stayed away, he’d done nothing, he’d backed off because he knew he’d fucked up. “I -”

“We went through all of this trouble to fucking avoid you, keep you from know, I -I paid fucking Georgia and Evan did her homework to buy her silence and you ruin it anyway because that’s what you always do, you ruin things for me!”

Connor swallowed.“What… Georgia knew?” He said hoarsely.

“Oh of course she knew you fucking idiot,” Zoe carried on, crying again. “She’s known the whole time! I like… gave her my allowance for months just so she wouldn’t tell you which was stupid because we all fucking know you were too high to notice!”

“She was blackmailing you?” Connor said, disbelief and anger mingling in his veins, coursing through him. “Why didn’t you just tell me?”

“Because I wanted to keep Evan away from you,” Zoe cried, her face red and puffy and her breathing uneven. “I wanted to keep him away from you and then you fucking got pissed off at New Years and then, then you got all drunk and high at my party and ever since things have been fucked up between Evan and me! He hasn’t been talking to me or coming out with me or doing anything and it’s all because you freaked him out so bad and I fucking hate you for ruining this for me!”

Connor swallowed uncomfortably, a vague memory of taunting Evan with his crush on Connor floating to the top of his mind and shit, shit, fuck he had actually ruined this for her. He’d ruined it for Zoe, and he didn’t even need to try, he was just like this, he didn’t even mean to wreck this and he had.

“So fuck you Connor. The least you can do is shut the fuck up and - CONNOR LOOK OUT-!”

His head snapped forward to another car crossing the yellow center line, into their lane, and he jerked the wheel hard hard hard to the right, slamming hard on the brakes but he was already bumping his way over the median, spinning out of of control spinning into a ditch, still spinning like a top too fast despite the brakes and Zoe was screaming and the car came to a sudden, violent halt as it smacked into a skinny spindly tree which fractured, broke, and came crashing through the windshield in a shower of broken glass and the airbag on the driver’s side deployed immediately.

Things were quiet for a second. Too fucking quiet.

Connor felt something hot trickling down the side of his face and the might have hit his head and his ears started ringing ringing ringing “ZOE.”

She was breathing unevenly, crying, cryingcryingcrying.

He looked, he was scared to look but he looked and Zoe was crying, her face in her hands, crying loudly loudly loudly and he reached over, saying too loudly over the ringing in his ears, “ARE YOU OKAY.”

“Fuck,” She whispered, and he wasn’t sure he heard her so much as knew her face and the shape of those words but she shook her head. Her side of the windshield looked okay. She looked okay. Pale and shaky but okay. “Y-your head.”

“My….” He reached up and it hurt, blindingly for a second he nearly blacked out and his hand was sticky and warm with blood and he shook his head slightly. “I’m fine.”

“You’re bleeding.”

“I’m fine . Are you hurt?”

She shook her head, saying, “N-no, not… I’m not really, I mean I dunno, I dunno where did that other car come from?”

She was hysterical, Zoe was crying her face in her hands and Connor knew this was not good. Not Good. He tried to touch her shoulder, gently, again, saying, “Do you know where your phone is?” He usually wouldn’t touch her but he had to reassure himself she was real and solid and that he hadn’t just killed his baby sister.

“Yeah, I… Yeah.”

“Can you… do you think you could call 911?” Connor was fumbling, trying to find his pocket find his phone but his hands were shaking. “I… I think we should call 911.”

“Okay. Okay.” She looked at him anxiously. “Fuck.”

“Stop, I’m okay, we just… we just....” He knew there was a lot of blood, it was leaking down his neck, into his hair his hair was getting kind of long this was his fault he was high he’d done this he’d almost killed Zoe.

He was driving. He was high and he was driving Zoe and Georgia had blackmailed her and Zoe was on the phone with the 911 operator and Connor slowly realized he had hit his head pretty hard and this was worse than the seventh grade concussion he’d had this was worse and he was going to throw up.

“Zo, sorry, I-” he hurried to try to open the door, hands fumbling, opened the door leaned out of it, a sharp pain in his shoulder, in his neck as he did and got sick on the grass marked with their tire tracks. He sat back up, the door dinging to say it was open. “Sorry.”

She looked too pale. “I… you’re really bleeding,” She said, looking ill. “Here.” She was shrugging out of her hoodie, reaching over and pressing the sleeve to his head as he cursed because that hurt that fucking hurt how much worse would it hurt if he wasn’t high right now?

Cherry and blue lights lit the side of the road in a few minutes. Seven by the radio clock. Zoe started screaming when they put a brace around his neck even as they reassured her that they always did that and as they loaded him into the back of the ambulance Zoe was there, muttering as she grabbed his hand, “I swear to god asshole if you die I will fucking kill you.” She had a smear of his blood on her face and she looked too young, too scared, and Connor thought he wasn’t dying but he deserved to die for doing this to her. All of it.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“That guy swerved into your lane, I-I was yelling, it wasn’t… You didn’t do -”

“I meant. I’m sorry about-”

“Connor fucking shut up,” Zoe said. “And don’t go into any warm fucking lights, do you hear me? You just hit your head.”

“I’m not, it’s not,” He wasn’t making sense. He knew he wasn’t. “I’m just. Evan and Georgia just… Sorry. I’m… Sorry about-”

Chapter Text

Summer After Sophomore Year


 

It was four hours by car to get to his grandma’s house.

It meant four hours by car with his mother who was silent, lips pursed, the only noise she made a soft “hmph” when the radio station went out of range.

Connor felt like garbage. His stomach was churning, his head hurt, eyes watering. He kept coughing, and he wanted a fucking cigarette. Plus he was in pain, like actual pain. His shoulder, collar bone, whatever… it ached, this dull throbbing pain that made him want to open the door and splatter himself onto the highway.

Connor tried to adjust the sling because it was digging into the back of his neck and his mom sighed. “Connor leave it.”

Connor left it. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes and tried not to be in his car on this ride with his mom with anyone with anything on this planet.

He could still hear the skid of the tires and the crunch of the glass against the tree. It was a stupidly small tree, Connor thought once he saw it for himself outside of the accident. Puny. Spindly and thin with no right to cause as much damage as it did.

His car wasn’t totalled, but it needed a new windshield and the hood and front bumper had to be replaced.

His life wasn’t totalled either, according to his mom, but Connor had to disagree.

He could still hear the sound of his closed fist slamming against a closed locker, the hollow bang, the way it took a moment for the pain to travel up his arm to register. The big eyed shocked look on Georgia’s face, her jaw dropping and the fact that he thought about punching her and it sounded so fucking appealing that he made a fist so he had to punch the locker beside her head instead.

She knew about Zoe and Evan, right at the start of their little whatever and didn’t tell him.

He got why Zoe didn’t. She was scared of him.

He got why Evan didn’t; he hated Connor.

But Georgia didn’t tell him just so she could make Zoe and Evan miserable, just so she could get stuff out of them, and it pissed him off so much.

“Don’t ever fucking talk to me again,” he told her and then he left school on the last day before finals.

He took the bus home, sat in the back and thought about killing himself.

He got home and Zoe griped about something and..

The next day his mom informed him he would be spending the summer with his grandma. His dad didn’t want him in the house. His mom’s pleading couldn’t get Fucking Larry to budge. He was prepared just to throw Connor out and leave him to his own devices. Connor thought he would have been dead before the end of the summer if that had happened.

Apparently his mom called her mom and he was being shipped to his grandma’s by the end of finals.

He managed an A- on the Chemistry final, so he passed but literally barely.

And now he was riding with his mom all the way to his grandma’s with a broken fucking collarbone and his arm in a sling and a deathwish with no chance or granting it.

His mom had taken his phone away but it wasn’t like he needed it. Georgia and Isaac were the only people he texted and he wouldn’t be texting either of them from the middle of nowhere.

He still wasn’t sure what had actually broken his collarbone. They didn’t put him in a sling right away.

The car accident, punching the locker, or Larry practically throwing him down the stairs to get him away from Zoe.

His shoulder hurt after the wreck but he hadn’t mentioned it because of the concussion and the fact that he nearly killed his sister but he showed up to school in a sling on the first day of finals because somewhere in the last couple of days he had broken his collarbone.

Connor closed his eyes and wished he was somewhere else, someone else.


Jared came over on Friday night.

They watched Almost Famous and Jared fingered her and Georgia felt super fucking weird about the fact that she’d had an orgasm in front of Jared because like.

Fuck.

That was a lot. That was being fucking, like, vulnerable and shit. That was grabbing Connor’s hand and telling him that she’d slept with Zack and he hadn’t used a condom or pulled out, that was some intimate god damn shit and Georgia didn’t get intimate with people, period. Especially not people like Jared Kleinman. He was good for a laugh and (apparently) fun to fool around with, but he wasn’t her person.

Her person was fuck-knows-where, doing fuck-knows-what and as far as Georgia knew he hated her still.

And then of fucking course, the second she thought that maybe she could like Jared, maybe this summer didn’t have to be like last summer, all lonely and miserable and tragic, he fucking drops the bomb that oh, yeah, he’s leaving for camp.

Georgia didn’t know what the fuck to do with that.

She was so fucking confused that she walked Jared to the door and kissed him because like.

He was leaving.

And maybe if she kissed him he wouldn’t.

Or something.

Logic or whatever.

When she walked back into the house, her dad was watching some late night thing, sitting on the couch, a can of diet ginger ale in his hand.

It was weird not to see a beer or a bottle of vodka. It was weird that he was clear eyed, not passed out snoring.

She sat down on the other side of the couch. She sighed. Her dad looked at her, with one of those intense dad looks, like he was waiting for her to spill all of her shit which Georgia was absolutely one hundred percent not fucking doing my god. They were super not going to get all sharey-carey on each other now.

Her dad cleared his throat. “I like that Jared kid.”

Georgia rolled her eyes because of course he liked Jared.

“He’s polite. Funny.”

“He’s sort of an asshole.”

“Yeah but you like that about him,” Her dad said with a smile.

“So?”

“So? I’d rather you hang out with an asshole than a drug addict Georgie.”

She rolled her eyes at him. “Connor’s not a drug addict.” She pictured the small puncture wound on her arm, healing now, and pushed the thought from her mind.

He wasn’t a fucking drug addict. He promised. He wasn’t he just wasn’t he wouldn’t fucking do that to her, to Georgia, because he loved her and she loved him and it was weird and fucked up but he’d never become a drug addict and not fucking tell her.

He did crash the car though. That was the thing, poking her like a pin stuck in her clothes, hidden and poking only the most sensitive spots. He was driving and he crashed. And Zoe said they’d been fighting but Georgia knew he was high. She knew he was high because she was high. She knew he was high a lot lately, and yeah maybe that was an issue after all. But he wasn’t an addict.

Her dad was an addict. Her dad forgot about her and left her to trade sex for money, he was an asshole and he was an addict. Connor wouldn’t leave her like that.

Except he did. Just now. He punched the locker beside her head and said he hated her  and left her just now.  

What if he hated her, like actually hated her? What if they were over, really over? What if

she had to learn to like Jared because Jared was her only option anymore? What if she became a drug addict, what if her dad sent her to live with her mom what if none of this got better?

“I want a job,” Georgia said. What she meant was, “I want to die.” What she meant was,

“I am really overwhelmed by everything changing and people leaving and I need a distraction.” What she meant was, “I’m going to use the money for drugs.”

“Okay,” her dad said. “Where?”

“Something fun,” She said. “I want to save up for college or whatever.”

“Do you want to go to college?” He asked. He sounded surprised.

“Well I don’t want to stay here,” She muttered, and then watched the smile slip off of her  dad’s face. “I mean. I want to like. Be more mature. Grow up. Do other stuff.”

“Right,” He said, still looking like a man about to drown. “Speaking of maturity…”

Georgia's stomach dropped. “Please don’t do this…”

“I hope you’re being safe when you’re having sex with Jared.”

“I’m not having sex with Jared.”

Her dad gave her a look.

“Well… not like sex, sex.”

“Okay, Bill Clinton , just make sure you’re using condoms. Even for oral… especially for oral.”

Georgia groaned. “You’re so fucking gross dad.”

“I’m gross, yet you’re the one who wants to get oral chlamydia.”

“Dad, you’ve seen Jared. How many other girls do you really think he’s been with?”

Her dad laughed. “I don’t even know anymore. You kids today with your sexting and whatever. I met you mother at the Matzo Ball when we were nineteen and we were both virgins.”

“GROSS!” Georgia shouted. “I don’t care how sex positive you’re trying to be, dad, but that’s fucking nasty.”

“Hey watch your mouth,” He said, laughing. “We don’t say nasty around here in regards to your mother.”

Georgia laughed. “Yeah bitch is more appropriate.”

“Amen to that,” He said. He took a drink of his ginger ale. “She is trying though.”

“I know. I have a new television because of her ‘trying.’”

“She just wants back in your life.”

“Then she shouldn’t have left.”

“Georgia…”

“We were having a nice moment. Don’t try to ruin this with a guilt trip, please?”

Her dad frowned.

“She left, okay? She sucks. People who leave… suck.”

Her dad’s eyebrows flew up.“So….Does that mean that Connor sucks?”

“Right now? Yeah.”

“And I heard Jared say he’s going to camp? Doesn’t that mean he has to leave for a while?”

“That sucks too.”

“You can’t just hate everyone who has ever left you.”

“Oh yeah? Watch me.”

“Sometimes people have their reasons to need space.” She crossed her arms. “And how many people don’t suck, Georgie? Who’s left if everyone who has ever walked away is axed?”

“Fuck you.”

She got up and went to her room and added a tally mark to her arm because she didn’t want to think about everyone who had left her.


Georgia and her dad spent Saturday driving from place to place for her to pick up job applications. It had taken a lot of haggling but Georgia had finally convinced him to let her work again… there were stipulations for things like setting up a savings account and whatever, but she was just glad not to have to spend the summer just sitting at home.

She was still reeling that Connor was gone. Like he was really gone. She had tried to text him and it had been a week and she still hadn’t gotten a response.

They were in a fight but they were always in a fight and she didn’t realize it was actually different until he was long gone. Zoe had been the one to tell her that Connor was being sent to his grandma’s for the whole summer. She said he’d had a fight with their dad.

She’d said it with a bruise on her cheek and Georgia didn’t know if the bruise had been there before.

Anyway, at least her dad was letting her work. And he didn’t mind if Jared came over, like he had last night. With Connor gone, Georgia was texting Jared more and more. She didn’t know why, really. It felt sort of nice to be wanted. And all he seemed to want from her was a chance to touch her boobs sometimes, so really it wasn’t all that bad.

Of course now she knew he was going off to camp for the rest of the summer so that fucking sucked. Which was why getting a job was important because otherwise Georgia would genuinely die of boredom before the summer ended. There was only so much masturbating you could do before you sprained your wrist and whatever.

So she and her dad went and picked up job applications. He helped her fill them out when she got home too. Georgia thought it was kind of weird that so many places still had paper applications, but she guessed they did live in a pretty small town.

“I think this will be good for you Georgie,” Her dad said over pizza and putting the finishing touches on her application to the Orpheum, an old movie theatre in the center of town.

“I’ve had a job before,” She pointed out. “You made me quit.”

Her dad frowned. “I know we don’t talk about it much… but you getting that job shouldn’t have happened the way it did. I should have been around more. Paid attention… paid the bills myself instead of drinking my paychecks.” His face settled into this unexpected sad look. “Georgia, I’m sorry. I really am sorry for everything I put you through when your mom and I first broke up. I know that was tough for you, and I’m so sorry I wasn’t there.”

Georgia stared. “Are you joking?”

He blinked, surprised, clearly not joking.

“You’re sorry?” She said, disbelief mixing with anger in her chest and suddenly Georgia was going from annoyed to livid in less than 10 seconds. “You’re sorry you were drunk for like two years? So what, it’s okay now?”

“I didn’t-”

“This is the first fucking time you’re even apologizing,” She said, and to her horror her eyes had flooded. “Hell, even mom did that faster than you. At least she’s trying to like, buy me off or whatever.”

“Georgia, listen-”

“No. Also fuck you!”

She grabbed her purse and stormed out of the house, realizing as she was stomping past Evan’s house in her flip flops that she had nowhere to even escape to. She couldn’t go to Connor’s. If she went to Jared, he’d expect a blowjob and her nose was stuffy from crying already.

She screamed “FUCK” as loud as she could manage, sinking down on the sidewalk outside of the Hansens’ and just fucking howling.

Her dad didn’t come after her.

He should have. He really fucking should have.

“A-are you okay?”

Georgia turned to see Evan, peeking out of his front door. He was in his pajamas; it was only just past six and Georgia couldn’t tell if he had given up early or not bothered to get dressed at all. “Do I fucking look okay, Evan?”

He frowned. “Nevermind then.”

“Wait!” Georgia said, cried, pleaded. “I… Fuck , I’m sorry. It’s not… You didn’t! You’re just being nice and I fucking suck.”

Evan frowned still, but he hadn’t gone back inside.

“My dad just apologized to me for ‘not being around’ after my mom left,” She said. “Can you believe that shit?”

Evan nodded. “Dads…. Suck.”

“Moms too.”

Evan shrugged at that. “Sometimes.”

Georgia got to her feet, walking up the driveway. “Why are you being nice to me?” She said, her eyes narrowing. “Literally you have no reason to be nice to me.”

“I know,” Evan said, sighing. He was still frowning.

“Can I come in?”

“Sure.” He held the door open wider and Georgia ducked inside. It was sort of stuffy, like maybe Evan should have cracked a window or something. There was an abandoned, half eaten bowl of cereal sitting on the coffee table, and it was dark. The way it got in the late afternoon if you drew all of the curtains.

Something wasn’t right here, Georgia realized. Evan, now that she could see all of him, clearly hadn’t gotten out of his pajamas all day. His hair was a mess, sort of curly and greasy and slept on. He looked pale. He looked like shit.

“You okay dude?”

Evan shrugged.

“Heard you and Zoe broke up…” Georgia tried. That’s what this was, right? He was moping around because he and Zoe weren’t sucking face anymore.

He nodded, taking a seat on the sofa.

“What happened?”

“Y-you don’t really want to know,” Evan said plainly. “You don’t like Zoe. Or me. So, so you don’t, you don’t have to ask.”

Georgia crossed her arms.

“Connor’s not around this summer,” Evan went on. “Jared told me. So, l-like, don’t bother pretending to be interested in my life or whatever. I know you’re just… you’re just bored.”

“What else did Jared say?” She said, ignoring the rest.

“That you two are hooking up or whatever,” Evan said, picking at his pajama pant leg. “I think he… Nevermind.”

“What?”

Evan shook his head. “Not my business.”

“So?”

He sighed. “He likes you. I told him that was a stupid thing to do. You don’t like him back.”

He was right, Georgia had to admit. She didn’t really like Jared that way. He was funny though. She liked spending time with him. She liked how much he liked her. He wanted her. He told her she was pretty and Georgia thought Jared probably meant it.

Connor was gone, at least for the summer. Connor didn’t want her, not the way she wanted him.

“I could. Like him back. Maybe.”

Evan rolled his eyes. “Don’t.”

Georgia laughed. “You’re not being nice.”

“So what? You’re not, like, you’re not nice to me. Ever. So.”

She nodded, taking a seat on the other side of the sofa. “Where’s your mom?”

“Work. Where else?” He said bitterly.

“At least it’s not the bar.”
Evan “hmph”ed.

“Sometimes I think it was easier when my dad was a drunk. I don’t know what to do when he tries to, like, care now.”

Evan shrugged.

“You don’t care.”

“Not really. We’re not friends anymore.” He frowned. “I think maybe we were in, like, eighth grade. Maybe ninth too, but not anymore.”

Georgia didn’t deny it.

“It was just a stupid crush. It didn’t mean anything.”

It did though.

It was a threat, so she had to squash it. Like with Zoe. Like with Evan and Zoe and their little pathetic canoodling. All of those things could have taken Connor away, and she couldn’t have that. He was the only person who meant anything. The only person she meant something to. Evan could have ruined that. Zoe tried to ruin it.

She saw now that maybe she ruined it all anyway. Connor was gone. Evan didn’t like her. She was left with her dad, who was an asshole no matter how you sliced it, and Jared who liked her in a way she didn’t really understand or reciprocate.

“Do you want me to apologize?” She asked Evan.

“Don’t bother.”

A long silence stretched out before them.

“I passed my driver’s test,” Evan said suddenly. “I didn’t have anyone to tell.”

Georgia snorted. That was a fucking miracle. She knew from school that in their first behind the wheel lesson, Evan had a bad panic attack and had to spend the rest of the day in the nurse’s office. It was impressive he even signed up to take the test, let alone passed it. “How’d you manage that?”

“A lot of Xanax.” He frowned. “I puked in front of the instructor, before we even l-left the parking lot.”

“Gross.”

“Why’d you break up with Zoe?” Georgia asked after a minute.

“I didn’t.”

“You did. Connor told me.”

“I… I don’t know,” Evan said eventually.

“That’s pretty shitty.”

“I’m pretty shitty,” Evan mumbled. “Maybe you should go home.”


Evan had thrown up three times already but he was going to do this interview. He had to or else his mom was saying she might need to talk to Dr. Sherman about how he seemed more anxious than usual lately which meant changing meds which meant weeks of weaning himself off the old ones and onto the new ones which meant side effects and headaches and having to admit to himself that he was crazy, like genuinely honestly crazy.

So he was doing this fucking job interview for the job at Ellison Park because if he didn’t his mom would know and if she knew then she’d freak out and tell his therapist and then the fact that he had been actively lying to Dr. Sherman for the better part of year would come out and then everyone would know he was a huge fucking liar huge fucking loser who wasn’t going to get better and should just fucking kill himself.

Evan took a breath. Smoothed a hand over his shirt, like that might save him from the wrinkles sitting and sweating on the ride here had caused.

His mom had wanted to drive him but she had to work and they only had the one car so naturally Evan had taken the county bus. It took him over an hour to get there and the ride was bumpy and the AC on the bus wasn’t working very well and then Evan got off at the wrong stop and had to walk a mile to actually make it to the correct park entrance.

By the time Evan was actually waiting to be interviewed, he was in a pretty sour mood. Why would they conduct the interview at the actual park, and not in the city parks department office building which was air conditioned and designed for stuff like conducting interviews? Why had they even called him to set this up, his resume was clearly bullshit and exaggerated? Why was he even here, literally, why was he on this earth when they only thing he seemed to be able to do without fail was sweat through a shirt in thirty minutes or less?

He kept rubbing his sweaty palms on his nice khakis and looking anxiously at the door for his turn to go in a speak to the person in charge of hiring.

The interview was fucking horrible. Just horrible. He knew the back of his shirt was stained with sweat, and he knew he probably reeked, and he knew he answered every fucking question wrong.

“Tell me about yourself.”

“I’m… uh. Well, I- I’m going to be a junior in the f-fall.” A long pause that stretched out for miles and miles followed as it slowly dawned on Evan that he was supposed to have more to say, good stuff, well-rounded good-for-college-applications stuff to say here. He was supposed to say he was a straight A student, that he loved botany, that he was an Eagle Scout, that deforestation was a real concern that kept him up at night. Instead, he said, “Um. I. Like trees? Like… not in a weird way, just… yeah.”

The interviewer looked… confused. She didn’t smile. Just nodded. “Alright. And you go to Central?”

“Yeah.”

Crickets.

He stumbled through personality questions and stuff about work ethic and how he felt about having to wear sunblock and bug spray all summer and then after an extremely grueling twenty minutes, they let him leave. The interviewer said she would be in touch.

Evan thanked her and shook her hand with his sweaty hand and rushed out of there so fast he realized he never actually gave her the copy of his resume that he’d printed out specifically for this interview and standing at the mouth of Ellison Park with a bent fifteen cent folder clutched in his hand, everything seemed so pointless.

He wouldn’t get this job.

He wouldn’t get any job, ever, because he couldn’t even talk about stuff he liked. He couldn’t spit out the words, get them off of paper.

He knew this already. He knew he knew it was all pointless, that this wasn’t getting better, that no matter what Dr. Sherman said or his mom said or Zoe said with one of her pretty pretty smiles, there was happy ending for Evan. He knew. He’d always sort of known, he supposed, that this was it. This was as good as it would get…

He’d broken up with Zoe by not being able to actually break up with her because he couldn’t ruin her life anymore and if they kept dating he’d have to spill what he really knew about Connor and she’d hate him for lying and he would deserve it.

He fought with his mom, yelled about how she wasn’t there, even though when she was there all he did was yell at her and say it wasn’t enough because he was broken, he was fucked up, he wanted things and screwed them up and if she was home every day at three all that would happen is she might realize he had genuinely no friends and no life and nothing going for him and she’d pack up and move to Colorado too not now but someday she’d go because he wasn’t worth staying for he wasn’t worth anything.

Evan had started walking, aimlessly following a path, heading north deeper into the park, not taking in the trees as they grew more dense and blocked the light, not taking in the earthy smell.

Somewhere along the way his resume folder slipped from his sweaty fingers and Evan just.

Broke.

He couldn’t do anything. He couldn’t carry a folder. He was so fucking useless he couldn’t do anything he ruined everything everything.

His breathing caught. Just a bit. He took in the sight of the forty foot oak. It was gorgeous. Tall. At least forty feet, maybe taller. Lush and strong and tall.

Evan put a sweaty palm against the bark.

He had climbed trees a lot as a kid. He was good at it. He was good at climbing ropes and trees because he was little and had a strong grip. He wasn’t athletic but he liked to climb. His mom could never take away toys or hide cookies up high because Evan would find a way to climb up and retrieve something. His dad used to call him a “monkey man.”

His dad wasn’t here. Had the right idea.

Evan’s fingers found a knot in the bark and experimentally he gripped it. He was in the wrong clothes and definitely the wrong shoes, but he hoisted himself up, just a bit, legs braced against the trunk, finding footholds until he had pulled himself up onto the lowest branch. He was panting and sweaty and his hands ached, but Evan looked up and a beam of sunlight was sitting on his arm and so he kept climbing. Higher and higher and higher, his arms aching with effort, his dumb stupid nice shoes getting scuffed with effort.

Evan found himself dizzyingly high off of the ground. His back was slick with sweat and some dripped into his eyes from his now damp hair. There was a breeze that soothed him a little. His hands stung, skin red and raw from the sudden use. He had a splinter in his left ring finger. He was so much higher up than he expected to be. The ground seemed impossibly far down.

This was as good as it would get, with the breeze in his hair and the sun streaming down on him and this was as good as it would ever get.

His balance wasn’t great, and branch where he was standing wasn’t exactly sturdy. It was bouncy and young and not meant to support the weight Evan dragged around.

This was as good as it would ever get.

He kept sort of pitching forward and catching himself.

It would be a long climb back down.

He pitched forward.

His arms reached out to grab the next highest branch. He caught himself. This was as good as it was going to get for him, Evan thought, dizzyingly high off of the ground. This was it.

He pitched forward again, his arm automatically tightening on the branch to steady him.

Only.

Evan let go.


Connor had been on and off sick for three days when his grandma woke him up at 6:30 one Sunday morning and declared he had to get out of bed because they were going to mass. He nearly threw up on her, he swore. He wasn’t even sure if it was withdrawal or if that was his natural reaction to organized religion these days.

“Go on, now, go wash your face. And you’re not wearing that filthy sweatshirt. Put on something nice. I want to introduce you to Father Mike before you start your community service, and I won’t have you looking like a ragamuffin.”

Connor, squinting at his grandma in the half light of his mom’s childhood bedroom, thought his entire look was something akin to “ragamuffin.”

He wanted to tell her to fuck off and just go back to fucking sleep, but honestly getting up sounded less painful than having to hear her pounding on the door again in ten minutes. Connor slowly got up, his head pounding, but he managed not to barf on the carpet immediately so. Progress.

The doctors in the emergency room had given him a supply of hydrocodone for the broken collar bone, but he was refusing to take it. Or trying to refuse. He had to just… stop. He’d fucking… Take a lot of ibuprofen. He would have to just stop.

It was bad and he was going to stop now. He could handle being a little sick for a little while. He could.

Or so he said every day before giving in after an hour or two and taking half, just to take off the edge, just to stop throwing up…

Fuck.

Showering took forever because his left shoulder still hurt too much to raise above his head, but he managed to wash off the four days of grease that had been coagulating in his hair. Honestly it was kind of weirdly nice of his grandma to let him just sleep and be miserable for the last four days…

It was weird and kind of suspicious and she was probably planning something horrible to torture him after the weekend.

Connor almost felt like a person again when he got finished in the shower, brushing his teeth and then catching a look at himself in the mirror.

The cuts on his forehead were starting to heal. Most of them were just scabs. He figured he’d be able to pick out the stitches on the deepest one soon.

His eyes had big bags under them, and he was pretty pale, but it was… Frankly he’d been expecting a lot worse.

He’d been expecting to see the smear of blood across his face, the horror as he realized he’d hurt Zoe actually hurt her hurt her…

Connor gagged on his toothbrush and ended up throwing up in the toilet, covered in cold sweat, all of the mediocre betterness from ten seconds ago fading.

He wondered what Georgia was doing and how much she hated him now. He wished he’d memorized her phone number so he could borrow the landline…

Yell at her some more.

He was so fucking mad at her and so fucking pissed that he even missed her. She had lied for months, she’d lied and lied and lied and.

“Doing alright in there?”

Fuck.

“Y-yeah!” Connor called. “Gimme just a minute.”

He got dressed quickly, in a button down he’d found in his suitcase. His mom must have known Church was on the menu. He was grateful for long sleeves, but Connor felt almost naked without the weight of a jacket or hoodie to hide in. He pulled at the cuffs a few times, straightening them until they hid the G.S. on his wrist. It was starting to fade a bit now that it was over a year old. The internet said stick and pokes didn’t last as long as professional ones. He wanted to go over the letters again, make them bold and dark.

No.

He wanted Georgia to do it.

Except he hated her.

A little.

He was mostly scared of how much he fucked up.

He just wanted to know she didn’t hate him. Didn’t give up on him, not yet.

Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.

Connor slowly ambled down the stairs, finding his grandma in a sensible pair of slacks and a floral shirt, frowning. “You need to cut your hair.”

“Not before church I hope,” He said, rolling his eyes.

His grandma sighed. “Well come on, we better hurry or the front pews will be taken.”

Front pews.

Awesome.

Connor hadn’t been to church since Christmas. They’d all gone to midnight mass, and he and Zoe got into it before they left. She’d thrown a flat iron at his head and he called her a cunt.

His mind wandered back to being in second grade, having to go through confession before his first communion. He’d been terrified, so much so that he wet the bed the night before, which was just a pathetic thing to do as an eight year old. He washed his own sheets so his parents wouldn’t know. Connor had to confess that he’d thrown a printer at a teacher… though it was more like he shoved a printer off of her desk and she assumed he was attacking her. Either way his dad told him sternly not to sugar coat the facts, so Connor had gone knock kneed into the confessional to whisper what he’d done. That he was sorry, that he apologized, but he knew he’d done very very wrong.

He had to do like… So many fucking Hail Marys. He lost count and started over at one point.

His grandma made Connor drive which he thought was fucking unfair since he’d recently been in a car accident and had his arm in a sling, but she insisted he had to “move past the negative” and claimed she’d forgotten her glasses inside.

It was a horribly quiet car ride. Connor and his grandma didn’t exactly have a lot to talk about. She just smiled serenely at whatever oldies station was playing and Connor tripled checked at every stop sign before accelerating.

When they arrived, the parking lot was practically empty.

“Um. Are we early?”

“I sing in the choir. We have to warm up.”

Connor genuinely thought about murdering his grandmother, right there, in the church. In front of God and everyone else who had ever done anything.

Connor knew he needed to take something to take the edge off. He knew it in his bones. But something about sitting in an empty pew made the thought of swallowing down a painkiller hard to swallow. He didn’t like the watchful eyes of the statues of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. He didn’t like the old ladies trickling in, genuflecting in especially geriatric ways, muttering about how that was Margie O’Connor’s grandson, the delinquent, he crashed his car and almost killed his baby sister can you believe she’s letting him stay the whole summer?

Connor got to his feet, needing to get the fuck out get the fuck out get the fuck out… He rushed out of the pew, out of the chapel, out of the doors and only stopped when he realize he had nowhere else to fucking go. Like. Where was he going to run to? He didn’t even have the keys to his grandma’s car, and trying to run off on foot wasn’t an option. He was well and truly fucked.

The only thing he did have was a pack of smokes, nearly empty, that he’d managed to sneak out of his parents’ house. Deciding that it was the only form of escape he had going for him, Connor strolled to the back of the building and lit up. He took a long drag and realized how much his lungs had enjoyed not having the oppressive, heavy feeling of smoke filling them up.

A long moment later, a man walked out of the back door of the church and also lit a cigarette. The guy was youngish, Connor supposed. Younger than his parents and his Auntie Chris, but probably older than people like Isaac and Dave from back home. The man was wearing dress pants and Connor avoided eye contact because that was what he did. He avoided eye contact. He didn’t need to see the judgment in the man’s eyes, a kid his age smoking, with an arm in a sling, looking like some kind of gay scarecrow in this get up he was wearing.

“Beautiful morning.”

“Too early,” Connor returned.

“Haven’t seen you around here before.”

Connor rolled his eyes. “I don’t live here.”

“Bit young to be smoking,” The man pressed.

Connor huffed, but didn’t respond.

“I started young too,” He went on. “Keep trying to get myself to quit…”

Connor could tell he was looking at him, really fucking looking at him. It wigged him out, knowing a strange adult was eyeing him like that, and his mind flashed to the kinds of stories he grew up with on the news, the ones that said Catholic priests went after little boys, and Connor wasn’t a little boy anymore but the thought still stuck around like something in his teeth as this guy sized him up.

“Are you a priest?” Connor said suddenly.

“Did the collar give me away?” He said with a genial chuckle.

“I…”

“You’re Margie’s grandson, right?” He said. “Connor?”

He nodded, his voice dead in this throat.

“Well, I’m excited to get to know you,” He said, clapping Connor’s (good) shoulder before heading back inside.

Connor stared after him, trying to shake off the feeling that this dude was creepy as fuck. He continued to stand outside, his cigarette having gone out.

He hated so much that he wanted to look to his left and hear Georgia tell him how fucking creepy that was. He hated how much he missed her even when he was pissed.

Mass wasn’t… awful. Other than sitting all by himself when he didn’t want to be there, getting a lot of side eye from the people at the other end of his pew when he mumbled his way through some of the prayers (they’d changed the words a few years ago, and he couldn’t keep them straight anymore) and slowly sat, stood, and kneeled. He was still pretty banged up.

He was still fucking miserable.


 

All Evan thought about in the week after he got out of the hospital was how much money this had just cost his mom.

Surgery wasn’t cheap. Metal rods in his arms, compound fracture, X-rays needed, physical therapy would be necessary, plus the antibiotics and the painkillers and the time she had to take off of work.

His arm was in a white cast.

A bottle of hydrocodone sat on the counter in the kitchen.

Evan kept thinking about taking them all in one go.

Evan kept thinking about how expensive funerals were.

Or at least.

That’s something Georgia said to him.

“Funerals are expensive as hell,” She explained. He didn’t know how they got on the topic. Frankly, he didn’t exactly know why Georgia had come over. His once every six hours for pain management hydrocodone made his head blurry. All he knew was that the stitches in his forehead were starting to come loose so he picked at them with his right arm and wished his mom were home because she would just let him doze in front of House Hunters so he didn’t have to think about the worry lines that the medical debt was forming.

“Yo.”

“Huh?”

“I said, how do you shower with that big ass cast on?”

Evan shrugged. “Haven’t yet.”

Georgia wrinkled her nose. “Dude. It’s been like a week.”

Evan knew. It was pretty gross, and he knew his face was all broken out, but he couldn’t. He just couldn’t.

“I know when I broke my wrist in second grade we just wrapped it in plastic wrap,” Georgia said. “But your cast looks way more gnarly than mine did.”

Evan just stared at her.

“How bad was the break?”

“Three places,” He said, shrugging. “The bone like, broke skin too.”

“Fuck,” Georgia said, her face morphing into what might have been sympathy if she was capable of feeling that for anyone who wasn’t Connor. “How’d you get to the hospital?”

He got to the hospital via ambulance.

He got to the hospital after he opened his eyes, his arm numb at first then on fire, and looked at his off brand cell phone to discover that unlike his arm, it was not damaged in the fall. Evan took his fully intact phone with his unbroken arm and, trying hard not to look at what was causing the flames on his other arm, called his mom.

Voicemail.

Called again.

Voicemail.

Third try.

Voicemail.

Evan sent a text, slowly and one handedly, saying he needed her to call back it was an emergency.

It didn’t feel like an emergency in the moment, just… an embarrassment.

Evan dialed 911. There was blood in his mouth, which he spat out, and perhaps calmer than he had any right to be, calmer than he had ever been in his whole life, Evan said, “Hi. I’m in Ellison State Park. I’ve just fallen out of a tree and my arm is broken.”

911 stayed on the line with him, and eventually a park ranger arrived on a golf cart with a paramedic and they got him to his feet, to an ambulance, to the hospital.

He went in for X-rays and had the cut on his head stitched up before his mom even called back. She was sorry. Her phone was at the desk. A patient had had a heart attack, all hands on deck, baby what’s going on?

Evan always thought a bone poking out of his skin would have looked pure white, bone white, shocking against all the blood. But in reality it was more pink and bloody and too gruesome to look at.

His doctor said they’d have to be careful about infection. His doctor said Evan was lucky. That a fall from that height could have broken his neck.

Evan wasn’t lucky.

“Not to be all Cheer Up Buttercup,” Georgia said, yanking Evan forcefully into the present. “But maybe you should try to shower. You’re about three days from finding mold growing in your underwear.”

“Gross.”

“Like you’ve got room to talk.”

“...Why were we talking about funerals?” Evan asked suddenly.

“Oh,” Georgia said. “You said something about a funeral being cheaper than college, but like. It’s sort of a horse a piece, I guess. Depends where you go to college, or how nice your funeral is. LIke if you get cremated that’s cheaper, I read, especially if you don’t do it in a nice casket. They like… stick you on a slab and light you up. But like if you wanna get buried and shit? That’s like tens of thousands of dollars.”

“Huh.”

“Go take a shower,” Georgia said after a long silence that Evan was simply too tired to try and fill. “You’re starting to stink up the place.”

She did help him wrap up his arm, at least. That was almost nice of her, so he didn’t have to ask his mom. Washing his hair took forever. When he got out, he took his meds and waited for the painkiller to blur this whole conversation into nothingness.

“So anyway, if you want, I could probably sneak you into a movie or whatever,” Georgia said. “As long as my boss isn’t there.”

“Right.”

Georgia frowned. “Dude.”

“Maybe you should go,” Evan said. His mom would be home soon. She would be proud that he showered. He wanted to doze and watch crappy TV. Maybe she’d turn on a Say Yes to the Dress marathon. Evan sort of liked the way everything smeared together in shades of white.

“Yeah, okay, message received,” Georgia muttered, standing up. “You used to be a lot better at faking like you were fine.”

Evan was surprised to hear this. He never felt like a good faker. “Alright,” He said.


 

Connor felt like his head was banging around on the inside of his skull and he fucking hated it. His shoulder was killing him and his neck and face were sunburnt from being stuck outside all day, picking up trash. Plus, he stunk. There was no way around it. He’d worn a hoodie and jeans in 90 degree weather, and he smelled.

His grandma seemed pretty pleased about how miserable he seemed.

So Connor gritted his teeth and tried hard not to complain. He kept going like he was supposed to, saying nothing, hating it hating it hating it. Wishing he could at least text Georgia to complain, or something. It was lonely as hell without her.

All of the other kids on the community clean up project seemed to know each other, although their motivations were varied. A few were doing hours for like National Honor Society and college applications and whatever, but Connor had heard a few kids mention it was a punishment for some of the other kids too. If he weren’t a broken person, Connor might have tried to like… get in with those kids. But he knew they were probably being grounded because they like, got caught drinking or some other minor offense. They weren’t here because their dads threw them out of the house. They weren’t here because they almost killed someone twice in the space of a week.

Connor shook his head.

Viciously stabbed at an old condom on the side of the road. It took a couple of tries, and Connor groaned when it refused to stay on his pick a third time.

And then he heard a soft laugh behind him, and Connor just knew someone was watching him, was laughing at him. He felt his face flush and his shoulders hunch and he wanted to turn around and shout at whoever it was, throw his stupid trash bag at them, but he kept it mostly together. Managed to get the condom into the garbage bag, trying not to guess if it had been used.

“Slippery little things, huh?”

That time Connor couldn’t help but turn his head.

It was the priest who had smoked with him, who had said mass, who his grandma had enthusiastically introduced Connor to as “Father Mike” on Sunday.

Making a joke about a condom.

“Um,” Connor said.

He was wearing his dumb priest collar thing still, but this time in a short sleeved shirt. He was also wearing sunglasses and skinny jeans. Connor immediately thought that priests probably shouldn’t wear skinny jeans.

