1. Thirty Days
I’m standing in the shower next to Ali Rashid. The Ali Rashid. Sure, we’re both completely naked and there are plenty of other body parts my eyes could wander toward. But I can’t look away from his eyebrows, of all things. His big, bushy, glorious effing eyebrows. I’ve never even noticed another person’s before Ali’s, I don’t think. But his are different, I guess. I’ve stared at them so many times—mostly across crowded classrooms or dreamily through Instagram filters—I bet I could sketch them from memory, follicle by follicle. That’s a super weird, gay thing to admit, I know.
But hi, I’m a gay weirdo, apparently.
“Can I kiss you, Sky?” he asks.
The hazel of his eyes disappears behind long, curly eyelashes. They’re as beautiful as the brows; so jet black and thick, they could, like, sign a modeling contract all on their own, I swear. I can’t wait to tell our gaybies (gay + babies) about this moment someday—their dads’ first kiss. They’ll probably be grossed out, but that’s okay.
“Sky, let’s go!” Bree’s mom yells right outside the bathroom door. My whole body jolts awake from my daydream. Er, my… shower-dream? Yeah. That’s more like it. Let’s call it that. My Ali shower-dream. I have them from time to time.
Rattled, I reach out to grab the shower curtain to regain my balance—and the whole thing rips beneath my weight. My flailing body goes spilling out onto the bath mat like some white, scaly-ass fish caught in Lake Michigan. It seriously sounds like a bomb went off—a wet, soapy, incredibly embarrassing bomb. I yelp, more out of shock than pain.
“Oh my God!” Bree’s mom gasps on the other side of the bathroom door, as the dangling nozzle sprays water literally everywhere. Bree’s pit bulls, Thelma and Louise, start barking a few drywalls away.
“Are you okay, Sky?”
“No,” I groan. “I mean, yeah—”
But it’s too late.
The door cracks open and I see the bright red rims of Mrs. Brandstone’s glasses for a microsecond before I screech in protest, lying there totally exposed on the slippery floor. She squeals too, and slams the door shut.
I’m mortified. I am completely, totally, full-stop mortified.
This has to be a top-five most embarrassing moment, really. Way worse than when my best friend, Marshall, let out a massive fart in seventh-grade gym and ran away, leaving everyone thinking it was me.
“Don’t worry, I didn’t see anything,” Bree’s mom lies through the door. “And even if I did, I’ve seen it all anyway, honey. But hustle, please! Bree is waiting outside. You two are going to be late.”
And just like clockwork, Bree—my other best friend—starts honking her horn out in the driveway, as if the apocalypse will ensue if we’re thirty seconds late to first hour. She’s going to kill me.
“Tell her I’m coming!” I stand and turn the shower off before fixing the rod and curtain. Half the bathroom floor is covered in a puddle.
What an absolute mess. This bathroom and my life.
My guess is, Ali’s probably shower-dreaming about someone else this exact moment over at his house on Ashtyn Drive. It’s the third house from the corner; the one with the seafoam-green shutters, and the cat, Franklin, moseying around in the front window.
Yes, okay. I’m in love with Ali Rashid.
I’m not proud of it. I’m anything but proud of it. I’m annoyed of it. I’m sick of it. I wish I could snap my fingers and forget Ali Rashid even exists. But he does, and I’m hopelessly, helplessly, eternally infatuated with him, his seductive eyebrows, XXX-rated eyelashes, and the way his skin crinkles a bit when he laughs at one of my jokes. Especially when he snorts a little, too, because then I know it’s genuine.
Crushing this hard is confusing, though.
In my seventeen years on this planet, Ali’s the only boy that’s ever made me feel this way. Actually, the only person, period. Falling this hard isn’t all euphoric and heavenly, like in the four hundred million rom-coms I’ve watched way too many times to count.
Like when Lara Jean finally confesses her love to Peter on the lacrosse field in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, and everyone gets their happiest possible ending. Or like in Booksmart, when Hope shows up on the doorstep to give Amy her phone number right before Amy bounces to Botswana for the summer. (What convenient timing.)
Okay, sure, some days it does feel like that. Some days I feel like Simon Spier on the Ferris wheel. I have my moments when I swear cupid flies in and slaughters me with his big gay arrow, and my eyes turn into heart emojis and I can’t catch my breath for a solid five seconds.
But the problem is, Ali is straight. Well, he’s probably straight.… Maybe straight? I don’t know! We’re friends-ish, but not in That Way. At least not yet. I don’t think?
