So the girls come over and we’re all just sitting there in Thomas’s room.
“Why does it always stink in here?” Lexie says.
Madison says she likes it and gives Thomas’s big arm a squeeze. Lexie looks at me and we share a private smile, because Madison is just too much sometimes.
For the first five minutes, Thomas is in another world. I can tell by the dumb look on his face that he’s not seeing anyone around him, not hearing anything we say. Madison clasps his hand in hers and says something sort of witty and laughs and looks over at him. His gaze just drifts slowly over in her direction and he puts on a mild, forced smile. He’s tuned out like this for only five minutes, and somehow nobody notices but me, and then he’s back.
“I still have that whisky,” he blurts out, scrambling to get down to the safe on the floor of his closet.
“We can’t drink it here,” says Madison. “Your dad will know.”
“We’ll go to Winstead,” Thomas says. He opens up that flask and takes a huge swig from it before so much as standing up.
“Take it easy,” says Madison. Her voice is so quiet and soft compared to Lexie’s. It’s kind of breathy.
Lexie gets this sly look on her face and pulls out two joints from her purse. “And when we run out…”
“We won’t run out,” says Thomas. “I hid a fifth in the garage, too.” Thomas doesn’t smoke weed. He’s never even tried it. He calls me a stoner even though I’ve only ever smoked it maybe fifteen times in my whole goddamn life. I think he’s afraid of it, but I would never say that to his face.
We go out into the kitchen and he opens the cupboard. He passes each of us an empty protein shaker, lid and all. “Let’s see about a mixer.” He opens the fridge. “Orange juice? Probably not.”
Lexie laughs. “Holy shit, Thomas, I’d rather have it straight.”
I look in the bottom drawer of the fridge. There’s a whole unopened bottle of coke in there. I lift it out and show it to the others.
“Oh thank god,” says Lexie.
We fill them part of the way full with coke, then go out to the garage. Thomas hunts down his hidden fifth of whisky. He goes around to each of us, filling those blue plastic goblets like he’s the the star of the party, and when he gets to his own I notice there’s no coke in there. Instead he fills it a little over half full with straight-up whisky. Thomas Chu has a number of signature moves, but that right there, that’s his number one. The girls are laughing about something with their backs to us, so I doubt they even notice. But I notice.
Winstead Park is only about a twenty minute walk from Thomas’s house. There’s this hidden little area at the back by a fence where we can get really quiet if any cops come by. A massive pine stands over it and shades it through the heat of the day.
We’re just walking along Northview. The repurposed protein shakers are hidden in Lexie’s backpack. Thomas keeps pulling his flask out of his shorts pocket and taking furtive little swigs from it.
Lexie’s holding my hand on and off. She falls back to talk to Madison. And then Madison says, “Where’d you get that shirt, Niko?”
“It’s not mine,” I say.
“I know,” she says in her breathy voice. “It belongs to this guy.” She plants her hand in the middle of Thomas’s back as he’s walking.
“I gave it to him.” says Thomas. I kind of think this whole moment is eating him up inside. He takes a long drink from the flask. “I hate that shirt.”
“I think it’s nice,” says Madison. “But it looks better on Niko.” She just won’t stop talking.
“No one asked you,” he says. He sounds serious. By the time he turns around, he’s put a smile on, but I think Madison’s hurt a little.
We’re walking through the park now, and we have to be quiet because it’s getting dark and we don’t want anyone calling the cops on us. Luckily, the hidden area by the fence isn’t near anyone’s backyard. There’s just a small open field on the other side.
Anyway, we get kind of nestled in there and Thomas is up against Madison and Lexie and I are up against each other, across from them. We’re all just drinking from our protein shakers. If you want to know the truth, I’m having a pretty good time at this point. The night is so warm and the vibes are so good that I’m not having too much trouble forgetting about what happened earlier with Thomas. Something like a half an hour goes by where we’re just talking and laughing quietly. Thomas and Madison are kissing each other. Lexie and I don’t really like PDA, so we only do that kind of stuff when we’re alone.
After a while, we’re all fairly buzzed, but Thomas most of all.
He kicks my shoe. “Nikola, what are you looking at me for?”
“I’m not,” I say.
“Every time I look over you’re looking at me.”
“I said I’m not.”
“You in love with me or something?”
I lock eyes with him. I communicate with him telepathically. I tell him to fucking rein it in, for once in his goddamn life.
The girls seem pretty unmoved. They just sit there and act bored.
“You guys and your bromance,” says Lexie. “Why don’t you just fuck already and get it over with?”
“I keep begging him,” Thomas says. His words are just falling all over each other. “Niko, baby, come home.” He laughs.
The girls laugh, too. I feel like I’m actually going to lose my mind. For just one second, I swear I could kill him. Just slit his throat. Then things start to calm down. Thomas is flat-out drunk now. Thank god I’m feeling something too. Otherwise I would probably have to kill myself.
We’re walking back across the park. It’s dark as hell outside. Madison gets a little weird around Thomas whenever he’s drunk, like she would rather distance herself until he sobers up. As a consequence to this, I’m the one he uses to support himself. We’re back on the street. The girls are way ahead of us. They turn right, away from Thomas’s house, and then it comes back to me: They’re going to sleep at Lexie’s. Her parents are still gone, and if Thomas hadn’t gotten himself so shit-faced, we probably would’ve been invited over too.
I think they’re both thankful in a weird way that I’m so ready and willing to take care of him. He’s got his arm clear around my shoulder and he’s super heavy. He mumbles something I don’t understand and I ask him to repeat it.
“Why are you so in love with me?” he says.
He puts his hand under my shirt and kind of starts feeling up and down my abs.
“I said fuck you, Thomas.” I swat his hand away.