He was smiling at Connor, which was fucking weird. Connor looked away.

“How’s this been going for you Connor?” Father Mike went on. “I heard that the, uh, circumstances that brought you weren’t exactly… great.”

“It’s fine,” He muttered, stabbing at a candy bar wrapper.

“If you ever want to talk -”

“No,” Connor said shortly. “No offense or whatever, but. I’m good.”

Father Mike just smiled at him some more. Connor felt like somehow he had lost a staring contest, like he had blinked first, given away too much by snapping at him.


 

Georgia stared at the blinking cursor on her computer screen, trying to figure out what she wanted to say back to Jared.

If she wanted to say anything back to Jared.

It was weird, with Jared. He checked in all of the time. He liked kissing and touching her. He liked her, Georgia reasoned, but she wasn’t sure what she thought about that.

He just wasn’t Connor.

He didn’t smell like Connor, like smoke and stale fabric softener and unwashed hair. His forearms were smooth and unblemished, and Jared looked away when he looked at Georgia’s.

He wasn’t like Evan, who used to fake being fine.

He wasn’t like Connor, who never could fake that.

Jared was sort of… embarrassingly normal? He got embarrassed by regular stuff, he liked video games and computers and… He liked her.

Which was weird.

Georgia stared at the screen for another few moments before tapping out an email which was mostly just about her job at the movie theatre. She talked about getting nacho cheese in her hair and didn’t talk about the fact that she was keeping track of the days apart from Connor with tally marks on her thigh.

After a while, Georgia hit send. She showered, got dressed. Ate the leftovers her dad had left in a tupperware for her with a post-it stuck on top, telling her he’d pick her up after her shift ended at 10:30.

Georgia took the county bus to work, which meant she was thirty minutes early for her shift. Which meant she had enough time to smoke a cigarette outside before she went inside to fight with her stupid work bowtie.

Once inside, Georgia breathed in the buttery smell of popcorn and wondered how things looked so different from this time last year but were basically the same in the way that counted most.

Connor wasn’t talking to her, and Georgia was either working or just hanging out with her dad.

Last summer that was because of a circle of avoidance. This summer she didn’t think she could get ahold of Connor if she tried.

Her shift went by pretty quickly. They had a bit of a lull between the 8:30 showings and the 9:10 showings, and Georgia ended up having a nice laugh with Levi Blau, from her English class, as he walked out of Inside Out with his mom.

“Oh man, this is embarrassing,” He said. “But my mom’s a child psychologist and a sucker for Pixar…”

Georgia threatened to tell the whole school with a laugh, and Levi asked her about her summer and she asked about his and told her to say hey to Jared from him and it was almost… Normal.

Georgia tried to imagine her life like that.

No Connor, none of the intensity or the jealousy. If she could float along, saying hey to kids from school and making small talk and saying hi from one person to another. It felt…

Wrong. Tedious. Boring.

Near the end of her shift, as she was sweeping the floor so they could close up one side of the theatre, her eyes caught on some stars doodled onto the cuffs of a pair of blue jeans. Georgia blinked twice, but Zoe’s bony ankles and drawn on jeans were still there. She locked eyes with Georgia, a frown forming on her lips, and she muttered something to the guy she was walking with before turning to head in Georgia’s direction. Up close, Georgia could see a new, thin pink scar near her hairline. When school had let out, Zoe had still had stitches.

“Hi.”

Georgia tried to smile. “Hi.”

“Don’t,” Zoe wasn’t smiling. “I’m not here to make nice or whatever. I want to know how Evan is.”

Georgia nodded. She could respect that. “Not super good, honestly. He’s been pretty… I dunno, sad I guess? Ever since he broke his arm and didn’t get that job.”

Zoe’s face fell. “He broke his arm?”

“You didn’t know?” Georgia said, honestly surprised. Zoe had always sort of struck her as the call-your-mom type. “I… Yeah, I guess he was climbing a tree after his interview at the park and fell, like, forty feet. They wanted to give him the job I guess, but you can’t really be a mini park ranger with a busted arm.”

“Fuck,” Zoe said. She looked honestly, genuinely sad. “Has he…?” She stopped, apparently thinking better of whatever she was going to say next.

“I can say hi for you?” Georgia said. She felt so strange, knowing how much she had fucked with this girl and her relationshit, yet offering to play messenger. Georgia wondered if it was guilt.

“Don’t bother,” Zoe said. “In fact, you should probably just stay away from Evan all together. He’d be better off.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Georgia said, eyes narrowing.

“Well my brother’s friends with you and now he’s, like, on drugs and fucking psycho. Evan was friends with you, and you tried to blackmail him. You should just… back off. Leave them alone.”

“And how are you any better?” Georgia spat. “You make fun of Connor for like, everything, call him a psycho and a freak in front of people! And you know Evan’s a nervous wreck, but that didn’t stop you dragging him to keggers and whatever. You’re just as much of a bitch as I am.”

“Screw you,” Zoe said, hands clenched into fists in a very Connor-like way. “I might be a bitch, but at least I’m not a slut like you. Does Connor know about you and Jared? You and that Zack guy?”

Georgia very much wanted to hit Zoe Murphy in the face with her broom. Instead she smiled. “Is that Drew Patterson?”

Zoe’s eyes narrowed.

“Watch out: he cries when he comes. Every time. It’s so embarrassing.”

“Oh do the world a favor and jump off a bridge,” She spat. Zoe looked disgusted and walked away.

Georgia hadn’t ever actually slept with Drew Patterson. She’d had, like, study hall with him last year and they’d said maybe two words to each other.

But it was satisfying to watch Zoe’s face fall, the smugness disappearing.

She didn’t know why she gave a shit about Zoe. She didn’t like her, and the feeling was mutual.

But maybe it was because Georgia knew that no matter what, Zoe would still outrank her in Connor’s eyes. And even if she wasn’t speaking to Connor, that fucking stung. She’d let him into her life, into her literal veins, but Connor and Zoe shared blood.

Georgia stomped outside after clocking out, waiting for her dad on the sidewalk in front of the theatre, arms crossed tightly over her chest. Her dad was late.

Five minutes passed.

Then ten.

Then fifteen.

Had she told him the wrong time to pick her up? She took her phone out, looking for missed calls or texts. She dialed her dad, pressing the phone to her ear. It went straight to voicemail.

It was five miles to her house, and the buses didn’t run past eleven o’clock.

She tried her dad again, but it went straight to voicemail again.

Breathing hard through her nose, Georgia realized she had literally nobody else to call. No Connor, no Jared, nobody.

She called Evan, but predictably he didn’t answer and sent her a text a second later. He hated the phone. She knew that. But she was sort of stuck.

His text said, “Did you pocket dial me?”

Georgia rolled her eyes, typing back. “No. I need a ride home from work. Dad’s not answering.”

“I can’t drive.”

She frowned harder. “You can. You just won’t.” And then, unexpectedly pissed off, Georgia hurled the phone in her hand onto the concrete, watching as it landed with a pathetic little cheap plastic slap against the ground.

She stared at her phone, sitting on the ground, and hated it. She hated her phone because all it did was piss her off.

Georgia smoked a cigarette.

Eventually she retrieved her phone, with a new spiderweb crack in the screen, stretching out from the corner.

It buzzed.

A text from Evan. “ Sorry .”

She shoved her phone into her pocket, irritated as the warm summer air blew her hair into her face. She took off walking.

Georgia spotted Drew Patterson in the parking lot behind the theatre, looking extremely obvious as he took a hit from a blunt.

Zoe was nowhere to be seen.

If she was a slut, Georgia supposed, she’d act like it.

Georgia walked up to him. “Where’d your date go?” She asked, smiling the smile she gave away to boys too easily, the sort that made their faces go soft and dopey.

“Her dad picked her up. I guess he’s been kinda hovering since she was in that car accident.”

“Huh.” She smiled at him wider. “Well. Be polite.”

He passed her the blunt. It was pretty fucking terrible weed, but whatever.

“Is it true that Connor, like, crashed the car on purpose?” Drew asked.

“It would be pretty stupid to purposely crash into a tree that small, don’t you think?” Georgia said.

“I guess.” He shrugged. “He is pretty weird.”

Georgia narrowed her eyes. This would normally be her moment to destroy Drew Patterson, punch him or say stuff to make him feel small.

But he was leaning against a car and she needed a fucking ride.

“I’m weird too,” She said instead, calculatedly.

“Yeah but you’re -” Drew coughed then, cutting himself off, his face getting darker under the streetlight.

“I’m what?”

“Well, I mean… you’re hot.”

Georgia almost laughed. “What about Zoe Murphy?”

Drew had the decency to look embarrassed. “Zoe’s… she’s cute, you know? Like. She’s cute. But she’s… got a lot of baggage. And she dated that weird deaf kid and -”

“Deaf kid?”

“Yeah, that Evan kid… Isn’t he deaf?”

Georgia genuinely laughed. “No, oh god. No. He’s just… quiet.”

“Oh.” Drew shrugged. “Whatever.”

“Is this your car?” Georgia asked, turning to look at it under the street light.

“Yeah.”

“Sixteenth birthday gift?”

He nodded. “My parents are divorced, so, you know, my dad’s always trying to one up my mom.”

“My parents are like that too.”

Drew nodded.

Georgia took that moment to take off her stupid bowtie. She slowly slowly unbuttoned her top button, watching the way that Drew watched her and feeling mildly disgusted by it. She unbuttoned a second.

Frankly, Georgia was frustrated by how tactless Drew was about all of it. The grabbing, the grunting, the fact that he didn’t even ask if she wanted to have sex before he was pulling off her underwear in the backseat. It was a sort of uncomfortable and gross affair, since Drew couldn’t seem to stop slipping out of her. He’d had the foresight to carry a small little pouch of lube with him, the kind they had in buckets at Planned Parenthood, but he’d used way too much and basically turned Georgia into a slip-n-slide from the waist down.

But once he managed to get off and Georgia managed to find an old t-shirt to wipe up the puddle of lube between her legs, Drew smiled at her all dopey and asked if he could drive her home.

She said yes.

He drove like a maniac and Georgia thought bitterly of how pissed off Connor would have been about this whole thing.

Shame that he’d gone and gotten himself kicked out.

Georgia slammed the door when she got home. She found her dad passed out in front of the TV, his phone on his chest, and the smell of stale booze surrounding him.

He didn’t even wake up when she slammed the door. Or when she slammed the bedroom door. Or when she knocked everything off of her dresser.

Fuck this. Fuck everything.


 

Connor was still showing up and going to this stupid community clean up thing even though this wasn’t his community and he hated cleaning and whatever.

But his grandma made that a condition of him not being, you know, homeless, so he went and he cleaned up and he got sunburnt and he tried his best not to be a junkie (which wasn’t especially hard… his best was garbage).

Somewhere along the line, Connor had become Father Mike’s project. Or something. Because every day, Connor showed up to pick up trash and generally have a bad attitude, and every day Father Mike smiled and followed him around and cheerfully asked how his collarbone was healing. If he had talked to his mom or his dad or Zoe. How life was at his grandma’s house. Was he making up any of the schoolwork he had promised to try to do over the break? And really, Connor, how is your shoulder?

It was annoying. Overbearing. Whatever.

But Connor figured that Father Mike was some kind of idiot because if Connor said his shoulder hurt, suddenly there the priest was with codeine coated Tylenol and old Vicodin from an oral surgery a few months back. He always seemed to know precisely when Connor’s “collarbone injury” would flare up and appear with a pill to make it better.

It went on for so long that Connor was basically used to it by the middle of July.

Which was when Connor realized there was a snag to be found in getting pills from an obvious priest.

Eventually, injuries heal.

He went to a doctor in his grandma’s town who said his collarbone was healing well and that he could ditch the sling. He could do more physical therapy exercises.

Which.

Okay.

Fuck.

While Connor tried to figure out if he could realistically continue to pinch pills from this idiotic priest without wearing a sling, he went back to picking up trash. Only to have Father Mike like… sort of freak out at the sight of him.

“Are you sure you should be out of the sling? What if you rebreak your clavicle? Aren’t they concerned about your range motion? Pain tolerance?”

Connor shrugged. Without the weight of the sling to remind him, he raised both shoulders and winced because it was sore.

Father Mike looked stricken.

Stricken.

“Hang on, here we go, I’ve got this for you here…” He was digging around in his pocket before he extracted an oblong pill and handed it to Connor. “I think you should take it easy today.”

“Yeah, sure, fine,” He mumbled, accepting the pill and swallowing it dry. It didn’t work as fast as snorting it or shooting it, but it was better than nothing. And he wasn’t about to try to shoot up in front of a priest. That idea was fucking idiotic. “Thanks.”

Father Mike beamed. “Of course.”

He stuck kind of close to Connor that day, as they concentrated on a desolate patch of highway just outside of town that was notorious for empty booze bottles and cigarette butts.

“Have you spoken to your family at all?” Father Mike asked as they collected a few plastic and glass bottles to be recycled a little ways behind the rest of the group.

Connor shook his head. “They don’t want to talk to me,” He muttered, stabbing a crushed up Starbucks cup. “And the feeling is mutual.”

“Why do you suppose that is?”
“Because they hate me and I hate them,” Connor said, rolling his eyes. “And it started before I ever did anything to deserve it.”

“Hatred is gained as much by good works as by evil,” Father Mike said, all pretend wise and whatever.

“Please don’t do the Bible thing with me,” Connor said with a sigh. “I know it’s like your job, but it just doesn’t work with me.”

Father Mike smiled. “That’s Machiavelli,” He said, still grinning. “It means, no matter what you do, sometimes that will simply encourage hate in others.”

“Oh.”


 

If Evan weren’t so fucking pathetic and broken and lonely, he would join a trivia team he decided. He had spend several weeks of the summer doing nothing more than watching Who Wants to be a Millionaire ? and Jeopardy!  Georgia sometimes came over and watched with him and he usually kicked her ass when it came to the questions.

“I used to be a smart kid,” She said, sighing.

“Must be all the, all the drugs that you’ve done.”

“Har har,” Georgia said, rolling her eyes.

“Did you, um… did you find a ride home the other night?”

Georgia nodded. “Yeah, Drew Patterson was at the theatre so he gave me a lift after his date ended.”

“R-right.”

“Zoe was his date,” Georgia said in her usual too harsh voice. “I… Look it’s probably better if you find out before school starts, so. She was out with Drew Patterson.”

“Oh.” Evan swallowed too hard. That was… it was good. Zoe didn’t… she deserved someone who wasn’t a mess like he was. But something about it snagged in Evan’s head… “And then he drove you home?”

“Yeah, I guess Larry’s being a real cockblock since the car accident. Picked her up.”

“Oh.” Evan chewed on his cuticle a little. “Did you, uh… did you see her? Zoe?”

“Yeah,” She said, and Evan could tell she was pretending to sound bored. “She says hi. She didn’t know you broke your arm.”

“And you told her?” Evan said, yelped, whatever.

“Is it all that big of a secret?” She said, raising her eyebrows. “You’re going to be lucky if you get the cast off before school starts back.”

Evan hadn’t thought that far ahead.

He hadn’t at all.

Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck. They’d all take one look at him and figure it out, he was supposed to be starting AP classes this fall there was no way he’d be able to actually handle an AP class if everyone knew what he tried to do…

“Dude.”

“I know, I know, I’m fre-freaking the hell out.” He put his hand over his eyes. “Fuck.”

“Do you need a Xanax?” Georgia asked.

Evan nodded. Then muttered, “Don’t take any this time.”

She actually laughed. “That was freshman year, you ought to get over it.”

Evan took the pill after Georgia brought it back, and the two of them just sat there while Wheel of Fortune started in the background, not saying anything until he was able to breathe normally again.

Georgia switched the television off. The silence crackled strangely in Evan’s ears.

“Do you miss her?” Georgia said suddenly.

“All the time,” Evan said. “But… it’s weird. I don’t… we weren’t good together. We didn’t really… like. We didn’t get each other.”

“So do you miss her, or just miss having someone?”

Evan shrugged sluggishly. “You miss Connor.” It wasn’t a question.

“Yeah. It… I don’t like that I can’t even like call him or whatever. It’s horrible, not talking.”

Evan nodded.

“My dad’s thrilled though. He hates Connor.” She picked at her nail polish for a second. “He’s drinking again.”

“Oh.”

“That’s why I called you the other night. He didn’t come to pick me up.”

Evan nodded. “My mom’s working more to pay for the surgery I had on my arm,” He said. “She swears she’s not, but I heard the doctors. Even with insurance, it was still… it was so expensive.”

“Unfair that we get the broke parents,” Georgia said. “Connor and Zoe’s parents are loaded.”

“Yeah.” Evan chewed his lip. “I… That party.”

“I know.”

“He was… he was overdosing… You knew he was.”

Georgia didn’t look at him.

“Do you think that’s why he crashed the car….?” Evan asked.

Georgia shrugged. “I don’t know why he does anything.”

“But was he… was he high?”

“When isn’t he?” Georgia said. “He thinks I don’t know but I always know…” She shook her head.

“I guess I just… I just don’t understand. Why he’d want to be high all the time, you-you know?”

“It’s… it’s better, honestly,” Georgia said. “It’s easier. It makes all the bad shit seem… less somehow. A painkiller in every sense, you know?”

Evan didn’t know. Evan fucking doubted that it even worked. “It’s dangerous.”

“Why do you even care? You stopped talking to him.”

“I… I dunno.” He didn’t know why his thoughts still drifted to Connor Murphy or why he cared or why he worried or why he tried to understand. It was stupid and Evan wanted to turn it off but he couldn’t. “We were friends, for a while.”

“Meaning you liked him.”

“Yeah well so do you,” Evan returned. She didn’t deny it. They sat in silence again.

“I’ve been kind of hooking up with Jared,” Georgia said suddenly. “He’s away at camp, but before he left we hung out all the time and hooked up a bunch and I think he likes me.”

“Really?” Evan knew that Jared had gotten the occasional handjob from Georgia, but to Evan that didn’t really mean a whole lot. Georgia had a tendency to give people handjobs and Evan didn’t really question it.

“Yeah. Or I’m an idiot. I dunno. He sends me emails from camp sometimes.”

“Huh.”

“I’m a fucking mess.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I slept with Drew Patterson so he’d give me a ride,” She went on. “But mostly because I wanted to piss Zoe off after she called me a slut.”

“You decided to get back at her for calling you a slut by acting like one?” Evan said.

“It wasn’t my brightest moment,” Georgia said, frowning. “So now that we’ve spilled our shit to each other, I think we’d better just be friends again.”

“Why?” Evan was surprised and not sure he even wanted that.

“Because we live next door to each other and we’re both miserable and pathetic. And either you and I are friends or I offer you a handjob.”

Evan didn’t know if she was kidding. “No thanks.”

“On the handjob or the friendship?”

“Both?”

Georgia shoved his good shoulder, lightly, almost like they actually were friends.

“What happens when Connor comes back?” Evan said challengingly. “You can’t only be my fr-friend when he’s not here.”

“I know. I’ll work on him, alright? When he gets back. We can all be friends again.”

“Yeah.”

“Sure you don’t want a handjob? Might make you feel better.”

“I’m good, thanks.”

“Okay but since we’re friends… did you ever get anywhere with Zoe?”

“Fuck off,” Evan groaned, almost smiling.

“Seriously! You’re my boy, and you’re cute when you’re not being all Anxiety Chic. Tell me you at least felt her up.”

Evan felt his face heating up. “Um. I guess.”

“How do you guess? Did you accidentally graze her boob reaching for the salt?”

Evan threw a pillow at her.


 

Father Mike and Connor were smoking cigarettes before mass while the choir warmed up inside.

Connor realized that was, you know, weird.

“You grandmother came in for confession the other day,” Father Mike said casually.

“Isn’t that supposed to be confidential?” Connor said, eyebrows up.

“Well, yes,” Father Mike said, looking a little embarrassed. It made his cheeks and forehead turn pink. “But I wanted to speak with you about something she said… I know it’s against the rules, but I… I’m concerned.”

“Okay?”

“Connor, she told me what happened with you and your sister.”

Connor almost dropped his cigarette. “What… what did she say?”

“I’d rather hear it from you,” Father Mike said, voice serious.

“I can’t.” Connor sucked in a deep drag on his cigarette.

“I won’t tell anyone. It might make you feel better, if you told someone.”

Connor seriously doubted that.

He didn’t want to think about it.

He really didn’t.

 

Zoe and Connor had called some kind of accidental truce after the accident. Something about the blood and glass had paused their usual fighting and caustic remarks.

Connor almost found himself thankful for the accident.

Zoe was still sad about Evan, so they didn’t talk about him. Instead, she made Connor quiz her for the end of the semester Civics exam. He grilled her with questions about the branches of government and Constitutional Amendments and it was almost nice.

She kept fucking up the 25th Amendment, confusing it with 24th and getting aggravated and swearing that 25 was the one about poll taxes.

“Zoe, come on, I’m not fucking with you. It’s right here on the study guide.”

“Don’t know why I even asked for your help with this,” She muttered, “What did you get in Civics? A C?”

It was a B minus, actually, as Connor told her.

“Look I need to get an A on this test or my GPA will be ruined -”

“Zo, I get it, just take a second -”

“You don’t get it! You don’t even care about me or what’s important to me! You don’t care about anything that isn’t Georgia or drugs! You almost got me killed -”

Connor reacted so fast, standing up so suddenly, that he toppled the kitchen chair. “Fuck you!” He said to Zoe, who screamed and took off running up the stairs.

Connor turned, resigned, to pick the chair.

As she reached the top of the steps Zoe said, “You’re just a fucking junkie and we both know that’s why you crashed the car -”

Connor froze.

Blinked twice.

And took off after her, sprinting up the steps, shouting his voice hoarse “BITCH” and “CUNT” and “SHUT YOUR FUCKING MOUTH” and when he got to the top of the steps he shoved her, hard, back into his bedroom door.

“Fuck you,” She said, trying to shove him back, screaming for their mom as he slammed her back against the door again angrily, telling her to shut up shut up shut up shut up before shoving her to the floor, she fell hard, yelping, and Connor was intending to lock himself in his bedroom and just ending this opening his veins -

“MOM!” Zoe screamed, kicking out and catching him in the shin as she scrambled to her feet. “MOM, CONNOR’S BEEN SHOOTING UP HE’S ALWAYS -”

Connor lunged at her, intended to shut her up even if that meant breaking her jaw, squeezing the life out of her just shutupshutupshutup -

It happened fast.

One second he was on top of Zoe, grabbing her around the neck and the next he was being grabbed by the collar and pushed violently away.

“What the hell is the matter with you?”

“I-”

“You almost just killed your sister do you have any idea what you are doing -?” His dad was there, was screaming at him, was shoving him back against the wall hard and Connor realized his mouth was bleeding and had his dad hit him? How’d he miss that?

Larry backed off, calling for his mom, and Connor, stupidly, looking at Zoe with her hate filled eyes went after her again, hearing himself say “I’LL KILL YOU YOU BITCH -”

And that time his dad shoved him so hard that Connor lost balance and caught himself, barely, after stumbling down a few stairs. His shoulder exploded in pain, and he yelped before he took off running out of the house to the sounds of his dad telling him not to come back.

He had to go to the hospital later. He'd broken his collar bone. Everyone just assumed it was the accident.

 

Connor bit his lip, looking at Father Mike. “It’s…. I really fucked up. Sorry. Messed up.”

Father Mike nodded.

“I just… sometimes I just get so fucking mad,” He said. “It’s no excuse but… I just can’t control it. It’s like everything else stops, and the anger takes over. I’m not just mad, I’m livid. I’m not just upset, I hate everything. You know?”

Father Mike nodded, and then offered Connor another cigarette, which he accepted gratefully.

“Isn’t this where you tell me to do like five hundred Hail Marys or whatever?”

Father Mike smiled a little. “I think you’re a good kid, Connor. I just think you’ve got nobody to talk to.”

“I’ve got people to talk to,” Connor said. “At least… At home I do.”

“Like Georgia?”

“She told you about Georgia?” Connor said, pissed.

Father Mike held up his hands defensively. “Don’t shoot the messenger.” He lit his own new cigarette. “Is she your girlfriend?”

Connor shook his head. “Just… we’re best friends.” He frowned, taking another drag. “I think she might, like, I dunno. She might like me like that but I… I dunno, I’ve never thought of her that way.”

Father Mike nodded, like he was following. “Are you gay, Connor?”

“What?” Connor yelped.

“I’m not asking to judge,” Father Mike said, smiling.

“I thought Catholics were all big homophobes,” He muttered. “My dad…”

“I think the rest of the Church and it’s followers ought to get with the times, personally.”

“Oh.”

“So your dad?”

“He’s just always been worried that I’d you know… turn out gay because. My mom was too nice to me when I was little or I don’t like sports or whatever.” He flexed his fingers, his nails still sporting chipped black polish. “I never really… It’s not something I’m even allowed to consider, you know? Because everyone would just be pissed at me. And I’m enough of a fuck up, I don’t need to be gay on top of it…”

Father Mike said, “It seems to me that there’s a lot you have to be angry about.”

“Yeah. I guess.”

“I’m glad you felt you could confide in me,” Father Mike said. He put his hand on Connor’s shoulder, letting it rest there.

“Yeah, I mean. I guess.”

Father Mike checked his watch. “Ah, duty calls. See you inside?”

“Yeah.”

He gave Connor’s shoulder a light squeeze, and then walked purposefully inside, dropping his cigarette as he went.


On Thursday when Connor got picked up from community clean up, he was surprised to see that his grandma wasn’t the one waiting for him in the church parking lot.

It was his Auntie Chris.

“Hey beanpole,” She said, rolling down her window. “Get in.”

“What are you doing here?” He asked, feeling a smile tug at his lips.

“Just popped in for a visit,” She said, though the big dark circles under her eyes seemed to contradict that. “Come on. Ma’s going to the casino with the girls trying to win big on the penny slots, so you and I are going to get some food.”

Connor ducked his head to climb into his aunt’s car, his feet crunching on some garbage scattered on the floor of the passenger side. As they pulled away, Connor saw that Father Mike was waving so Connor… waved back.

“You on Father Hottie buds then?” Chris asked.

Connor shot her a look.

“I still have eyes, hon, don’t be so closed minded.”

Connor shook his head. “He’s a priest!”

“Oh I’m sorry, so I’m just supposed to pretend he’s ugly then.”

“Whatever, perv.”

“So how’s staying with Marge?”

Connor shook his head. “I’m really bored. A lot.”

“I’d imagine. Growing up there was a lot of being super bored.”

“Yeah. Now that I’m out of my sling, she’s thinking that she can get me to start doing yard work for her.”

Chris snorted, “Oooh, sorry kiddo, that’s so not your aesthetic.”

“I know.”

They had dinner at a diner, since Auntie Chris insisted that Connor deserved a “properly greasy meal” after a day of hard labor cleaning up trash.

“So I was talking to your mom the other day…” Chris started, stalling by taking a sip of her Cherry Coke (regular, not diet, since she loudly announced that she didn’t believe in diet soda).

Connor said, “Yeah?” hating the way he got sort of pathetically hopeful at the idea of news about his mom. His grandma outright refused to talk about his mom with him. She also wouldn’t let Connor call, and every time he asked, she said that his mom would call him if she wanted to speak to him.

“She says Zoe’s doing better. Your dad’s cooled off now, I guess. She’s hoping you can come back before the summer’s over.”

Connor nodded.

“Beanpole, really, can I ask? What the fuck happened?”

Connor shook his head. “I fucked up.”

Chris nodded. “That party Zoe threw…”

“I know. It was stupid. I fucked up and I just… I keep fucking up.” He shook his head and then lied to his Auntie Chris. “I’m not doing that shit anymore. I swear.”

“Good,” She said, and she seemed to relax then.

After dinner, Auntie Chris took Connor on a miniature tour of her old stomping grounds, showing him all of the places in this place that used to be cool before she moved away. She pointed out the park where she “totally made out with Stacy Harrington, the homecoming queen, who refused to admit she was super gay” and the railroad tracks where she and her friends used to get drunk and play chicken. Connor liked listening to her stories. She seemed to have enjoyed high school a lot more than Connor was.

“And this is the Dairy Queen where me and my best friend Darryl used to smoke pot and get Dilly Bars.”

Connor laughed. “What happened to Darryl?”

“He’s married now, two kids. Doubt he’d even remember me. His wife and I did not get along. They met in college.”

Connor nodded.

His aunt told him to pop the glove compartment, and inside Connor found a pipe and a small baggie of weed.

“You’re joking.

“Weed’s never hurt anybody,” She said dismissively.

Connor laughed. “Dilly Bars suck though. I want a Blizzard.”

Auntie Chris cracked up.


Her dad didn’t show picking her up again that week.

A few days later she noticed their past due bill electric bill sitting on the counter. Frustrated, she rode her bike down to the electric company and paid it with her minimum wage paycheck.

The next day she found a vodka bottle stashed behind the toilet after she accidentally dropped a tampon.

She picked the bottle up.

Debated just dumping it out.

Instead, she took it and stashed it in the back of her closet. Her dad had a drinking problem, but Georgia had a drinking preference. She liked vodka and it was harder to get if her dad was sober.

That afternoon she went over to Evan’s and found him still in his pajamas at three in the afternoon. He looked like hell. His cast stuck out of the arm of his overly large t-shirt, making him look something like a second grader.

“I’m bored,” Georgia announced.

“I don’t want a handjob,” Evan said immediately.

“One of these days you’ll take me up on that,” She countered cheekily. “I thought I could use my employee discount and we could go see a movie or something.”

Evan looked down at his bare feet and then back up at her. “N-no thanks.”

“At the risk of sounding like your mom,” Georgia pressed. “When was the last time you even went outside?”

“Are you seriously going to, to lecture me on mental health stuff?”

“No,” Georgia said. “I just… you look like shit.”

“Thanks, but I-I… I know that.”

They just sat on the couch for a while.

Then, Evan said, “Can you really get high on painkillers?”

Georgia nodded. “I mean, yeah, you can.”

“Because I have some, and I’ve taken them, and they don’t, like, feel different.”

Georgia frowned. “I mean… you don’t feel sleepy or chilled out or anything?”

Evan shook his head.

“Well how much are you taking?”

He explained that for the first week after his surgery he took half of a 5mg/300mg dose of hydrocodone-acetaminophen every six hours.

“Well maybe if you popped a full one. Or snorted it. I just think you’re not taking enough to get you high.” Then she narrowed her eyes. “Are you saying you want to get high?”

“I thought you were bored,” Evan countered.

“I’d be less surprised if you asked for a handjob,” Georgia said honestly. “Why do you want to get high?”

“F-forget it, it was stupid, just -”

“I mean we can, I’m just surprised.”

Evan shrugged.

They went up to his room and he handed her the bottle of pills. She took a couple of them out and asked Evan if he was really serious, because really, this was something Connor would do. Not Evan. Evan got panicky when he drank. He never even tried weed.

But he told her he was sure so Georgia asked him how he wanted to take it and he said, “Whatever you normally do.”

So Georgia picked up the stapler sitting on Evan’s desk and crushed the two pills until they were powder and asked if he had a straw they could use.

He didn’t. So Georgia tightly rolled up a dollar. She cut the pills into two lines with her bus pass. She looked at Evan hard. “You’re sure.”

“Just. How do I do it?”

So she explained how to snort the pills. How he should use saline nose spray after to help it absorb (she carried some in her purse). How it would take a couple of minutes to feel anything.

“Okay.”

She did her line first.

Evan did his after. He went slower than she did, stopping and coughing and bitching that it hurt.

She passed him the nose spray and then the two of them just sat on his bed, not looking at each other.

“F-fuck,” Evan said softly like ten minutes later.

“Hm?” She was starting to feel it a bit now. She would need a bit more if she wanted to properly get high.

“I just… did drugs.”

“I mean, technically they’re your drugs.”

“But I like… Whatever. I don’t do this kind of thing.”

“You do so,” Georgia said, teasing. “You fall out of trees and got drunk at homecoming freshman year. You dumped an objectively hot girl and refuse a free handjob from me. You’re badass. Evan Hansen lives on the edge man.”

He giggled. “I just feel sort of… floaty.”

Georgia smiled at him. “You’re a dork.”

His face turned serious, and he flopped back on the mattress. “I didn’t… I totally bombed my park ranger interview.”

“How come?”

“Too nervous.” He frowned for a second. “I twitched and-and stuttered through the whole thing and sweated through my shirt.”

“So you decided to climb a tree,” Georgia said, realization dawning. “And you… fell.”

Evan sighed. “Don’t tell anybody.”

“Who am I going to tell?”

“Connor.”

“Connor might be a figment of our collective imagination man,” Georgia said. “Because I haven't seen him since the beginning of June. And I’m not sure he’s coming back.”

They were quiet for a while.

“I won’t tell him,” Georgia said finally. “Even if he comes back.”

“Thanks.”

A long pause later, and Evan said, “I guess I don’t get the appeal of handjobs.”

Georgia snorted. “Go on.”

“I just mean… I have hands. I can jerk off if I wanted to. If someone else is involved, like… if the only benefit is my wrist doesn't get tired, it’s not much of a benefit.”

“You are the weirdest boy I’ve ever met.”

“False.”

“You are.”

“Connor’s weirder. He’s been turning down your handjobs for years.”

Georgia stopped smiling. “Not funny.”

“It really doesn’t make sense honestly,” Evan went on. “You two have… whatever your thing is. Like. It’s weird.”

“It is! Thank you for saying that. I sometimes feel like I am just crazy.”

Another beat. “What’s your take on blowjobs then?”

Evan giggled. “See that makes more sense because like… I can’t, y’know, I can’t do that?”

“No DIY BJs.”

“Exactly.” He paused. “Did you know Jared tried to order a fleshlight on his mom’s amazon account?”

Georgia giggled. “He would.”

“Do you like him?”

“I don’t not like him.”

“Does Connor know? That you like Jared?”

Shhh… no more Connor talk. It’s bumming me out.”

Another moment.

“So you’re saying that an offer of a blowjob might be better received?”

Evan seemed to be considering this. “I guess.”

“Seriously?”

Evan shrugged. “My arm’s in a cast and I haven’t showered in a few days. If that’s something you’re into, why not?”

Georgia shrugged. “I’m bored.” She tied her hair up. “Just warn me before you come, because I really don’t like being surprised by that.”

“Okay.”


So, from the snatches of conversations that Connor had overheard from his grandma and Auntie Chris, Chris’ girlfriend had broken up with her and thrown her out. There was some drama involving medication that Chris was meant to be taking and another woman named Danielle.

So Chris was staying with his grandma for a bit. Apparently most of her job was done remotely anyways, so most days she would drop Connor off at the church and go work at a coffee shop for a while.

On one especially hot Tuesday about a week into Chris’s unexpected stay, a thunderstorm rolled in about noon and effectively ruined the day’s plan to finish a beach clean up they’d started a week before.

Most of the kids just went home once they returned to the church, but Connor had no car. Or phone. Using the phone in the parish office, Connor tried Chris. His tried his grandma. Neither of them answered.

“I can give you a lift back if you want,” Father Mike said after the other kids had all gone. He had been typing out an email on his laptop while sitting at the folding table they usually used to put out the weekly bulletin and programs for baptisms, first communions, and holidays. “I just have a quick meeting with the parish bulletin team, but I’ll be free after that.”

“Okay.”

“If you want, you can just chill out in the rectory…”

“Chill out?” Connor said, quirking a smile.

Father Mike laughed. “I know Margie doesn’t have the internet at home, so if you want my laptop password is on a post it in the drawer.” He held out his beat up old Macbook, which he had explained to Connor had been in his possession since he was in undergrad.

“Thanks.” Connor took the laptop and made his way to the rectory. He knew where Father Mike stayed and made his way to the office, going into the desk drawer and pulling out a blue post it note which had “Jesu5$aves!” written on it.

Connor rolled his eyes, before setting the laptop up on the desk and waiting for it to boot up. He didn’t even spend all that much time online when he was at home… or so he’d thought until he had spent the whole summer without internet access. He was missing out on memes and music and news and whatever.

Once the computer had booted, Connor selected the chrome icon and was embarrassed to find that the previous tabs automatically loaded. An outlook page with a lot of Father Mike’s emails. An amazon listing for an iPhone charger. Connor intended to click out of the whole window but the last one stopped him cold.

It was a PornHub tab.

Not that Connor was really on PornHub enough to immediately recognize the favicon, but.

Eyes darting quickly to the door, Connor clicked on the tab.

And naturally, it was porn. What else was he expecting honestly?

But he was a little bit surprised to see it was… gay porn.

The description said daddy/twink barebacking. One of the guys was clearly older while the other was young. Skinny. He looked like a kid.

Connor felt himself go hot in the face and he immediately slammed the laptop shut, his heart racing.

What the fuck.

What the fuck.

Were priests allowed to look at porn? Did Father Mike know this was still up? What the fuck? Maybe was it a virus or something?

Connor laughed sort of awkwardly to himself because obviously this was some mistake or something, he didn’t know, he didn’t know.

He pushed the laptop away and raked a hand through his hair and laughed again because like.

This was weird but it was kind of funny. Right?

Connor thought to himself: Maybe this was the sort of stuff that happened when you were friends with people other than Georgia who hated porn and also sort of wanted to sleep with him.

Connor thought: It was probably an honest mistake. Afterall, it was a private computer.

Connor thought: I should call Auntie Chris again.

But he didn’t.

He left the computer on the desk and just paced around the room. He picked up the phone and tried to call his Auntie Chris again.

She didn’t pick up.

Connor drummed his fingers on the desk.

He reopened the computer, closing out of the weird porn tab. He checked his email (he didn’t have any that weren’t from, like, facebook or whatever).

He logged into his facebook.

He didn’t have any messages or anything.

There was a picture on Georgia’s page, a selfie, of her wearing a bowtie. Connor didn’t know what the deal with that was. He clicked through her page a little more. A link or two to youtube videos… A couple of things where she tagged Evan.

Connor frowned. She was smiling in all of the selfies.

She didn’t miss him at all, he realized.

He’d pictured her as miserable as he was, but she didn’t miss him.

The whole thing left a bad taste in his mouth so he signed off of his facebook.

Just stared at a blank google page until Father Mike came in through the door, smiling. The smile faded quickly after he looked at Connor.

“Everything alright?” He asked. “Does your shoulder hurt?”

“Yes,” Connor lied, and Father Mike nodded to himself and went into a locked file cabinet and pulled out a bottle for pills. He shook two out into Connor’s hand - two - and Connor honestly wondered what the priest would do if Connor smashed them up and snorted them.

Instead he swallowed both of them dry and said, “Thanks.”

“Get ahold of your aunt or grandma?”

He shook his head.

“Shame. Well, I’d be happy to give you a ride.”

“Okay.”

“Just let me find my umbrella, it’s really coming down outside.”

Connor and Father Mike searched the rectory for the umbrella, which had apparently gone missing in action. They ended up retracing all of Father Mike’s steps, all the way back to the chapel, where they found it resting in the back, hung on a door handle.

Connor was feeling sort of pleasantly… blurry. He wasn’t high. Two vicodin didn’t get him high. But he wasn’t in withdrawal. He was pleasantly fuzzy around the edges.

Father Mike put a hand on Connor’s good shoulder and led him out of the chapel.

His brain kept catching on the still of the paused video, an older man fucking a teenager, daddy barebacks twink, and he couldn’t stop the way his brain caught or the way it made his face heat up.

Father Mike’s hand stayed on his shoulder all the way to the car. An older honda hybrid. He got inside and so did Connor and Connor found himself fumbling a little bit with the seatbelt, afraid to take his eyes off of Father Mike because he had seen the video on the laptop and…

“You alright?”
Connor nodded feeling a bit drowsy… “What did you give me?”

“Just some vicodin, why? Are you okay?”

Connor shook his head, trying to explain that he got high on opioids all of the time and that wasn’t what this was, but his mouth wasn’t really working properly and he blinked, confused, realizing that Father Mike’s hand was on his leg. Like. On his leg not his knee and he shook his head again, blinking slowly.

“Connor? Are you alright?”

“Yeah, I just… Just need to get back.”

The drive took forever.

The hand retreated but he could still feel it’s weight on his thigh.

When they pulled in front of his grandma’s house, Connor said goodbye quickly, waving, and hurried to open the door because he was sort of stupid with confusion and he just needed to… to go sleep this off or whatever he didn’t know.

It took him a moment of fumbling around with his keys to get his grandma’s front door open.

Georgia was smiling in all of the selfies she took and she probably didn’t miss him at all.

He blinked, stumbling inside when the door opened suddenly.

His Auntie Chris was standing there in a pair of flannel pajama pants and a big t-shirt that had a picture of a naked woman and a flower and said “Lilith Fair” in sloping script. Her short hair was standing up in back.

“I thought you were a burglar,” She said.

“I thought you were going to Starbucks to work,” Connor said, eyes narrowed.

“Bad day,” She said simply, shrugging. “Went back to bed. Who drove you home?”