Bree—who is now literally holding down the car horn outside so the noise is nonstop and off-the-rails annoying—believes I have a shot with him. She and the rest of the Brandstone family are the only ones who know of my Ali Rashid obsession, and I’m going to keep it that way. Well, for another thirty days, at least.
Thirty effing days.
I turn to face the cloudy bathroom mirror and swipe my hand across its slippery surface. My sopping wet sandy hair, plastered across my forehead, probably needs to be trimmed soon, and I’m pretty sure I’m getting a pimple on my nose. At least I still like my eyes—probably my favorite thing about my face (although they pale in comparison to Ali’s). Mine are the color of toffee, my mom once told me as a kid. For some reason, I never forgot that.
The mist on the mirror fades away, revealing more of my chest, and I immediately remember why I implemented my number one rule since moving in with the Brandstones: Never, ever, ever look at my reflection right after I get out of a shower. Because the hot water always makes Mars—my burn scar—look infinitely worse than he typically does.
Mars has been lurking on the left side of my chest, right over my heart, ever since the accident. He looks pretty damn bad as is, honestly, but ten minutes under some hot water? He’s a million times more fire-engine red than usual. Which makes me look like one of those characters you see about halfway through an apocalyptic zombie movie—you know, the guy who just got bitten and is on his way to becoming a cannibalistic beast? That’s me!
My mom doesn’t have big mirrors in her tiny, suffocating house, so it was easier to avoid seeing Mars when I lived there. That was one perverse advantage me and my older brother, Gus, had growing up with hardly any money, clothes, or space: fewer opportunities to accidentally catch a glimpse of Mars in a reflection. That’s not the case here at the Brandstones’, though, standing in front of a mirror the size of a classroom chalkboard.
God damn Mars.
Bree is still blowing up the car horn out in the driveway, which has now turned from being obnoxious to hilarious. She is bonkers about school stuff, in general, but especially so between seven and nine a.m., when the sugar rush from her daily hot cocoa is in full swing. I think she’s trying to honk to the rhythm of the new Ariana Grande song she’s obsessed with? I don’t know. It sounds completely absurd.
“Sky!” her mom bellows from the kitchen, now sufficiently annoyed with both me and her daughter. Thelma and Louise are going extra nuts too, barking up a storm. “Come on!”
I stifle a laugh and assure her I’m coming.
Three minutes later, I’m jumping into the passenger seat with my backpack, hair still dripping wet. “Sorry—”
Bree slams her foot onto the gas pedal. “I’m going to murder you,” she says, half serious. The car roars in reverse down the mile-long driveway. (It’s not really a mile long, but their front yard is huge.) “I wanted to get Yearbook stuff done before first hour.”
“Is it possible for you push pause on your editor-in-chief duties for one day?” I say as the car lurches into forward drive and squeals down the Brandstones’ mansion-stacked street. “I’ve had senioritis since sophomore year.”
“Believe me”—she sips her cocoa from her Thermos, peeling out of the cul-de-sac—“I know.”
If you only saw the Brandstones’ subdivision, you’d probably think Rock Ledge was a top 1 percent kind of town—but you’d be dead wrong. Because Bree lives along the coast—the only area in this zip code with money. And even then, many of the houses are just vacation homes from downstaters—not locals. Their street is nestled into its own quiet peninsula, with its own quiet private beach, with its own definitely-not-quiet stay-at-home moms. The road’s even been paved within the last decade.
The real Rock Ledge, though? Imagine the decrepit towns you see in depressing political TV ads focused on how awful the economy’s gotten, where there’s empty sidewalks in front of closed storefronts, and sad old people gathered on porches reminiscing about the good ol’ days. That’s the real Rock Ledge.
We race through a stretch of woods into the non-touristy side of town—farther inland and away from the bed-and-breakfasts selling framed maps of Lake Michigan for $800—and the sight is pretty depressing. Because in March, the snow has mostly melted around here, but the trees are still completely bare, and pee-colored grass and poop-colored mud cover just about everything.
“So.” I clear my throat. “Just so you know…”
Bree’s blues eyes burst with intrigue. “What?”
“Your mom walked in on me.…”
“Walked in on you where?”
“When I was in the shower.”
Bree inhales, pure shock and delight draped across her rosy, lightly freckled face. She immediately forgets about me making her late.
“I was naked,” I add.
“Well, I assume so.” Bree thrives off a good plot twist. She says she hates drama, but I’ve noticed all the people who say that are the most dramatic people I know. “Did she see anything?” Her eyes dart back and forth between me and the road, the car weaving between the peeling yellow and white lines.