“Father Mike,” Connor said. Something in his tone slipped, and Chris’s eyes narrowed immediately.

“You’re high.”

“I’m not,” He lied.

“You are,” She said, arms crossed. “What did you take?”

“Jesus, nothing , I got an aspirin from Father Mike because my fucking shoulder hurt. Lay off.”

“In what universe is taking any drugs from a stranger a good idea?”

“He’s not a stranger, he’s a priest! And it was a fucking aspirin! Chill out, Jesus.”

“Do your parents know about the drugs?” Chris asked then, frowning. “Because, call me crazy, but I’m starting to get this feeling you weren’t just experimenting at Zoe’s party, that your friend Georgia was just covering for you.”

Connor rolled his eyes. “You’re crazy.”

“Connor.”

“I’m serious. You’re, like, genuinely crazy. Everyone knows you’re nuts. Unstable. Isn’t that the whole reason you’re here? Your girlfriend dumped you because you’re a nutjob and you think you can lecture me.”

Chris wasn’t smiling. Her face was pale. Connor thought for the first time that she actually looked like a grown up. A messed up grown up, with frown lines and sad eyes, and he felt bad for saying that she was crazy even if it was true.

She turned and walked away without another word.

Connor went upstairs to his mom’s old bedroom and fell asleep trying to figure out why he still felt a hand on his leg.


 

Her phone rang about noon, waking Georgia who had worked until 11:30 the night before (and gotten home at almost 1:00am because her dad forgot to pick her up again).

She stared blankly at the number until recognition dawned and she cleared her throat and said, “Hello?”

“Georgia. Hi. It’s Heidi… Heidi Hansen?” She sounded nervous. Worried. Georgia was suddenly a lot more awake.

“Hi Heidi… what’s up?”

“I hate to sound so much like a helicopter parent,” She started. Georgia could hear that she was smoking on the other side of the line. “But… I don’t think Evan has been doing well lately, and I was wondering if you could just… pop in on him today?” She exhaled. “I know, that sounds so paranoid and like I need to cut the cord, I know, but I’m worried and -”

“Yeah yeah, don’t worry about it. I’ll check up on him.”

“Thank you.” She sounded so relieved. “I… I know how embarrassing and lame this is, I really do, so if… If…”

“I won’t tell him you sent me,” Georgia said plainly. “It’s cool. I’ll text you once I’m over there?”

“Call me if you need anything?”

“I will.”

“Thank you Georgia… I. I just didn’t know who else to call.”

That sort of hit Georgia hard in the ribs in a few ways.

  1. Who would people call for her, now that Connor was gone?
  2. Would her dad even bother?

She got out of bed. She pulled her hair into a knotty bun, and put on a bra, and pulled on some cut off jean shorts. Georgia walked past her dad, passed out and snoring on the sofa, apparently not going to work today. He stunk of booze.

She paused at the door to put some flip flops on and then crossed her lawn and onto the Hansen’s, which was looking pretty poorly kept these days. The grass was too high, the flower beds half dead, the vegetable patch neglected. Georgia realized, distantly, that mowing the lawn and other yard work was usually Evan’s job.

She walked to the door and rang the bell. Waited. Started knocking. Waited. Rang the bell again.

Nothing.

Georgia thought Heidi probably had nothing to be worried about… but suddenly she wondered if she did. If Evan suddenly got brave.

She didn’t want to think about that so she pounded harder on the door.

“What?!” Evan said crossly when he pulled the door open. His hair was wet, and his arm was still wrapped in cling wrap. The collar of his t-shirt was damp, like he’d only just pulled it over his head before he opened the door.

“Oh. You were showering?”

Evan narrowed his eyes. “What do you want?” He said, sounding tired.

“I’m bored.”

“I don’t want a handjob,” Evan said wearily, opening the door wider so she could duck inside.

“Wasn’t offering,” Georgia said, rolling her eyes. “What’s the occasion?” She asked, letting herself into the living room and sitting on the sofa.

Evan scowled. “Nothing, like…. Nothing special, it was just, just that it was hot yesterday and-and today and I -” He sighed, his shoulders dropping. “My mom’s talking about, um. Upping my therapy. Which she, you-you know. She can’t afford.”

Georgia nodded. “Sorry man.”

“I know… I know how bad this looks,” Evan said, sitting on the cough, “But I… I don’t really care? I don’t want more, more therapy, more things that I know are-are wrong with me.”

She didn’t exactly relate. She thought it might be sort of a relief if someone could crack open her brain and pinpoint the exact things that were fucked up about her. But she knew how it was, being known for only one thing. She knew.

“So this was a keep-mom-off-your-back shower?” Georgia confirmed.

“Yeah.”

“We should like… do a fake it til you make it check list or something,” She went on. “A keep-mom-from-freaking-out list.”

Evan looked utterly exhausted at the premise. “I want to go back to bed.”

“Oh.” She chewed on her thumbnail. “You okay, man?”

Evan laughed, but nothing was funny. “Are you joking?”

Georgia didn’t answer.

They put on bad daytime television and Georgia sort of puttered around, putting old dishes in the sink and taking out some trash while they caught a rerun of Ellen and The Doctors.

Heidi was a nice person, Georgia reasoned, and she didn’t deserve to worry like she was.

But Evan was her friend, and her loyalty had to go to him. He didn’t want his mom to know he wasn’t okay, so Georgia wouldn’t snitch. She’d help him cover it up, she’d tidy a little and make it look like Evan had maybe left the house by collecting the mail. She wouldn’t snitch on him, because friends didn’t do that to each other. Friends kept each other’s secrets, so Georgia kept this locked up. She made a secret out of Evan’s hollow eyes and morbid jokes and dabblings in recklessness because she wanted to make sure he stayed her friend.


 

Community Cleanup was cancelled for the rest of the week due to torrential rain. In the message Father Mike left on his grandma’s machine on Friday, he made a lame joke about having to put in a word with the big guy to see if we needed to build another ark. Connor found himself pulling a twisted smile and thinking, oddly enough, that Father Mike had missed the bit of that Bible story where God promised not to genocide everyone again.

Also Connor didn’t know why he knew that or where he learned it. His head was full of useless stuff.

Connor deleted the message from the machine, walking through the living room to tell his grandma that clean up was cancelled again for the day.

“Good, then you can help Chris out. Cleaning out the basement.”

Connor opened his mouth to protest, to claim his shoulder was too sore, but he caught the way Auntie Chris was frowning, watching him, and he knew if he tried to get out of it she would find something to say about it.

Cleaning out the basement was fucking horrible. The basement was humid and smelled of dampness and old cigarettes. Chris decided to blast an old Pearl Jam record and Connor could feel Eddie Vedder’s voice in his teeth.

He decided to ignore Chris the best he could, just gritting his teeth and picking up huge boxes to take upstairs and be either trashed or donated.

“You gotta talk to me sometime, beanpole,” Chris said, hauling a musty old cardboard box up the stairs.

Connor doubted that.

The clean up job in the basement continued into Saturday, with Connor refusing to speak with his Auntie Chris. It was stuffy and humid and hot and he desperately wanted to ditch his sweat soaked hoodie… but he knew his aunt was watching too closely. Never mind that he hadn’t actually shot up since coming to stay with his grandma, he had a feeling she’d zero in on that anyway.

At three o’clock his grandma called for them to halt their efforts. She had agreed to help out with a spaghetti dinner the church was hosting. They were expected at mass first.

Connor had never before been so fucking excited to go to church. Getting out of this stuffy house, away from Chris and her judgy eyes, maybe getting a chance to say hi to Father Mike.

Connor paused suddenly, realizing what he had thought.

What the fuck was wrong with him?

Seriously, what the fuck was actually fucking wrong with him?

Connor decided he needed to circumvent that temptation. Which meant he couldn’t go complaining to Father Mike about needing a pill…

He crushed up one of the painkillers he’d pinched from his grandma and snorted it.

There. No withdrawal. No need to be weird around Father Mike and ask for pills or like his mind wander to strange leg touching.

 

Connor’s job at the spaghetti dinner was to hand out pieces of garlic bread as folks when through the line. This was great because he wasn’t really paying attention enough to do any task that was more complicated.

His eyes were following Father Mike around the room in his black dress pants and his collared shirt with the white tab. How old was he? Connor found himself wondering.

He caught Auntie Chris looking at him over at the salad station, so Connor stared down at the piles of garlic bread and tried to pretend he wasn’t wondering how old a priest who supplied him with drugs and touched his leg once was.

God he was so clearly a freak.

He should probably just kill himself, seriously, he’d been basically just putting it off for a couple of years. Because of Georgia.

And now he was sitting there thinking sinful things about a fucking man of the fucking cloth and suicide was probably the least sinful option. Not that Connor really gave a shit about that kind of thing. But still. He was in a church basement.

“Could I get some garlic bread please?” It was one of the other community clean up kids, staring at him like he was a total creep.

“Yeah, I… shit, yeah.” He used his tongs to put a piece on a free space on her plate.

“God, you’re so weird,” She said, shaking her head.

Connor could not contradict her.

After they finished handing out food, Connor joined his Auntie Chris and grandma at a table. A moment later, Father Mike stopped by the table to say hello. He stopped right behind Connor’s chair, his hands resting lightly on Connor’s shoulders. He was praising how dedicated Connor had been to the community cleanup project.

“Well, it was one of the terms I set for him staying with me,” His grandmother said plainly. “Cynthia, bless her, just let him run wild back home. I thought he could use a bit more structure.”

Connor felt Father Mike’s hand give his shoulder the lightest of squeezes. His thumb pressed lightly into the back of of his neck.

He also felt his Auntie Chris’s eyes zeroing in on him. His face started to get hot, and he felt sort of… caught. Stupid. He stared at the spaghetti, his appetite vanishing.


 

Georgia’s dad remembered to pick her up on Saturday at seven.

He was drunk. He was driving his car and he was clearly drunk.

“Dad.”

“Hey Georgie,” He said with a lopsided smile. He leaned over to press a whiskery kiss on her cheek. “How was your day?”

It had been fine. Matinee shifts were usually pretty boring.

“You shouldn’t be driving.”

Her dad frowned. “Don’t start.”

Georgia crossed her arms. “At least you remembered to pick me up this time.”

Her dad pulled out of the parking lot. Georgia gripped the handle on the car’s ceiling and frowned as her dad narrowly avoided running a red light.

“I work really hard. I’m allowed to have a drink once in a while.”

“You’re a fucking alcoholic!” Georgia said. “You lectured me all last semester about hanging out with Connor, hanging out with an addict, and you’re no fucking better!”

Her dad abruptly slammed on the brakes, shifting the car into park too fast. “Get out.”

“What?” Georgia yelped.

Her dad reached over and pressed the button to release her seatbelt. “Get out of my fucking car!”

Georgia numbly did as she was told.

Her dad sped off with the passenger door still open.

She tried to catch her breath.

Fuck.

Fuck.

This was worse than being stranded outside the theatre. At least from there she could catch a bus….

Here was a deserted stretch of road. Ahead, there was a bridge. Connor told her once there used to be an apple orchard around there. Georgia sighed, staring off into the distance her dad’s car had already covered, miles of trees and road and rock with that eye sore of a water tower about halfway to the horizon.

Georgia willed herself not to get upset.

She took a couple of shuddery breaths.

She called Evan.

Georgia was shocked when the call picked up. “Hello?”

Heidi’s voice. Fuck.

“Oh… Um. Hi H-Heidi? It’s Georgia.”

“Oh hi honey. Evan just stepped out of the room, so I figured I’d pick up. How are you?”

“I’m alright,” Georgia said, chewing her lip. “I um. I actually just got off of work but… I need a ride…”

“And you want Evan to come pick you up?” She sounded thrilled, which Georgia found inappropriate. “Sure thing, let me just ask him -”

Georgia could hear the muffled voices. She pictured Heidi holding Evan’s offbrand phone to her chest. Whatever was happening was taking a bit.

Eventually the sound unmuffled and Georgia heard Evan’s voice say, “Hey.”

“Hey I’m sorry for calling I’m just -”

“Don’t… don’t worry about it,” Evan’s voice said. It sounded higher on the phone. “You’re-you’re at the movie theatre?”

“No, I… I’m on the county road out of town? Kinda over by the water tower?”

“Okay…” He took a sort of loud breath. “Just give me a-a couple of minutes?”

“Thank you,” Georgia said sincerely.

“Yeah.” The call ended.

Georgia stared at her phone. Wished that she could have called Connor to pick her up. Or Jared. Someone who wouldn’t treat it like such a task.

She wished her dad wasn’t an asshole…

She wondered if she really shouldn’t just call her mom. Blab the whole thing. Connor was gone… She kept hoping he was coming back, but she didn’t know. Things with her dad weren’t good.

Maybe she had to let go of this and call her mom.

About thirty minutes after the call with Evan ended and Georgia was pretty sure he wasn’t coming, Heidi Hansen’s practical car slowly rolled to a stop across the road.

Heidi wasn’t driving.

Evan was.

Georgia smiled gratefully and hurried across the road. Evan was gripping the steering wheel, head down, breathing labored.

“Thanks for-”

“Can you drive?” He wheezed.

“No,” Georgia said honestly. “I… I haven’t, I mean. I’ve driven like once before, but I didn’t know what I was doing.”

Evan shifted the car into park and put his head in his hands and Georgia could tell he was shaking.

“Okay… So. What can I do?”

Evan shook his head a couple of times, and then he was reaching across himself to open the door and spilling out of the car and Georgia heard him throwing up. She frowned hard, twisting her hair up behind her head. She went into her tote bag and pulled out a bottle of water she had swiped from work, and then punched the hazards before climbing out of the car.

“Hey.” She held out the water bottle.

“Thanks,” He said, not looking at her as he took it. He looked down at the cap for a long moment and said, “My, uh, my mouth is all gross.”

Georgia rolled her eyes. “Just keep it. It’s fine.”

“But I -”

“Evan I’ve literally sucked your dick, I really don’t care about your puke breath.”

He blinked. Unscrewed the cap with his fidgety fingers and took a long drink. “Thanks.”

“Sorry for making you come out here and get me,” She said softly.

Evan shook his head. “It’s just… It’s not, like, normal? To not - not be able to do stuff like this. To not be able to drive when you’re, you’re actually able to drive. And-and my mom, she t-totally saw I was freaking out. I don’t want her to see this! I don’t, I don’t want anyone to see this- this mess that I am.”

Georgia frowned.

She… didn’t relate. Before she met Connor,  before they were friends, all she did was flaunt her disaster, trying to get someone to fucking pay attention. When they didn’t, she just stewed quietly. She encouraged Connor to tuck his messiness away so they could stay together… and she helped Evan hide the worst parts from his mom. But that was… that was all for her. That was to keep them from leaving her.

God that must be hard. To hide that kind of thing all of the time. Hide it from yourself even. And not even do it well.

“Is that why… why you and Zoe broke up?”

Evan nodded miserably. “I just… I knew she’d start to notice sooner or l-later that I’m not… I’m not shy or adorkable, I’m a… a disaster. I would have ruined her fucking life.”

Georgia doubted that Zoe thought her life was still ruinable.

“Really… thanks for picking me up.” She tired to smile at him. “Big deal, you driving.”

“Shut up,” Evan said, sort of smiling. “Why are you out here, anyway?”

“My dad threw me out of the car because I called him a drunk,” She said, hating the way her voice caught, the tip of her nose tingled in warning.

“You… you should call your mom. You… you should get out of here before it, it gets bad again.”

“I know.”

They both knew that she wouldn’t though.

Evan drove home, eventually.  He went about ten under the speed limit and Georgia held her tongue and didn’t say that was as dangerous as speeding. They lied to his mom, saying they decided to stop for ice cream. She beamed at them and announced she was making tacos for dinner, which Georgia stayed over for. She ended up agreeing to stay the night.


 

Some of the community clean up kids were having an Uno tournament in the church basement after the spaghetti dinner ended, and Connor found himself being encouraged to attend by Father Mike, and therefore, his grandmother. Even though Connor sucked at Uno and his high was wearing off and he just wanted to go to sleep, he agreed. Father Mike promised to arrange him a ride back to his grandma’s.

He was out of tournament early on. He had a bad poker face and got stuck with a few +4 cards late in the third game.

Kids started to filter out after nine. Connor watched Meg whose last name he didn’t know win the whole thing. As they left, nobody offered Connor his promised ride.

And by 9:45, he was folding up a card table alone, with Father Mike.

“Did you have a nice time tonight?”

“Yeah,” Connor said vaguely, collecting the Uno cards, soft at the edges from repeated use, and putting them back into their proper box.

“I was pleased to see your grandmother and aunt tonight.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Would you like me to give you a ride home?”

“Sure.”

He followed Father Mike to his car. It was dark outside now, properly, but the clouds blocked out the stars and the moon. Connor used to have glow stars on his ceiling.

When the car stopped unexpectedly, Connor realize he had been anticipating this. The sudden swiftness of movement, the release of the seat belt, the heavy thrum of rain on the roof, the painful clack of teeth against his, the heavy warm weight on the back of his neck, on his arm, on his thigh traveling up up up up. The whispered assurances that Connor was understood and this was okay.

But it wasn’t.

“Stop. Please don’t… don’t touch me.”

It came out so polite and timid but Father Mike did draw his hands back. “Connor, I’m sorry, I… I misinterpreted, I -”

“You’re an adult,” Connor said, harshly. “I’m sixteen.” He shook his head. “I’m going to go.”

“You… you can’t tell anyone about this.”

Connor said nothing, slamming the door and stepping out into the rain. Who would even believe him?

He hurried away from the car, zipping his fly as he went, feeling shaky and wrong and angry and knowing he just… he just needed to go the fuck home. He had to go home.

 

But he wasn’t anywhere near home, Connor realized somewhat hopelessly. Or even near his grandma’s house.

He didn’t have a phone.

He had rushed away from the car so fast he didn’t even know really where he was.

Fuck.

Fuck.

Connor pressed his hands to his face, fingers pushing at his eyes until lights started to pop behind the blackness.

He took a breath.

Kept walking.

He figured, eventually he’d come across something, or someone, or… whatever.


 

Georgia snored.

Evan wished she’d stop.

His mom had made a joke about a slumber party and now she was passed out on an air mattress in his bedroom, wearing his old Central High Physical Education t-shirt and a pair of his mom’s sweatpants.

She lived next door, but she didn’t want to go home to get her own pajamas.

Evan couldn’t imagine feeling too scared to go home. His house was just about the only place Evan ever felt safe. It was home base, it was safe, it was sanctuary.

Today was the first time he had left the house in over a month. He usually had to go to at least therapy, but Dr. Sherman was out of town for two weeks, so he had cancelled Evan’s last session.

And he suspected his mom knew that too, no matter what lies he told her, she knew he wasn’t going out when she was at work.

Evan tried to close his eyes, block out Georgia’s snores, try to sleep but it just wasn’t happening.

He rolled out of bed.

Quietly walked to the door, then down the steps, into the kitchen.

He poured himself a glass of water from the tap and drank it down quickly.

He set the glass down and then his eyes caught on the bottle of prescription painkillers that Evan had moved into the kitchen so he wouldn’t be tempted to take anymore. Or snort anymore.

Or take them all.

Evan moved with purposefully, taking a step closer, picking up the bottle, holding it, preparing to pop it open when the light switched on suddenly. He started and so did his mom.

“Honey! Oh my god,” She laughed a little, her hand over her heart. “I didn’t know you were in here.”

“Came down to get some water,” He said, not looking at her.

“Is your arm hurting?” She asked, pointing to the pill bottle he was clutching.

“No,” Evan said shaking his head, trying to come up with a lie. “No, I just… I didn’t realize I’d left them down here.” He cleared his throat. “Do you think we should… get rid of them?”

His mom shrugged. “Maybe we ought to hang on to them. I know the doctors said your arm might be really sore after physical therapy once the cast comes off. Keep us from having to fill it again.”

“Right,” Evan said, nodding like it made sense. He set the bottle back down.

His mom made her way to the cabinet. She too filled up a glass of water from the tap and drained it. Then she gave Evan a smile. “I’m really proud of you for picking Georgia up today,” She said. “I know that… I know driving isn’t the easiest thing for you. But you did it!”

“It… I don’t get why you’re proud,” Evan mumbled. “N-normal kids are excited to get their license. I…”

“You did it anyway,” His mom said, wrapping her arm around him and giving him a squeeze. “It was hard and you did it anyway. You helped your friend.”

Only because you forced me to.

“I thought... I thought you’d be angry that Georgia and I were hanging out again.”

His mom squeezed his shoulder again. Then she let go. “I remember being sixteen. Kids fight and breakup and make up. It happens.”

Evan nodded.

“Speaking of breakups,” His mom started.

“Please don’t,” Evan said, hanging his head.

“I know that you don’t want to share the gory details with your old mom,” She said, frowning a little. “But it seems like you’ve been… really down since the two of you split up.”

That was an understatement.

But it wasn’t why.

In fact it was the other way around. He was was down so he broke up with Zoe. Because he couldn’t put her through that. Because he didn’t deserve her…

Because she couldn’t fix him.

Because, Evan realized, he couldn’t be fixed.

“I’m fine,” He reassured his mom. He could tell she didn’t buy it, but he had no energy to be more convincing. He kissed her cheek, went back upstairs, and listened to Georgia’s snores until he finally fell asleep.


 

The clock on the wall at this dive bar said it was just after midnight when Connor had stumbled inside. They didn’t bother to card him. His wallet had a ten dollar bill wedged inside, the one his dad had added when he had bought the wallet for Connor, saying it was bad luck to give an empty wallet as a gift. Connor had forgotten all about it until he went off to his grandma’s and found it during a fit of boredom.

He had a seat at the relatively empty bar and ordered a PBR with his ten dollar bill.

He knew he should ask to borrow a phone. Ask to call someone. Make up a lie about why he hadn’t gotten a ride home.

He knew this.

But he couldn’t make himself get up from the bar. Acknowledge what he was doing there.

Eventually some guy came over and offered to buy him another drink. Connor was a bit shocked, because honestly, he didn’t know what sort of place he was in until he caught sight of the rainbow flag hanging in a corner.

Connor thanked the guy but declined the beer.

He couldn’t. He wasn’t… he couldn’t.

Just for a second, Connor put his head down in his hands. He tried to straighten out his thoughts but found he couldn’t, he just couldn't.

“You alright kid?”

He looked up to see the same bartender looking at him, frowning.

“I… Do you have a phone I could use?”

The guy smiled. “Yeah, come on.” He showed Connor through a back room stocked with cases of beer and into an office which he unlocked. “Just don’t make any overseas calls without warning me, okay?”

Connor nodded. “Thank you.”

The bartender left.

Connor decided he would leave his remaining seven dollars as a tip.

He picked up the phone and even though it was late and dialed a number he had memorized since he was little. His dad was always a stickler. He didn’t care how many cell phones existed, Connor needed to know the house’s number in case of an emergency.

The phone rang three times before someone picked up. He heard a gruff voice, someone saying, “Hello?”

Connor’s voice died in his throat.

“Who the hell is calling my house after midnight?”

“Dad?”

It was Larry’s turn to go quiet. Then he sighed. “Connor. Do you have any idea what time it is?”

“I know… I. Shit. I’m sorry.” Something happened when those words came out. His voice cracked. It… broke. “I just. I’m so sorry.”

“Hey, hey,” His dad’s voice went sort of higher, the voice he broke out whenever Zoe got upset about something. “What’s going on?”

Everything, Connor thought. Nothing. “I really… I really screwed up,” he said. “I always - I always screw everything up and I’m sorry.”

“Did something happen?”

He couldn’t say. “I’m just really fucking sorry about everything, okay? What happened with Zoe… There’s no excuse for what I did and I just want to apologize to her and I-I know it’s the middle of the night and I’m messing this up too but… I’m so sorry. I’m sorry, okay, I’m really… Sorry. About the car -”

“Connor I don’t care about the car, ” his dad sounded so dismissive, so completely caught off guard. “I was worried about you , you and Zoe. I was scared because you could have been seriously hurt or killed, I don’t - I… It’s not about the car Connor.”

He took a ragged breath. He couldn’t… he couldn’t breathe or think straight. His face was slick and hot and he felt just so stupid, so small, and he just kept thinking, stupidly, that he missed his mom and he missed his dad and he missed his sister and he just wanted to go home.

“You want to come home?” His dad sounded surprised.

“I…” He swallowed, hard. “I know. I don’t have no right to ask, that I don’t deserve it… I know I really really screwed up but…I can be better. I'll be better, okay? I'll be better, just... please.”

His dad heaved a sigh. “Connor, of course you can come home.”

“I can?” He wasn’t expecting it. He didn’t deserve it.

“It sounds like you’ve really thought about what happened… and there’s going to be rules now, okay? None of the shit from last year. None of it, okay?”

“Okay.”

They were both quiet. Connor wiped his nose, then his eyes, trying to catch his breath.

“I’m glad you called, Connor.”

Connor said nothing.

“I’ll talk to your grandmother in the morning. Figure out when we can pick you up.”

“Okay.”

His dad sighed again. “You should get to bed. It’s late.”

“I know. Sorry for calling so late.”

“It’s alright,” His dad said. “Get some sleep. We’ll talk in the morning.”

“Okay.”

The called disconnected.

Connor sat there for a long time in the dim light of the office, wiping his face and trying to get a fucking grip. He still had to get back to his grandma’s house. He picked up the phone, thinking he’d call his Auntie Chris when the door swung open again.

“He’s right back here,” The bartender said, smiling. “I’ll give you two a minute.”

“Oh my god, thank you!”

Connor was very confused, to say the least. Especially when his aunt pulled him into a tight tight hug. “I thought that was you,” She said, squeezing him. “Mom called me after I left to get a drink saying she hadn’t heard from you. She tried calling Father Mike and he didn’t pick up. Where have you been?”

“Here,” Connor said. “I walked.”

“Why? Why on earth are you at this gay bar in the middle of nowhere?”

Connor shrugged. “I got lost.”

She hugged him again. “Well. You’re okay, that’s the important thing. Right?”

He nodded.

Because Chris was still his cool aunt, they stayed for another beer. She didn’t tell the bartender he was sixteen. She made fun of him for drinking a PBR.

“I think I’m going back home soon,” She said, peeling the label off of her beer bottle. “It’s time.”

“Why… What made you come here in the first place?”

She shook her head, frowning. “So… for years I’ve sort of known that Danielle, one of my friends… that she sort of had a thing for me right? And she’s nice and we get along well, but I just. I didn’t feel it with her. So when she asked me out a few years ago, I turned her down. I thought… well that I deserved someone who I was madly in love with, right?”
Connor nodded.

“Well… Apparently that was… Stupid.” She took a sip of her beer. “Because my girlfriend Clara was… well. I was madly in love with her.” She sighed. “But Clara loved. Drama, mostly. And drugs.” She took another sip. “We broke up a couple of times, off and on a lot. But we… I thought we finally had it together this time. She was clean. I was stable. We moved in together… and imploded.” She shook her head. “She kicked me out. She was cheating, I guess?”

Connor nodded.

Chris smiled miserably. “Look just… It’s idiotic but I came here because I needed to get out of that environment. And I needed to clear my head… because all I kept thinking was… What sort of an asshole am I, you know? I picked Clara over Danielle. Danielle who clearly loved me. Who I knew would do anything for me! I mean, she went to my apartment and packed up some stuff for me to bring here. Like… Aren’t I being some kind of a fucking idiot if someone who loves me is staring me right in the face and I ignore it?”

Connor fell suddenly hollow. “But… you don’t love her back.”

“Not… not as much as she loves me. Not always the way she wants me to,” She said. “But I can’t imagine life without her… so I guess I came here to decide if I should give it a try. You know? Maybe it could make me really happy.”

“And? What did you decide?”

“Jury’s still out,” Chris said, shrugging. “Never was good at making decisions, beanpole.”

Connor nodded. “I… asked my dad if I could come home.”

“Oh yeah?”

“He said… he said I could.”

“That’s great. Back to civilization!”

“Yeah.”


 

Georgia spent the first week of August sending Jared emails that read “ COME HOME ALREADY” in the subject line. She realized that now that she knew he was coming home soon, she could afford to let him know that a bit.

She also spent a lot of that time at work. And avoiding her dad. Mostly avoiding her dad. She spent a lot of time at the Hansens’.

More than once, Evan told her maybe she ought to call her mom.

More than once, Georgia thought he was probably right… but then didn’t follow through. She figured she would rather be miserable in the home she knew. Or something.

At least Jared would be back soon.

At least school would start soon.

At least she wouldn’t just be here all the time, smelling stale booze and worrying about the electric bill.

“COME HOME ALREADY” she emailed Jared.


 

Chris agreed that she would be the one to drive Connor back home. “No time like the present, eh?”

But then her brakes on her told VW Bug died so it took a few days before they were actually able to go. Connor helped his grandma paint the upstairs of her house and nobody asked why he didn’t want to attend community clean up his last few days in town.


 

Jared was back.

He texted Evan when he got back into town. Evan didn’t respond. His mom was working overtime so Evan spent the day sitting on the kitchen floor, rolling the half full bottle of hydrocodone back and forth. He ignored his phone.

He didn’t want his mom to find him.

But he didn’t think he had it in him to leave the house.

So instead he sat paralyzed on the kitchen floor, rolling the bottle of pills back and forth.

He used to be better at faking it. Georgia was right.


 

Jared dropped her off after they snuck into a movie and hooked up in his car. Jared wasn’t so bad with his hands. Georgia thought she should have let him start fingering her ages ago.

She tried not to think about how they’d been hooking up for like a year. It made her feel weird.

She strolled right in the front door after three in the morning, not giving a shit what her dad would have to say if he caught her. He was sleeping on the sofa in front of some infomercials. Georgia plugged in his phone and cranked up the volume so he would wake up at 7:00am on the dot.

Jared wanted to take her on a date. A proper date. Dinner and whatever.

Georgia realized that… she could do whatever she wanted.

She could go on dates with Jared Kleinman. Be friends with Evan Hansen. Turn up her alcoholic dad’s alarm so he’d be forced to go to work tomorrow. She could do whatever she wanted.

She was unstoppable.

And she resolved to call her mother when she woke up. She couldn't keep this up.


 

Connor’s first day back was weird.

His mom cried when she hugged him.

His dad asked how his shoulder felt. How he was healing.

Zoe ignored him, but Connor expected that. He knocked on her door to apologize and she didn’t answer so he just said it through the door. “I get it if you don’t want to talk. I just… I want you to know I’m really sorry. And you’re allowed to be mad. Okay?”

He didn’t get a response.

He spent a lot of time on the car ride back thinking about what his Auntie Chris said. About Danielle and all that. Wondering if it would just be easier to let someone like that love you.

In the eighth grade, Georgia Stern had lent Connor Murphy a copy of a book called The Perks of Being A Wallflower.

He had liked the book.

It had a line in it, one he still remembered, that said something like, “We accept the love we think we deserve.”

Connor realized, honestly, that he was a bit different than his Auntie Chris in that respect. She thought she deserved better, more from love.

He thought he deserved nothing.

Maybe that was why he’d held Georgia at an arm’s length for so long. Because he knew, even their weird twisted thing was too good for him.

He thought back to the car the rain that moment with Father Mike and realized that… maybe he did, in fact, deserve more than whatever the fuck that was.

So when his mom asked him on his second day back if he wanted to visit Georgia, Connor immediately agreed. He didn’t want to give his mom a chance to think twice about it.


 

Georgia got up about 2:30 when she heard a knock at the door.

She hurriedly threw on a bra and some cut off shorts to answer, assuming it was

Jehovah’s Witnesses or something. Nobody came around here. And Jared wasn’t coming over until like 6:30 or something.

She was kind of surprised that she was looking forward to the date. It might be like… nice. It might be fun. She liked him, what do you know?

It might be nice. Normal. The sort of thing kids her age did. Go on dates with normal, goofy Jewish boys and not obsess over people who didn’t want her.

Georgia yawned and went to the door.

Her heart leapt when Georgia pulled open the door to reveal Connor. He was wearing a gray hoodie and a Nirvana t-shirt and his jeans had a hole in the left knee. He looked taller. His hair was longer now, somewhere between his chin and shoulders. He had freckles on his nose. His arm wasn’t in a sling anymore.

She hadn’t known he was coming back.

“Hi,” She said. She wanted to punch him for leaving her.

“Hi,” Connor said. He was smiling weirdly, like someone had told him to smile. Like he’d forgotten. His eyes looked clearer than they had when he left. This wasn’t the boy in withdrawal who helped her find a vein in her arm.

“Do you… want to come in?” She said.

And Connor said, “I love you.”

She blinked. Confused. Lost. “You love me?” She spat back, laughing.

“I love you,” He repeated, stepping forward, closing the gap he always left between them, leaning down and kissing her.

They had kissed before.

A couple of times.

But Connor had never kissed her.

And she dissolved.


 

Connor didn’t know how to do this. He didn’t know how to do the things that Georgia wanted. He knew that about himself.

So he let her take the lead.

She took him to her bedroom. Connor had been there before but this was different. And it wasn’t just that she had a TV in her room now or that she had her curtains open for a change. This was a different situation all together. He had laid in this bed before, but this time it meant something new. It meant something.

They made out for literal hours. Until his face sort of started to hurt from rubbing against hers.

Georgia was soft in all of the plays he was bony. She asked him to touch her everywhere so he did that, exactly. Eyelids and nose and ears and neck and arms with all of their scars, he touched and kissed all the way down to her toes and back. She was breathless and blushing and she loved him.

The important thing was that she loved him.

He was lovable if Georgia loved him. He could be normal this way.


She had always pictured this a little differently. She couldn’t help it, she was human and she loved him and obsessed over him, she had pictured it.

He was rarely this cautious and gentle in her memory.

He was also never this shy.

Georgia supposed it was always different for a virgin.

But this was Connor and she was Georgia and she wanted to untangle his shyness. He crossed his arms immediately when his shirt came off.

“What is it?”

He shook his head. “Nothing, nothing.”

He kissed her like he might never kiss another person again.

His hip bones stuck out. She kissed them and Connor shivered.

Honestly, Georgia was shocked at how eagerly Connor agreed to have sex with her. “I love you so much,” he had said nodding and kissing her and.

Honestly she expected it to be short. She expected him to finish fast and she expected to show him how to get her off.

Georgia didn’t expect marathon sex. She didn’t expect that they’d have to stop for lube a second time. She didn’t expect him to ask to switch positions.

When she pictured this in her head it went to differently.

“Did you jerk off right before you came over?” Georgia asked him breathlessly after she had been riding him and touching herself for a good ten minutes and had already managed to have an orgasm.

“N-no,” he said, his face twisting in concentration and Georgia climbed off of him, frowning. He sat just looking at her but not really looking, not really seeing.

“What’s wrong? What’s going on? Am I doing something that’s… not working for you?”

He shook his head. “I just… Something’s wrong with me…” He took her hand. “I… I don’t… It’s nothing to do with you, it’s me, I-”

Georgia pulled her hand away, fast. “What do you mean?”

“I…” He looked at her, eyes pitiful and sad and she hated him. “I don’t think I can do this.”

Georgia thought she might have literally heard her heart breaking. “What?” She whispered. “But… but you said you love me…”

“I did. I do. I love you. I love you so much I hate you,” Connor said, taking her hand again, wearing his earnest boy face and his sad eyes. “I… I screwed up. I am screwed up. I love you so much… but I don’t think I can love you like this. I’m just… broken or something.”

“No,” Georgia whispered. “No, no, you don’t… you don’t get to do this. You don’t get to do this to me.”

“I am so sorry,” He said. “I really fucked up, and I am so sorry.”

“Fuck you.”

“Georgia -”

“Don’t you dare!” She spat, springing to her feet, desperate to find something to hide her nakedness. She pulled on her t-shirt, her underwear. “You don’t get to waltz back in after months, tell me you love me, and then do this. I won’t accept it.”

“I fucked up and I am so… I.”

“If you love me, why can’t you fuck me?” She said, voice quiet.

He didn’t respond.

“If you love me why can’t you fuck me?” Georgia repeated, louder, pushing his shoulder. “I should fucking mean something to you,” She went on, grabbing his wrist. On the inside of it, her G.S. tattoo was fading to a greenish gray. She pressed it hard. “Why can’t you just do this for me?”

“I wanted to… believe me, Georgia, you mean everything, I -”

“Don’t you fucking apologize to me.”

“What would you have me do instead?” He said, his eyes glassy. “I… tried, Georgia, I really… I am sorry.”

“At least Jared’s always up for it,” She said, shrugging like it meant nothing instead it meaning everything. Connor’s face paled.

Considerably.

“You slept with Jared?” He was on his feet now, in his boxers now.

“Currently sleeping with him,” She went on.

Connor shook his head, angry. “That doesn’t fix this!”

“Nothing can fix this!” Georgia said, angry tears springing now. “You went and ruined it.”

“I didn’t mean to,” He said, yanking his t-shirt over his head. He pulled the hoodie on immediately, hiding his scars, his tattoo. His face was red his eyes and nose were red and Georgia didn’t want him crying she didn’t want him like this at all.

There was a knock on the door.

There was a knock on the door.

Shit.

Fuck.

Jared. Jared was coming over, Jared was coming to take her on a date and she had slept with Connor and it was bad, really bad, and Jared wanted to take her to dinner and she had forgot.

Chapter Text

Fall Semester, Junior Year


 

 

Connor had rushed away from Georgia’s house his blood pounding in his ears static crackling across his body his wasn’t happening this wasn’t real.

He fucked it up he fucked it up he fucked it up.

She was fucking sleeping with Jared.

She hadn’t missed him. Not even for a minute. She hadn’t missed him she was fucking Jared he fucked up he fucked up he fucked up.

It hadn’t worked. It hadn’t worked it hadn’t worked fuck fuck fuck fuck.

He kicked a fence as hard as he could, again and again and again.

Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.

“C-could you not to that?”

Connor whipped around at the sound. His foot throbbed.

Evan was sitting on his front step, wearing pajamas, his hair longer than Connor had seen it last, looking pale and strange, squinting a little in the light of early evening. “That’s… my fence,” He added lamely, crossing his arms awkwardly. Connor noticed he had a cast on his arm, white and unsigned and clunky and foreign. A broken arm.

“Sorry,” Connor muttered insincerely. He shoved his hands into his pockets, thinking he’d have to go find something else to punch because he was going to wreck his car if he tried to drive it the way his hands were shaking.

Evan just looked at him. He looked like shit. Connor told him so. “You look like shit.”

Evan shrugged, like he knew this already.

“What happened to your arm?”

Evan looked briefly down at his cast, his fingers briefly touching the edge where the fluffier gauze stuck out a little. “I fell out of a tree.”

Connor laughed, kind of. “That’s the saddest fucking thing I’ve ever heard.”

Evan shrugged again, looking down. They were awkwardly silent. Connor recalled how they hadn’t spoken in almost a year. He should leave. He knew he should leave.

“How was being at your grandma’s?” Evan said, not looking at Connor.

“How do you know about that?” Connor genuinely thought nobody had.

“Georgia told me,” Evan said, still not looking at him.

“Of course she did,” Connor muttered, the anger flaring back up inside him. His foot throbbed. He wanted to punch something. “Of course.”

Evan peered down at his bare toes.

“Did you know she’s fucking Jared Kleinman?” Connor spat because Evan hung out with that asshole, Evan probably laughed all about it with him.

Evan shrugged. “I dunno, I mean, I know that they’ve been…sometimes. I... It’s not my business.”

“So, what, are you sleeping with her too then?”

E van looked up, shock coloring his face, sputtering something about no, not really, maybe, it was just the once and they were high and….

None of this was computing on Connor’s brain.

“You fucking slept with her?” he shouted, hand grabbed at the loose fabric of Evan’s t-shirt and pulling him up until they were the same height eye to eye and Evan was shoving back weakly with his unbroken arm, mumbling and struggling and saying “let go of me.”

Connor punched him.

He didn’t try to fight the impulse. He punched Evan because he could because Evan was smaller than he was and because Evan had slept with fucking Georgia just like everyone else everyone else could sleep with her apparently only he couldn’t finish the job, because he could actually punch Evan without eternal damnation or worse. He punched Evan because he should have punched someone before now.  

Evan staggered but stayed on his feet. “What the hell Connor?” he shouted, his voice hoarse, shoving him back hard with his uninjured arm.

Connor had no answer that would satisfy him.

His fist hurt.

Evan shoved him hard again, one handed, enough to make Connor stumble back on his aching toes. “She’s her, her own p-person, you can’t just punch someone just-just-just because she slept with them. That’s-that’s-that’s so fuc-fucking stupid!”

Connor shoved him back by the shoulders, hard, hard enough that his bad shoulder protested the sudden movement. Evan did go down that time, yelping as his broken arm caught some of the fall. He looked up angrily at Connor from the sidewalk, eyes blazing, and spat, “This is exactly why we’re not friends anymore.”

That… deflated him.

Connor felt immediately ashamed. All of the anger faded into a singular feeling of having massively fucked up. Shit.  Fuck, fuck. “Fuck,” He said out loud. “Fuck I’m… sorry. That was not cool, I’m an asshole, fuck.”

“No kidding,” Evan mumbled from the ground.

“I...Shit.” Connor offered him a hand up, and Evan took it warily. “Um. Fuck. Is your arm okay?”

He shrugged. “I mean, at l-least it’s already in a cast.” He was frowning but he wasn’t telling Connor to go away and Connor really didn’t get why. He probably should just go away. He should just leave, but something about Evan’s stupid frown made him pause.

“I fucked up,” Connor said. “Sorry.”

Evan nodded. He retook his seat on the steps. “For what it’s… what it’s worth, it uh. It was… it was just. Something dumb. St-stupid. We got high and it was stupid.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Connor said honestly. “It’s not… She can do whatever she wants.” And he couldn’t. Apparently, his wants didn’t matter.

His thoughts halted for a moment.

“You got high with Georgia?”

Evan rolled his eyes.

“I just… No offense but we got you drunk freshman year…”

Evan’s face went dark with a blush. “I mean. I mean I know.” He shook his head, embarrassed, though Connor wasn’t sure what about. “I got all these painkillers when I… when I broke my arm, and, uh, well, uh. We took some one day.”

Connor nodded.

“I kinda…. I mean. I sort of get it,” Evan said after a second. “Why you get uh. Why you get high like-like that.”

Connor said nothing. He should leave, he should walk away. He didn’t want to be talking about doing drugs with Evan. Look at what doing drugs with Georgia had done for him. Connor should walk away. He should leave.

He didn’t.

“Was your summer… was it okay?” Evan said after a minute or ten or none at all passed. “At your grandma’s?”

Connor snorted. “I was sure the rumor mill would have said I was in prison.”

Evan almost laughed. “I-I mean, someone said you were in juvy for, um, uh, attempted vehicular manslaughter? And J-Jared tried to tell some people you were dead, but, like, uh, everyone saw you. For finals?  Georgia kn-knew though.”

“How did she know?” Connor asked. Because it wasn’t like he had told her. It wasn’t like he would have when he left.

“Zoe told her.”

They went dead silent.

Connor had… well he had sort of forgotten all about Zoe and Evan. Which was fucked up since them breaking up was the whole reason she had been in his car when he crashed it. But Connor had sort of… well he’d forgotten that detail. Misplaced it. Left it somewhere and happened back upon it now while he was searching for something else.

He wondered if maybe he should punch Evan a second time.

It wasn’t like Evan seemed to care about the first one though, so it probably would be a mostly empty gesture.

“Can’t believe you broke up with my sister, man.” He reached into his hoodie pocket and produced a pack of cigarettes that he’d pinched from the rectory.

Evan shrugged. “She’s… she’s too good for me.”

“Yeah no shit,” Connor said, lighting up.

Evan’s eyes went darker but he nodded.

“She’s just,” Connor tried to explain, because he hadn’t said that intentionally to be an asshole. It just slipped out. “Zoe’s a good person,” He said at last. Exhaling. Because she was. She hated him, which basically proved it for Connor. She didn’t… she deserved better than all of the shit she regularly was stuck dealing with.

“Yeah,” Evan said, nodding. “She is.” He looked like maybe he wanted to say more but he didn’t go on. Just kept it there.

Connor could respect that.

“So other than fucking up your arm… what did you do this summer?” He tried.

Evan frowned at him. “Nothing, really.”

Connor sort of envied him for that. He would have much rather done nothing this summer. He had a seat beside Evan on the steps, tossing his smoked cigarette to the sidewalk. Evan made a noise like he might protest the littering but he didn’t.

“What are you even doing here?” Evan said after a minute.

“I… don’t know,” Connor said. He couldn’t just explain that he had fucked everything up with Georgia but was scared to go home because if he went home he would have to be by himself at home and that felt like a recipe for disaster.

“Were you at Georgia’s?” Evan pressed. “Because I… I thought I heard Jared’s, uh, his car pull up and -”

Honest to god Connor couldn’t have explained what the fuck motivated him to do what he did. He felt like he didn’t have a reason, it was some combination of SHUT UP and STOP and a lot of questions he wasn’t sure he was actually prepared to deal with at that moment but he leaned over and kissed Evan.

It wasn’t spectacular. He had moved so fast that their mouths weren’t exactly aligned, and his legs ached from the sudden stretch.

Evan pushed him away. “Wha-?” He said, shaking his head.

Connor felt sort of numb with panic.

“What the fuck Connor?”

“Sorry, sorry, sorry I -”

Evan’s face twisted up with consideration and he grabbed Connor by the collar and kissed him back.

Connor hadn’t expected that, honestly.

It wasn’t like he had never kissed anyone before. Frankly he had done a lot of kissing in the last few hours. But.

This was different. This wasn’t Georgia with her weird fruity chapstick or his teeth clacking against Father Mike’s.

Evan had kissed his sister, Connor realized, which might be why he seemed to know what he was doing, his lips moving against Connor’s.

How fucking damaged was he, thinking about Zoe when he was kissing someone? That was fucked up, that was Game of Thrones fucked up.

Evan pulled away and they were both sort of breathless.

Connor had about a million things he thought he should say, like that was weird or that he was sorry but then Evan was kissing him again, really kissing him, like maybe he had wanted to kiss Connor which like.

Connor knew Evan had sort of nursed a small crush on him but.

The idea that he was kissable by someone like Evan was laughable really.

“Uh,” Evan said after a while. “My uh. My mom might be home soon?”

Connor nodded. Clearly it was time to go. Clearly he should leave.

“We could go up to my room?” Evan said instead, sort of playfully tugging at the free end of Connor’s belt which was bolder and more flirty than Connor had ever imagined Evan Hansen ever being but then Connor felt like his heart might leap out of his chest, burst through like that alien in that old movie Alien. Suddenly everything seemed to tilt, sort of, like he was slipping off of this plane of existence and he heard this awful sort of gasping sound like a very large fish which had been yanked out of the water.

“Oh, uh, uh, sh-shit,” Evan’s voice said distantly. His clammy hand gripped Connor’s tightly, and he short of towed Connor into the Hansen family’s living room and Connor distantly was aware he was being nudged toward a sofa. His knees bent mechanically and he sat and what was wrong with him what was wrong with him what was wrong with him?

He couldn’t do this was Georgia and now he couldn’t do this with Evan was he fucking broken, what was the matter with him?

“Hey,” Evan was back, his face sort of swimming in front of Connor’s. “I probably… I mean I dunno… I. Shit. Are you on any uh. Any drugs right now?”

Connor blinked trying trying to remember. He… yeah. He was. He took some of the pills from his Grandma’s house, the ones he had swiped, they were strong and extended release so it wasn’t really all that much? He nodded, swallowing, saying, yes, but not for a while, but he was still gasping so it took a long time to get it out.

“Screw it,” Evan said, placing a Xanax in Connor’s hand. “Take this, okay, I’m… you’re gonna pass out.”

Connor swallowed obediently. “Sorry,” he mumbled because he wanted to explain but he didn’t know what he was even going to say if he did. “It’s not… you didn’t, it’s, I’m-I’m…” He’d literally just had sex with fucking Georgia without freaking out and now he was freaked out at Evan touching his belt what was his fucking damage?

Eventually his breathing evened out but the drugs had sort of left him beyond fuzzy. Shit shit shit how was he going to drive like this? Shit, shit...shit.


 

Well Evan hadn’t really expected to go the way it had, honestly.

Connor had straight up passed out on the sofa not long after swallowing the pill, just asleep, and Evan was sort of pacing in front of it, waiting for his mom to get home so she could tell him what to do with the boy who just kissed him who was unconscious on the sofa.

He had checked to be sure Connor was still breathing a few times, the memory of the time in the Murphys’ bathroom still burned into his brain, having to breathe for Connor.

He didn’t know why he suggested going up to his room. That was so so stupid, but he just, he didn’t know, it just. They’d been kissing and…

Evan chewed at his fingernails until his mom’s car pulled into the driveway. He couldn’t help the sudden rush of relief he felt. His mom would know what to do. She would know and he could just… he didn’t have to handle this.

She walked in, her hair in a messy knot, frowning down at her phone. She looked up, her face betraying obvious surprise at Evan pacing and Connor asleep on the sofa.

“Hi honey,” She said, putting her phone into the pocket of her scrubs. “What’s…?”

He spilled it out, the kissing, Connor’s panic, how Evan had given him a Xanax and he’d fallen asleep and he didn’t know what he was supposed to do.

“Slow down sweetheart,” She said, reaching out, touching his shoulder. “It’s okay.” She cast a worried look over toward Connor, her eyes taking in what Evan was only just now noticing. Connor’s hair was dirty and messy. There were huge bags under his eyes. A hickey on his neck, under his Adam’s Apple, that Evan knew he hadn’t give him.

“Alright,” His mom said, nodding, like this was just another day, a typical day, nothing out of the ordinary. “Well. I think maybe I’ll just give the Murphys a call. Let them know Connor is here…”

Evan chewed his lip, nodding sort of frantic, his relief starting to disappear.

“Honey, it’s…” She have his shoulder a squeeze, and he tensed, and she let go. “It’s going to be alright. I… I’m glad to see you’re, uh. Talking to people.”

Evan felt his face flush with shame. That of course she would be proud of him for kissing someone and disregard that he had dated Connor’s sister and that Evan and Connor hadn’t talked for most of last year.

His mom made the call in the kitchen. Evan sat at the edge of the couch, straining his ears to hear the call while keeping his eyes training on the rise and fall of Connor’s chest, watching, waiting anxiously for the next breath to come.

Stupid stupid stupid. Kissing him back. Asking him to go upstairs. Stupid, stupid.

“Yeah. Are you sure?” He heard his mom say. “Of course. Sure, yeah. Yes, his car should be fine overnight… Yes. Sure. Okay. We’ll see you soon.”

His mom walked back into the living room, her eyebrows pushed together forming the line in her forehead that she hated. “Uh. Connor’s mom is coming to get him. He’ll come back for his car tomorrow.”

Evan nodded. “I’m sorry.”

She shook her head, indicating that Evan ought to be quieter. Like Connor was any old sleeping guest. “You don’t have to apologize,” She said. “Though… Evan?”

He looked at her, dread sinking into his bones, sucking the oxygen out of the air.

“Maybe, if this happens again… Don’t give away your medication, okay?”

He bowed his head, nodding. That was stupid of him to do, he knew it, he was so fucking stupid and -

“Sweetheart, I’m not saying that you did anything wrong. I just worry because… We don’t know if he’s taken anything else, if he has an allergy, you know?” She sat on the arm of the sofa, wrapping an arm around his shoulders. “You handled the situation the best that you could and that was… so brave. I’m really proud of you.” She paused, her grip on his shoulder tightening, pulling him to her for a sideways hug. “And thank you for telling me what happened. You have no idea… Having a teenager is kind of scary,” She said with this little half laugh. “When I was your age, I hid everything from my parents.”

Evan didn’t say that it was probably because she had actual friends at sixteen. That maybe if he was less of a loser he would actually have things worth hiding. He thought it was kinder not to say. Kinder if he didn’t point out all of the secrets hiding in plain sight, which he didn’t tell her, hiding behind badly constructed lies and missed phone calls.

“I just… I know how hard it is to be honest with parents about things sometimes,” His mom went on. “But I really, really appreciate that you told me this. That you tell me this stuff, like with Georgia and her dad? You’re a good friend, Evan. I’m so proud of you for looking out for them and asking for my help if you need it.”

He nodded because what could he say to her?

Connor’s chest rose and fell.

“Should we… should we try to wake him?” Evan asked, though some strange part of him sort of hoped that maybe if he didn’t wake up Mrs. Murphy would let him stay here and then they could talk….

“Probably a good idea,” His mom said back to him. She squeezed Evan’s shoulder once more before rising to her feet and circling around the sofa, gently shaking Connor’s shoulder. His chest rose and fell, and before long his eyes snapped open.

“What?” He said, jerking away from his mom’s arm.

She didn’t seem offended. “Hi Connor.”

His eyes darted around the room, stopping to catch Evan’s gaze for a second. Connor blinked a couple of times, then cleared his throat. “Hi Mrs. Hansen… I’m so sorry for falling asleep here that is just so inappropriate and rude and -”

“Connor,” She said with this steady smile. “Don’t worry about it. Your mom is on her way to get you. You’ll come back to get your car tomorrow. Okay?”
His face seemed to indicate that it wasn’t all that okay but he just nodded.

“I’m just… I’ll be right back,” Evan’s mom announced and Evan realized, somewhat mortified, that she was giving him and Connor a moment alone. The thought sort of made him want to sink into the floor.

Connor didn’t say anything. Evan felt like… if it were him, if that had happened to him, he would be pretty embarrassed.

“Sorry,” Evan said, “She just. I mean. If it were me she would… I’m sorry.”

Connor nodded. He was really pale. Evan wondered if maybe he had gotten Connor into trouble.

“I’m so sorry,” Evan said again.

Connor shook his head, mumbled “don’t worry about it,” but kept his head down. Evan had definitely fucked this up he didn’t even know why he suddenly even cared they weren’t friends they weren’t speaking a couple of kisses really shouldn’t matter this much, like, a blow job from Georgia hadn’t mattered.

Evan tentatively reached his hand out and Connor grabbed it so fiercely at first Evan thought maybe he was hoping to break one of the fingers sticking out from his cast.

“I’m sorry,” Connor mumbled. “Don’t be… I fucked up.”

Headlights flashed in the driveway. Evan went to moved his fingers out of Connor’s grasp but he held on tight tight tight, as if he didn’t notice the headlights and the doorbell ringing and Evan’s mom sweeping into the room to answer.

Mrs. Murphy’s face looked pale. And angry. Really pissed off.

On her heels was Zoe, her face getting blotchy and red and her lip bitten hard and that was when realized he was still holding Connor’s hand.

He pulled his away quickly, but Zoe had noticed, Zoe had seen. Fuck.

“Let’s go, Connor,” His mom barked and Connor got to his feet, shoulders hunched head down, and followed his mom and sister out of the house.

Evan’s mom sighed, looking at him. “That… that family.”

“I know.”

She sat beside him, pulling Evan into a tight hug. “I love you so much. If you… if you ever want to talk.. About anything, Evan. I’m serious. Boys, girls, sex, drugs, rock and roll. How you’re feeling? I swear to you sweetheart, nothing is more important to me than you.”

He felt like he had swallowed an entire pit’s worth of vipers as he nodded, saying he would tell her if there was anything wrong, the lies falling wooden and awkward from his lips but most of the time he just talked like that so his mom didn’t notice.

He wondered, climbing the stairs, the rattle of his Xanax bottle in the pocket of his three day old pajama pants beating against his thigh, how much longer he could let his mom put up with him. How long until she cracked? How long until he broke her when she saw how wasted her efforts at caring were?


The ride back to his parents’ house was painfully quiet. Zoe sat up front with their mom, arms crossed tightly over her chest. Connor’s head was swimming and he tried not to think too hard about today, about every stupid thing he had done because it made him feel slightly sea sick.

“Upstairs, Connor,” His mom barked when they pulled into the garage.

He swallowed hard but obeyed. Zoe was hot on heels as he climbed the stairs, wanting to just throw himself into bed, wanting to just die on the spot, but she followed Connor right into his room, shutting the door quietly behind her.

She stared at him. Not angry. Disgusted. Connor felt himself curl inward defensively, like she might try to punch him or something.

“He’s my ex boyfriend, Connor,” She said, shaking her head. “Just… goddamn it, haven’t you done enough?” Zoe said it with such a sense of defeat. “I get that you hate me but… can’t you just stop? Please?”

He tried to say that he didn’t hate her but his throat seemed to be paralyzed.

“I wish you hadn’t come back,” She said, her voice brittle and quiet. Connor wished she would yell. They were better at yelling. They could yell and get over it. This was worse, this was so much worse.

Zoe left without saying anything else. Connor sat there on his bed, waiting. Waiting for his dad’s rage, his mom’s crushing disappointment, for the pronouncement that he was going to off to military school or his grandma’s again and…

His stomach dropped.

He couldn’t go back there.

Connor realized that he was… scared. He was scared. He was scared and he couldn’t go back there because if he did then he would have to see Father Mike again and explain himself and he could not do that.

The punishment wasn’t handed down that night, though Connor tried to stay awake in case it was coming. He waited and waited but it didn’t come.

The next morning, early, his dad roughly shook his bad shoulder, causing Connor to wake up with a yelp.

His dad frowned. “That’s still bothering you? Haven’t you been doing your physical therapy?”

Connor nodded but it was mostly bullshit. Why bother with physical therapy when he could just not feel it?

“Come on,” his dad said, shaking his head. “We need to go get your car.”

Connor nodded. His dad granted him a few minutes to pee and brush his teeth, and then he handed Connor his keys. “You’re going to drive straight back here and then I’ll be taking your keys.”

Connor stared but didn’t object.

“Jesus Christ Connor, you didn’t even make it a week without blowing your curfew and needing to get picked up because you were looped on something or another,” Larry went on. “You know why you’ve lost this privilege.”

Connor did and he didn’t argue because if he argued it was a one way ticket back to his grandmother’s and he couldn’t do that.

His dad’s jaw shifted, side to side. He had been expecting a fight, an argument. Connor couldn’t give him one.

“Well… come on then.”

He followed his dad out to the car. Sat quietly, eyes forward. His dad listened to talk radio. Weekend edition of NPR, someone wheezing about the Dow Jones while his dad made a noise of disagreement.

When they arrived outside of the Hansens’, his dad frowned at Connor. Connor waited, braced for impact.

“Straight home,” his dad said. Connor nodded. “I’ll be right behind you.”

Shame that, Connor thought, he had hoped to sneak a cigarette. Though his stomach was upset so it probably wouldn’t have helped much.

Connor made sure to drive the speed limit the entire way back to his parents’ house. He didn’t even switch on the radio, he was so convinced his dad would have something to say about the quality of his driving that he didn’t dare. Larry had taught him to drive on highways.

They pulled up about the same time. Connor killed the ignition, stepped out of the car and locked it. He held his keys out to his dad, who looked at him strangely. It was still early, but the August heat was mounting, sticky and humid. Connor was looking forward to heading inside.

“Look, Connor -”

He turned. Larry had put one hand into his pocket. He was gesturing with the other one. “Yeah?”

“I… We worry about you. Your mom and I. And Zoe.”

Connor wished they didn’t. He didn’t deserve their worry.

“Your grandma said you really liked volunteering at the church over the summer,” His dad pressed on, his expression strange to Connor, like he was…

Happy?

“Yeah, I mean. It was fine,” Connor said back because it was fine, he guessed.

“If you wanted… I mean. I know there’s a youth group at St. Anne’s….?”

Connor wanted that about as badly as he wanted a root canal without novocaine. “Maybe,” He said with a shrug that caused a twinge of pain to radiate up his shoulder. Maybe meant: no fucking way. Maybe meant: I appreciate the effort old man, but I’d rather gauge my eyes out.

Maybe meant he couldn’t explain because if he tried Connor would have to start at the beginning, the real beginning, back at thirteen when he tried to wish himself normal, wish himself into liking girls all the way through trying to force himself to like Georgia.

And his dad… he wore golf shirts. He used to drag them to church on Sundays, sing the hymns off key.

His dad wouldn’t believe him.

He followed Larry into the house. His dad said something about coffee, mumbling about how his mom had gotten some fancy cold brewer this summer and Connor nodded and poured himself some because it was too hot for hot coffee and unlikely he would get to go back to sleep any time soon.

His dad was reading through the New York Times. Connor was staring blankly into his iced coffee.

They sat for a while.

His dad cleared his throat. “Connor,” he started.

Connor braced for impact.

“Is there... “ He stopped. Put down his paper. “I just mean…” He gave this awkward almost-laugh. “Did something happen while you were at your grandma’s?”

“Why?” Connor said, forgetting to deny it first.

His dad cleared his throat loudly. “I. I just… you scared us, that night, calling so late.”

“I’m sorry,” Connor said to his iced coffee cup with it’s stupid reusable straw.

“No, don’t… You don’t have to apologize,” Larry said. “Just. I… If something happened, I would want to know.”

Connor shook his head. No chance, he couldn’t, he just… His dad couldn’t know. If he knew Connor would be lucky not to get kicked out of the house.  “No. Nothing really, I just… I was just being stupid. Sorry, again, I’m -”

“I’m glad you’re home,” His dad said suddenly. Like he had been waiting to say it and jumped the gun, interrupting.

Connor nodded apprehensively. “Thanks?”


Georgia felt sick as she went and waited for the bus on the first day of school. She thought she might honestly puke. Her dad had woken her up by pounding on her door; she had slept through her alarm and it woke him up, so he was pissed off. When she ducked out to brush her teeth she noticed a divot the size of a fist in the wood of her door. She wondered if she needed something made of stronger stuff. If she should have been made with stronger stuff.

She felt sick. She wrapped her arms around herself. It was September 6th and surprisingly cold that morning. Her dress rippled in the wind and Georgia saw the skirt rose just enough to show off the collection of new scratches and cuts on her legs and she almost threw up.

She should have worn tights today.

She hadn’t seen anyone outside of work in over two weeks. Jared was pissed at her, wouldn’t text her back… Evan was doing whatever he was doing, the whole thing where he never left the house,  and Connor….

Georgia swallowed. Felt sick. Really sick. Half of her was starting to wonder if the nausea she had felt for weeks was morning sickness.

But she was on the pill and Connor hadn’t come and she hadn’t slept with anyone else, really, except Drew all summer.

Evan wasn’t waiting for the bus. She had avoided him too, just in case. She thought she had seen Connor’s car stay outside overnight and thought maybe he had gone and talked to Evan. Which was just perfect. Evan had been her friend all summer, and the moment Connor came back he swooped in so… So Georgia was avoiding Evan too. Served him right. Ignoring him.

She had doubts Evan even cared.

Fuck.

Georgia pressed the pad of her thumb across the C.M. on her wrist hard and wished the bus’s brakes would go out and the bus would hit her, take her out.

No luck.

She rode the bus to school alone, her forehead leaning against the window, cool against her skin.

Most juniors had rides to school, Georgia realized. No Jared, no Connor… no Evan. Maybe Connor was driving him. She felt sick.

She felt so fucking sick.

She kept wondering if maybe she needed to call her mom, like Evan had told her to do this summer. Maybe he was right, maybe this was too much for Georgia to handle…

But there was another thought rattling around, louder and more insistent.

Maybe she should just stop existing.


 

Connor hadn’t slept.

But he dragged himself down to breakfast because he had promised his dad he was going to be better now.

Even though he wasn’t, he figured he could try to fake it.

His dad had lost it, Lost It, after his mom picked him up from the Hansens’ and there was talk of sending him back to his grandma’s since “less than a week back home and you’re already back on this bullshit Connor” so he was going to be better now.

He hadn’t slept. He went right for the coffee when he got to the table. Zoe was looking at her phone and pointedly not looking at him and Connor tried not to take offense.

He had almost killed her. Twice. He had...

It was fine. She got to be pissed off at him. He was quite possibly the worst sibling on the planet, or a close second after those assholes who actually killed their sisters. He had only almost killed her and hung out with her ex. She got to be angry at him. She was entitled to that anger.

But it stung still. How angry she was at him.

“Zo.”

He had been trying this new thing now. He’d try to say stuff to her before the parents showed up, before they focused their attention, like he could surprise her into having an honest conversation.

“Zoe. I’m sorry. Can you just… look at me?”
Her eyes briefly flickered up before they returned to her phone. “Nice hair,” She said shortly. Harshly.

Connor ran a self conscious hand over it. It was sort of long now. The back was pretty knotted; it was starting to curl a bit at the ends. He had washed it last night, after his mom sighed and asked if he would at least consider showering before the first day of school. So it was clean and getting curly but he didn’t care.  

“You’re up,” His dad said, sounding surprised when he took his usual seat at their table.

Connor tried not to snap. He’d been up all night, but he was going to be normal now. He nodded, then took a sip of his coffee. It burned his mouth and somehow that felt better.

Zoe was probably extra pissed off at him because she was stuck driving him to school. She had gotten one for her birthday and passed her driver’s test on the day after her sixteenth birthday.

Connor’s car was fixed. He had already driven it. Technically he could have driven it but he was grounded. He didn’t want to think about how much they’d spent to repair the door and windshield. But he had broke curfew the first night he was allowed to take the car out, had to leave it, and so he had lost that privilege until his dad said otherwise. He didn’t argue or fight. He just nodded and apologized and swallowed down every bit of him screaming that it wasn’t fair.

Connor kept imagining behind sent back to his grandma’s, attending the Catholic school attached to the church, the school where Father Mike taught religion classes…

And all the fight went out of him.

He’d ride with Zoe.

He’d go to school.

He couldn’t go back there.

Anything to keep from going back there.

Connor followed Zoe out to her new car, his bag slung over his good shoulder, thinking maybe he could finally say something to her on the ride to school.

“Do not talk to me,” She said the moment he closed his door.

“But -”

“No. Don’t you fucking dare.”

He nodded. And said nothing.

She got to be pissed at him. She was allowed to be pissed off, he just kept fucking up.


Evan’s mom had agreed to drive him to school. It was their compromise, after two weeks of arguing after Evan had been stupid enough to admit in a joint meeting with Dr. Sherman that he didn’t want to go back to school. His mom had lost it. Absolutely lost it. She was scared, Evan thought. He had scared her because he was stupid enough to open his stupid mouth.

She was scared. She was scared that he wasn’t leaving the house, she kept trying to get him to go out, call friends, do things. Which he could not do, he just couldn’t. Evan dug his heels in, refusing.

His mom was frustrated, Evan knew. She had even called his dad a few times, which he knew was a bad sign. Evan could hear her through the wall, her voice tight and scared, asking if he had any ideas about what to do. He heard her laugh bitterly, saying, “Well Jesus Dan, I can barely get him to leave the house! I seriously doubt we could convince him to move to Colorado.”

Evan knew he either needed to get his shit together or kill himself before he gave his mom a heart attack.

And seeing how well the last time he’d tried had gone? Well.

He decided to get his shit together.

He went to therapy and talked about how he was scared to leave the house and Dr. Sherman changed his meds and honestly?

Evan felt worse. The new meds seemed to be doing little than turning up the volume of the part of his brain full of repetitively shit ideas.

But he kept his head down trying to get his shit together because if he didn’t get it together his mom would stress herself out and she would be distracted at work and end up fired and they would lose the house and have to move in with his grandma who was really his step-grandma and she was awful to his mom, always full of side comments and snarky remarks and if they lived together his mom would definitely smoke more than the one or two cigarettes she had each day now and then she’d end up getting lung cancer and she’d get really really sick and all of her hair would fall out and she would die and there wouldn’t be any money for a funeral and -

“Honey?”

He looked over at his mom, biting his lip, trying to smile for her, show her that he was trying really trying.

“Sorry. Thanks. I… Thanks for driving me,” He said, mumbled, eyes down.

“I…. you know you can call me,” She said. “If you need me, okay, you can call me. I want you to call… it doesn’t matter why, okay?”

Evan nodded. It wasn’t true. They both knew it wasn’t true. His fingers reached for the edge of his cast, but it had been taken off two days before, his arm officially healed. There was a scar from the surgery now, and the skin was pale and shrunken compared to his other arm. Evan almost missed the weight of the cast…. And he sort of missed using it as an excuse to avoid showering. Now that it wasn’t such a hassle to wash his hair, he knew his mom noticed if he went more than a few days without…

“I hope today is a good day, honey,” his mom said and Evan nodded and smiled and groped for the door handle with sweaty hands.

He smiled at her and scuttled off into the building. As the bell rang, Evan wondered how long he would need to wait before he escaped to the nurse’s office and half faked a stomach ache.

He managed to avoid making eye contact with basically everyone in the hall, flinching whenever a locker slammed. Evan shoved his belongings into this locker (it took him three tries to get it open), thinking he just needed to get to first hour and maybe he could sit in the back and nobody would look at him and -

“Why the fuck is your arm all weird?”

Jared. Great.

Evan tried to smile and failed, producing some kind of pathetic twitchy thing that definitely made him look crazy and said, pretend casually, “I-I broke it over the, the summer, remember?” They had emailed about this. And Georgia had said she had mentioned it to Jared too. “I got my cast off and my arm… still looks weird I guess.”

Jared nodded and Evan knew he wasn’t really listening. “Look, has Georgia said anything about me?”

Evan shook his head, surprised. “I mean. Like. Earlier in the summer and-and stuff but not, not like… lately.” He didn’t say, “because we haven’t spoken because now that Connor is back she’s back to ignoring me.”

Jared scowled. “Figures. Now that Murphy is back they’re probably… sucking face or whatever they do together.”

Evan didn’t know what they did either. Other than drugs, he supposed.

The second bell sounded and Jared and Evan split up, Evan ducking into his AP U.S. History class, pulling the two short papers they had been assigned out of the folder in his backpack, which summarized one fiction and one nonfiction book on American history.

Evan was sort of glad to get paired up with Alana Beck when they had to discuss papers, because it meant she did most of the talking. Her hair was pulled into a puffy ponytail at the top of her head, curls more defined and less of a frizzy halo than the style Evan remembered from the end of last year. She smiled at him and launched into her analysis of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a book that Evan thought sounded very very racist and also pretty boring.

“I really wanted to read Passing by Nella Larsen for this project but Mr. Watson said it didn’t focus enough on a particular historical event, despite taking place in the middle of the Harlem Renaissance.”

Evan nodded agreeably, not knowing a lot about the book in question. Eventually remembering his pledge to get his shit together, he managed to stutter out, “How was your summer?”

Alana’s smile faltered. “It was good. I spent a lot of time volunteering at the animal shelter and the library and doing some roadside clean up. I had hoped to find a job I liked, but everything that I could be considered for was… not especially challenging. I want to make sure my college applications are really… diverse, and working at Taco Bell isn’t going to show the breadth of my skills.”

Evan nodded.

“How was your summer?”

He didn’t have much of an answer. “I sat at home” made him sound exactly as pathetic as he was. “Nice. I broke my arm so, uh, so that. I didn’t get to uh do-do a whole lot because of-of that, but it was pretty… relaxing.” It fell flat. Boring. Sad.

“Oh! How did you break your arm?” Alana asked. “Was it your right or your left? Do you remember in second grade, when Sabrina Patel broke her right arm and we all had to take turns pairing with her on the worksheets? That was terrible. Personally I think it’s irresponsible to install monkey bars on playgrounds for small children. I was actually considering starting a petition -”


 

A lot of juniors took pre-calc or trigonometry, but Georgia was retaking Algebra II since she had only barely eked out a D at the end of the year.

And it just so happened that she was in class with Zoe Fucking Murphy, who glared daggers at her all through the first half of the period. Georgia didn’t learn one damn thing about the syllabus because all she could focus on was the feeling that Zoe’s eyes were burning holes into the back of her skull.

Her stomach hurt. Tight pain, like she was being squeezed from the inside. She hated math. She was bad at math, always felt like everyone was laughing at her for being so bad at this. Georgia she chewed the inside of her cheek, hoping that maybe Zoe was in the wrong classroom, that the bell would ring and she would say “Oh damn” and get up and leave and go to her other math class.

She chewed on her thumbnail. She chewed on her lips. She wanted to get out of this room. She wanted to disappear. She wanted to sink into the floor or get hit by a truck.

“Hey,” Georgia heard from behind her. She didn’t want to turn or look because she had this irrational fear that Zoe Murphy might be a basilisk who would kill her with eye contact.

“What?” She said, not turning.

“Is it true that chlamydia makes your vagina close up?”

That did make Georgia turn. It wasn’t Zoe; it was Brian Harris of all fucking people, waggling his eyebrows at her suggestively, his tongue sticking out slightly.

“What?” She said stupidly.

Brian kept on grinning. “Well I just figured you of all people would know.”

Her mouth went dry. “I… I.”

“Or, sorry, did I get it wrong? Did you catch chlamydia from Drew or did he catch gonorrhea from you? I’ve heard it both ways. Did you maybe trade off?”

Georgia felt her face heat up. She wanted to kick Brian Harris in the nuts. She wanted to punch something.

She could hear Zoe laughing in the back, loudly, intending to be heard, and that was it, she was out. Georgia gathered up her notebook and her pen and strode out of the classroom, ignoring her teacher’s shouting of, “Miss Stern, honestly!”

She walked and walked and walked, blood pounding in her ears until she burst out of the doors behind the band classrooms, fingers groping in her bag to find her god damn fucking cigarettes. She headed for the edge of the parking lot but stopped in her tracks.

Because Connor was there. Smoking a cigarette, looking pale, eyes bloodshot.

They hadn’t talked. In weeks. After waiting all summer for him to come back, Georgia hadn’t bothered to call or text after that day in August.

She wasn’t sure she wanted to. That she was able to.

“Oh,” He said, his eyes catching hers. “Hi.”

“Hi.”

Connor dropped his cigarette, stepping on the butt. “I’ll just... “

“Stop,” Georgia said, rushing closer, grabbing at his wrist, her hand pressing desperately, hard again the letters on his wrist. “Please. Just… Don’t leave.”

He didn’t. He nodded.  He lit another cigarette. “You look like shit,” He said after a minute.

Her face flushed. “You look worse.”

He did too. She wasn’t bullshitting him. Connor shrugged. “I know…”

“Listen… about what happened -” She started.

“I fucked up,” Connor said. “I’m sorry. I really really fucked up. I had no right… I knew, I knew how you felt and I-”

“How I felt?” Georgia said, feeling her heart pounding in her ears. “How I… You said, you said you loved me!”

Connor’s cheeks went pink. Georgia could practically read the headline flashing in his eyes: I Hoped You Had Forgotten.  “I… I mean. I do. I did , I mean… Just… just I fucked up, okay, I fucked up-.”

“Yeah you really fucking did,” She said and she reached out and pressed even harder on her initials on his arm, and he yanked his wrist away with a flinch, pulling his sleeve down to hide the evidence of her bruising touch or the cuts which seemed to be inching closer to her mark on him. “You really fucking -”

“I’m gay!” Connor said and it shut her up for a second, knocked the wind out of her. “I think... I mean. I think I am.” His head was bowed, he was embarrassed. “I am s-”

“Oh fuck you,” Georgia said, her eyes stinging shamefully with tears. “Fuck you.”

“Just… listen, just -”

“NO!” She shouted, screamed, pushing him back.

“I’m sorry okay?”

“Fuck you Connor. Fuck. You.”

Georgia walked away. Walked off campus, skipped in the middle of her first day of junior year because she just couldn’t couldn’t couldn’t be there.

She…

He couldn’t not want her. Connor just… he couldn’t decide now that he didn’t want her. That wasn’t fair, they… what they had was more than being best friends, it was deeper than soulmates, it was them and they were meant to be together. She thought maybe he was embarrassed because he had never had sex before. She thought it was maybe the fault of the drugs he was taking. She thought maybe it was the same reason why she didn’t care enough about herself to bother getting what she wanted out of sex.

She hadn’t.

There was no way. He couldn’t just write her off as an option, just like that. He was full of shit. Connor was wrong. He wasn’t gay. Evan might be gay or bi or whatever, but Connor was hers. He was hers.

Georgia got home, but the walk took a while. Her thighs burned, having rubbed together for most of the walk, and her feet had blisters from the shoes she wore. She caught a glimpse of herself in the reflection off of a parked car’s windshield, realizing that she finally looked as bad as she felt. A sweaty, miserable mess of a person who nobody loved.

Her dad was passed out on the couch. Georgia debated splashing him with water, calling CPS, calling her mom…

Instead she went into the cabinet under the sink and found her dad’s latest hidden bottle of vodka. She didn’t know why he bothered hiding them anymore. It wasn’t a secret.

Maybe he hid it so she wouldn’t steal it from him.

Should have found a better spot then, Georgia thought as she twisted off the cap.

She took a big slug, almost gagging at the way the cheap liquor burned as it went down. She drank and drank and then went into her bedroom, unearthed a few pills that she had bought when she had someone to get high with, and swallowed both of them with another mouthful of vodka.

She managed to polish off the bottle, wishing it had been bigger. She wanted to numb all of this and it hadn’t done it’s job. Georgia still felt every stab and sting of Connor’s words.  She staggered to the front door, taking a seat on the front step and watching, watching watching the empty street until her eyelids got too heavy to stay open. She watched the blur of a yellow school bus just before her eyes closed, two figures one tall and thin one stocky and wearing blue walking side by side.


 

Connor had followed Evan home.

Which was stupid because he was grounded and Zoe would be looking for him but he saw Evan pacing in front of the buses and. He walked up to Evan and muttered, “I gotta talk to you.”

Then he got on the bus. Evan followed.

They sat together, not talking. Connor felt stupid so stupid sitting there but he needed to… Explain. Apologize.

Make sure it never happened again because had had to be normal now. He had to be.

“Why…” Evan said, turning toward him as they walked toward his house.

“I… I’m.” Connor tried, his tongue twisted. “That day…”

Evan’s chin jutted out, almost defiantly. “Let me guess… You’re straight, it shouldn’t have happened -”

“Zoe saw us holding hands,” Connor said instead. “She’s pissed at me and that’s… I.”

“Oh,” Evan said and his anger seemed to fade. “She saw us?”

Connor nodded. Because she had. Because she had told him so, looked him dead in the face and told him what a piece of shit he was because of it. “I… I just got back home. I can’t really afford to, uh, piss her off anymore, you know?”

Evan nodded, something in his expression closing off.

Connor shoved his hands into his pockets. He was such a fucking shithead. He didn’t even know what he wanted from Evan here, just that he knew he couldn’t do what they’d done again without pissing off Zoe or freaking out. He just couldn’t keep that up.

“I’m sorry… for the way I flipped out,” Connor went on.

Evan nodded. “It’s okay.”

“That was… super unchill of me.”

Evan rolled his eyes. “You’re… you’re not really a chill person Connor.”

That was true, he had to admit. “Still. Sorry. It wasn’t… I know it sounds weird and lame and whatever, but… it wasn’t you. I’m just… kinda fucked up.”

“I noticed,” Evan said, but it wasn’t a barb or an insult. Connor found himself smiling. It felt strange to be smiling, like maybe his muscles had fallen out of practice.

Evan was smiling too, he noticed.

Two dopes, smiling at each other.

Evan’s dropped after a minute. “Right. Zoe.”

He wished he had never said anything.

“You better go,” Evan said.

Connor knew he should. He knew he should go, leave, because Zoe… hated him. Because he had freaked out and he probably would again, because he was trying to be normal. He should go. He should walk away.

So for once, Connor did what he should.

But not before he grabbed Evan by the collar, a little too roughly, and kissed him. Because just because he shouldn’t do something had never been enough reason for Connor not to do it.

Evan’s cheeks were a little pink. Connor smiled at him, but then started walking. He didn’t let himself look back. If he looked back, he wouldn’t go home. He wouldn’t.

He had to walk past Georgia’s house to get home, though.

Connor tried not to look. He didn’t want to see her, see her father, see anything because it would make him want to sprint over there and demand that Georgia get over herself. She was supposed to be his best friend, his other half, his person. She should be asking if he was okay, she should give a shit that he gave her this thing about him.

But Connor was bad at following directions, even his own, and he looked and saw Georgia, horizontal on the front porch. “Oh fuck,” He mumbled, his mind flashing to a bathtub, Evan’s face white with shock.

Connor rushed toward her, his legs basically giving out as he stumbled up the steps. “Georgia!” Connor shouted, shaking her shoulder roughly.

“What?” She mumbled, her eyelids fluttering. That was when Connor noticed the plastic vodka bottle.

“What the fuck Georgia?” He said, shaking her harder.

“Stop,” She whined.

“What is the matter with you?” Connor tried again and that’s when her eyes finally opened properly. “Are you drunk?”

“Fuck off,” Georgia said, but she was sitting up, she was moving, she was definitely breathing then. “Don’t want to talk to you.”

“I know but -”

“I saw you and Evan,” She slurred. “I saw you, just, over there, and you were looking at each other, looking all…” Georgia shook her head. “You… you’d rather be with him than me?”

Connor opened his mouth but he couldn’t force any words out.

“You’d rather be with Evan who-who barely left the fucking house all summer, who’s more pathetic than anybody? Over me? Really?” She said, staggering to her feet. Connor tried to catch her, tried to steady her, but she shoved him away.

“Georgia come on it’s… that’s-” Connor tried, but she shoved him again.

“Fuck you,” She said, her eyes glassy and angry and she shoved him again, hard, and he stumbled back a bit. “I hate you, you know? I hate you. All you fucking do is, is leave me. You just leave me, like this summer, like when you get fucked up all the time, like always.”

“What are you talking about?” Connor said.

“You’re just always leaving and you’re gonna probably kill yourself and leave me here for good and I hate you I hate you I HATE YOU!” She shouted, pushing him away, away, away. Connor took a couple of steps back, not sure how to get her to stop.

“You’re my best friend,” He said, but she was hitting him now, still screaming, and then the door swung open and her father was standing there, eyes bloodshot.