“No. Well, I don’t know. She said she didn’t.”
“Please, for the love of God, don’t tell me you were masturbating.”
“You totally were, weren’t you?”
“I can barely tie my shoes before eight a.m. I don’t have the motivation to do that before school, Bree.”
She ignores me, pulling her long, brown hair into a tight bun atop her head. “You were jacking off to Ali. No need to lie.” She’s steering with her knees while fixing her hair in the rearview mirror. I’m holding on for dear life.
“I was shower-dreaming about him, sure. But that’s it.”
“Shower-dreaming?” She tilts her head, confused, as we fly through an intersection. “Is that gay for ‘masturbating’?”
We come screeching into the senior parking lot right as the tardy bell for first hour is echoing across the soggy front lawn. “Meet for lunch outside Winter’s?” She jumps out of the car and sprints toward our prison of a school before I give her an answer.
“Yep,” I sigh to myself. “See you then.”
I follow in her path, much more slowly, weaving through cars toward the main entrance along with a handful of other tardy seniors with terminal senioritis. Our last semester is dying a slow, inconsequential death, so there’s been a growing number of us out here each morning avoiding our first hours with gas station coffees and increasingly loud playlists blasting across the football field. Today it’s in the dozens, and the song of choice is some country song I’ve been sick of since October.
I pass by some jock douchebags and feel their eyes judging my every move. A few of them smirk at me, and the group’s most deplorable, Cliff Norquest—naturally, their ringleader—imitates my walk to laughs.
My heart sinks.
My hips are swinging too much, I realize is what they’ve spotted. So I try to walk straighter. Like, literally and in the heterosexual sense. When you’re an openly gay kid at Rock Ledge High who reads about as straight as a curly fry, you think about these things. Constantly. Almost as much as you think about Ali Rashid’s eyebrows.
Oh, and my books. I need to carry them hanging loosely against my upper thigh with one arm—not with the bottoms of the books pressed against my hip, like Bree always carries hers. It’s a gay giveaway.
Also, my shirt! Damn it. I would have grabbed something else out of my closet had I had time to think, between Bree’s honking and Mrs. Brandstone’s yelling for me to hurry up. It’s okay to wear this shirt to, like, the movies, or to the mall, or anywhere else. But not to school. Not to this school, at least. It’s a pale pink button-up, which, if a guy like me has it on, screams gaaaaaaay. If I wear it like I’m “supposed” to wear it, I’d have it buttoned all the way up. But this isn’t Paris, France. This is Rock Ledge, Michigan.
So I undo the top button.
I know—if everyone in Rock Ledge already knows I’m gay, why does it matter? I should be allowed to wear the gay shirt. Carry the books like I want to. Walk the way I walk. But people in this town have a low threshold for different, and I don’t want to press my luck.
“Hey, idiot.” Marshall comes crashing into my right side, clasping his hand around my shoulder. He’s like a big puppy, always bouncing out of nowhere, with a smile on his face. “What’s up?”
“You’ll never guess—” I almost dive into the Mrs. Brandstone drama, but see Marshall’s track friend, Teddy, is by his side. I bite my tongue.
Nothing against Teddy—he’s nice enough—but he’s built like a bodyguard, has a voice a hundred octaves lower than mine, and gives off this intense Straight Guy Energy that makes me a bit more closed off when he’s around. If my personality were to be compared to Teddy’s using a Venn diagram, there would be no overlapping section.
Marshall gives me a look after I pause. “What won’t I guess?”
I think fast, rolling my eyes. “Just that Bree’s mad at me for making us late to first hour.”
Teddy pulls the straps of his backpack forward and looks at me curiously. “Did Brandstone already run out of tardies for the semester?”
“It’s not that,” I say.
“It’s more, she hasn’t gotten senioritis like the rest of us yet.” Marshall sighs.
They start talking about track stuff as we trek through the school’s soggy front lawn, so my eyes begin to wander across campus in search of Ali. I bet he’s nearby. Seriously, sometimes it’s like I have a sixth sense—not seeing dead people, but knowing when Ali is within one hundred feet. M. Night Shyamalan would be so proud.
“Yo,” Marshall says, nudging my shoulder.
He nods at Teddy, who’s apparently talking to me.
“Oh.” My neck swivels in Teddy’s direction. “Sorry.”
If it’s not my Ali shower-dreaming getting me in trouble, it’s my Ali daydreaming.
Teddy laughs. “No worries. I just asked where you got your shoes. They’re sweet.”