“What the fuck are the two of you doing out here?” Mr. Stern shouted.

“I, uh,” Connor tried.

Georgia burst into tears and then next thing Connor knew, he was flat on his face, his nose throbbing and mouth suddenly full of blood, hot and tangy.

“Stay the fuck away from her,” Mr. Stern growled, and there were footsteps and the door slammed shut.

Connor spat out blood, rolling onto his back. “Fuck,” he muttered, getting up slowly, groaning at the pain in his shoulder and his face. He managed to get to his feet and spat more blood out of his mouth. He wasn’t even sure where most of it was coming from and he was dizzy.

Connor had two choices: Call his mom and explain what happened and have her pick him up. Or, get high.

Connor really would have preferred option two, but he wasn’t sure he could swallow or snort anything. He went into his pocket for his phone, pulling it out to see that his screen was… potentially fucked up beyond repair. It had been cracked for a long time, but now the glass was jagged and not responding when he tried to press the phone icon.

Fuck.

Connor spit out more blood, pocketing his phone, and decided to just walk home. It was… it was better. He could get high at home, he had stuff at home, that was probably better anyway.

He stepped off of Georgia’s porch, head ringing ringing.

He wondered how bad it was that she had just spewed all of that shit at him, that her dad had punched him in the face, and Connor’s immediate response was that he needed to go and get high.

She thought he was the one who was always leaving, but she was the one who was always shoving him away and yanking him back. He got whiplash from her. He didn’t know if she wanted to be be with him or if she just wanted to control what he did.

He didn’t know what he wanted from her either. He wanted nothing and everything to change and stay the same.

Fuck.

Fucking fuck.

His mouth seemed to have stopped bleeding. He thought he might have bitten the inside of his cheek when he took the punch from Mr. Stern. His nose was still dripping though, which sucked, because he didn’t have anything to step the blood with on him. Defeated, Connor plugged his nose with his sleeve and tried to breathe through his mouth.

He thought, stupidly, that it would be really nice to have someone to talk to about this.

But then his fucked up brain replayed Father Mike saying, “I think you’re a good kid, Connor. I just think you’ve got nobody to talk to.” Replayed a hand on his knee, teeth clacking, and Connor froze, unable to breathe for a second because his nose was clogged and his mouth was too dry.

He pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes until he saw spots, bit down on the inside of his cheek until the blood started to flow freely again, until Father Mike’s voice disappeared from his head.

When he got home, eventually, nobody was there. The house was empty.

He didn’t know why that was such a crushing disappointment, but it was. Connor stood there in his bloodied clothes in the pristine foyer and found himself overwhelmed by how alone he was here.

The responsible thing to do would be to find the house phone, call his mom, explain what had happened.

The thing he did instead was drag himself upstairs. His parents had ripped apart his room but still hadn’t figured out about his hollowed out Harry Potter book. Inside, Connor had stashed some emergency supplies.

He took the whole book into the bathroom. He ran the taps in the shower, water turned hot, letting steam fill the room. He washed the blood away from his body, rinsed out his mouth. Out of the shower, he wiped his nose and made sure it had stopped bleeding. Then he opened his book full of supplies.

Connor crushed his pill up first, crushed it until it was a fine powder without any obvious chunks. He poured it into a cooker and added a little tap water, mixed it up with the back of a syringe. He tied off with this blue tourniquet someone at Isaac’s had given him a while back, veins coming to the surface nicely after the hot shower, and shot up.

Connor felt a lot better.

He put his works back into the old Harry Potter book. Walked back to his bedroom and put on some clean clothes. Laid on his bed, calm now, in the halfway place between being awake and being asleep.

He flinched when his bedroom door flew open, his mother standing there demanding to know why he hadn’t gotten a ride home from Zoe after school. She stopped yelling for a second, looking into the room, really looking before shouting, “What happened to your face?”

“Uh…” He said, his brain a bit sluggish. “I took the bus. I didn’t… think it would be an issue.”

“Why do you have two black eyes Connor? Why is your nose swollen? Did you get into a fight at school?”

He shook his head, trying to focus. “Mom, no, I just… I tripped coming off the bus okay? Face planted.”

She was ignoring him, stepping closer, taking his chin in her hand in a way that Connor didn’t like. He tried to pull his face away. “Stop.”

“I think you might have broken your nose,” She went on, grabbing his face again. “We had better get you to the E.R.-”

“Why? So they can say there’s nothing they can do for a broken nose?” Connor said, rolling his eyes.

“Do not take that tone with me.”

Connor shook his head. “It’s a waste of money, mom, come on. I’m fine. I just tripped.”

“Bullshit Connor!” She cried and it occurred to him that she usually didn’t get angry with him this way. “Tell me what happened now, or I’m adding another two weeks to your grounding.”
Connor lifted his chin defiantly, determined to tell her nothing.

“Fine. You’re grounded for another two weeks. No allowance, no going anywhere but school. And I’m taking your phone.”

Connor rolled his eyes, and handed over the broken phone.

“Honestly Connor!” His mother said when she saw it, shaking her head. She took the phone and left his room. From downstairs Connor could hear her calling his dad, could hear her saying they shouldn’t have let him come back home.

Mercifully he was high enough that he couldn’t panic. He just rolled onto his side and vaguely hoped that he might stop breathing.


 

Georgia took a swig of vodka while she waited for the bus. Evan was back at her stop, after a week long absence. Georgia figured that meant Heidi had stopped driving him.

She wasn’t talking to Evan, she decided. If he was going to fuck around with Connor, she wasn’t going to talk to him.

Evan, however, didn’t seem to have picked up on that. “It’s, like, seven in the morning,” Evan said to her at the bus stop.

Georgia took another swallow. Perfect time to get shitfaced, if you asked her. Beat going to school sober. Beat wasting all of her hard earned cash on pills and weed. She could get vodka for free.

“Georgia… did something happen?”

She laughed right in his face. “Everything and nothing dude. Everything and nothing.”

Evan frowned.

“Don’t bother with the whole goody two shoes thing with me Evan,” Georgia said, taking another swig. “I know. I know all about you and Connor and your pathetic squishy feelings for each other.”

Evan kept frowning. “Is that why you’re drinking?”

“No,” She muttered.

“I think it is,” Evan went on. “I think you can’t handle the idea that he might like someone who isn’t you. I think it’s killing you and you’re acting like this to get his attention.”

He said all of it without stuttering. It hit the nail right on the goddamn head and Georgia hated it. She capped her bottle of vodka, stowed it in her bottle of vodka. Smiled at Evan, a big feral smile. “I think this is literally the only reason you’re even still alive. I think Connor has given you some pathetic shred of hope because you haven’t gotten it through your thick skull that he can’t and won’t save you. You can kiss him and fuck him, but you’re still going to be a sad sack little boy who wants to die.”

She grinned as Evan took a step back, his face twisting. “You’re such a bitch,” He said, shaking his head.

“Takes one to to know one,” Georgia said in a sing song voice. “Or have you just forgotten that you dumped Zoe Murphy for her fucked up, school shooter brother?”

“That’s not what happened -” Evan protested. “Don’t say -”

“Weird. Could have sworn that’s what I heard.” She said in this sickly sweet voice, coming out as thick and suffocating as honey.

“Don’t you dare tell anyone that,” Evan said urgently, tugging on her arm, fingers pressing in an all too familiar way against her tattoo.

“Who would I tell?” Georgia slurred, all fake innocent, and laughed at the way that Evan’s face got paler and paler. “It’s not like I have any friends.” When the bus pulled up, she didn’t sit near him, instead finding one of the other juniors who suffered the ride on the bus and smiling at him coyly, enjoying the way he began to blush. It was so easy with boys. She supposed from that point of view she understood why Connor would bat for the other team.

Boys were so easy. If you batted your eyelashes and pressed a hand to their crotches, they were putty in your hands. It was just easier with boys.

She made it to her Algebra II class without much incident that day, smirking as she put on fresh lipstick and turned around to speak to Brian Harris who still sat behind her. She batted her eyelashes, smiled widely, and said with a little pout, “Did you hear that Evan Hansen dumped Zoe Murphy so he could go out with her freaky brother?”
Brian Harris blinked at her in surprise. “Aren’t the two of you friends?” He said, eyes narrowing.

“Not anymore. I don’t associate with fags,” She said.

Brian Harris looked a bit shocked, but he smiled, and before long his phone was in his hand. Georgia smiled broadly at the mass text she was sure he was sending.

She was happy to be a slut if she could bring everyone else down with her.

Or so she told herself when she got on her knees for Brian Harris later. He insisted she swallow it, which was disgusting, but the satisfaction of knowing that despite how out of control everything felt, she could still easily ruin Connor and Evan’s lives was reassuring.


Evan knew things were bad when he came back to his locker to find the word “Gay” written across it in sharpie. But he mostly shrugged it off because being bi was literally the least of his fucking problems. It wasn’t until he got to the class he shared with Connor and everyone got eerily quiet that he realized this was bad.

Shit.

“I heard he was cheating on Zoe with Connor the whole time,” One voice said.

“I heard that he gave them both HIV. I guess he had it because his mom was some kinda of slut before he was born or whatever,” said another voice and Evan genuinely wasn’t sure if he was hearing that or imagining it anymore. Nobody would talk that way, right? Nobody was that closed minded anymore, right? This was his head, this was the stuff his brain misfired and told him, this wasn’t real. What did Dr. Sherman say about intrusive thoughts?

“Yeah? Well I heard the Murphys are into that kinda freaky shit and used to have three ways all of the time.”

Fuck. That was definitely real.

Or you’re hallucinating now. You’re even crazier than you thought. Or maybe they’re all right about you and you don’t even know and you’ve been going around giving everyone diseases and -

“No fucking way man, even his sister wouldn’t fuck Connor.”

Evan took his seat, feeling embarrassed, knowing everyone was looking at him, whispering about him. Literally his worst fucking nightmare come to life; finally get noticed and it’s for the worst possible reason. He felt his stomach twist when he saw the way Connor was looking murderously around the room. Evan would be lucky to get out of this week without being considered an accessory to a murder.

Evan tried to text Connor, something non committal but reassuring, something like “ignore them they’re idiots don’t let them get to you” but as far as he knew, Connor ignored the message. Or he never sent it. His hands were shaking so bad he might have just sent a keysmash or nothing at all because none of this could really be happening right? He was losing it, he was losing touch with reality, he needed to call his therapist.

He made it through lunch before going to the nurse and claiming a fever, stomach cramps, headache, all true but definitely psychosomatic and when she murmured after an hour that it might be worth calling his mom, Evan pitifully nodded. He had been trying so hard to keep his shit together for her but he just couldn’t pull himself out of this one.

It took awhile for the nurse to get his mom on the phone. Evan heard her muttering to the other office ladies that it was pretty irresponsible that his only other emergency contact lived in Colorado. Evan felt his face heat up, embarrassed, because of course his mom wasn’t answering because she always said she would be there, that she would help, that she wouldn’t leave but the moment he needed her to pick her damn phone up there was something more important going on for her.

It seemed after about forty five minutes, the nurse did manage to get his mom on the phone and she was on her way to pick him up.

He stay curled up on the cot on the nurse’s office until his mom got there. She was in her scrubs, face too pale, hair in a messy bun and Evan felt terrible about pulling her away from work, for costing her money, for ruining her life by existing.

“Honey,” His mom said to him once they were safely in her car, driving away.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” he muttered, looking out the window.

She sighed. “Sweetheart,” she pushed. “You called me out of work…”

He knew she wanted him to spill, to explain why, what was so bad to pull her out of her job. But his tongue was paralyzed. He couldn’t make any words come out. If he said something…

What could he say? That he might be imagining things, be actually crazier than previously thought, or maybe he was being bullied but he had no idea which was the truth because things were sort of muddy. He knew it was bad bad bad bad.

“Evan,” His mother said, her voice more stern. “You have to tell me what’s going on.”

He managed to choke out that he was sorry, but then he ran out of steam. He shook his head. His mom shook her head, obviously frustrated. “Do I need to call Dr. Sherman?” He shook his head. “What do you need, Evan? What am I not doing?” His mom said desperately.

Evan had no words. He just rushed up to his bedroom, throwing his door closed and locking it. He didn’t know how to explain to her that things were just Worse now, that trying made things Worse now, that she couldn’t help because he didn’t even know if the bad things were real things anymore, if his nightmares were finally real or if he was just so nuts that he had conjured them up in the middle of an English class.

He had to make this stop. He had to make it stop. He had to.

He spent the night not sleeping, pouring over the life insurance policy his mother had taken out on him, making absolutely sure that he wasn’t about to put her in worse debt.

The next morning, Evan stuck his fingers into his throat and threw up loudly enough for his mom to hear. She called him out of school, told him to stay in bed, and told him he was going to have a phone session with his shrink that afternoon, that his anxiety was clearly not improving and that the call was non-negotiable.

He agreed.

And waited until his mom left for the day before filling his water bottle and scooping up some pill bottles that read EVAN HANSEN on the label. He walked out of his house, onto a bus, planning to just get far away because he didn’t want to do this to her, but he couldn’t let her be the one who found him.

If she even bothered to go looking.

Evan passed out in Ellison State park, leaning back against a tree, empty pill bottles around him.

The park ranger who found him said it was lucky he hadn’t been on his back, or else he might have choked on his vomit and died.


 

“What the fuck is the matter with you?”

Georgia imagined that, really, there ought to be a list somewhere, to keep track of all of that. Because it was hard to remember. It was like a fun surprise, sometimes, being reminded of something else fucked up about her. Like oh yeah! Forgot I drank until I passed out the other night, missed the school bus, and stayed home for two days. Oops!

At this moment, the person asking her for her list was Zoe Murphy, wild eyed and red faced and it snapped Georgia out of it for a second because oh fuck.

Oh fuck Connor.

Fuck had Connor-?

“Why did you start shit about Evan?” Zoe said, shoving Georgia back against a locker. “Why the fuck -”

Georgia pushed her back, not sure what was even happening, why Zoe was yelling and why people had stopped to watch. “What are you on about?”

Zoe wiped her nose, glaring at Georgia. “He’s in the hospital! He tried to kill himself, all because you’re a pathetic jealous bitch who started an awful rumor about him!”

Georgia shook her head, not comprehending. “He’s… what?”

Zoe let out a frustrated shriek. “His mom called me last night! He’s in the hospital, and I know he did it because of you and your fucking petty-ass pathetic rumor. We all get it, you’ve got a massive hard on for Connor. But he doesn’t want you and taking it out on Evan is beyond fucked up!”

“I didn’t,” Georgia mumbled because it wasn’t… it wasn’t Evan. It wasn’t supposed to hurt Evan, Evan was one of them, it was Connor she wanted Connor to know she held all of his secrets, wanted him to remember that he couldn’t just leave her like this it wasn’t for Evan , fuck. “Is he okay?”

“No, you psycho bitch, he tried to fucking kill himself!”

“Why… why would Heidi call you?” Georgia asked, voice coming out too meek too small too shocked.

“Gee, I don’t know, maybe because Evan’s quote-unquote friends are the sort of idiots who break their phones or get them taken away!” Zoe spat. “Don’t bother going to see him. I already told Heidi everything, and she agrees that you’re an asshole.” She reached out, shoving Georgia again. Georgia hadn’t expected it, and her head slammed against the locker, hard. “Stay away from my people,” Zoe said in a low voice. She walked away, the eyes of everyone in the hall following.

“Fuck,” Georgia muttered, hand over her face. It wasn’t supposed to hurt Evan, it wasn’t for Evan… Did she do this?

No, Georgia rationalized. He fell out of a tree that summer. He was like her, like her and Connor, this wasn’t her doing, she didn’t push him over the edge, she couldn’t have he was already there fuck fuck fuck. Did she do this? Wasn’t that, like, a crime, couldn’t she go to jail, what did that make her if she convinced someone to kill himself?

She needed to… She had to…

“Hey.”

Jared was standing there, looking at her, frowning and she just couldn’t deal with him or his half assed friendship with Evan or their anything.

“Did you really start that rumor? About Connor and Evan?”

She bit her lip, hard. “It’s not… not a rumor. It’s true.”

Jared shook his head. “I mean I always kinda joked that they had a weird gay thing for each other, but like… Evan’s all nervous all the time I-”

Georgia understood. Even Jared wouldn’t take it that far.

Even Jared wasn’t that mean spirited.

Which was fucking saying something.


 

Zoe had woken him up in the middle of a perfectly good high nap the day before. He knew he ought to be conserving his supply because the bottle he’d nicked from his grandma’s was getting awfully light and his allowance was cut, but Connor had stolen $50 out of his mom’s wallet that morning so he thought he might be set for a little bit… once he got ahold of Isaac.

But he’d gotten high and drifted off after school only then Zoe was shaking him, hard, jarring his bad shoulder, sending him into a cursing rage. “WHAT THE FUCK ZOE! I WAS SLEEPING WHY THE HELL WOULD YOU-”

“Oh fucking SHUT UP!” She shouted back, her eyes too glassy, and Connor’s mouth snapped closed.

“What?”

“Evan... He’s in the hospital.”

“What?”

Zoe said a lot of words, too many, enough that his head was too full but no information was going through as it was supposed to. Hospital. Overdose. Bullying, suicide, Heidi.

“I don’t… why would he…?”

Like yeah the whole fucking school was talking about them but when weren’t they talking about Connor? Why did Evan care? He obviously wasn’t the target. It was Georgia that’s what she did, she got stupid and tried to make him pay and this was nothing. This wasn’t “Connor’s gay and fucking the teacher and going to blow up the school.” This wasn’t getting concussed from having your head shoved into a toilet for existing. The worst he had heard was that Connor, Evan, and Zoe had had a threeway which was really fucking gross but extremely tame.

What the fuck was Evan’s problem, trying to kill himself over that? Was he really that pathetic? Connor was still alive and he had it so much worse. Evan didn’t have a fucking clue about pain and suffering, he was just a soft idiot who couldn’t handle anyone ever talking about him negatively. Asshole. Moron. What the fuck? Where did he get off thinking he got to quit when he had everything Connor had always wanted? Seriously, was there no sense of fairness or justice?

“I don’t know what to do,” Zoe said, frantic. “Should we go visit? Are we supposed to tell people? What… do we tell mom and dad?”

It took Connor a moment to remember that objectively, he was the older sibling, and Zoe was genuinely asking his opinion. “I, uh,” He said awkwardly because, well, he was high. “I don’t think we tell them why he’s in the hospital. I think they’d just… flip out and whatever.”

Zoe nodded, like okay, they were on the same page.

“I think we can ask Heidi if we can visit, but probably not… right away.”

“Yeah, that’s fair.”

“And don’t… don’t tell anyone.”

Zoe nodded, bursting into tears. Connor stood there, wide eyed and massive unsure of himself, and awkwardly patted her shoulder. “This is fucked up.”

“I know.”

She sniffed and wiped her eyes. “Are the two of you… really like, dating?”

Connor shook his head. “No. I mean. We like… kissed a couple of times but we haven’t talked about it.” He shoved his hands into his pockets. “I mean. We both… didn’t want you to get upset. I guess.”

When Connor was sitting in American History, everyone just stared at him. Two teachers had already tried to talk to him, these pained looks on their faces, very Mr. Weston, very I-understand-this-must-be-hard, which made Connor want to throw up, like, forever. Though that might also be because he hadn’t picked up from Isaac yet…

He was pretty fucking pissed off about the whole thing. He didn’t fucking do anything yet everyone was looking at him. He could practically hear the rumors swirling, saying he had convinced Evan to hurt himself, saying he had tried to kill Evan…

“Connor.”

He looked up to find the teach who ran his study hall staring him down. Usually Connor and Mr. Becker, the shop teacher, just gave each other a wide berth. Connor slept through study hall, and Mr. Becker ignored him. It had been a good start to the year. But now he was looking at Connor warily, like he was a bomb about to detonate, and Connor looked back with equal trepidation.

“Your guidance counselor would like you to go to her office.”

Connor frowned. “Why?”

“Jesus, Murphy, she didn’t give me a list! She just told me to send you down during this period so… scram.”

Connor grabbed his bag and stalked out of the room, hearing a few kids behind him snickering. He couldn’t imagine he was already failing a class. It was only like a week into the school year. He thought, irritated, that this was not the fucking time to give him a talking to about whether or not he was going to go to college. Jesus Christ.

When he got to  the guidance office, his counselor Mrs. Carlson was waiting at the reception desk, with Ms. Quale, the school shrink standing beside her.

Fuck.

Connor wasn’t the sort of person to timidly address the pair of them with a “you wanted to see me?” so instead he crossed his arms and muttered, “Can we just get this over with?”

Ms. Quale and Mrs. Carlson exchanged a look. “Follow me, then,” Ms. Q said, and the trio walked back to her office. He hated this office, hated the degrees and awards hung on her wall and the stack of untouched paperwork that Connor suspected had been sitting there since his last visit.

“Connor we wanted to speak to you about Evan Hansen,” Mrs. Carlson said.

“I didn’t do it,” Connor said instantly.

Ms. Q’s face scrunched up. “Sorry, what?”

“I said, I didn’t do it. I didn’t do anything to him. We didn’t talk for a while and then we started to talk again but I didn’t do anything to him -”

“Connor,” Mrs. Carlson said, looking alarmed. “We aren’t accusing you of doing anything to Evan.”

Connor seriously doubted that. “Everyone thinks I, like, convinced him to do it or that I like forced him to and I didn’t know any of this was going on, and if I did I would have, like, told him to knock it off or whatever like I didn’t do anything to Evan, I -”

“Connor!” Ms. Quale exclaimed, alarmed, trying to stop him from talking. “We don’t think you did anything to Evan that would make him try to hurt himself.”

He rolled his eyes, saying, “Then why did you bring me in here?”

“We’ve heard, from other student that…” Mrs. Carlson looked over at Ms. Quale like maybe she would jump in and spit out whatever nonsense they were thinking. She didn’t. “People have mentioned that you and Evan might have been… boyfriends.”

“Boyfriends?” Connor echoed. Like. He and Evan weren’t even, like, regular friends. The first time they kissed, Connor had punched him. “No I… I mean. We. No. We weren’t dating…”

The women looked at him, clearly not buying it.

“I mean. We weren’t! Like official or… We never went out, or like, I dunno, told people we just… We weren’t together.”

“Alright,” Ms. Quale said, recovering faster. “But you were… involved.”

Gross, Connor thought. That was so… fucking gross. Adults were the goddamn worst. He crossed his arms tight tight tight and wished he could be anywhere but here.

“We just wanted to check in… see how you’re holding up with everything?”

Well someone I know tried to kill himself and I’m sorta pissed off about it.

“Fine. I’m fine.”

“Have you talked to Evan at all?”

Connor shook his head.

The pair exchanged another worried glance.

“I’m not avoiding him, I just - I’m grounded and my parents took my phone, Jesus!”

“Have you talked to your parents about this? Your friends?”

Connor nearly spat, “What friends?” But he held his tongue because that was far too dangerous to say in front of adults. He shrugged. Then, because if he didn’t throw them a bone, he might never be allowed to leave this office, he mumbled, “My sister. We talked about.”

Both Mrs. Carlson and Ms. Quale seemed to visible relax. “You know you can always come and speak to us, Connor. We’re here to help you.”

“Uh, yeah,” He said blankly. He tried to imagine that conversation. You see, ladies, I am on a lot of drugs these days and I’m pretty sure I was the victim of a felony over the summer and I nearly killed my sister twice and my best friend hates me for not being in love with her and the only other person I ever really talk to just tried to pussy out of existence so do you think I ought to try yoga first or what?

Mrs. Carlson shoved a pamphlet on teen depression and Connor took it numbly. “Is it okay if… Can I go back to class?”

“Of course,” Ms. Quale said. “And really, if you need someone to talk to… anytime, Connor.”

“Yeah thanks,” He mumbled, getting out of his chair and walking out of the office. He tossed the pamphlet right into the trash can and didn’t slow down on his way out of the school, heading immediately for the public transit stop a few blocks away. He found enough quarters floating in his bag to pay his fare, taking the bus to Isaac’s house, counting himself very very lucky to have remembered how to get there based on one cursory google.

Isaac pulled the door open grinning. He laughed when he saw Connor, slapping his bad shoulder and saying he had thought Connor had died. Connor wondered how commonly Isaac thought that of the people he knew.

“What can I do you for?” Isaac said.

Connor didn’t even blink or hesitate when he said he wanted heroin. Part of him

wondered if this was some kind of fucked him destiny or something.

“Well you know the first hit is on me,” Isaac said, some kind of weird dealer etiquette. Connor didn’t bitch about it. He was starting to feel pretty sick. Isaac was a chill enough dude, he even went through the motions of explaining how he got the shot ready and gave Connor a tie off to use.

It was different than shooting pills. Hurt less for one. He started to feel better so much faster.

Once Connor was straight, Isaac sold him some heroin. It was exactly what Connor wanted and exactly what he needed right now. Connor, without even blinking, without shame or fear said, “I need to get some clean stuff. Where do I get that?”

Isaac grinned, probably knowing he’d be back soon, and told Connor about a clinic downtown, giving him directions and even looking up how to get there by bus. Connor had always thought he made for a nice drug dealer.  “Just make sure when you go back you bring your dirty shit with you, okay?”

“Thanks,” Connor said. He headed out, feeling a bit relieved, and used his transfer to get back on the bus that headed downtown. The ride took a while, the bus winding its way out of the suburbs and into the city proper, passing familiar office buildings and even Connor’s dad’s office.

After a forty minute journey, Connor got off the bus and strode up the building Isaac had directed him to. Inside, Connor spotted a paper sign that read “NEX. Please knock.”

He knocked, standing back and waiting.

A few moments later, a Latino guy in a blue button down pushed the door open. “Exchange?”

Connor nodded.

“Come on back.”

He followed the guy through the door, inside of a small office lit brightly in fluorescent bulbs.

“First time?” The guy said, having a seat at the desk. Connor nodded. He had on a nametag that said “GABE WESTON.” He almost laughed. Wasn’t Mr. Weston’s boyfriend called Gabe? How weird would that be? Gabe smiled at him, this super wide smile, like Connor wasn’t here to get heroin needles. You had to be super sick in the head to do this as a job. “Okay, so here’s how this works,” Gabe said. “I don’t need your name or anything like that. I’m just gonna ask for like, demographic stuff, okay? And then we’ll get you your clean stuff and you’re on your way, okay?”

Connor nodded.

“How old are you?”

“Eighteen,” He lied.

He gave his zip code and lied about his HIV and Hep C status because he didn’t fucking know anything about that. At the end of all the questions, Connor was handed a brown paper bag full of new needles, tourniquets, cookers, alcohol pads, and cotton balls.

“Hey,” Connor said suddenly, turning as he was halfway to the door. “Do you know… is Mercy Hospital around here?”

Gabe nodded. “Yeah, it’s not a long walk, just a few blocks down from here, off of Chicago Avenue,” He eyed Connor warily. “Is everything okay?”

“My friend is there,” Connor said, shrugging as he shoved his paper bag into his book bag. “He overdosed the other day. Thanks.”

He strode out of the building, thinking maybe he ought to go and pay Evan a visit.

 


Georgia cut class but was too unsteady on her feet to get herself home, so she was hiding out under the bleachers on the football field, making her way through a travel sized bottle of vodka.

This was probably a low point, she reasoned.

Or maybe that had been this morning when Alana Beck had cautiously approached her and started doing her goody two-shoes routine about how people needed to do something for Evan, to show him he wasn’t alone, and Georgia rolled her eyes and told Alana she thought Evan should have taken more pills.

Low point. Really low. Sub-zero low.

She and Evan had been tight this summer and she might have tortured him into a suicide attempt and no matter how you slice that, it was fucked up.

And despite that, that guilt pooling in her stomach over all of that, she still couldn’t think about anything but Connor. What was he thinking? Was he mad at her? Did he hate her? She had tried to text him but she hadn’t heard back, not even after ten sent texts and then she got mad at him because no matter how pissed off at her he was, shouldn’t he worry a little about how frantic she sounded? Like, what if she was dying?

Downing the rest of her mini vodka bottle, she texted him, “I think I’m going to kill myself.”

And waited. Waited waited waited waited. No answer ever came.

Fucking asshole.

She scrubbed her eyes. Smoked a cigarette. Made herself sick. Threw up in a trash can. Smoked more. Lit up a roach she found in the bottle of her cigarette pack. Wondered if there was anything she could actually kill herself with out here under the bleachers.

She didn’t know what was more fucked up, wanting to die or wanting to die to hurt Connor. He couldn’t live without her, he had said so himself. Even when they weren’t talking it was true.

Maybe she should make it look bad. Maybe she ought to fake it to make him come running, come to heel, realize keeping her was more important than whatever little gay adventure he was trying out was.

...Jesus that was fucked up.

Maybe she ought to call her mom.

Then again her mom would probably just, like, try to get her a new iPhone or something. A shiny distraction. Her mom was good at that.

Georgia lasted to the end of the day, somehow. She might have napped a little under the bleachers, or straight up passed out, really what was the difference? She woke up as the bell sounded across campus, blinking until her eyes adjusted to the blinding sun.

Really it was amazing this school hadn’t invested in a truancy officer by now, she thought as she got on her bus. She skipped class enough. Connor too.

Georgia got home and shock, surprise, her father’s car was still parked in the driveway because he hadn’t gone to work because why work when you could be shitfaced? Explained why she hadn’t shown up for her last shift at the movie theatre (though she did have the foresight to claim period cramps when she called in).

Walking inside, Georgia headed for the fridge, thinking a sandwich might be a good call. She didn’t remember the last time she had bothered to eat. But when she pulled the handle, the light inside didn’t turn on. There was no familiar hum of the machine running.

She closed the door swiftly, heading to the nearest light switch to test it. Nothing.

Hadn’t she paid the last electric bill? She swore she had put it in their mailbox…

“Dad,” She said, heading for the living room where he was snoring on the sofa. She shook his shoulder, hard, for a long time before he opened his eyes.

“Heyyyy Georgie,” He slurred, smiling at her. “How’re ya?”

“Not good pops,” She said irritably. “They cut the power.”

“Oh shit,” He muttered, scrubbing a hand over his face. “I’ll have to give them a call tomorrow.”

“Dad I mailed the last payment,” Georgia went on, annoyed. “If we paid the last bill we shouldn’t be getting the power cut.”

He nodded, agreeing with her, but she already knew what happened.

“I paid cash,” She said, shaking her head. “You took it. Didn’t you?”

He started to protest, but she was too busy losing it on him.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” She shouted. “I’m sixteen! You stole money from me? Seriously? What the fuck is the matter with you?”

“It’s not like you haven’t been helping yourself to what I’ve bought, princess,” Her said said to her.

“Well, it’s one hell of an example you’re setting, dad. Maybe I should call mom, see if she can help us out-”

He hand crashed into her cheek so fast and so hard that she was seriously bewildered, stunned, for a long moment. Normally, she would shout, hit back, lose her ever-loving mind.

But just then it was pretty clear her dad was a foot taller and at least fifty pounds heavier than she was. This was… dangerous. This was bad.

She had to go.

So she left, embarrassed as tears flooded her eyes, as she realized she had nowhere to go.

“Georgia.”

She turned. Heidi was getting out of her car. She looked like shit, she really did. Her hair was in a greasy knot at the back of her neck and she had bloodshot eyes.

“Sweetheart, what’s going on?”

She shook her head, swiping at her eyes. “Is Evan… is he gonna be okay?”

Heidi nodded, her face still all warped with concern. “He’s got a long road ahead, but he’s going to be alright… Are you okay? You’re shaking like a leaf.”

“Who’s… who’s with Evan if you’re here?”

Her face turned a bit ashen. “His… his dad. I figured I needed a… a shower.” Heidi was still frowning. “Tell you what, I’m going to head back to the hospital in a while, after I change and eat something. Do you want to come with me?”

“Yeah,” Georgia said, nodding. She followed Heidi into the house, sat down on the sofa and stared at the television which wasn’t switched on.

This was bad.

Things were bad.

Heidi was being nice to her and she shouldn’t be. Georgia had done this. In more way than one she had done this. She knew about this summer; she blabbed about Evan and Connor. This was Georgia’s fault.

Her dad was probably her fault too. She told him to fuck off when he apologized that summer and look where he was now.

She wished Connor would text her back.

She wished she could close her eyes and just never wake up.

Heidi came down to the living room with wet hair and clean clothes on, carrying a small bag of things she assumed must be Evan’s. “I’m going to heat up some leftovers. Do you want any?”

Georgia shrugged so a few minutes later she had some microwaved Chinese in front of her. She eat without complaint, without saying anything.

While Heidi ate, she was pulling the strings out of a hoodie. “I thought he might want something familiar,” She said, “But… Well.”

“Yeah,” Georgia said. She could hardly swallow the food she was eating. She put her fork down. “Heidi I… This is my fault.”

Heidi gave her a severe look.

“I told some people about Evan and Connor d-dating and I -” She was such a fucked up shitty person that she started to cry, like a fucking terrible psycho, making Heidi fee bad for her.

“Sweetheart,” Heidi said, coming closer and putting her hand firmly on Georgia’s shoulder. “No. That’s… that isn’t what caused this. Evan hasn’t been doing well for a while and… If it’s anyone’s fault, it’s mine,” Heidi said. “His story about breaking his arm didn’t add up. I should have…” She stopped, eyes dangerously misty. “All we can do is move forward and help him to get better.”

Georgia sniffled and Heidi petted her hair in a very parent-y way. It fucking hurt, having someone be this nice to her. “Okay,” Heidi said. “We’re going to take ten minutes to make it look like we weren’t crying, and then we’re going to the hospital, okay?”

“Okay.”

“Do you need to tell your dad where you’re going?”

Georgia shook her head. Heidi didn’t question it.


His dad was in his room in the hospital, and Evan was pretending to be asleep so he wouldn’t have to talk to him. It was boring as hell, but so was just about everything in this hospital. His father had turned on a baseball game, the Colorado Rockies versus Who The Fuck Cares. Evan could hear it, too loud for a shared room, and wished his roommate (an older lady who had injured her hip) would complain.

She didn’t.

Evan knew at some point he was getting moved to psych. The doctors were just making sure he hadn’t managed to trash any important organs, at first, but now there was a bed shortage and Evan’s mom’s insurance wasn’t going to cover this. Wasn’t crazy a preexisting condition?

But anyway, Evan was in no condition, no mood to play happy-family-reunion with his dad, considering that he hadn’t seen him since he was fourteen and he knew his dad was only here because he had heard his mom calling him frantically his first day here, saying, “God damn it, Dan, he’s your son too!”

A nurse came back to check Evan’s vitals and give him an update (which was that there was no update) somewhere around the fourth inning, so Evan couldn’t really pretend to be asleep anymore.

“Hey sport,” his dad said to him and Evan frowned. The only sport he had played was like… t-ball. Briefly.  “How are you feeling?”

His dad looked tired and old. He supposed his new kids were still pretty little. Little kids had energy. Probably too much for his dad, who was pushing forty.

It was too hard and strange to think of his dad’s new family as being, like, his brother and sister. Like in his head he couldn’t ever just call them Jessie and Max, because that suggested a level familiar that they weren’t. He hadn’t even seen them since Max was still in diapers.

Evan belatedly realized he hadn’t answered his dad’s question. He shrugged. He felt terrible, he felt embarrassed, he’d had to see Dr. Sherman for an hour yesterday wearing a hospital gown that he had puked on, but his dad was not privy to this information about him. Nobody was but especially not his fucking dad.

“Look Evan…” His dad started to say and Evan looked at him directly for the first time and was annoyed to realize they had similar eyes. “I wanted to talk to you about something before your mom came back.”

Evan waited.

“If you need to get away from here… you know you’re always welcome with Sarah and I, right?”

Evan was sure his eyebrows nearly flew off of his head at that suggestion. “Thanks,” He said. Croaked. He hadn’t really been talking. “But, uh, no thanks.”

“I’m just worried that maybe this isn’t… the best environment for you.”

And your replacement family home outside of Denver would be better how, exactly?

He couldn’t. He didn’t want to. It would actually kill his mom, he couldn’t do anything else to her. He couldn’t. He shook his head, fingers pinching at the scratchy hospital blanket. “I said no.”

“Evan, just-” His dad started. But whatever he had to say, he didn’t get it out because Connor Murphy had stomped his way into the hospital room.

“Oh,” He said when he saw Evan and his dad and Phyllis in the other bed, complaining about her hip.

Evan tried to communicate “thank you please come here right now” without saying anything because no matter how nerve wracking the idea of Connor being there, seeing him like this was, it wasn’t worse than his dad’s pitch for Evan to move to fucking Denver .

Because as everyone knew, mental illness didn’t exist at higher altitudes.

Evan waved Connor in, with more enthusiasm than he really felt, and Connor sort of ducked like he was maybe concerned about hitting his head on the top of the door frame. “Hey,” He mumbled. Evan knew he was high. He looked half asleep.

Evan didn’t care.

“Hey,” He said, rasped back.

“You… good?”

Evan shrugged.

“Evan, aren’t you going to introduce your friend?” His dad said.

Evan and Connor both seemed to agree that this maybe wasn’t the time to worry about social cues, if expression was anything to go off of. “I’m Connor,” Connor said dully. “We go to school together and… stuff.”

“Ah,” His dad said.

Connor just stood there, all tall and out of place with his all-black outfit and black fingernails and Evan was genuinely glad to see him, which was kind of weird. He didn’t expect to feel glad about shit for a long time. “Do you wanna sit down?” Evan said, pointing to a vacant chair. Connor nodded gratefully and sat.

“Did you bring Evan’s school work then?” His dad asked, and again, Connor and Evan both seemed to be feeling the same sort of disgust because Connor gave Evan’s dad the dirtiest of looks. The sort of look Evan had seen him wear before punching someone.

“No,” He said flatly. He was still gripping the strap of his messenger bag, and Evan seriously wished his dad would leave. He sort of looked down at his feet. “Zoe… uh. She wanted to come but…”

Evan glanced at the clock.

Connor had clearly cut school, which explained why Zoe wasn’t there escorting him.

He didn’t know if he could handle seeing Zoe. Honestly. He wondered if maybe Connor got that. Probably not but he kind of appreciated that Connor didn’t wait for Zoe to give him a ride, at least.

Evan’s dad didn’t seem to get the hint that he was making everything weird.

He needed his dad to leave so he could ask Connor how much people at school knew because, really, he doubted anyone was going to take this stunt as evidence that Evan should finish high school online.

Considering how limited his options were, Evan determined that Connor probably wouldn’t mind being used, just a little. He reached out and grabbed Connor’s hand. It was probably like eighty degrees outside, but Connor’s hands were freezing. It took him a couple of seconds, but Connor intertwined their fingers and his face got a bit red.

“Oh,” Evan’s dad said. “I think. Maybe I should go get some coffee…” He got to his feet.

“Yeah you do that,” Evan said caustically, but he doubted his dad heard as he took off quickly. He sighed. Connor was sort of, like, looking at him. His eyes were still kind of dull and sleepy but he was looking at him, his eyebrows hooked together. “Sorry.”

Connor didn’t drop his hand. “Dude.”

“Sorry.”

“Like… um.” Connor bit his lip. “Are you…?”

He knew Connor wanted to ask if he was okay.

But they both knew the answer so the question went unfinished.

“School?”

Connor shook his head. “Not… great? I got a whole talking to by the school shrink and whatever.”

“Why?” Evan said.

“Didn’t you know? We’re boyfriends, apparently.”

Evan almost laughed but…

Well.

Apparently that had been real. He hadn’t imagined it or made it up in his head. He wasn’t… that kind of crazy, apparently.

It occurred to him that they were still holding hands. He wondered if he should let go.

Connor didn’t so neither did Evan.

“Is that your dad?” Connor asked.

“He lives in Colorado,” Evan answered. “N-normally he just… stays there.”

“Shit,” Connor said, nodding.

“Sorry if I…” Evan started.

Connor shook his head. “Don’t. Just. It’s… whatever.”

Evan tried for a smile but he doubted it really worked. The brief relief that Connor being there had brought was starting to fade.

“Um…” Connor said. “I probably should have like… brought something,” He said awkwardly.

Evan shook his head. “No. That would have, uh, been weirder.”

“Okay.”

They were quiet a bit, holding hands. Evan started to feel a bit of a headache creeping behind his eyes.

“Were you watching baseball?”

Evan shook his head. “Dad was.”

“Do you remember that time that you came to my house for dinner and my parents like drooled over you? And we played catch?”

“That was last summer.”

“No it wasn’t.” Connor frowned. “That was forever ago.”

“Yeah, it… it was last summer.”

“Oh.”

“I remember it though.”


 

So here he was, still a bit high, holding hands with Evan in a hospital. Yep. Totally normal day. 100% normal.

He got up after a while and let go of Evan’s hand and found a payphone (it was difficult, most places didn’t have them anymore, but he didn’t want a call getting charged to Evan’s room). He used the last of his quarters to call his dad.

“Larry Murphy speaking.”

“Hey uh… don’t be pissed at me.”

A sigh. “Jesus Connor, are you calling from a payphone?”

“Yeah, I don’t have mine remember? I… Could you pick me up on your way home?”

“Why aren’t you at home? You’re supposed to go straight home from school.”

“Evan’s in the hospital and I went to visit, okay?”

His dad went so quiet Connor was afraid the call dropped.

His dad finally sighed. “Okay. Which hospital?”

“Mercy.”

“Is he… okay? Does Zoe know?”

“He’s… fine, ish. Zoe knows but I didn’t tell her I was coming.”

“Your mother’s going to throw a fit about this.”

“I know. Sorry.”

“Stop going places without telling us,” Larry said, irritably. “I’ll pick you up at the south entrance in one hour, okay?”

“Thanks.”

Connor hung up. Walked back to Evan’s room and was… less than happy to discover Heidi had returned with Georgia in tow.

He tried to give her a look that said “not here.” She gave him a slight nod, seeming to understand. She had a bruise on her cheek. Connor wondered how new it was.

“Hi Connor,” Heidi was saying, giving him a smile that he knew was mostly out of politeness.

“Hey Heidi,” He said, trying to smile back.

“Dad went to get coffee,” Evan said. He sounded tired. He’d sounded tired since Connor got here. “He wants me to move to Colorado.”

It went dead quiet after that. Like a bomb went off and left them all deaf.

“I told him no, o-obviously,” Evan said.

“We can talk about this later,” His mom said with this twitchy smile. “Okay? You don’t have to decide right now. If you wanted to… To think about it…”

“I’m not going,” He said, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Evan -”

“Unless you’re trying to-to offload me on my deadbeat dad, I’m not going.” He turned to

Georgia, jaw twitching a bit. “What’s happening at-at school?”

Georgia perched gingerly at the end of his bed. “Um. Alana Beck is on another one of her crusades.”

“What about?” Evan asked.

Georgia cast a glance at Connor for a second, then said, “Uh. You? I guess. She tried to talk my ear off earlier about some assembly she’s working on? I dunno there’s a facebook group now, I guess. She invited like… a lot of people.”

“Great,” Evan said dully, chewing at his thumbnail. Connor wished Georgia would have kept that information to herself. Moron. Did she need to make him feel worse?

He recalled from before, when they were younger, when they were kids, like actually kids, she had said that Evan was like them.

Maybe she wasn’t totally wrong, but she wasn’t quite right either. Evan might be fucked up like them, but he wasn’t the same breed. Connor and Georgia? They had the same problems. They’d ignore each other or be obsessed with each other, no in between. They’d be soulmates or worst enemies. They hurt so much they hurt themselves and each other. They had both resigned themselves to nothing getting better.

Evan wanted things to get better, it was so obvious. For a quite dude he was practically screaming for someone to notice him… only when he did he’d freak out, afraid he did something wrong. Evan was the type of person who wanted people to notice him but for like… the nice, palatable parts. Like being into nature and being a good writer (not being an anxious spaz who struggled to eat or talk in front of people). Connor and Georgia worked hard to keep from being noticed, period. If people looked too hard at them… Well they’d end up in the same place as Evan, Connor realized.

She was right. The presumed end result was the same: if people find out you’re crazy, they send you to the nuthouse.

It was super annoying when she was right.

Eventually, a someone in scrubs brought Evan some dinner and mentioned that they would be ready to move him in a couple of hours. He got pretty pale at that, refusing to take the lid off of his food.

“Honey,” His mom said in this tired, pleading kind of voice. Like this wasn’t the first time they’d had this disagreement.

She sounded like Connor’s parents.

Georgia was trying to like, lightly tease Evan, threatening to steal his jello and stuff, but whatever ease had leaked into the room had evaporated. It was tense and weird.

Especially once Mr. Hansen reappeared and muttered something under his breath about how Evan’s friends were acting like this was a social call.

Felt just like dinner at home.

“Georgia,” Connor said suddenly. Louder than he meant to. “Why don’t we go get some coffee?” He looked at Heidi with her crumpled tissue smile and her sad eyes and said, “Can we get you guys some coffee?”

He knew what families looked like right before they had a fight and Connor knew it would embarrass Evan more if they saw it.

“Uh,” Mr. Evan’s Dad said, like he was confused that a hoodlum would offer to do something nice. “Sure. Decaf?”

Georgia appeared to catch on, nodding at Connor. “Heidi?”

She tore her eyes away from Evan. “Yes. Sure. Uh. That would be really great. Thank you.”

“Evan?” Connor asked.

Evan looked miserably down at his feet, making small hills under the blanket, muttering something about how he was supposed to be avoiding caffeine.

“Okay. We’ll be back,” Georgia said, grabbing Connor by the elbow and pulling him out of the room.

“Yikes,” Connor said.

“His dad’s a prick, right?”

“Seriously.” He nudged her arm. “Speaking of prick dads…”

Her face when ashen. “I know. It’s bad, right?”

H e didn’t say anything. He didn’t say, “My dad might have broken my collarbone this summer, who knows.” Because it was different. He had deserved it if his dad had actually hurt him. Georgia was probably… just there. “Call your mom.”

“She’s a prick too.”

“Not a drunk one,” Connor said.

“I’d probably have to transfer schools.”

He thought back to ninth grade, the day Georgia tattooed her initials into his wrist, the day they spilled what happened to Heidi because she was the one who would know what to do.

At the time, Georgia leaving was a fate worse than death. It was worse than bruises and insults, worse than anything.

Now?

Well it wasn’t like Connor could fuck things up anymore.

It wasn’t like they were even talking.

Maybe some distance wouldn’t hurt.

“It wouldn’t be the worst thing,” Connor said reasonably. “Can’t suck worse than here.” He shook his head. “Alana Beck is really trying to… Alana Beck this thing?”

“Haven’t you been on facebook?”

“No phone,” He said. She nodded, handing hers over, the appropriate facebook page pulled up. The Evan Project. A call for kindness. Anti-bullying campaign. Discussions of mental health.

He handed the phone back, shaking his head. “Ugh, Alana. Dude.”

“And you told me I was wrong when I used to say she was obnoxious.”

He held his tongue at that. They found a coffee cart a couple of floors down. Connor used the last of the money he had stolen to pay for their coffees.

They walked quietly back up to Evan’s room for the most part.

“I guess…” Connor started, then stopped.

“What?”

“I guess you were right. About Evan… being like us.”

Something he couldn’t identify flickered in her eyes. “Yeah.” She sighed.

They handed the coffees off to Heidi and Evan’s dad. Evan was staring at his lap, his eyes redder than they’d been when they had left.

Connor looked at the clock and realized he had to leave soon or he’d miss his dad picking him up. “Do you want a ride?” He said, turning to Georgia. “My dad’s coming to get me soon.”

“Yeah. Sure.”

They both hugged Heidi because Heidi was a hugger and looked like she could use it. They were shitty kids, but Heidi was a good mom, and both Connor and Georgia seemed to recognize she needed something.

Connor felt really weird about hugging Evan because like. He didn’t think he’d ever hugged Evan. It was a weird impulse. He went with it.

Georgia hugged Evan too and kissed his cheek because she hated to be one-upped.

They walked out toward the south entrance.

His dad was clearly pissed that Connor was hanging out with Georgia, but he didn’t say anything and drove her home without bitching.

Once they dropped her off, Larry turned to Connor. “Your mother is really upset with you.”

“Okay.”

“You need to stop cutting school and acting like you can just do whatever you want all of the time.”

“Okay.”

“Damn it, Connor, stop just saying okay, will you?”

He rolled his eyes. “Fine.”

“What happened to Evan?”

Connor looked down at his shoes. “He tried to kill himself.”

“Oh.” He looked straight ahead and pretended like he had never heard of this new fangled suicide thing. “Shame. He’s a good kid.”

“He didn’t die.

“I know. I meant… you know what I mean.”

Connor never knew what Larry meant.


 

Georgia didn’t wake up to her alarm.

Well, since her phone was dead she she hadn’t set an alarm, strictly speaking. Power was still cut when she got home. Shocking.

But regardless, it wasn’t something planned or scheduled that woke her up that morning. Georgia woke up to a pounding on the door so loud that she knew it wasn’t just her hangover. The dull pounding in her head was subtler, softer, less likely to kill her.

“Jesus,” She muttered, hoping whoever was knocking like an asshole hadn’t woken the other asshole of the house. She stumbled through the house, eyes still not fully awake, and pulled the door open.

Her mom was standing there in yoga pants, her face so pale she looked almost gray. It was early, really early, the sun still a buttery glow on the horizon. “Georgie, honey,” her mom said, pulling her into a tight, bone crushing hug. It hurt, that hug, pressed all of Georgia’s sorest spot.

“What the hell?” Georgia said, struggling to pull away. “It’s like… early. What are you doing here?”

“I’m taking you home with me,” She said, her voice stern. “You… it’s not safe for you to be here.”

“What are you talking about?” Georgia asked, knowing full well that the bruise on her face and cuts on her legs were in full view. Knowing no matter how well she lied, she was going going gone.

“Sweetheart,” Her mom said softly. “I am so sorry… I had no idea.”

Part of her wanted to fall apart, crying, begging her mommy to make it all better.

Part of her knew there was no coming back after this. Nothing would be the same. No lazy days hanging out with Evan, hiding out in his house, no more sleepovers or getting stoned with Connor. The possibility was evaporating before her eyes. She couldn’t deal, she couldn’t bear it. She couldn’t leave, she couldn’t actually leave. Things were shit now but they couldn’t be fixed if she was gone.

“I can’t go…” She said. “All of my friends are here.” To her own ears it sounded puny and pathetic.

“Sweetheart,” Her mom said, taking her hand so gently, like Georgia might shatter under her touch (which she might, she really might). “Please. It’s not safe. You’re getting hurt…” Her mother’s jaw shifted. “If you don’t come with me now, I’ll have to call CPS and they’ll… remove you if they have to.”

Georgia felt like she might cry or break down or lose her mind or die. She might actually, literally die on the spot. “But I didn’t get to say goodbye,” She said, her voice choked.

“You won’t have to. You can still see them. But we have to go, now, before your father wakes up.”
She looked back toward the living room, toward the sounds of his snores. “I… Can I get dressed first?”

“Quickly,” Her mom said. “I’ll come back for your things later…”

Georgia hurried down the hall, throwing on a dirty t-shirt and cut off jean shorts, and pausing for just one second, threw her stash of drugs and the photo of her and Evan and Connor at homecoming into her backpack before letting her mom usher her out the door.

She didn’t realize her legs were shaking until she nearly collapsed when she climbed into the passenger side of her mom’s car. She didn’t realize she was crying until her mom was pulling over, just outside of town, and petting her hair and telling her it was all going to be okay.

Georgia couldn’t just leave like this. She couldn’t just go without Connor knowing where she was. She had to tell him where she was, she had to make sure that he knew…

“Okay, sweetie, alright. I’ll call his parents, okay? We’ll make sure he doesn’t worry.”

“Okay.”

“Can you… try to take a deep breath, Georgie, I’m worried you’re going to black out if you keep breathing so fast.”

But she couldn’t calm down, she didn’t even know how her mom had found out about any of this, she didn’t want her mom to know she didn’t want anyone to know but Connor she couldn’t leave him if she left he would never know where she went he wouldn’t ever get over her leaving he’d never forgive her he’d never get over the sex thing she couldn’t just leave like this.

She was trying to get the door open and her mom was telling her to take a breath.

“How did you even know?” She cried. “How did you know?”

Her mom reached over and put a hand on Georgia’s arm. “You friend’s mom called me… Heidi. She was worried about you.”

“What?” Georgia said, not understanding, the words not making sense. Heidi… Heidi was trying to get rid of her. Heidi was the one who wanted her gone, away from Evan, because she obviously blamed Georgia and fuck she shouldn’t have said anything.

She wasn’t really there for the rest of the car ride. Her mom took her to the emergency room, having her injuries documented and treated. She left with a few bandaids and X-rays taken of her face from when her dad had hit her.

But Georgia wasn’t really there. She wasn’t anywhere, really, just somewhere safer in her head watching as her life fell apart.

Her mom hadn’t had time to set her bedroom up, not really, but she had bought new sheets and blankets for the bed. The house was nicely air conditioned and clean.

“Do you want to rest, sweetheart? I know I woke you up early.”

“School?” She said vaguely.

“We can worry about that in a few days,” Her mom said in this soft mom voice. “I think… you won’t get too far behind if you take a few days off.” She tried to smile. Georgia watched herself mechanically try to smile back. “I’ll make some calls about getting you registered.”

She watched herself frown at that. “I have to change schools?”

“It’s a different district,” Her mom said, frowning. “And I… I don’t like the idea of your father knowing where to find you eight hours a day.”

Georgia could see her own face morphing into a frown. “But I have a job! I have friends!”

“I know, honey, I know,” Her mom said. “You can find another job… and your friends can come visit, after school and on weekends. I just want you to be safe.”

“Bullshit,” Georgia said. “If that was true you never would have left me with him in the first place.”

“Honey…”

“I hate you too,” She said, and Georgia could hear how caustic it sounded. “You think you’ve swooped in and saved me, but you put me in that situation. I hate you too.”

She closed the door to her new bedroom that wasn’t really her bedroom and sat on the bed that wasn’t really her bed and watched herself cry and cry and cry until she was out of tears and feelings.

Her mom kept trying to knock and check on her but Georgia refused to open the door. She emerged only once, to pee, and then retreat back into the room without a word.

Eventually, based on the evidence, Georgia must have slept. She woke up feeling slightly more there, more herself, and discovered it was dark, it was the middle of the night, and she crept out of the room.

Outside was a laundry basket of her things. Clothes, freshly washed. Her laptop on top of the pile.

After a detour for water and to pee, she booted up the laptop and realized that her mother wasn’t even smart enough to password protect the wifi. She logged onto Facebook only to be ambushed with like fifty notifications on The Evan Project, which she privately thought ranked high on the list of things most likely to convince Evan to try to kill himself again.

There wasn’t a message from Connor. Or any messages. Nobody had noticed her missing.

And probably nobody would.

It was probably tacky, writing her note as a facebook status.

It was probably pathetic to tell Connor she was in love with him, publically, but it wasn’t like she was actually friends with anyone of importance.

The whole thing was just cliched and stupid and pitiful, but somehow it was all she could do. Georgia was powerless against this.

She took her own stash and retreated to the bathroom where she discovered her mother’s stash too.

Bottom’s up, she thought.


 

Another day, another call to the guidance office to meet with Mrs. Carlson and Ms. Quale.

They looked worse this time. Concerned faces turned up to eleven.

Connor didn’t know why he was here this time.

Chewing his cuticle he hoped that nothing else had happened to Evan. That would suck. He should have gone to see him.

“Connor,” Ms. Quale said and she held her arms out for a hug.

“I’m not hugging you,” Connor said shortly, dropping himself into the chair in front of the desk. Mrs. Carlson looked at Ms. Quale all concerned. “What? Why am I here?”

Ms. Quale sighed. “Georgia Stern…”

His heart dropped. It disappeared, vanished. “What about her?”

Mrs. Carlson took the lead then, because Ms. Quale’s eyes had filled with tears. “She uh. Last night she attempted to take her own life.”

“Attempted?” Connor rasped because oh my god oh god oh god oh god.

“She’s in the hospital. Her mother said… they weren’t sure yet if she would…”

Connor blocked out whatever came next. He knew the adults’ lips were moving, that they were saying important, vital things but he didn’t hear it.

Georgia.

She.

Georgia. She wasn’t. She couldn’t. She couldn’t leave without him she couldn’t do that to him they weren’t supposed to be apart, not like that, not like this not like this not like this.

“...Connor?”

“What?”

“Have you… been on facebook today?”

He mumbled that his phone was broken.

Ms. Quale delicately put a piece of paper in his hands.

His eyes wouldn’t take the information in… he couldn’t understand what he was reading, why he was reading it. She loved him, she thought they were soulmates… she couldn’t keep fighting to keep him.

This couldn’t be real.

He couldn’t deal.

“Where is she?”

“Mercy hospital,” Mrs. Carlson said. “She’s being monitored -”

He folded up the piece of paper. “I have to…. I have to go.”

“We can call your parents,” Ms. Quale said. “You’re under eighteen, you need -”

He didn’t hear what he needed. The cafeteria was packed. People were mulling around between classes. Alana Beck caught up to him as he was making a b-line for the closest exit, asking how he was doing, saying she was so sorry to hear about Georgia and how she was shocked Connor was even at school, his two best friends -

“She’s not dead.”

“She’s not?” Alana said faintly.

“Not yet.”

“Connor, can I do anything? How can I help?”

He stopped. “You drive yet?”

She nodded. “I got my license this summer and bought a car with the money I -”

“Is the car here?”

She nodded.

“Can you drive me to Mercy Hospital?”

“It’s the middle of the school day.”

“Yeah,” He said distantly. “Right. Whatever.”

He took off, not waiting for her to sputter whatever sort of Alana Beck explanation she had for not taking him. Instead he found Zoe’s locker. She had been muttering her combination to herself all morning on the first day of school, and he figured it was stupid to remember it but handy in this moment. It took him two tries but he got her locker open.

And took the keys out of the pocket of her denim jacket. They were supposed to go and visit Evan later, Heidi and Zoe had set it up. 

She’d be pissed but he didn’t give a shit.

Always better to beg forgiveness than ask permission.

...Actually, come to think of it that wasn’t the case with Zoe.

But he didn’t have time to waste. He had to go see Georgia, he had to see her, he had to see her.

The drive took for-fucking-ever. And he got lost once or twice. He was really fucking dependent on having access to a GPS.

Whatever.

He got to the hospital in maybe half an hour, and found himself standing at a reception desk, not sure where to even go.

“I’m here to see Georgia Stern.”

The man behind the desk frowned. “She hasn’t been approved for visitors.”

“Please… I need to see her.”

“Sir, please take a seat. You’re welcome to wait but she hasn’t been approved for visitors.”

“But I… I need to see her!” Connor exploded.

“Sir,” The man in scrubs said sternly. “You cannot see her right now. You can have a seat or you can leave.”

Connor angrily ran a hand through his hair, but parked himself in an uncomfortable chair in the waiting room. He tapped his feet, chewed his fingernails and generally fidgeted for half an hour when he got up, resigned, and asked the asshole behind the desk where he could find a bathroom. When he was explaining, Connor looked up at the board listing off all of the patients on the ward, which said G. Stern was in room 506.

So under the guise of going to the bathroom, Connor took off looking for Georgia’s room. He kept getting turned around, but eventually he did managed to find a room with a closed door and a crying woman sitting in the hall on the floor.

Connor knew this was Georgia’s mom immediately, even though they had never met. “Excuse me?” he said.

She looked up, wiping her face. “Oh god. You’re Connor.”

He was Connor, so he nodded. “I know Georgia’s not supposed to have visitors… but I uh. Is she okay?”

Georgia’s mom shook her head. “She’s a mess. She… she got really lucky.”

He swallowed hard. “I know… I’m not supposed to be here, but… could I see her?”

Georgia’s mom got to her feet slowly. She wiped her face again with her hands. “I’ll have to see… She’s pretty upset and needed some space… I’ll see.”

“Thank you.”

He watched as Georgia’s mom went into the room, shuffling his feet anxiously. He had to see her. He had to. If he didn’t see her, if he didn’t try to… understand, to fix her because that’s what they did they fixed each other…

Georgia’s mom came back out shortly. He expected a smile and a “go on in.”

“I’m sorry,” She said instead. “Georgia said she doesn’t want to see you.”

“Did you… did you tell her it was me?” Connor said, feeling stupid.

“Yes,” Georgia’s mom said in this annoyingly patient tone. “I’m sorry Connor. She really doesn’t want to see you.”

“For how long?” He said, his voice jumping an octave.

“She didn’t say,” Her mom said evenly. “She needs space. You need to give it to her.”

But they didn’t do space, Connor thought, frustrated. They did the opposite of space. He had to see her, he had to -

He went to move around Georgia’s mom, to push past her and see Georgia anyway, because Georgia wouldn’t do this she wouldn’t she would never deny him -

“Don’t even think about it,” Georgia’s mom said, her voice suddenly stronger. “My daughter does not want to see you. You should leave.”

“But-”

“Now.”

Connor looked helplessly at the small window on the door, but he couldn’t see her. He cast a murderous look at Georgia’s mom and then turned to go.

He… he had to see her. If he didn’t see her…

He couldn’t just not see her. He had to see her she had almost died he had to see her what the fuck why couldn’t he see her?

Connor let out a strangled yell and slammed his fist into the concrete brick wall, pain exploding up his hand and wrist and arm. He didn’t care. He drove Zoe’s car home recklessly, ignoring his mom’s squawks and protests at him being home and having his sister’s car, going to his room and slamming the door.

She wouldn’t let him see her.

She wouldn’t let him. He couldn’t just not see her, she couldn’t just be that angry at him, he couldn’t help being gay but he’d stop if he had to he’d figure out how to stop if it meant he got to see her, just see her. He needed to he had to fuck fuck fuck fuck fuckfuckfuck.

He shoved his desk in front of his bedroom door to keep his mother out and then flung himself on the bed.

He laid there for a while, for hours, just existing, just being miserable and horrified and scared and she had to let him see her.

But she wouldn’t, he realized.

This was it this was finally it she was done she was finally done with him.

Connor moved his desk back away from the door.

He knew what to do.

It took a couple of tries to find a vein this time… He must be nervous or something. Why? He wasn’t nervous when he was fifteen.

He wouldn’t mess this up this time though.

It was too big of a shot. It was too much, and he didn’t care.

He found the vein and pushed the plunger down fast, fastfastfast fast.

Everything blurred in a wave of euphoria. He felt himself be knocked back, literally knocked only his back, taking his desk chair down with him. It was ecstacy.

And then there was nothing.

Chapter Text

After

Winter


 

“Welcome.”

She didn’t smile. The shrink sat back in an armchair, legs crossed at the knee. He had warm brown skin and dark brown hair and smiled pleasantly, looking like a painting against the happy sunflower yellow of the walls. She wanted to punch him, a bit.

She didn’t want to feel welcome here. Because she didn’t belong here, didn’t want to be here, refused to go the first three times her dad had tried to coax her into going, throwing toddler-like tantrums in the parking lot because it was stupid to expect her to talk about her feelings.

She wasn’t the one who was broken, she wasn’t the one who tried to die.

Zoe was the one who saved Connor’s life and now it felt like she was getting punished for it.

“I don’t want to be here,” Zoe said to Dr. Sherman with his sunny smile. It dropped but not like he was angry, but like he was trying to listen to her intently which just pissed Zoe right the fuck off.

She had just turned sixteen when it happened.

She was allowed to be angry that her big brother overdosed and she had to save him. She was allowed to be pissed off about that. She didn’t need therapy because she saved her asshole brother’s life. She didn’t. Obviously Connor needed therapy but she was fine.  Zoe was fine, there wasn’t anything wrong with her. She just stepped up where she knew her parents wouldn’t. And they were punishing her for that. Whatever.

“Is that how you see it?” Dr. Sherman asked, jotting a note down on the clipboard he was holding. “That you’re being punished by your parents asking you to speak to a counselor?”

Zoe felt like she had eaten a mouthful of sand. Her throat was too dry. She wished she could dissolve into the floor. Dr. Sherman was giving her a nod of encouragement and she tried, she did really try, to open her mouth and say something. Because maybe it would help to just say something, anything.

To lie. To disagree. To admit she sort of felt like maybe her parents would both be happier if Zoe had just walked in, moved the desk out of the way, seen her brother turning blue, and didn’t know what to do. But she had known and she had revived him and called for help when her parents had both stood frozen and her mom had been reduced to screaming incoherently. Zoe was the one to bark at her dad to dial 911, Zoe was the one who had kept up the rescue breathing after one shot did nothing and neither did two. Zoe was the one to hit him a final time, right in the arm, when he took a huge gasp of air and, slurring, told her to fuck off.

“So he was angry?”

Zoe hadn’t really realized she had been talking. What a weird starting point for therapy. “Uh. Yeah. I screwed up his high.” She chewed at her fingernail. “Or didn’t like… let him die. I dunno which he was more pissed about.”

“Do you think he was trying to end his life?”

Without a doubt. She knew it. Evan, then Georgia… She found out later, much later, that Georgia hadn’t wanted to see Connor. That she had told her mom not to let Connor anywhere near her. And then Connor came home and did a lethal amount of heroin and Zoe didn’t let him die.

Zoe didn’t let him die.

She thought that was some sort of sainthood application, really.

He had called her every name in the book.

Almost killed her twice.

Sort of dated her ex-boyfriend.

She had every reason to not want him around but she didn’t let him die and that was something.

“Zoe,” Dr. Sherman said with this very earnest look on his face. Where had her parents even found him? Did they google “therapists for teenagers” or something? “What you did was very brave and also very difficult. It makes sense that you are struggling to put into words what you’re feeling about what happened with your brother.”

“I guess,” She said, crossing her arms over her chest.

“Can I suggest something to you?” He asked like he genuinely wanted to make sure he wasn’t pushing. She shrugged. “You can take or leave this, and if it doesn’t work, please let me know… I won’t be offended.”

“Okay.”

“So. You’re a musician,” Dr. Sherman said, and Zoe sort of thought he had a ADHD with the sudden topic shift. “How do you learn new music?”

She shrugged. “I read the sheet music. I see if I can find a recording. I practice a little at a time until I can play the whole song, see what works. I dunno.”

Dr. Sherman smiled. “You practice.”

“Yeah.”

“So maybe you can think about these feelings like… practice. It seems really overwhelming right now, so you get to try out ways to help break that down. Maybe you focus on one feeling at a time. Maybe if something keeps coming back up, you give it more thought.”

“And what do you do?” She asked, sort of sarcastically.

“Well I’m sort of like a tutor,” He said. “I work for you. You tell me what works, and we fine tune accordingly.”

Zoe thought that was a load of crap, but she went along with it anyways. What was the harm? Her parents were paying this dude like a hundred and fifty dollars an hour to tell her to treat her emotions like sheet music? It was fine by her.


 

“Georgia.”

She kept her eyes closed. Maybe if she kept them closed her mom would give up and let her sleep. She was exhausted, she needed to rest… for a long time. At least a month. Georgia needed a coma. She needed to wake up in a year, surrounded by loved ones who were so worried about her.

Oh except she didn’t have any of those. Loved ones.

Just her fucking mom.

Her mom had sent Tony packing. She said that he was just giving the pair of them time to readjust to living together, but Georgia could tell he didn’t want to hitch his wagon to the divorcee with the world’s most fucked up kid. It was fine when she lived with her dad but if she was gonna be there, day in and day out? It wouldn’t work. Georgia knew it.

Georgia also remembered the day she came back from the psych ward with her head feeling like someone had crammed a box full of kleenex where her brain used to be and seeing Tony looking at her from the kitchen. Looking at her, like looking. She was used to that kind of look from men. The sort which suggested she was old for her age. The sort she had used to her advantage before.

So she winked at him and watched the color drain from his face and the next day, her mom was saying that Tony was going to go and stay with his sister for a little while.

Georgia sort of wondered what her mom would have done had she actually fucked him.

It wouldn’t have been hard to do. She probably wouldn’t have even felt it.

Anyway, her mom was saying her name. She had fallen asleep watching My Girl again. That movie used to make her sob like a baby. She’d cry her eyes out when Thomas J. died.

A boy who’d risk his life for a mood ring? That was the sort of shit Georgia needed in her life. The sort of shit she thought that she had.

She had told her mom not to let Connor visit her.

And he listened.

She didn’t want him to listen and now she hadn’t seen him in months, and it was killing her. She had this gaping hole in her chest and nobody else seemed to see it and nobody thought was permanent. “You’ll get over him,” Her mom had said when she petted Georgia’s hair during one of the thousands of crying jags she had gone on since getting here.

It didn’t help.

She wouldn’t get over him.

She didn’t want to get over Connor.

She wanted him back. That was all. She wanted Connor back.

She didn’t feel anything when Thomas J. died now. She just felt blank.

Much like how she felt when her mom pursed her lips and said that Georgia was supposed to be working on her sleep schedule.

“I know.”

“I trust you to come home on your own for the two hours before I get here,” her mom said. “But that means you need to be doing the work or we’ll need to explore other options.”

“The Work” was objectively easy. An idiot could do it.

No drinking, no drugs, no social media, no naps, or food binges. She was supposed to stick to her elimination diet. She was supposed to do her school work and work through the workbook her therapist had given her. She was supposed to check in with her mom when she got home and avoid “screen time” until she had done all of this.

Georgia thought that was dumb, so she didn’t do it. She stole her mom’s laptop to check facebook and instagram and twitter, though never under her own accounts. She barely did her homework. Sometimes she stopped at the store on the way home, charged tons of junk food to her mom’s in case of emergencies credit card, and ate until she threw up. Georgia normally popped in an old DVD of My Girl and fell asleep when she got home. Which she knew was pissing off her mom. Which she knew wasn’t actually helping her get better but...

Nobody was giving her a clear answer on what the fuck was wrong with her.

Her therapist was cagey and her mom wasn’t saying anything worth listening to about it. She was too guilt ridden to say anything of use. So Georgia didn’t know what the fuck was the matter with her, what made her like this.

Which probably meant it was Bad.

Last time she had computer access to the internet she had googled the mental illnesses that were the hardest to treat and was trying to figure out which one she had.

Schizophrenia seemed to be out, since she didn’t regularly hallucinate.

Which left bipolar disorder and a list of personality disorders. She seemed to find things that fit about all of them so basically she was probably just… broken.

And there was not fixing broken things so she watched the same movie and tried to psychically will Connor Murphy to return to her life. It was pathetic and it never actually worked.


 

Connor wasn’t actually going home.

He was going to his dad’s new apartment because apparently a heroin overdose had pushed his parents’ marriage over the edge and they were “taking time apart.”

He knew shit was bad if his mom wouldn’t take him back for the holidays.

Like oh man that was pretty fucking bad. She had visited over his sixty days but. Well. Things had been tense. She was pissed at him that was so obvious. He didn’t know what had pissed her off more: the fact that he had almost died or that he had almost died doing heroin .

So she hadn’t come to pick him up.

Not that he blamed her after the last fight that happened in one of his therapy sessions…. Connor wasn’t exactly keen on “opening up” and when he said he preferred being high, she went off.

What had she done to him to cause this? What had she done wrong, she’d stayed home, sent him to a good school, yada yada yada.

“It wasn’t you at all,” He had said, crossing his arms tightly over his chest. “I wasn’t… I just, like, like heroin? It had literally nothing to do with you.”

She had basically cried the rest of the session, leaving Connor awkwardly squirming while his therapist tried and failed to get them back on track.

So.

Connor was visiting his mom but not staying over Christmas.

Instead he was staying with Larry in his new bachelor pad. The idea sort of made him want to barf. Connor and Larry, in an apartment, together.

It sounded like a sitcom. A bad one which would get cancelled immediately.

He knew he should be feeling some kind of way about all of this, but mostly Connor was just nervous. He had been sober for sixty six days. Larry had originally only wanted Connor to do thirty in rehab. Connor’s mom had begged for ninety. The compromise, at one harrowing session early on while Connor was still detoxing, was sixty days.

So Connor was sixty six days sober.

And he was bound to fuck it up.

“Have you been keeping up with your school work?”

Connor shrugged. As best as he could. It was sort of hard to keep up with class work for classes he wasn’t actually attending. He was a chronic class ditcher the first two years of high school, but not going at all from the middle of September on was a different thing entirely. There was a twice a week tutor who came in for the handful of other kids tucked away at rehab, but dude was balancing several different curricula and gave off the distinct impression that he hated Connor, so Connor mostly kept to himself.  He was totally lost in all of his math homework, and reading the textbook didn’t help. Trying to learn Spanish vocab was tough on his own. The only subjects he didn’t think he was totally flunking were ironically his AP Language and AP U.S. History classes. Because he could just… read the stuff and write about it and it wasn’t so bad.

“If you want to graduate on time…” Larry started.

“I probably shouldn’t have just called in sick for the whole semester,” Connor finished for him. “I’m trying to keep up, it’s just… hard. Cramming a whole school day into a couple of hours at night.”

Larry nodded. Connor mentally prepared for a fight. “Makes sense,” Larry said instead. “I talked to your counselors and… well it looks like summer school is probably your best bet.”

Connor nodded. Didn’t argue.

“How are you feeling about going back to school after the holidays?” Larry asked.

“Uh,” Connor said frowning, “I didn’t know that was even, like, officially decided.”

“We talked about it,” Larry said, sounding tired. “Last time I visited.”

“And I said I wasn’t sure it was a good idea,” Connor said stubbornly, crossing his arms over his chest. “I hate it there.”

“So you’re just... What? Going to drop out?”

“I could get my GED,” Connor said lamely.

“And then what?” Larry said, shaking his head. “Do you plan to get a job? Go to community college? What’s the plan Connor?”

He shook his head. “Nevermind, Jesus.”

His dad heaved a heavy sigh. “I want to help you,” Larry said in a tone that suggested he would honestly rather bodily throw Connor from the moving vehicle. “You have to let me.”

Connor sighed. “I don’t know if I can handle being back at school.”

“She won’t… be there,” Larry said quietly. “She transferred to another school, Zoe said.”

“It’s not just her,” Connor said, frowning, his insides pulling into a tight ball. It wasn’t just Georgia… it was everyone and everything. Hell he was scared to even see Zoe.

She was taking space and time.

For two whole months.

She hadn’t visited and Connor… He couldn’t hide that it hurt, honestly. He knew, from his mom and from Larry that Zoe was the one who saved him. But she wouldn’t see him and it stung.

He was nervous about seeing her over the holidays. Connor was bound to fuck it up somehow.

And then there was the whole thing that outside of the walls of the Evergreen Rehabilitation Facility, Connor was really preoccupied with how easily he could get drugs.

Being sober? Sucked. Was not ideal. His head was loud and angry, like it always was, but now the volume seemed deafening and also he still sort of totally felt like garbage all the time. Like he was one step away from the full blown withdrawal he had gone through when he first got out of the hospital. The sweating, the shaking, the sleeplessness and puking and shitting and at one point actually breaking down crying to the other junkie assigned to watch him shake and cry and puke and asking her to call his mom.

His mom didn’t pick up. It was probably for the best.

Larry cleared his throat. “Well. We can figure out school over the next few weeks. It would be pointless to send you back at the end of a semester anyway.”

Connor nodded gratefully.

The rest of the car ride passed quietly, nothing but the sounds of some show on NPR called Hidden Brain hosted by somebody called Shankar Vedantam. The man was talking about peer pressure and Larry was making sounds of approval with each new point.

Connor sort of missed rehab already.

He didn’t have friends really there, but there were familiar faces and he knew everyone’s baggage. Sitting in the car with Larry was somehow lonelier.

“Okay,” Larry said, pulling up to nondescript apartment building and pulling into an underground garage space. “We’re here.”

Connor shouldn’t have been surprised by the lack of frills in the building. Larry might make upwards of six figures, but he was a frugal guy. Connor distantly wondered why. He hadn’t given a lot of thought to why Larry Murphy was always tightening his belt; he didn’t really suspect his had had grown up poor because his grandparents on his dad’s side seemed like regular old middle class grandparents. Connor had just always kind of assumed his dad was sort of miserly, Scrooge-like saving pennies and bitching about his mom buying silly luxuries like almond flour.

They climbed two flights of stairs, Larry insisting on carrying Connor’s duffle bag which Connor found annoying. Larry pulled a set of keys out of his pocket and opened the door to apartment 2E. He strode inside, like this was normal, like this was home, turning on lights while Connor lingered in the doorway. “Come on in,” Larry said in a voice Connor suspected was meant to be inviting.

Also Connor had felt his strange vague fear that if he wasn’t invited inside, specifically, he wouldn’t be able to cross the threshold.

Like a vampire or something.

Connor stepped into the apartment. It was pretty bare bones. Nothing hung on the walls, really, no holiday decorations. Unlike the house Connor grew up in, which sort of gave off the impression that pre-prison Martha Stewart had barfed in there, this place felt like a hospital.

Specifically, it looked a bit like Larry had hired the decorator from the psych ward Connor had stayed on. Which was illogically, because Larry Murphy would never hire a decorator.

Connor wondered if his dad had hidden away all the sharp things here.

Probably would have been a good idea.

The living space was open concept, the living room bleeding into the kitchen with a breakfast bar the only thing separating them. There was a sofa and an armchair in the living room, facing a medium sized television, and three doors just down a short hall.

“Okay,” his dad said, his tone businesslike. “This is the kitchen.” He pointed to the refrigerator, as if Connor might have mistaken the space for a bathroom or something. “Living room.” He headed down the hall, and Connor followed. “My room,” Larry said, pointing out the first door. “Bathroom.” He flicked the light on, and Connor saw that there was a blue seashell patterned shower curtain. “And your room.”

Connor stared.

There wasn’t a door on this room.

Larry turned the light on and it lit up the white walls, the basic nightstand, the bed with a blue comforter spread across it. A closet, also without a door. A dresser.

“There’s no doors,” Connor said, turning to look at his dad.

Larry nodded, confirming it. “I took them off.”

“Why?”

“I just… I have to make sure I can keep an eye on you.”

“Great,” He said with a sigh. “Where am I supposed to change, exactly?”

“Bathroom,” Larry said. “But I did take the lock off the door.”

“Seriously?” Connor said, unable to squash down his annoyance.

“You haven’t exactly convinced me that you’re capable of using privacy responsibly.”

What a Fucking Larry thing to say.

“We had doors in rehab,” Connor said petulantly. He took his duffle bag out of Larry’s hand and dropped it on the floor.

Larry took a deep breath. Connor waited for the fall out. Instead, his dad exhaled through his nose. “I’ll let you get settled.”


 

Evan was beyond relieved when he submitted the final paper of his first semester of junior year online. He got up from the kitchen table to tell his mom, and she smiled at him. A pale, half assed smile. She didn’t smile at him genuinely anymore and he got it, he did. He’d stolen all of her smiling power, probably.

He wasn’t going back to school. Not real school, and definitely not this year. It was all arranged by Dr. Sherman, who took Evan’s side saying the aftermath of his suicide attempt was too traumatic to expect him to return to attending Central High. The plan was to do at least the next semester online and go from there.

Evan Hansen had gone totally viral. The boy who tried to die. The boy who set off a domino effect of mental health crises which resulted in five other suicide attempts and one completed suicide all within the school district. People blamed him. His facebook inbox was just full one morning of threats and jabs over the death of Brian Harris, a popular football player at school who had apparently hanged himself in his parents’ garage at the end of October.

Evan couldn’t go back to that school.

He nearly took his dad up on his offer to move to Colorado, honestly, but then somehow the story hit Buzzfeed and there were YouTube videos about it and even though he was always referred to as “a Junior at Central High school” because they couldn’t print the name of a minor, it was clear that he was the subject.

Evan didn’t know who had gotten it worse, him or Alana Beck, who had tried to rally the school in an effort to raise awareness about mental health and suicide, only to inadvertently turn Evan into the scapegoat of the “suicide epidemic.”

Nobody seemed to give a whole lot of thought to the fact that Evan had been trying to die , not start some kind of sick social movement.  That two of his only friends had also hurt themselves… and now they weren’t talking to Evan anymore, even though he had sent pages and pages and pages of apologies to them both, blaming himself for what had happened, thinking somehow he had been the one to destabilize them both even though deep down he suspected that wasn’t really true, that they were both struggling like he was long before he had ever opened up that pill bottle.

“Are you excited to be on winter break?” His mom asked him, squeezing Evan’s shoulder.

He shrugged. Since he wasn’t going to school, so it didn’t make a whole lot of difference for his daily life. Less required reading, fewer emails with his teachers, Evan figured.

“I guess,” Evan said. He leaned his head against his mom’s shoulder. “Glad the semester is over, I guess.”

His mom nodded. “Makes sense,” she said, pressing a kiss to the top of his head. He didn’t know exactly why he was always hanging on his mom these days, but it helped him feel less like nobody in the world cared about him when she was sitting next to him telling him she did. Evan was trying not to question it. Dr. Sherman said that leaning on the people he loved, literally and figuratively, made sense after a trauma.

Trauma was a weird thing to call it, Evan thought. Trauma was a bad thing that happened to you, but Evan was the thing that happened to himself.

So it was weird to think that he was suffering a trauma. But he was trying not to question it.

“Your dad called again,” His mom said after a while. “He said you didn’t call him back yesterday?”

“I didn’t want to talk to him,” Evan said. He didn’t want to get into why either because it just upset his mom when it came up. His dad was campaigning to get Evan to move out to Colorado. He thought Evan needed to be surrounded by family, but didn’t seem to understand that his mom was Evan’s family and his half siblings and stepmom just… weren’t. Evan was closer to the receptionist at Dr. Sherman’s office than he was with these kids he shared DNA with. And he was not moving to Colorado.