I look down at the ancient pair of sneakers on my feet, yellowed and speckled with mud. They’re a pair of Gus’s that he left at my mom’s forever ago. I can’t remember the last time I had the money to buy a new pair of shoes, let alone where Gus bought these ones probably, like, five years ago—but Teddy doesn’t need to hear the whole story.
“I’m not sure where these are from, actually,” I say. “But thanks.”
“Gotcha.” Teddy starts to break away from us for a different school entrance. “I have Butterton first hour. See you guys later.”
“Later,” Marshall says.
“Bye,” I add.
Once Teddy’s out of earshot, I divulge the real news.
“Oh, by the way,” I say to Marshall. “Mrs. Brandstone walked in on me naked in the bathroom this morning.”
Marshall gawks, offering me a piece of cinnamon gum. He’s the cinnamon gum guy. “Why would she do that? Was she being creepy?”
I take the gum and explain exactly what happened. Well, almost exactly. I tell him Mrs. Brandstone startled me, that the shower curtain betrayed me, and that she probably saw… everything. But I leave out the Ali shower-dreaming part for Marshall’s straight guy ears; I haven’t told him about my massive, all-consuming crush on Ali.
Marshall closes his eyes and pops them back open again to express just how wild it is to imagine that horror scene unfold. For two straight people, my best friends really are the biggest drama queens ever, I swear.
He starts cracking up and prodding me for details. “What all did she see?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you think she came in on purpose, knowing you were naked?”
“God, I hope not.”
“Did she see your ding-a-ling?”
“I’m not answering that.”
“Is that a yes?”
“No. And why are you calling it ding-a-ling? Ew.”
“Fair point, but—”
“Anyway!” I cut him off. “How did your track meet go?”
“Got murdered.” We avoid a puddle of mud that’s been steadily expanding, in its conquest to turn the entire front lawn of the school into a swamp. “Like, knife through the chest, sledgehammer to the face, poison to the lips murdered.”
“Poison to the lips? Is that a thing people say?”
“I won my races, Teddy killed it, and Ainsley ended up being able to come, though. I’m happy.”
And there she is: Ainsley. He almost made it through an entire conversation without bringing up his new (and first-ever) girlfriend. Almost.
I don’t mean to sound like a jealous crank—I’m rooting for them like a good best friend, of course—but his obsessing over her has gotten to be a bit much. It’s nothing like my obsessing over Ali. Duh. But still. It’s a bit much.
Speaking of Ali. There he is.
Hazel eyes, eyebrows, and eyelashes, my nine o’clock. I’m definitely not shower-dreaming this time. He’s leaning against the school like some GQ model, talking with his best friends, who are the luckiest people on the planet, I swear.
How is he so flawless? Like, how did X and Y chromosomes from two relatively normal humans unite to create such a perfect specimen? Science may never know, honestly. We’ll have colonized the moon before we’ve cracked the code of the Hotness of Ali Rashid, is what I’m saying. He looks so cool, too, in black denim jeans and a backward, bright-yellow hat. Wait. Does he know yellow’s my favorite color? Is he sending me some kind of sign?
Of course not. It’s just a yellow effing hat. But this is my mind on Ali Rashid.
He catches me staring and grins back. My heart melts a little. Actually, a lot. It melts a whole lot. I really like this boy. I really, really like him.
Here’s the thing. The crazy, sort of embarrassing thing.
In thirty days, I’m going to prompose to Ali Rashid. Like, I’m actually, literally, honest to God going to ask him to prom. Why? Because I’m nuts. But Bree’s helped convince me I have a real shot. A small shot? Probably. I’m not that naive. But it’s a shot.
Plus, I want to make a point.
What better way to stand up to Cliff and his cronies than to show up at prom hand in hand with one of the hottest popular guys in school? That’ll be the biggest clapback to their buffoonery in the history of clapbacks at Rock Ledge High.
I know asking Ali is a risk. A big one.
He could very well be as straight as an arrow, and I could very well end up looking like a total idiot. But what’s the quote on that poster with the basketball hoop you always see on teachers’ walls? You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take, or something like that? That’s what’s been going through my head lately. Which is so beyond cheesy and ridiculous, I know—but it’s sort of true. I have to shoot my damn shot, even though there’s a very big chance it’ll be a horrendous air ball.
I’m scared. Downright terrified. Barely able to function, the dread is so intense. But I’m a gay senior with terminal senioritis, ready to put it all on the line for the boy I think I might love.
I have thirty effing days.