“I… Evan. I know you don’t want to talk about this,” his mom said, and Evan sat up straighter, taking his head off of her shoulder. His mom looked at him with her tired eyes and wilted smile. “But maybe it would be good to go stay with your dad? You could go to a new school, get a fresh start?”

“I don’t think I could handle that,” Evan said plainly because he could see how that would go down and it wouldn’t be pretty.

“I just…” His mom placed a hand on his shoulder, giving a warm squeeze. “I just… you know you don’t have to stay here for me, right?”

Evan found himself speechless.

He wasn’t.

That was part of it, sure. He couldn’t cope with the idea of leaving her all alone in this house after everything he had put her through that year.

But he wasn’t staying for her. Not exclusively.

“I know,” Evan said. “And I don’t want to leave you here alone, okay? It’s not the only reason but it’s part of it. I know I have… other options, but they just. Seem like a bad fit for me.”

She nodded. Pulled Evan in for a tight tight  hug. He hugged her back.

“Is Jared still coming over tomorrow?” His mom asked when they broke apart.

Evan nodded. He wasn’t thrilled about it, but Jared coming by while his mom was at work was part of the homeschooling deal. Jared wasn't like... so bad, but the thought of being babysat by someone who was literally younger than him sort of wrankled.

So was spending two afternoons a week volunteering at the nursing home where Heidi worked so that he wasn’t totally isolated. Evan spent a lot of time just… hanging out with old people. Most of the volunteers ended up just socializing with the residents. Evan had a standing chess match against this elderly lady Gladys who was suffering from the early stages of dementia so sometimes she thought Evan was her first husband. But she was good at chess and didn’t seem to mind if he was quiet and weird.

There were some kids his age who also volunteered, but so far Evan had been too nervous to talk to any of them for fear that they went to Central or had read any of the articles that had mentioned him. There was Alma, who came in and painted the older ladies’ fingernails once a week, and Charlotte who reminded Evan a bit of Alana Beck with the way she always wore blazers and seemed to be interviewing the residents for an oral history project. Sometimes he saw other kids from school come through, visiting relatives. He’d spotted Dalton Schwartz visiting his great uncle who was recovering from hip surgery around Thanksgiving, and Sabrina Patel’s grandma was a permanent resident.

But mostly, Evan hung out with Gladys. And Jared, once a week. Plus he saw Dr. Sherman on Tuesdays and every other Friday. And if his mom had a weekend shift, Evan went to the library if he could manage getting out of the house.

They had worked out a system so he wasn’t alone all of the time. Sometimes, it was exhausting. Sometimes, Evan felt guilty that all of this work had to be done to make sure people were watching out for him.

But it was okay. Better than this summer, better than the start of the year. Less lonely. Despite his anxieties, Evan preferred to be around people. A few weeks before, in a conversation with Dr. Sherman, his therapist had suggested that maybe Evan was an extrovert and that’s why he felt best when he was surrounded by people.

“I can’t be, uh, uh, an extrovert,” Evan had said with a laugh. “I can barely talk to you!”

“You can be an extrovert with social anxiety,” Dr. Sherman said, smiling kindly.

“Well… then that… blows!” Evan said, frustrated, but sort of laughing because there was a lightbulb that sort of flickered at the idea that being around people did make him feel better, even if being around people also made him anxious.

 

Back in the living room with his mom, Evan tried to give her a reassuring smile. “Jared… Jared and I might go to the mall this weekend? I guess he needs to shop for something.”

“Oh?” His mom was obviously surprised because Evan wasn’t really a mall guy because malls were crowded, especially this time of year, and crowds, like most things, made him twitchy and anxious.

“He has some shopping he has to do,” Evan said again. “And we were thinking about seeing a movie? If that’s okay. Probably on Saturday?”

“Okay.” His mom gave him one of her smiles that didn’t sit quite right on her face. “That sounds like a good idea. I think maybe I should get ready for bed. Early shift tomorrow…”

“Mom,” Evan said suddenly.

She turned back to look at him, and he didn’t miss the way her face froze, terrified.

“Thanks.” He looked at his toes awkwardly. “I… You’re a really good mom.”

She hugged him tightly and kissed his cheek so many times he wondered if it would bruise. “I love you so much Evan. So much.”


 

Connor woke up disoriented. He didn’t remember falling asleep. He knew immediately where he was, but the details of how he had come about waking up face down on these unfamiliar pillows. Connor’s neck was stiff and he had drooled on the pillow. Fantastic.

He slowly rolled over, taking in the mostly dark room, listening for the sort of noises this new place would make. He could hear the hum of the heat running and the white noise of a television on somewhere else.

Connor sat up and realized immediately that he was starving. He pulled off his coat (which he had slept in, nice) and headed out of his doorless bedroom and into his dad’s dark apartment. He went into the kitchen, turning on a light, and pulling open the fridge. There was a six pack of Heineken and a tub of margarine and… that was it. The freezer was worse; just an empty ice cube tray. Connor filled it up in the sink and replaced it, wondering if his dad genuinely had never refilled an ice cube tray.

The cabinets were bare too. Had his dad just moved in or something? Connor had been under the impression that his parents had split like two weeks after he went to rehab… Plus Larry had known he was coming. Didn’t he think to go shopping?

Annoyed, Connor marched down the hall and went back to his new, doorless room. The alarm clock on the nightstand said it was five in the morning. Though, based on the amount of light outside, Connor supposed it could have just as easily been five in the evening. It was basically winter.

He grabbed another hour and a half of restless sleep before his stomach woke him up again. Having no choice but to go to Larry, Connor marched to the bathroom where he could hear the water running and knocked.

“Yeah?” Larry opened the door, his face half covered in shaving cream.

“You don’t have any food,” he said and he knew it sounded accusatory and maybe he meant it to sound that way. What kind of parent forgot to grocery shop? Connor knew he wasn’t exactly being greeted with wide open arms but still.

“I have to go shopping,” His dad said, sounding almost sheepish. “I’ll go after I leave the office.”

“You’re going to work?” Connor said, feeling his eyebrows raising. It was literally his first day home.

Larry nodded. “Just for a couple of hours. I’m going to be working from home for most of the next month while you get… acclimated.”

Connor narrowed his eyes. “Were you not expecting me?” He asked.

Larry returned to shaving. He swiped the razor against his cheek and didn’t answer.

“Seriously?” Connor said.

“Your mother is… having a harder time with this than I thought originally.”

“You called me last week to say you were picking me up!”

Larry rinsed his razor. “I had thought I was going to be taking you to your mother’s.”

“Great,” Connor said, feeling a swelling, sudden sense defeat.

His dad finished shaving, wiping his face. “Connor,” he said. “I spent the last month arguing with your mother that you should come and stay with me. She only agreed yesterday.”

“But you had a room set up…”

“I know,” Larry said. “I guess I hoped you’d at least… visit.”

That was a bit realer than Connor and his dad usually got. His dad broke eye contact, returning to the mirror.

“I’m sorry there’s no food. I will shop this afternoon.” He sighed. “If you want, you can come to the office with me and we’ll stop to get something.”

Connor didn’t especially want to go to his dad’s office, but it beat sitting in this unfamiliar apartment starving. Which was how an hour later, Connor was sitting in the passenger seat at a McDonald’s drive-thru, mumbling to his dad that he wanted an Egg McMuffin and a coffee.

“Are you supposed to have caffeine with your meds?” Larry asked awkwardly.

“I can.”

Larry frowned, disbelieving.

“That was the last set, where I couldn’t have caffeine. ” Connor said. “Made me paranoid and ...stuff. Caffeine is, it’s… fine with this one. Two sugars, please. And half and half.”

Larry ordered it for him. He took his coffee the same way.

The half day at the office was awkward, but it could have been worse. Darla, the receptionist, looked weirdly happy to see Connor, giving him a hug and asking how he was feeling. Connor shrugged and said he was fine, and she beamed, saying he was so tall now, and did he still like reading?

It was a weird but mostly painless interaction.

Connor knew his dad’s office. He’d been in the same one for years now. He had the same family picture on his desk, of all of them on their annual ski trip with the Harrises five years ago, smiling with bright pink cheeks.

“Is Mr. Harris on vacation?” Connor asked. There obviously wasn’t an annual ski trip this year. Connor suspected that rehab had eaten up those funds. But Mr. Harris’s office had been dark when they walked past.

“He’s uh. He’s taking a sabbatical,” Larry said, looking away. “Spending time with the girls while Morgan’s home on break.”

“Why?” Connor thought that did not sound like Mr. Harris, who seemed to love working as much as Larry did. When he was little and still best friends with Brian Harris, their dads used to come home on Fridays drunk sometimes, laughing and making weird dad jokes that none of them particularly liked.

Mr. Harris was a hardass, like Larry. He sent Brian to fat camp when he was like… ten. He was obsessed with winning. He liked to show off pictures of Leslie’s cheer trophies and the prizes from the beauty pageants that Morgan won. Once Brian started playing volleyball and football, he’d trot those photos out too. He wasn’t the sort who took time off to spend with this family, in Connor’s opinion, not unless he could get a trophy out of it.

Larry looked uncomfortable and briefly looked to his right, where Mr. Harris’s office was. “Uh. Brian… passed away in October.”

“What?” Connor said. “Brian Harris, like, died?”

Larry nodded. “Brian… Brian took his own life.”

That hit Connor like a bowling ball to his solar plexus. Connor had immediately assumed it was like… drunk driving or a bad football concussion or something. Brian Harris was literally one of the most popular people at school. He made fun of freaks like Connor who were pathetic sad boys that wanted to die. He shoved their heads into toilets.

“Shit,” Connor said after a moment because well, shit, turned out he and Brian still had some shit in common after all. Yikes. That fucking sucked. “Are they like… okay?”

Larry shrugged. “I don’t think they are. Leslie’s taking it really hard…”

Connor felt a lump rise in his throat. Leslie and Zoe used to hang out all the time.

He didn’t like thinking about the idea of Zoe dealing with that sort of shit and felt suddenly, immeasurably guilty.

She had been the one to bring him back. She had shoved his desk aside enough to climb over and hit him with Narcan and she had brought him back to life.

“I’m gonna go to the bathroom,” Connor announced. Larry nodded, turning back to his computer. Connor walked to bathroom down the hall (when they were little, Connor and Zoe used to think it was fun to sneak into the bathrooms together, ignoring the gender signs, because it felt like breaking the rules. Zoe thought urinals were weird, and Brian Harris, Connor best friend, thought that Zoe was weird when Connor told him that story later). Connor was relieved to see that bathroom was empty, and rushed to the paper towel dispenser, where he roughly rubbed his arm over the serrated edge until he saw blood.

He could finally breathe again.

Fuck.


 

Georgia missed her job at the movie theatre sometimes.

Well a lot of the time.

She missed having her own money and having something to do that wasn’t homework or staring at the wall wishing she were dead. Her mom had taken away the emergency credit card after a twelve dollar Dunkin Donuts charge. Georgia decided that meant she ought to find  herself an emergency to get it back soon.

But if she had her own money, this drag and whine trip through the mall at Christmas time might not be such a fucking nightmare. She might be able to buy some socks from Forever 21 or at least get a disappointing pretzel from Auntie Anne’s.

But nooooo she was following her mother around while she fretted about finding something nice to wear for some corporate holiday party bullshit and insisted she needed Georgia’s opinion. What a waste of a Saturday. Which was rich considering that she hadn’t needed Georgia’s presence for the last few years but now her opinion on the presentability of whatever fucking outfit her mom found at Macy’s was vital.

Apparently Georgia’s refusal to comply with the schedule her mom had set up actually did have consequences. Go figure. So now her mom’s new thing was dragging Georgia on whatever mundane errands she had to do for the day. She had seen a lot of waiting rooms… her mom’s shrink, her mom’s gyno (which, gross, she didn’t want to think about her mom’s fucking vagina), her mom’s dentist…

And now it was the mall. Georgia was waiting outside of the dressing room, waiting for her mom to come out and show her yet another black dress that emphasized the small ponch her mom carried around. Georgia wondered suddenly why her parents had never had anymore kids and realized, annoyed, that the answer was staring back at her in the mirror.

Her hair was getting out of control. Like Merida in Brave out of control. Georgia wondered if she could just start faking a Scottish accent at school once January rolled around. Just pretend she wasn’t who they all thought she was… which was a crazy chick who had transferred in October.

It was at this moment, looking in the mirror and thinking about pretending to be Scottish, she heard Jared’s voice cutting through the quiet of the store. “Do you think my mom would like this sweater?”

“I don’t… I mean, why are you even shopping for-for your mom?” Evan’s voice. “You don’t- don’t even celebrate Christmas?”

Jared made an exasperated noise. “Her birthday is ironically on Christmas day, bro. How do you keep forgetting?”

“Well, uh, I still don’t think she’ll like the one with a Christmas tree on it.”

Georgia needed to hide. She had to disappear right now, right fucking now. “Mom!” she whispered urgently. “We need to leave.”

“What do you think of this one?” Her mom asked, walking out of the dressing room in a dress which was almost identical to the last one she had tried on.

“Looks great,” Georgia said, desperate. “Can we please leave?”

“What’s going on?” Her mom said, face going into the wrinkled pose of concern that Georgia had learned to be very used to seeing.

“Just some people from my old school… I don’t want to see them.”

Her mom turned around, pulling off the dress and changing back into her jeans and sweater. “I think it might be good to see some old friends, Georgie.”

No, it wouldn’t, because she might have made Evan try to kill himself and Jared definitely hated her for what happened over the summer.

“I don’t want to see them.”

“Georgia, it won’t kill you to be friendly.”

Georgia thought maybe it might. Her mom draped the dress over her arm and headed out of the dressing room, heading in the direction Georgia had heard Evan and Jared’s voices. Georgia felt herself bracing for impact, waiting for her whole life to collapse around her, they hated her they hated her they hated her -

“Georgia!”

She was surprised that Evan spoke first. Surprised he was sort of, almost smiling. They had been close friends and she tried to make him die and he should hate her. “Hi,” She said, pulling in her arms, trying to hide in plain sight.

Evan came closer. He was taller. Still a bit too pale with a pinched look of anxiety about him, but he looked… fine. Not dead. Not like the zombie he had been this summer. Plus he was at the mall. She was shocked when Evan pulled her into a fierce hug. “Are you okay?” He asked as he pulled away. “I haven’t heard from you!”

Georgia looked guiltily over at her mom who was smugly smiling and pretending not to be listening. “I uh. I’m fine, I guess.” She twisted a tangled curl anxiously between her fingers. “How are you?”

Evan nodded, trying to smile. “I’m alright. Better than I was, at least.” He looked at her, looked down at her because he was taller than she was now. “I am so…” His voice dropped. “I am, I’m so sorry… If I…”

“No,” Georgia said, shaking her head. “I’m sorry. I started… everything and I’m sorry. It wasn’t you…. It was… I was...”

Evan shrugged. “Or uh, m-maybe we were just kinda… uh. Messed up already.”

She nodded, almost smiling.

“Is that your mom?” Evan asked. Georgia nodded. “How’s, uh. That going?”

“Not great, but… you know.” She shrugged. “Do you still have a phone?”

Evan nodded. “I tried to text you and stuff…”

“I know,” Georgia said. “I didn’t. Uh. Have mine for a while. But I’ll text you?”

Evan nodded. “Okay.”

“Is… Jared..?”

Evan’s face clouded then. “He’s… he’s pretty upset, still. About the stuff online, you know?”

Georgia felt like her stomach had fallen out of her butt. “What?” She asked in a hushed voice.

Evan looked uncomfortable. “The uh. Thing you posted? It uh. Some of the articles have printed excerpts…”

Georgia’s blood ran cold. “They did?”

“They don’t like, have your name or picture but… but, uh, a lot of people saw it, yeah.” He twisted his fingers into the hem of his shirt. “Sorry.”

“I gotta… Look I’ll text you?” Georgia said, not meaning it. She found her mom, who waved all friendly at Evan and headed with Georgia to the checkout counter, apparently satisfied that Georgia had talked to another living person.


 

Life with Larry was… kind of boring so far. The first few days were spent getting Connor set up with a regular shrink and getting him to a regular doctor and a psychiatrist and also his dad tried to make him go to an NA meeting which was probably the closest Connor had gotten to actually getting into a fight with him.

“Those meetings are stupid,” Connor had said.

“It might help.”

“It won’t. It’s just a bunch of old construction workers who got hurt on the job and got hooked on percocet. I’m not going.”

Larry had thrown his hands up but hadn’t fought him on it. Which Connor appreciated.

“Have you given any more thought to going back to school?”

“No,” Connor said. “I thought we didn’t need to decide that right now.”

“No, but we could start… if you don’t want to go back to Central, we could look at other options. Other schools. There’s St. Anne’s?”

Connor was absolutely not going to a Catholic school under any circumstances. “I don’t want to go there.” He’d look stupid in a uniform. He’d have to interact with priests. He’d have a fucking panic attack and end up dropping out in a week.

Connor spent a lot of time worrying about seeing his sister and trying not to think about Georgia.

So far mission number two was fucking hard. Even in these unfamiliar surroundings, Connor’s brain was a loop of: What was Georgia doing? Did she miss him, was she sorry about what happened? Was he sorry? Was this his fault? Did she hate him? Did he hate her? Where was she, why wasn’t she trying to get in touch?

And then the slow drum beat that always seemed to be building, his blood pulsing with the constant recurring thought: When was the next time he could get high?

He knew he wasn’t supposed to want to get high. That his twelve step rehab was supposed to have cured him or made him too ashamed to ever consider getting high but.

Connor really fucking wanted to be high.

He tried to bring it up to his new shrink but the result wasn’t super awesome. Dr. Carlson was an older dude who looked mostly just inconvenienced to have anyone in his office. It made Connor miss his rehab shrink. She might have drugged him up to his eyes upon their first meeting, but she didn’t seem to hate him.

There was a weird other thing that was occupying Connor’s mind…

He and Larry were not fighting. They argued, sure, and snapped at each other sometimes…

But since getting to his dad’s new place, Larry had not once yelled at Connor or taken the bait when Connor yelled at him. It was fucking weird to say the least. Their relationship was like… Ninety percent yelling.

But Larry just wasn’t yelling. He was still Larry, of course. He griped at Connor about keeping his bedroom neat and gave him a bit of a lecture when he saw Connor had turned a few online assignments in late since getting home from rehab. He wasn’t a different person, but he wasn’t yelling at Connor and it was kind of freaking Connor out, truth be told.

He and his dad fell into a routine. At breakfast, Larry would tell Connor to take his meds and also bug him about going back to school. Connor would repeat his usual line about not being sure that he was ready. By lunch time, Connor would ask Larry when or if he was ever seeing his mom and Zoe, and his dad would mumble something about waiting until they were ready.

Connor tried to be all zen and understanding because they obviously needed time to process and whatever, but he wasn’t actually zen or understanding. He didn’t like that they were icing him out. He didn’t like not being allowed to actually go home. It wasn’t fair and Connor hated it.

“I know,” Larry said over dinner. “I’m sorry.”

Connor didn’t know what to say to that so he just went back to eating the food his dad had put in front of him.

Considering the fact that he hadn’t seen his mom or Zoe since getting home, Connor was bit surprised when at breakfast on December 19th, Larry announced that his mom would be picking him up at eleven.

“What? Why?”

“She wants to spend time with you. And I want to see your sister, so Zoe will be coming over here while you and your mom are together.”

Connor stared. “Since when does she want to see me?” He asked, because his mom hadn’t seen him in weeks. “And what are we even doing?”

“She didn’t say what she had in mind.”

Connor groaned. “Look, I know the whole separation thing probably isn’t a picnic for you two, but next time you set up a mommy-and-me playdate, could you ask a couple more questions about the agenda?”

Larry was quiet for a bit. Connor felt like he was watching a volcano do it’s best not to erupt. “Yes. That is a fair request. I’ll… call your mother back and ask what her plan for today is. I’m sorry I didn’t ask her before.”

Connor stared at Larry, at Fucking Larry, and suddenly a thought occurred to him. “Oh my god! You’re seeing a shrink!”

Larry looked away, not meeting Connor’s eye.

“Holy shit, you’re actually seeing a shrink?”

Larry was frowning, his arms crossed, staring pointedly somewhere above Connor’s left ear.

“Wow,” Connor said after a couple of awkwardly silent minutes ticked by without his dad confirming or denying seeing a therapist. “I… I didn’t say that to like, make fun of you or whatever? I just… I.. We haven’t really been fighting and I guess I didn’t know why and… Uh.” He stared into his empty cereal bowl. “I know it’s not really. Something. You’re like… into as an idea? So I guess I was… surprised.”

Larry nodded, looking away awkwardly.

Connor felt compelled to say something, to fill in the silence by being nice, letting his dad knew that he knew it was a big fucking deal and he knew it was his fault but that he appreciated it anyway.

But he just couldn’t. He didn’t know what to say or how to say it to how to express a combination of grateful but also frustrated it had taken so long for Larry to get over his hangups on mental health.

So he said nothing.

“I should go shower…” Connor said after a while.

“Yeah.”

About an hour later, Connor was riding shotgun in his mom’s SUV. She had called and asked him to come down, which Connor thought didn’t exactly bode well for their relationship. He didn’t see Zoe, not even on the stairs. Maybe she had drive separately or decided not to come at all.

His mom didn’t hug Connor when he got to the car and, honestly, that stung. He wasn’t used to getting the cold shoulder from her.

“I thought we could have lunch,” She said brightly. “Catch up.”

Connor didn’t want to say that he thought eleven was a bit early for lunch or that he had just eaten. So he nodded and let her drive. They had lunch at a busy Olive Garden, which was weird because last he had seen his mom she was off all carbs and animal products. Over salads, she chatted idly about the weather and how they were predicting snow and whether or not she needed to put her snow tires on and how his grandma wasn’t sure she would be able to come up for Christmas because she had been having some car trouble lately but by some miracle this young priest from her parish was seeing some family in town so he would be able to drive her up on Christmas Day.

“She said you might know him, Father Mike? He ran the cleanup program…”

Connor felt his fingers go suddenly cold. “Uh. Yeah. I didn’t really know him though, he just…” He just supplied me with drugs, kissed me that time, you know. Normal priest stuff.

“Sorry I have to pee,” Connor announced and he left the table fast, his heart beating too fast. He hated that his brain was screaming at him to ignore this and get high. Fuck fuck fuck.

He walked right past the bathroom and headed for the front door, walking out into the frigid air without a jacket, and immediately found himself screaming. Just screaming his head off, screaming like a lunatic, until his throat burned, attracting the stares of people either heading into or out of the restaurant.

Eventually, Connor had no choice but to go back inside. His food had arrived and his mother was frowning. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “There was a line.”

“Please don’t lie Connor,” His mom said. She sounded exhausted. “Did you manage to find someone who would sell to you? A busboy maybe?”

“What?” Connor was surprised. “I did not go buy drugs from a busboy, mom.”

“Bullshit Connor,” His mom said, her voice shrill. An older couple in the booth beside them stared. “I knew it was too soon to bring you home.”

“I’m not high!” Connor said, gritting his teeth.

“You’re making a scene.”

I’m making a scene?” Connor snapped. “You’re accusing me of buying drugs! In an Olive Garden !”

“I know the sort of people who work in these places! It’s the same sort who would buy and sell,” her voice dropped considerably, “ heroin.

Connor rolled his eyes. Like the switch from pills to heroin was really the fucking issue here. “All I did was go outside for some air, okay? I-”

“I’m not an idiot Connor. You might be able to pull the wool of your father’s eyes, but I’m not so easily convinced. I know ” She waved down their very harassed looking server, throwing a fifty dollar bill at her and asking if she wouldn’t mind boxing their food up in this transparently fake voice that made Connor extremely tempted to throw a breadstick at her.

“I’m going to wait by the car!” Connor announced, grabbing his coat and hurrying out of the restaurant, embarrassed by the way all of the patrons and staff had stopped to stare at them, the jazzy fake Italian music suddenly the loudest sound Connor had ever heard.

Outside by his mother’s SUV, Connor found his pack of cigarettes in his coat pocket. His dad hadn’t been a hardass about the smoking, surprisingly. Just insistent that Connor did it outside. So he was allowed to keep this addiction.

Connor inhaled smoke and thought about walking into traffic. Wondered if a busboy would actually sell him heroin if he asked, and decided that was idiotic. Who would sell drugs if they had a real, legit job?

When his mom stormed out of the Olive Garden with a large to go bag, she shouted at him to “put that fucking thing out” and Connor realized that he had genuinely never seen her this angry. She wasn’t even this pissed when she dropped him at his grandma’s last summer. He intentionally took another drag before he dropped the cigarette to the ground. Once he was in the car, his mother commented that he “stunk of smoke” and despite the fact that the car was moving, Connor pushed the door open and threw himself out of it.

They weren’t driving fast or even on a main road, but he was not fucking staying in a car with this banshee who had replaced his mother.

“God damn it Connor, get back in this car this instant.”

“Fuck off!” Connor shouted, stalking away from her car, heading toward the main road. He wasn’t going anywhere with her. He’d walk back to his dad’s, he’d… whatever. He wasn’t going with her anywhere.

Eventually, his mom apparently got tired of screaming at him and took off, leaving Connor on the side of the road by the mall.


 

Zoe drove herself to her dad’s apartment. She had been there before. She had even slept there before, right after her dad had moved out. But she had sort of stopped staying over after she came home one Sunday morning to find her mom crying in the kitchen and it occurred to Zoe just how big and empty the house would seem if you were stuck there alone.

So she stopped leaving her mom home alone as much. Frankly, it sort of sucked because without Connor to fuss over, their mom was pretty fucking unbearable. Zoe was starting to look forward to her dad picking her up to go to therapy because it meant hanging out with a parent dialed into normal levels of involvement.

Her mom was just. Constantly on the lookout for whatever was going to be wrong with Zoe now. Because with only Zoe in the house, obviously something was wrong with her. You named it, her mom thought it was happening. She got up to pee after dinner one night and her mom thought she was bulimic. She had a headache, and her mom was certain it was a migraine. Zoe’s period was late once and her mom lost her shit and thought Zoe was pregnant.

Zoe pointed out that you needed to have sex to get pregnant and nobody at school wanted to be seen with her, let alone have sex with her.

But that just made her mom cry. So then Zoe felt bad about saying anything at all.

So an afternoon at her dad’s sounded pretty nice. Chill.

He had asked if she wanted to stay over, to see Connor… but Zoe said no. She told him flat out she wasn’t going to be able to pretend to be normal with Connor. He said he understood.

Zoe knew he was seeing a therapist now too. She knew he was… really changing some stuff. She didn’t exactly get it, really, because her dad had been the sort of person who was stoic and who didn’t like to talk about the big stuff. And it wasn’t that he was suddenly a teddy bear… but now he was different. His attitude was different. He was trying in a way that seemed out of character to Zoe, throwing himself into Being a Dad in a way that sort of made her feel weird at first.

She was trying to just let him do his thing though. Dr. Sherman liked to remind her that parents were people too, who had problems and stuff that got in their ways and got in their heads.

So.

She was bringing over some pre-made Pillsbury cookie dough and she and her dad were going to bake cookies and watch Titanic, which was something they had started doing when she was in middle school on the Saturday before Christmas.

“Hey sweetheart,” was the greeting she got from her dad. And a tight hug. “How was the drive over?”

“Good,” She said. It was cold out but it wasn’t like there was snow coming down or anything.

“Good.”

The pair of them quickly learned that her dad didn’t actually own cookie sheets, so they ended up baking the premade chocolate chips on a pizza pan. They sort of blobbed together a bit as they cooked, but Zoe didn’t really mind. Her dad didn’t seem to care so much either.

While the cookies cooled and the ship sped up, her dad paused the DVD.

“What’s up?”

Larry was frowning. “He’s not good at saying it, but… Your brother really would like to see you.”

Now Zoe frowned. “I don’t want to see him.”

“I know,” Larry said. “And I think he gets that… But it has been a few months. Would you maybe think about talking to him at least? I think it might help.”

“Help who?” Zoe said, frustrated. “Him or me?”

“Both of you,” Larry said. “I know you’re not as close as you were as kids… and I know what happened between you was… Difficult to process, and there’s a lot of feelings there. So I don’t want to push. But I wanted to let you know that Connor has asked about you.”

“Oh.” Zoe shoved a too hot cookie into her mouth to avoid saying anything else.

Eventually, her dad pressed play again. They watched Rose get naked and drawn like a French girl and Zoe thought, honestly, it was pretty fucking weird how often her family watched a movie with such a gratuitous nude scene in it together.

Her family.

What a joke that was.

What sort of a family had to see each other in shifts? Was Zoe just supposed to pretend this was normal? This wasn’t fucking normal.

Zoe grabbed the remote and hit pause. Her dad looked at her expectantly. “Are you and mom going to get divorced?”

Her dad frowned. “I’m not sure. We might.” He sighed, rubbing a hand over his face. “We’ve… we’ve had some problems. I know you know that. I think we could work through them, but your mother isn’t… interested in doing that right now.” His frown got deeper. “I don’t want that to sound like your mother’s the reason we’re taking some space. She just… we need a break, to reevaluate some things. She asked for space so I am giving her that space. Okay? I’m sorry I don’t have… a better answer for you.”

Zoe nodded. She chewed at a sharp edge of her thumbnail. Frowned a little. “How has it been? With Connor being here?”

Her dad shook his head. “Difficult sometimes. He’s not sure he wants to go back to school, and we keep coming back to that… Obviously he has to go to some kind of school. He’s seventeen. I’m not letting him just drop out.”

Zoe hadn’t considered Connor coming back to school. That might genuinely be a nightmare. “And he’s sober?”

“Yes.”

“You know he was doing drugs for a long time right?” Zoe said. “I tried to, like, tell you both. I tried.”

Her dad nodded. “I know, Zo, and I’m so sorry. You… I can’t thank you enough for… that day. You knew exactly what to do. You saved Connor’s life.” His nose was turning a bit red at the tip and Zoe thought for a horrifying moment that her dad might fucking cry.

“Uh,” Zoe said, clearing her throat. “I mean. It kind of… sucks that it had to be me, you know? Like. I… It’s not fair that I had to do that.”

“You’re right and I am… so sorry. That was not your responsibility. It was mine and if I had listened to you, this wouldn’t have happened.”

Zoe nodded.

It was sort of nice to hear that… that it wasn’t on her to make sure her brother didn’t just kill himself. That her parents weren’t actually expecting that from her.

Her dad hit play again, but a moment later his phone rang. He glanced at the caller ID and then sighed and told Zoe apologetically that it was her mom calling. He picked up the call, heading for the kitchen, but Zoe could still hear her mom’s voice shouting even though she couldn’t make out what was being said.

Her dad was frowning and telling his mom to calm down and he eventually broke his calm demeanor, shouting, “SO YOU LEFT HIM THERE?” A beat. “Jesus Christ, Cynthia.” He was pinching the bridge of his nose. “Yeah. Yes. I will go.” Another beat. “Well I was hoping to actually see Zoe for more than an hour today, Cyn! But don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.” He hung up then, and Zoe watched the way his hands curled into fists as he took a few breaths through his nose.

He walked over to the sofa.

“It’s Connor, right?”

“He and your mom had a fight…. And I need to go find him. She left him at the mall.”

Zoe’s eyebrows went up. “Seriously?”

“I’m so sorry, Zoe, I-”

“Do you need help? Did he take off?”

Larry shook his head. “I should have made him take his phone.”

“I’ll help you look,” Zoe said because she didn’t like thinking about Connor’s blue lips, Connor’s arm with that needle in it an orange cap a foot or so away,  she didn’t like thinking about how he wasn’t moving or breathing when she climbed over his desk and found him.

“You don’t have to -” Her dad started.

“I know.”


 

Her mom was not apparently satisfied to let her leave the mall quite yet. “We need to get you some new clothes.”

“I don’t want new clothes,” Georgia said.

“Nothing fits you right. It’s all too tight,” her mom pressed on, ignoring her. “I’m surprised you don’t get into trouble for violating the dress code at school.”

“Dress codes are inherently sexist and classist,” Georgia muttered.

Her mom heaved a huge sigh. “Can we at least look at some new jeans for you? And maybe a new sweater or two? That hoodie you’re always wearing is ragged.”

It wasn’t even hers, Georgia thought, but her mom wouldn’t know that. It was old, something she had borrowed from Connor only for him to forget. It barely zipped over her torso. She didn’t care. She wore it daily.

Georgia protested loudly when her mom tried to take her into an H&M. “I’m not doing in there.”

“And why not?”

“They don’t make anything in my size,” She mumbled because of course her mom didn’t realize that. Her mom was skinny and petite and didn’t have weird monster boobs or a double chin like Georgia had.

“Oh,” Her mom was frowning. “Where do you like to shop then?”

Georgia didn’t like shopping and half of her clothes were stolen or from a thrift store. She shrugged. “I wear like… bigger sizes in most things. So I usually have to go to the plus sizes?”

“Noted,” her mom said. “Come on.”

She let her mother drag her through a Torrid, where the price tags made Georgia’s eyes pop almost out of her head. A top was over sixty dollars. A dress was over one hundred. Her mom started loading her up with clothes to try on and a sales associate was chirpily helping them out, suggesting colors that would “go with that gorgeous red hair” and different styles of jeans.

Georgia retreated to the dressing room feeling like she might genuinely break down if she didn’t take a moment to escape. She pulled off the old faded hoodie and the too tight CENTRAL HIGH shirt. She unbuttoned her jeans, which were being held together with a hair tie because she couldn’t close the button anymore.

She pulled on a pair of jeans and found that buttoning them was also impossible. They were too damn tight. She threw them to the ground and grabbed the next size up. Also a no go. She grabbed the last size, the biggest size, and pulled them on… and couldn’t button them either. She tried to suck her stomach in, to hold her breath and try, but it was impossible. They were too small.

Her mom knocked softly. “Sweetheart, how’s it going?”
She pulled on a dress her mom had picked out, something sparkly that she hated and would show off her arms, and opened the door.

“Oh, that looks nice!” her mom said smiling. “Maybe a little low cut though? What about the jeans, any luck there?”

Her face felt too hot. “No. None of them fit.”

“Too big?”

Horrifyingly, Georgia felt her eyes fill with frustrated tears. “No! They were too fucking small because I am huge and ugly and you don’t even know what size fucking pants I wear!” She retreated to the dressing room, closing the door so it locked and looking at herself in the mirror.

She looked awful. The dress showed off all of the rolls of fat on her stomach and hips. Her boobs sagged against the constraints of her bra. Her face was blotchy and ugly and this was why she hadn’t heard from Connor, why he hadn’t wanted her…. She was a mess. Guys had only slept with her because she was a slut, easy, but Connor hadn’t wanted her because look at her. He was thin and attractive and she was an obese cow who looked like a mess.

“Honey, I asked Jen here to let me in,” Her mom’s voice said, and then the door opened and Georgia saw her mom looking at her, this awful pitying look on her face. She shut the door behind her. “Sweetie, I’m… I’m sorry. Shopping can be hard when you’re… not a size zero. Even in stores like this.”

“Oh fuck off,” Georgia said, sniffling. “You’re skinny and pretty. You do not understand what this is like.”

“You’re right,” her mom said after a moment. “I don’t. But I still think you should get some clothes. I’ll go pull out some jeans in a different size, okay?”


 

“I can’t believe you talked to her.”

Jared said it through a mouthful of fries, which made Evan wrinkle his nose. They were grabbing some food in the food court, sitting between the Panda Express and the Jamba Juice where Evan had ordered himself a smoothie. He had been so pleased with himself that he had texted a picture of said smoothie to his mom, saying, “I ordered it myself!”

It was dumb thing to feel proud about but he could not have managed that this summer.

“Earth to Evan,” Jared said, still chewing loudly. “I was complaining and you totally ignored me!” Apparently Jared was still pretty salty about whatever happened between him and Georgia over the summer.

“She’s, uh, ha-had a tough time,” Evan said, shrugging.

“She told everyone at school that you and Murphy were dating!”

Evan shrugged because like, yeah, that had happened, and yeah he sort of thought he was going crazy when he heard the rumors going around about it. It wasn’t that he didn’t care or wasn’t mad at her, but like… she was obviously going through some shit at the time. And that was something he could understand. “Yeah, but like… we sort of were? I dunno.” He took a sip of his smoothie while Jared seemed to process that. It wasn’t like Evan had made a big secret out of it, but he hadn’t been quite that blunt about it. “Also like… Georgia apologized and stuff. She came and saw me in the hospital too.”

Jared rolled his eyes, “So did your dad.”

Evan frowned. “He’s still trying to get me to move to Colorado.”

Jared’s face did something weird. “Dude it’s bad enough that I have to fill you in about what’s happening at school now, if you move to the Rockies I’ll literally never be able to catch you up.”

“Good, uh. Good point.” He smiled at Jared. Because Jared sort of sucked as a friend, but he was the only one Evan had and right now that wasn’t so bad. Jared was pretty okay these days. Maybe getting his heart a little bit broken by Georgia had beaten some of the meanness out of him. Or maybe he just… cared that Evan was sort of fucked up now that he knew how bad it was. Jared had been around a lot since Evan got out of the hospital, just sort of existing in proximity so Evan wasn’t alone, and it meant a lot to him.

“Please don’t make it weird bro.”

“Sorry.”

Once Jared finished his cheeseburger and fries (and threatened Evan’s life if he ratted on Jared for breaking kosher), they made their way toward the movie theatre in the mall to take a look at the showings. They decided to go see the new Star Wars, even though Jared had already seen it, but the next showtime wasn’t for another hour.

“Is it actually good?” Evan asked, twisting his fingers in the hem of his shirt. “Because my dad thought Phantom Menace was good and he got sort of annoyed when I said I didn’t like it very much?”

“Literal proof that your dad is a trash can,” Jared said, laughing. “But it’s actually good. I wouldn’t see it twice just to fuck with you.”

“Thanks-” Evan cut himself off because a very familiar head of dark hair walked across their path.

“Shit was that Connor?” Jared said loudly. “I heard he was in jail.”

“You… Jared you know he’s not in jail,” Evan mumbled. “Remember? Zoe, l-like came and yelled at you for telling people that.”

Jared rolled his eyes. “Is it weird to have dated siblings?”

“Connor and I didn’t… we actually didn’t date,” Evan said. “We just… like. I dunno, it was weird and sorta, uh, fucked up.”

“You can say that again,” Jared said. “Should we go after him and say hi? Since you’re in such a forgiving mood today?”

“He would have stopped if he wanted to talk to us,” Evan said.

“Or maybe he didn’t see us?”

“Just… could you drop it?” Evan said. Connor was the person he wasn’t sure he could face. How did he look him in the eye again, exactly? How did he explain himself to Connor? Their last interaction, they had held hands and then Connor almost died. How could Evan explain that he was sorry he never told Connor’s parents what happened last year at Zoe’s party, explain that he wished he had blabbed because then maybe Connor would have been okay?

“Sorry,” Jared mumbled. “I was just…”

“I know,” Evan said. Because he knew what Jared was like.


 

Spectacular. Fan-fucking-tastic.

He was stranded at the mall and Connor had just spotted Jared fucking Kleinman. Well. Connor heard rather than saw him at first. His sort of nasal voice carried, even in a crowd. He looked back only briefly and saw Jared walking side-by-side with Evan and so Connor had disappeared into the Barnes and Noble ten feet in front of him and decided to hide out in there until the coast was clear.

The idea of having to face someone he knew after that blow out with his mom was not appealing to him. He just couldn’t handle that.

Connor figured he was stuck here for a while since he had no phone and he didn’t exactly love the idea of actually walking several miles in the cold back to his dad’s place. Eventually he knew he had to call for a ride and he knew his dad would be pissed off and then he’d probably need to submit to a urine test to see if he had done any drugs. But Connor needed a break.

He almost missed rehab that way. He got breaks there. Time to just sit around or read or stick his head in a pillow and scream. With his dad he as always got to be on top of his shit, acting like someone who is Fine Now Thanks and when he slipped for a minute, just a minute with his mom she accused him to lying to her and now he was trapped in this crowded place full of people and also people he knew and Connor hated it. It was too much.

He figured the safest place to hide from someone like Jared was in the self help section because Jared was not nearly self aware enough to know he desperately needed help. He slunk down between stacks and randomly grabbed a book about heroin use off of the shelf. He paged through it idly but realized it just… kinda made him feel sick. And like he should go buy some heroin off of an Olive Garden busboy.

God that was probably straight up the most racist thing his mom had ever said. Or something. He didn’t know he just knew she was kind of being the fucking worst.

Maybe thirty minutes had gone by, and Jared and Evan hadn’t stormed the bookstore to find him, so Connor figured it was safe to go venture to other areas of the store. He stopped in the mystery section and then moved on to the larger fiction section, eyes sort of glazing over at the titles… He should call his dad. He should leave, he didn’t even have any money…

He’d have to say something to get out of Christmas with his mom. Unless she had already uninvited him.

Was he a shitty kid if he was sort of hoping for that?

He could not… be in the same place as Father Mike, like, ever again. If he was he would explode, he would splatter the walls with his guts and brains.

Maybe he should tell someone.

He hadn’t. Connor hadn’t even tried to tell anyone. He couldn’t make his mouth form the words.

Besides, who would he tell? His dad?

Connor could not picture Larry taking that news well. He’d probably tell Connor he was full of shit. And the idea of someone saying he was lying, he was wrong?

Connor blinked rapidly. Someone was staring at him, but everything was out of focus and…

He blinked a few more times, trying to get his breathing back under control.

“Do you need to me call someone, kid?” The person, the woman, in front of him asked. She was wearing a nametag. An employee. She looked like a grandma. All round and gray haired. “Do you have anyone I should call?”

Connor took a gasping breath and nodded. “Yeah uh. Could you call my dad? I need… I need him to pick me up.”

“Sure thing, sweetheart. Want to stand up and we’ll go to the front desk and call him?”

It took a long minute for him to regain his legs, but eventually he followed this woman called Barbara to the desk. She asked for his dad’s number, and Connor recited it from somewhere deep in his memories, like first grade when his parents made him and Zoe memorize the house number and both of their cell numbers.

“What’s your name honey? And your dad’s?”

“He’s um. He’s Larry. And I’m… Connor.”

Barb gave him a sweet old lady smile and made the call. A few moments passed and her smiled at Connor. “Oh, hello there! Is this Larry?” A pause. “Well, my name is Barbara and I’m down at the Barnes and Noble in East Mall. I’ve got your son Connor here -”

Another pause.

“No, no, oh heavens no!  He didn’t steal anything! Scout’s honor!” She seemed very tickled by the idea.  “Connor here just asked if I could give you a call because he needs a ride.”

A beat. “Uh. Alright then I’ll tell him! Alrighty then. Bye bye now.” She hung up, smiling, at Connor like he was a bit on the stupid side. “Sounds like your sister is already here, darling. So she’s going to come and take you home. How’s that sound?”

Like a disaster.

Connor tried to give Barbara a smile. “Thank you. For calling.”

“Oh sure thing, sweetie. Do you just want to wait up here by the registers with me?”

Connor figured he might as well. This lady thought he was some kind of pathetic moron, but it was kind of nice to have someone be nice to him. He was so nervous about seeing Zoe he thought he might puke. Barbara babbled about how she did had this job to “keep busy” and to get a discount on books. “I do love a good mystery.”

Connor nodded.

“What sorts of books do you like?”

Connor shrugged. “I guess… I dunno. Realistic fiction mostly? I’m not picky.”

Barbara nodded. “We’ve got a big Young Adult section upstairs, if you’re ever looking. I read that John Green book, The Fault in Our Stars ? Oh I cried for two days I think.”

“Oh. I haven’t read that one.” Connor had, in fact, read it. In middle school.

Barbara started to tell Connor the plot, spoiling several big plot points as she did so, but Connor appreciated that she kept talking to him because Zoe was coming to get him which meant he would have to see Zoe.

It took her fifteen minutes to find him. When she arrived, Zoe looked pretty pissed. She had blue streaks in her hair now. Her coat was unzipped, and the look on her face suggested she had probably walked across the whole damn mall to get here. Connor wanted to disappear into the rack of discount paperbacks. Instead he sort of waved until Zoe’s eyes connected with him and she headed toward him.

“Hi,” Zoe said when she arrived, smiling, and for a second Connor thought maybe that was her saying hello to him… but then he remembered his knight in shining armor, Barb. “Thanks for calling our dad. I’m gonna take him home now.” She frowned slightly when Connor didn’t immediately move. “Let’s go.”

“Bye,” Connor said to Barb and then followed Zoe out of the store and out into the mall proper.

“I parked all the way over by the Forever 21,” Zoe said, irritation leaking into her voice.

“Okay.” Connor shoved his hands into his coat pockets and followed his sister. The crowd had gotten denser, so it was sort of a struggle to follow her. Connor lost her at one point, thinking he was super fucking screwed and whipping around to try to find her.

“Oh no you don’t,” Zoe’s voice said in his ear, and she vice gripped the top of his arm, towing Connor behind her. “You’re not taking off twice today. You’ll give dad a heart attack.”

“I-”

Connor thought better of trying to argue with her. He just shut his mouth. She dragged him this way through the whole mall, and Connor was sure they were getting hundreds of looks from holiday shoppers who weren’t in the mood to be bulldozed by his sixteen year old sister.

When they arrived at the far less crowded Forever 21 in the store, Zoe finally dropped her bruising grip on his arm. He followed behind her as she made her way toward the exit.

But then Connor stopped dead.

Because Zoe had brushed past someone and that someone was Georgia. Standing there, holding a pile of clothes in her arms, looking pale and pinched and just wrong.

She stopped too. Staring. “Connor?”

He wanted to sweep her up into a hug.

He wanted to slap her across the face.

He didn’t do anything. Zoe had turned around, her face going red when she spotted Georgia.

“Seriously?” Zoe said. “No. None of this shit. Connor, I’m taking you back to dad’s. Right now.”

“But I-” Connor tried, because Georgia was here and alive and looking at him and he couldn’t leave, not right now.

“Connor,” Georgia said again, and she set the stack of clothes she was carrying on top of a display table, reaching out and grabbing at his wrist, hard, pressing down on the fading letters etched into his skin. “Where the fuck have you been?”

“Me?” Connor said because really, he was pretty sure everyone knew where he had been. “What about you? You disappeared.”

“I… I’m at my mom’s now.”

“Connor,” Zoe said impatiently. “Come on.”

“I gotta go,” Connor said, pulling his arm away, his wrist feeling bruised.

“Can you call me?” Georgia asked. “My number didn’t change. Please.”

“Uh. Maybe?” Zoe was genuinely tapping her foot. “I’m sorry I have to… Zoe’s my ride, sorry.”

He walked away. Behind his sister, who was angry at him, telling him that seeing Georgia was a stupid idea and if that had been his plan all along he was an idiot and dad was probably going to send him off to like bootcamp or something now.

“I didn’t know she’d be there,” Connor mumbled. “I just… Mom started freaking out on me…”

Zoe rolled her eyes. “I mean, can you blame her?”

He couldn’t. Not really.

“I’m sorry,” Connor said. “I know you were supposed to, like, have today with dad and whatever. I fucked it up. I’m sorry.”

Zoe shook her head. “But you just couldn’t keep it together for one afternoon. Right.” She found her car and unlocked it. Connor slid into the passenger seat.

“Zoe I…”

He should tell her.

But what if she just thought he was trying to get her to feel sorry for him? What if she thought he was lying? This sort of stuff, it didn’t happen to sixteen year old guys. Little boys and girls, sure, but not people who were six feet tall and knew how to throw a punch. He should have stopped it. He should have handled it. Connor was the one who was sick and fucked up and half wanted it to happen just to see what it would feel like. He was the freak and the fuck up.

“Connor?”

He was the fuck up he was the fuck up and that was why, that what made him go right to Georgia’s that day, why he went there. That was the whole reason, he had to fix it because maybe if they could be together he could forget how fucked up the summer was, he could forget if she loved him and let him be normal. But he… he couldn’t. He couldn’t do because he was broken and sick and so he kissed Evan because, okay, he was sick but maybe not that much? Someone his age had to be more normal, right, that was something he could handle but then Evan touched his belt like he might unbuckle it and Connor…

Wanted Evan to unbuckle his belt but it felt far too familiar to being in Father Mike’s car and so he panicked.

“Connor?” Zoe was sort of shaking his shoulder.

“Sorry,” he said, and he was wiping his face and horrified to feel it was slick with salty tears. “Sorry sorry, I’m sorry.”

“What the fuck is going on?” Zoe said softly. “Is this about Georgia?”

“I didn’t know she was going to be there,” He repeated. “I didn’t. If I knew…. I wouldn’t have wanted to see her, okay? I didn’t want to see her.”

Zoe narrowed her eyes.

“We slept together!” Connor found himself spitting. “Georgia and I and… and I’m fucking gay and she hates me now and I didn’t want to see her okay?”

Zoe stared at him for a moment. “You’re gay?”

“Well…. Yeah, I mean….” He shrugged awkwardly, hating himself for saying anything and he was so fucking stupid stupid stupid.

“Okay,” Zoe said. “Do mom and dad know?”

Connor coughed out some kind of bizarre half laugh. “I think dad suspects.”

“Okay.”

He couldn’t tell what her face was doing. She looked sort of pissed, honestly. “Is Evan?” She said. "Gay, I mean? The two of you were... doing whatever."

“Oh,” Connor frowned. “I don’t… maybe? I…”

She kept frowning.

“I didn’t mean to like… make this about me being gay or… fuck fuck fuck, Zoe I’m sorry just. You were yelling at me. You can go back yelling, okay? Go back to yelling-”

Zoe hugged him.

He didn’t know the last time they had hugged. It was so long ago he didn’t remember it properly, but his bones did. She hugged a bit too hard and so did he, and Connor hugged her back tightly like it might be the last time they ever did this.

Zoe let go, wiping her face. “I’m still really fucking pissed off at you.”

“I know. I’m so sorry. I’ve been-”

“No, it’s not time for you to talk yet,” Zoe said firmly. “I’m pissed off at you about so many things I don’t know where to start.”

Connor nodded.

“And I’m not sure I’m ready to really even be talking to you. Like. At all.”
He nodded again.

“And like… I have to see a shrink now? And somebody at school tried to start a rumor that I fucking, like, am actually a serial killer who fucking sucks at serial killings because of all of the shit at the beginning of the year, like they thought I tried to make everyone kill themselves, and it’s been really fucking hard dealing with mom and dad breaking up all by myself.”

“I-”

“Shut up Connor, Jesus!” Zoe snapped and he felt a familiar flair of anger at her, bubbling up and burning so hot he almost cried out. But he pushed it down because he was trying to understand her, trying to let her have her anger. “But… thank you for telling me… about you and about what uh, happened with Georgia. And for calling dad to get picked up. I know that was probably… hard.”

Connor just kept nodding.

“So I’m gonna drive you back to dad’s, okay?”

He nodded again.

“You can talk now,” She said, and she rolled her eyes in this way that Connor thought for half a moment could be affectionate.

“Okay.”

They got into her car and she drove them back from the mall to his dad’s. Zoe’s radio was playing Christmas music.

“Hey Zo?”

“Yeah.”

“I get it, if like… you don’t want to talk yet. But uh. Thanks for picking me up.”

“Yeah.”

“And... “

“Don’t,” Zoe said, parking the car. “I’m serious. Don’t get into it right now. Not without, like, a trained professional on standby okay?”

“Noted.”

They both sat there in the car for a moment.

“I have a key,” Zoe said suddenly. “We don’t have to wait for dad.” He followed her inside, up the stairs, into the house where the TV was on sleep mode.

“Titanic?”

“Yeah.”


 

After her mom insisted on making her a “healthy” dinner, Georgia pretended to be tired from shopping and headed up to her her bedroom. Then she disabled her mom’s weakass child protections on her laptop and logged onto her own facebook for the first time in ages, sitting with her back to the door to keep her mom from barging in.

She had messages and messages, literally hundreds of messages, but she didn’t look at them. They couldn’t be good. She just did a mass delete of all of them.

She looked through posts and posts until she finally found the ones Evan was talking about earlier. News articles with hundreds of shares.

DEATH OF CENTRAL HIGH FOOTBALL PLAYER SHINES LIGHT ON MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS.

SUICIDE EPIDEMIC AT CENTRAL HIGH.

DOMINO EFFECT: CENTRAL HIGH HAS CRISIS COUNSELORS ON STAND BY.

Georgia read them all. Nobody was mentioned by name because they were all minors, but she saw mentions of Evan and his two attempts on his life, references to Alana Beck’s sad little club, her own suicide note regurgitated in pieces, and then mentions of a football player and “another student who overdosed on heroin.” The articles pointed to a bullying problem, to infighting within friend groups, to “the jealousy of a sixteen year old girl over her two male friends’ budding romance leading to vicious verbal abuse -”

Stupid stupid stupid she was so stupid. She was an idiot a monster a horrible stupid dumb ugly and fat and stupid and moronic and -

“Georgie, what is going on?” Her mom was banging on the door.

“Nothing,” She said, wiping her eyes. “I just need some alone time.”

“Honey, I know something isn’t right. What’s going on?”

Georgia closed her computer and set it on her dresser before opening the door.

Her mom walked into the room, looked from Georgia to her laptop, and then scooped her into a bone crushing hug. “Don’t read that stuff,” Her mom said in this firm but soothing voice. “Don’t pay attention to that.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” She sobbed.

“I thought it would just make it harder to focus on getting better.”

“Was Connor the other kid who overdosed?”

Her mom looked uncertain, but she nodded. “His parents got in touch. He ended up going to a rehab facility. I didn’t know he was back until we saw him earlier.”

“They think it’s my fault, what happened.”

“Nobody thinks that, sweetheart.”

“Why didn’t you just let me go?” Georgia cried and cried until she was all cried out. “I’m not supposed to be here. Nobody wants me here.”

“I want you here.”

“Don’t fucking lie.”

“Georgia.”

“Please get out of my room.”


 

There was an ice storm on Christmas Day. Her mom was a pressure cooker and if Zoe didn’t find the release valve soon the whole house might blow up.

Potentially literally.

The smoke alarm had gone off a couple of times.

Zoe was trying to stay out of the way, but her mom had saddled her with babysitting Connor who was looking very, very twitchy and pale, and Connor seemed incapable of staying out of the way the way Zoe did. He had sat down in the living room and crossed his arms and looked like he was uncomfortable despite the fact that he had literally always lived here before now.

They weren’t talking. Apparently the whole coming out at the mall thing hadn’t, you know, made things like better between them. Not that Zoe had expected it to, but still, you know. Maybe she had hoped for a less surly iteration or something.

But Connor had been twitchy and pissed off all day, scratching at his arms from time to time, scowling at nothing in particular.

She thought about just announcing that she hated they and they should just talk, Jesus Christ.

But then Zoe thought it wasn’t her damn job to do all of the heavy lifting around here.

Dr. Sherman was really on her about that. Reminding her that it wasn’t her job to take care of everyone, to make everything okay all of the time.

But the thing he didn’t get, which Zoe had tried to explain, was that she wasn’t being dramatic or self centered in thinking that it was her job to keep her family from devolving into chaos. She wasn’t exaggerating. If she didn’t do it, nobody else would. If she hadn’t been doing it, Connor would probably have died.

Sure he dad was stepping up now . And sure her mom was throwing herself into being the absolute perfect parent now .

But what about in six months when everyone relaxed and suddenly, bam, another overdose of car crash or fight at school? Her parents couldn’t handle that. Fuck, Zoe couldn’t either, but she knew how to try.

“Zoe, I could use a hand in the kitchen!” their mom announced.

Zoe rolled her eyes. She wasn’t made for the kitchen… and really, neither was her mom.

“I’ll go,” Connor said suddenly. “She’s just gonna make you like… peel potatoes or something.”

Zoe wrinkled her nose. “Don’t do that.”

“Do what?”

“Act like you’ve suddenly remembered you can be nice,” Zoe said. “I don’t like getting my hopes up.”

Connor’s face fell and fuck, okay, that was meaner than she had planned to be to him. He said nothing, wearing a blank look that he got sometimes. Zoe remembered seeing it for the first time when they were kids, she thought. They’d gone to Harrises to swim and Mr. Harris had commented on how skinny Connor was. Zoe recalled thinking he was saying it to be mean to Brian, who was a chubby, indoorsy kid. She also remembered Connor crossing his bony arms across his chest self consciously and then… just going blank. Like he had checked out, spaced out. She knew, even at like nine years old, when thinking she was so cool because she and Leslie were hanging out with Morgan who was older and cooler was her primary occupation, that that was probably not good.

Zoe swallowed hard. She didn’t like thinking about the Harrises. She hadn’t seen Leslie much since the funeral… Zoe kept telling herself that she was giving Leslie space. But a little part of her was afraid that having a dead brother might be catching. The whole “suicide epidemic” thing was overhyped, but it had kind of gotten to Zoe a little. She worried about it a lot, every time she had a passing thought, every time a classmate mentioned that they were going to kill themselves because a test was too difficult or a teacher assigned too much homework. She worried about it all of the time, so she didn’t like to think about the Harrises and the pale, shocked look on Mrs. Harris’s face at the funeral, the way Leslie looked in her black  dress with a black cardigan and little black pearls in her ears.

Eventually Zoe couldn’t stand sitting there in the living alone with her thoughts about

Brian Harris hanging himself in the garage across the street, so she got up and went into the kitchen. Connor’s prediction had been right; their mom had him peeling potatoes. She kept sending nervous glances in his direction like maybe he might attack her with a potato peeler.

“Can I help?” Zoe asked.

Her mom looked surprised and yeah, sure, Zoe’s favorite place was hardly the kitchen but considering that her mom was trying to blow the house up with her passive aggressive act, she figured maybe she could diffuse the situation. Or something.

“You can peel and cut these,” their mom said, setting a large pile of carrots in front of Zoe. “Like I was saying to your brother,” her mom went on, “Your Aunt Christine is not going to be attending dinner, though don’t ask me what’s more important a family tradition.”

Connor rolled his eyes and set a peeled potato into a bowl of ice water. Most years they went skiing with the Harrises over Christmas and did the big family then after New Years. Their mom was full of shit.

“And it turns out that grandma’s ride’s plans fell through -”

Zoe didn’t miss the way Connor’s whole body seemed to relax.

“-So your grandmother invited him to join us for dinner.”

Connor looked up, almost panicked. “Father Mike is coming to dinner?”

“He’s doing a nice thing, driving your grandmother all the way up here just so we can see her on Christmas, so the least we can do is give him something to eat, Connor.”

He snapped his mouth closed, turning back to the potato he was peeling and scraping the peeler over it aggressively.

“This is a lot of food for five people,” Zoe said after a moment. There was a turkey in the oven. Her mom was preparing some kind of casserole too and there was a pie cooling on the counter and all of these vegetables.

Her mother slammed down the spoon she was using. “I would appreciate if just once we could get through a day without you being so critical of me, Zoe.” She wiped her hands on a towel and rushed out of the room.

Connor sort of looked up at her.

“I’m not actually criticizing everything she does,” She said awkwardly. “I just… it’s a lot of food right?”

Connor shrugged. “I’m just peeling potatoes.”

“Why do you think Auntie Chris isn’t coming?” Zoe wondered if she was okay, or if her general craziness had caught up with her again.

“She probably has a new girlfriend or something,” Connor said.

“Auntie Chris isn’t gay,” Zoe said, laughing.

“Wanna bet?”

“Seriously? How did I miss that?"

Connor shrugged. “She’s always bringing her roommates to shit, Zo. It’s… those are her girlfriends . Mom and grandma are just weird about it.”

“Huh.” She supposed that did make sense. She had just never really thought about it before.

Connor finished up the potatoes and then looked around sort of lost.

“What’s dad doing today?”

Connor frowned. “I think one of his golf buddies invited him over? It sounded like a bummer, honestly. Crashing someone else’s Christmas.”

“Yeah.” She sighed. “Probably still better than skiing.”

Connor’s face twitched into a surprised smile, but it vanished just as quick. “Did Brian really…?”

“Yeah.” She frowned at the carrot in her hand. “I went with dad to the funeral. I think it really freaked him out, you know?”  

Connor nodded.

“Leslie found him. Brian, I mean. In their garage.” Leslie, Brian’s little sister, his baby sister, who was a little bit younger than Zoe, who she had unironically made friendship bracelets with on their last ski trip.

Connor made a weird choking sort of sound. Zoe stared at the carrot she was holding like it was the most captivating thing in the world, feeling her face heating up, feeling stupid. Why did she have to fucking say anything?

Connor sniffed. Cleared his throat. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled, so Zoe looked up. His face was kind of blotchy and he was squinting at the light fixture. “I’m sorry about-”

“It’s fine.” Zoe didn’t want to go there. It was one thing to refuse to pretend everything was fine, but she couldn’t talk about it. She wasn’t ready to actually talk about it.

“It’s not.”

“No… not really.”

Connor kept staring at the light. “Where did you even get narcan?”

Zoe looked back at her carrot, trying not to think about the grayish color of his skin, the fact that he was turning blue in the lips, the sound of her parents screaming at her wanting to know what she was doing, the feeling of inserting a syringe into his flesh. “Uh. I went to the needle exchange downtown.”

“Oh.”

“Did you know Mr. Weston’s husband works there?” She found herself saying. Like it was just casual normal conversation. Oh you know who I saw at the needle exchange? Your former teacher’s husband!  “Didn’t you have him for seventh grade English?”

“Got him fired,” Connor said. “Actually.”

Zoe shook her head. That wasn’t right. That couldn’t be… She knew the rumor was that he was gay and Connor was gay so they had like hooked up or whatever, but in sixth grade Zoe had dismissed that as ridiculous because her parents would have totally sued the school if something like that had happened. “He didn’t actually, like…?”

“God no,” Connor said, and he blinked a few times. Shook his head. “He was a decent dude. Just… picked the wrong kid to give a shit about I guess. I dunno.” He rubbed a hand over his face. “Look, I. I’m sorry again. About the… whole thing.”

“I know,” Zoe said. “I… I mean it doesn’t, like, make it better.”

“I know,” Connor said. “I’m gonna go… I dunno. Let mom yell at me or something. Before she burns the house down.”

“Can’t believe we’re having dinner with a priest,” Zoe said. “We didn’t even go to church this year!”

Connor’s face twitched and he looked up at the light again. “Yeah.”


So far, his winter break wasn’t all that different than being homeschooled, really. Only he didn’t have a lot of school work to do. And Jared was freer, so they had hung around a lot… sometimes going to the mall, because Jared was convinced that one of the associates at Lush liked him. Evan thought maybe it was just because he kept buying stuff and letting her demo products for him.

“But she gave me a hand massage!”

“Because you asked to try the body conditioner!” Evan had teased.

He didn’t mind going to the mall, though. It kept him from just hiding out in the house. And there was this weird spark of hope that he might run into Connor, properly this time.

Evan’s mom was working on Christmas Day. She was getting paid double time to be there, so Evan couldn’t exactly complain.

Well he could. But he was trying not to do it. He knew it made her feel bad.

So rather than complaining, Evan went with her. He went around saying hello to all of the residents, most of whom either had family visiting or had gone to see family. Even Gladys had somewhere better to be today.

So mostly Evan helped out where he could. He helped collect and load up laundry in the big machines and delivered meals to the folks who didn’t or couldn’t leave their rooms.

By dinner time, he met his mom in the breakroom and they each ate a Lean Cuisine while Elf played on the television.

“I’m sorry this wasn’t a very good Christmas, honey,” His mom said suddenly.

Evan tried to give her a smile. “It’s okay,” he said. Lied a bit. He knew she needed to hear it.  “Besides, we only… half do Christmas anyway?”

It was true. His mom was half Jewish so their tiny tree at home had a menorah on top, even though Hanukkah had been over for a little while.

She smiled. “Thank you for understanding, Evan.”

“Of… of course.”


 

The nervousness was worse than withdrawal, Connor thought. How the fuck was he meant to deal with this? How was he supposed to hide this now?

His mind kept cycling through all of the awful things he could do to get out of this dinner. He could trash his room, fight with his mom, threaten to kill himself, threaten to hurt someone else, steal a car…

But he didn’t actually want to do those things. He just couldn’t see Father Mike. He kept saying that to himself, thinking that, he couldn’t see him. There was no way, it wasn’t possible…

But it was and it was going to happen but his brain wasn’t accepting it. He couldn’t actually make an escape plan because he could not actually process that in less than an hour Father Mike would be in his house, charming his mother and making his sister laugh and saying grace to his grandma’s nods of approval.

It couldn’t actually be happening. It couldn’t.

It was.

Connor had hidden in the bathroom as long as he could without it seeming like he had serious diarrhea and honestly Zoe and his mom were already far too well acquainted with that possibility after he detoxed so… he didn’t want them thinking he was using again.

Though that idea was pretty loud in his head too. He wasn’t stupid. He knew that headachy feeling was his brain relighting some old neural pathways that said drugs would help him and that was giving him a bit of a queasy stomach and that it was going to pass, eventually. But also Connor would really fucking love some goddamn drugs right now.

So now that he had to leave the bathroom he was sort of loitering near the door of his bedroom. Connor wasn’t really… he couldn’t go into his bedroom. He could see all of his things had been put back in order, his desk back where it belonged. But Connor couldn’t seem to make himself go in there, even though it was the best and easiest place to hide because he had died in there… He had died, almost. He had died and Zoe saved him.

“Connor, Zoe get down here!”

He dragged his feet. Zoe appeared from her bedroom, her hair curled nicely and wearing a nice sweater. Connor hadn’t brought anything to change into.

“Is that what you’re wearing?” Zoe asked.

He pulled the sleeve of his hoodie. “I guess.”

“Mom’s going to have a fit,” Zoe said.

Connor frowned.

“Don’t you have something else in your room?”

He had no idea.

Zoe rolled her eyes. “Come on,” She said, brushing past him, into his bedroom, flicking through his closet. Connor loitered in the doorway while she frowned at his closet and pulled out a gray button down that still had the tags on it. “Here.”

Connor stared at the shirt. “Thanks.”

“Come on, get dressed and head downstairs.”

Connor watched her head down the steps. Then he stepped inside his bedroom, stripped off his hoodie and t-shirt and pulled on the new button down. He buttoned the shirt with clumsy fingers and then yanked off the tag, heading downstairs, knowing his brain was still refusing to accept what was literally happening.

He walked into the living room where his mom was pouring Father Mike a glass of wine. He had a new haircut, sort of stylish and hipster like, short on the sides and long on the top. He was smiling at his mom who was smiling back.

Connor nearly ran up the stairs.

But instead he forced himself to keep walking. He walked into the living room with his legs feeling wooden.

“Connor!” Father Mike said, smiling brightly. He stood up and placed his wine glass down on a coaster and crossed the room to pull Connor into a really tight hug. Connor froze because Father Mike smelled the same, because he knew what Father Mike smelled like, because it smelled like summer and that rainstorm and a clack of teeth and Connor stepped back fast. Father Mike clapped him on his good shoulder and said it was “so good to see him.”

Connor tried to smile but he didn’t think it worked. He nodded or something and then made his way across the room, sitting next to his grandma who immediately told him she hated what he was doing with his hair. He smiled at her too, shrugging, like he didn’t care about the way she immediately criticized.

“Dinner should be done shortly,” His mom said. “I just wanted grandma and her guest to get settled.”

Zoe pulled a face. “Please don’t say ‘her guest’ like he’s her date, mom,” She muttered.

Father Mike’s face went bright red.

Their mom looked appalled, opening and closing her mouth a few times before announcing that she was going to check on the foot.

“Zoe,” their grandma said loudly. “Tell me about jazz band.”

She shrugged. “It’s… I mean we had our winter concert? I dunno, it was fine. I had a solo.”

Connor didn’t know that. He wanted to ask how it went. But he didn’t want to say anything else because Father Mike’s eyes were on him, in his mom’s living room.

“Mom?” Connor said, getting up suddenly, walking into the kitchen where she appeared to be… stirring some potato soup.

“I added too much cream,” She muttered to herself. “Damn. What’s going on, Connor?” “Can I… can I go out and smoke?” He said because he figured it would be better if he asked.

“Really Connor?” She snapped. “Do you have to do that when we have guests?”

Connor scowled. “Father Mike is a smoker…. Christ. I don’t know why I bothered to ask.”

He walked out of the kitchen, grabbed his jacket from the coat hook and headed for the back door, walking out onto the patio where he lit a cigarette and pulled his phone out.

He could text his dad. He should probably, ask if his dad could pick him up tonight. Maybe they could watch Die Hard or something. It was weird. When Connor was younger he dreaded having to spend solo time with his dad, but now all he wanted was to watch a dumb action movie with him. Not just because things were bad inside but because his dad made Connor feel less… out of control since he got home.

“Connor.”

He flinched.

Father Mike had followed him. He had on a hat and had stuck a cigarette between his teeth. “Do you have a light?”

Connor pulled his lighter out of his pocket and handed it to Father Mike. His fingers wrapped for a brief moment around Connor’s hand and he felt a thrill of fear suddenly rush through him, taking a sudden step back. Father Mike lit his cigarette casually and handed the lighter back. Connor took it only to find his hand caught in Father Mike’s.

“Connor,” He said, his voice soft and Connor wanted to wrench his hand away but he couldn’t manage to do it. “About this summer…”

“I don’t want to talk about this summer,” he said quietly. “Please… I. My mom and sister don’t know and I-”

“You didn’t tell anyone?” Father Mike said, and he looked relieved.

He shook his head. “I didn’t.”

Father Mike dropped his strong grip on Connor’s hand, dropping it so it almost looked like they were… holding hands or something.

Connor tried to pretend like his arm just… wasn’t attached or something. He took another drag on his cigarette. He tried to disappear.

Father Mike’s thumb brushed against his wrist. Over the tender skin there, over the G.S. tattoo and a healing scab.

Connor wanted to scream.

“I heard you went to rehab?”

“I did,” He said. Snapped.

“I didn’t know.” Father Mike said quietly. “I wish you would have told me…”

“I thought that might make you quit giving me drugs,” Connor said.

“That wasn’t… I didn’t… Connor you’re... You don’t understand..”

“Yeah,” Connor said. “I seem to do that a lot.”

Father Mike frowned. “Connor…”

“Why do you keep saying my name like that?” He mumbled because he knew the answer and he hated it.

“I’ve missed you,” Father Mike said softly. There was a hand on the side of his face…

“You have not,” Connor sputtered. “You don’t… you can’t say shit like that…” Connor tried to step back, move away, but he was frozen and there was a sound in his head a clack of teeth together, a seat belt unbuckled, he should move away, he should step back but he couldn’t he couldn’t...

“Connor?”

He and Father Mike both turned fast, the priest dropping Connor’s hand like it had burned him and his other hand disappearing so fast from Connor’s face that he felt a sudden cold. Connor saw Zoe in the glass door, her face unreadable.

“Mom’s looking for you. She wants you to help set the table.”

“Yeah, uh, okay.”  Connor put his cigarette out. Zoe didn’t budge. Connor followed her inside, and immediately she grabbed him by the elbow and pulled him into the hallway.

“What the fuck did I just see?” Zoe asked, her tone hushed, eyes big, grip too tight on her arm.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Connor said, eyes sliding to the side, watching to see if Father Mike followed them.

“Yes you do,” Zoe said.

He said nothing.

“Connor,” She said. “It looked like that guy, that-that priest was going to kiss you!”

“Zoe, don’t be -”

Her eyebrows knitted together and she was frowning and Connor couldn’t force the lie out anymore, he was caught he was caught he was caught.

“Please don’t tell anyone.”

“Did something happen? This summer?” Zoe asked and Connor couldn’t look at her, he looked away and nodded, his face too hot his hands too cold. “Oh my god, Connor , why didn’t you say anything?”

“I didn’t… I don’t…” He shrugged and it hurt a little and he didn’t want to be talking about this.

“Are you okay?”

He laughed and it sounded weird and hollow and he shrugged again and said, “I mean. I’m fine.”

Zoe shook her head, “Oh man you’ve gotta stop lying to me,” but it wasn’t mean or cruel. She sounded sad. He couldn’t look at her because if she lost it he would lose it. When they were kids if she cried he would cry, without fail, literally until they were in school and his dad told him to stop being such a crybaby.  “I’m so sorry that happened.”

He shrugged like it was nothing but it was, it really was.

“What do you want me to do?” Zoe said. “I’m not… we’re not going back there.”

Connor shook his head. “We… but we have to, mom will-”

“She’ll fucking deal with it.” She pulled her phone out. “We’ll just tell her and she’s get him to leave.”

“NO!” Connor yelped. “I’m not telling mom.”

“Connor….” Zoe said. “This is serious.”

“I’m not. I can’t. I don’t want to tell mom, alright?”

Zoe nodded, “Okay. Okay. Um. I’ll text dad and… we’ll go, you and me, we’ll just go to

his house.”

“We can’t just, like, leave… Mom and grandma -”

“Will get over it.”

“But they’ll want to know why we’re leaving.” He shook his head. “They’ll want to know why we need to go and then we’d have to t-tell them why and if, if-”

Zoe grabbed his hand, squeezed hard. “Okay. Uh. Shit.” She squeezed his hand. “Let me think for a second okay? Just give me a minute…”
Connor nodded because he didn’t know what else to do. She wasn’t supposed to know this was his damage, his shame, his embarrassment and he was supposed to do a better job of hiding it away, keeping it out of sight. He didn’t want her to know he didn’t want her to see it.

“Okay,” Zoe said. “I’m… I’m gonna pick a fight with mom.”

“What? Don’t, that’s… she -”

“Shh, okay, just. I’ll pick a fight about something stupid and just… back me up okay? We’ll act all pissed off and then we’ll go to dad’s.”

“I don’t want to fight with mom,” He mumbled. “I… she didn’t do anything wrong, she -”

“Bull,” Zoe said. “She said to me the other day that she couldn’t believe you got into heroin because that was a drug for poor people.”

Connor breathed funny. “You’re… you’re saying that to get me mad at her.”

“A little,” Zoe admitted. “But she really did say it.”

“Fine.”

“Zoe, I thought you went to get Connor!”

“Coming!” She yelled back. “You got this?”

He definitely didn’t but Zoe… Zoe had a plan and Connor didn’t so he followed her lead. He went to the dining room and he went about setting the table, keeping his eyes down, focused on making the utensils straight.

“Don’t eat any of it,” Zoe muttered, setting a dish of soupy potatoes on the table.”I saw her cut the turkey and it looks raw.”

“Fuck.”

Their mom walked in with a platter of raw looking turkey. Connor went to the kitchen where Father Mike was talking to his grandma and carrying a dish of cranberry sauce. He kept his eyes down, despite Father Mike clearly trying to send him a look. He just looked at the floor and carried out the glazed carrots.

He sat down when his mom told him to, sinking into the first seat available. Zoe looked at him but Father Mike slid into the seat beside him.

Zoe slammed a dish of corn on the table.

“Zoe, stop that,” Her mom said. “Sit down, please. Mom?”

Their grandma had a seat, and then their mom. Zoe remained standing.

“Zoe please sit,” Their mom said. “We’re going to eat. Father, did you want to say grace?”

“I would be honored, Cynthia.”

Zoe stayed standing. “I’m not doing this.”

“Zoe,” Their mom said, her cheeks turning red. “Stop this. You’re embarrassing me.”

“No!” She protested. “This is bullshit. We’re here playing happy family while dad’s stuck having dinner with a friend from golf? That’s garbage.”

“Watch your tone young lady,” Their grandma said, looking offended. “That is no way to speak to your mother!”

“Oh shut up,” Zoe snapped.

“Honestly, Zoe, what has gotten into you?” Their mom sputtered while their grandma went on about how she expected this sort of behavior from Connor but never from Zoe.

“Probably learned it from that father of theirs, always so -”

“Oh enough,” Connor shouted at his grandma. He then turned to his mom. “Zoe’s right, this whole thing is bullshit.”

Their mom was on her feet, her face red, and she headed right for him, jabbing a perfectly manicured nail at him while she shouted that all she had ever done was love him and this was how he repaid her and Connor felt sick, he wanted to abort mission, he couldn’t couldn’t…. This was too much he was stupid to agree to this he should have just left and -

“Fuck this,” Zoe shouted loud enough to be heard over everyone. “We’re leaving. Come on Connor.”

He followed Zoe out, grabbing his coat as he went, while their mother shouted after them. The air outside was biting and Zoe’s teeth were chattering as she pulled out of the driveway. Connor felt like he couldn’t breathe right.

“Sorry that was… Sorry,” Zoe said. “She shouldn’t have said that shit to you.”

“She’s right,” He mumbled.

“She’s an asshole,” Zoe said.

“She’s not,” Connor said because his mom wasn’t the issue, it was him it was always him he’d done this to them, to all of them.

“That was a bad idea, sorry, I… Sorry,” Zoe said.

He couldn’t look at her because she was trying to help him and really he didn’t deserve it. “Connor -”

“Can you please just focus on driving? Please? The roads… suck.”

“Okay.”

 

When they got to their dad’s apartment, he was waiting for them, frowning. “I just got off the phone with your mother, she’s hysterical… Is everything alright?”
Zoe looked at Connor and he felt like his insides had shriveled to raisins. He couldn’t… he couldn’t tell their dad. He couldn’t.

“Why don’t we sit down?” Zoe suggested.

They all crowded on the sofa and Connor felt himself withdrawing in further, knowing he just couldn’t do this he just couldn’t tell his dad he was over six feet tall he could throw a punch his dad wouldn’t understand and…

His dad looked sick with worry.

Zoe pressed on. “Grandma brought this priest with her to dinner at mom’s,” She said, glancing over at Connor. He shook his head. “He ran that cleanup program Connor did this summer…” She tried again, looking at him expectantly.

And he said nothing.

“Connor, come on…” She said gently. “Dad… he’s not gonna -” She looked over at their dad then back at Connor. “He’s not gonna... it’s… It’s okay.”

He shook his head because he just couldn’t.

“Do you want me to say it?” Zoe asked and Connor nodded because otherwise they’d be here all night and she felt like she had to do something and he understood. He didn’t want anyone to know but now that she did, she couldn’t sit on that information. He got it. He understood.

She looked at their dad. “Something… happened. Between Connor and Father Mike. This summer.”

Their dad’s eyes went wide.

Zoe said something else, something that made their dad look… stricken. Scared. Connor didn’t hear it because he wasn’t there, he was miles away, he was light years gone from this conversation because it couldn’t possibly be real.

“Connor is that true?” Larry asked, and Connor looked at him and hung his head because he was caught and he couldn’t lie anymore. He nodded slightly. Zoe tightened her grip on his hand.

“That night you called us… was that when this happened?”

He nodded again because he couldn’t admit that the night he called was the last time something happened, that there were other, smaller things that made Connor doubt himself until he was sure he was seeing things. He couldn’t say that. He just nodded.

His dad reached out and touched his bad shoulder, softly. “I… I’m so sorry this happened… I didn’t. I didn’t know. I’m sorry. I knew something wasn’t… I should have known.”
“I’m sorry,” Connor said quietly pathetically. “I let this happen… I fucked up...”

“No,” Larry said, his voice stern. “This… this isn’t your fault.” Their dad looked at Zoe. “Does your mother know this?”

She shook her head. “Connor didn’t want to tell her… she’s been so, like… She’s been having a hard time with everything…” She looked over at Connor, frowning.

They all fell silent. Connor could hear the clock on the wall ticking. Connor tried to breathe, just breathe, but it was hard to concentrate. Hard to do anything, hard to even sit there on a sofa with Zoe and his dad because his dad and his sister hated him because this was wrong he shouldn’t have said anything. He shouldn’t have said a word, he should have just denied everything, he should have died he should have died he should have died.

“Thank you for telling me,” Larry said.


 

Georgia woke up on December 26th early, way early. She had a headache. Her mom was asleep outside of her door. Georgia had locked herself inside the night before…

She frowned. Her mom was supposed to be at work.

But since she wasn’t working and was, in fact, passed out in front of her door… That meant Georgia could get her phone back.

It was stupid. Her phone never told her anything new. But she hated that her mom took it away. She hated it.

Georgia crept into her mom’s bedroom, pulling open her mom’s bottom drawer and took her phone out, turning it on while she headed to the bathroom. She locked the door, sitting on the toilet and peeing while it booted up.

She had a text.

It was probably… something idiot like, Happy Holidays from Old Navy or something.

She opened it.

Connor Murphy. “Can I see you?”

Georgia felt like she could cry. Or throw up. Or scream.

She texted him back fastfastfast. “When?”

The reply was almost instant: “Now?”


Connor crept past his dad’s room to use the bathroom. He could hear his dad snoring. When Connor left the bathroom, he could see that Zoe was fast asleep in his room, face buried in the pillow, her hair splayed all over, blue mixing with the natural brown.

They had been so…

Different. They had listened and they had cared and he didn’t deserve them. He didn’t. He wasn’t good enough for them, he wasn’t.

He couldn’t stay here. He couldn’t be here. They were too good and they cared and he wasn’t worth it.

Connor wasn’t so much of a bastard that he would take one of their cars, so he took the bus. They met outside of the mall, still too early for it to be open, and walked to the Starbucks nearby without saying much.

Isaac met them there. Apparently he operated a delivery service these days. Connor bought from him using the money his dad’s mom had mailed him for Christmas. For a few extra bucks, Connor got some cleans.

Connor and Georgia locked themselves in the bathroom. She kissed his cheek and he found her a good vein. He watched the way her eyes glazed over, the way her eyelids drooped and her head tilted back.

“Connor?” She said while he was tying off his arm.

“Yeah?”

“Missed you.”

“I missed you too.”

It only stung a little to stick a needle in his arm.

He knew he he had to go slow, he had to take it easy…

God. He had missed this.