He goes back in, determined, this time sliding his hand straight down my pants. I feel it close around me and I freeze. I grab his wrist and he releases. I pull his hand out of my pants with so much force that we both lose our balance and fall.
We’re sitting there in a little heap on the edge of Northview. The whole thing is just too much to handle, and I start to cry.
Thomas manages to prop himself up on his big arms. “Why you crying, Niko?” He looks so confused. “Shit, Niko, why you crying?” The thing is, he starts crying, too, and it becomes this horrible sob that just completely takes him over. Eventually he starts to calm down, but when I try to get him to stand he won’t do it. “Leave me here,” he says. “I’m so fucked up. Fucking leave me here.” He says it over and over and then he starts to yell, which I know will cause a scene in this quiet neighborhood, so I stop trying to get him to do anything. He stops yelling. I sit back down on the sidewalk with my back to him.
“Something’s wrong with me,” he says.
I turn and look at him but his eyes are closed. I look back out at the quiet street. Everything’s lit up in orange light. I just keep sitting there for what feels like forever wondering how the hell we’re going to get through this one. That warm breeze just keeps coming in from the west. I want to believe it’s coming all the way from the ocean.
I hear a rustling sound behind me. He’s standing up on his own. He’s swaying a lot and almost falls, but somehow he steadies himself. And then, slowly, shaking a little, he reaches his hand out to help me up, and in those dark brown eyes is this crazy, intense look of determination.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the true Thomas Chu, underneath it all.
I wake up the next morning with a vague memory getting Thomas home, then continuing on. Anyway, I’m in my own bed again, that’s all I know. I text Thomas first thing because I know he has a final the next day. I’m pretty sure it’s his math final, and I’m also pretty sure he’s not ready for it. But Thomas is in regular math, which I shredded to pieces last year, so I figure it won’t be too hard to help him get in shape for the test.
I work for a guy named Marlon, and he runs a coffee shop. It’s one of those weird little shacks out at the edge of a Winco parking lot, trying to be something it’s not. I only work Sundays during the school year, and occasionally Thursday evenings, if there’s an event going on at Central. But damn, you should see the number of cars that roll through each morning, even on a Sunday. Shit, especially on a Sunday—although the peak time is later, which is why I don’t go in to help Marlon until eight-thirty.
I have a headache from the night before, but a couple glasses of water seem to make it subside quite a bit. I don’t eat any breakfast. Thomas would hate that. Anyway, I get to work and there’s a steady rush as usual. You wouldn’t believe how impatient people who go to church can be. Jesus Christ, if they have to sit in their climate-controlled SUVs longer than ten minutes or so, they seem to forget everything they just learned, or in some cases are about to learn.
So I’m sweating away in there, more than usual because Marlon hasn’t gotten around to installing the window unit yet even though he knew there was a warm front coming in, and I keep kind of glancing at my phone, waiting for Thomas to text me back. Up until noon, I ascribe the whole not-texting-back thing to him being drunk the night before. I don’t think too much of it, even though he never sleeps in late. Never, not even after a night like that. After lunch, things start to slow down, and I’ve got both windows open and a nice breeze coming through, and also plenty of time to wonder why I still haven’t heard back from him.
I text him again, and in another hour, still nothing. I want to make sure he didn’t die in his sleep or something awful like that, so I give him a call. He doesn’t answer. I don’t leave him a voicemail. I can’t remember the last time I left anyone a voicemail. Anyway, you can probably guess that I’m waiting around for the entire rest of my shift for a response from him, and nothing ever comes.
I go home and study. I study for maybe four hours until I’m completely starving. My mom bought some deli meat, if you can believe that, along with bread and cheese and a head of lettuce. I make myself a ham sandwich.
It’s when I’m sitting there eating it with not much else to do that I start getting honest with myself. I haven’t forgotten about last night. Of course I haven’t. I’m trying not to think about it, but I haven’t forgotten about it. I’ll get really honest with you here: I don’t want to forget. I want to remember what it felt like on his bed, face-down with him on top of me, breathing on my neck. I don’t know what the fuck that means about me. I’m scared to go down that road.
I remember later, too, when we were on the street. I remember, vaguely, the moment that made us fall. I know I cried, but I’m not sure what exactly about the whole fucked up thing made me so emotional. I don’t usually get like that. Usually Thomas is the emotional one. We were both sitting there crying. I don’t even want to think about it now.
The only thing that sort of helps me get my spirits up is the fact that my mom gets home, and she’s doing pretty well. She has good weeks like this sometimes—she’ll even have a good month here or there. She tries so hard to get better. She tries harder than anybody I’ve ever known.
Lexie drives me to school the next day, which she sometimes does. We walk in together and a couple people we know join up with us in this cluster near the entrance hall. I’m just shooting the shit with this guy I run track with when Lexie leans in and shows me her phone. There’s this text from Madison on the screen saying Thomas blew up at her. My heart kind of aches for her in that moment, but I have to act like I have no idea what’s going on.
“Did he seem weird to you yesterday?”
“I didn’t see him yesterday,” I tell her.
“What about his texts? Did they seem weird?”
I admit that I tried to text him a few times but he didn’t answer. I even admit that I tried to call him and he wouldn’t pick up.
“Why the fuck am I just hearing about this now?”
I mutter this dumb string of words—something to the effect of me just being so busy studying that I didn’t have time to deal with it.
She’s not even listening. She’s back on her phone texting furiously with Madison. “This is so unlike him,” she’s saying. “I just don’t understand.”
I have this pit in my stomach. It grows larger and larger and I start to feel a little panicky. At least Thomas didn’t die in his sleep. But now I know exactly what’s is going on, and it has everything to do with what when down on Saturday night. There is simply no other explanation, and the more honest I get with myself, the more obvious it becomes. I can feeling myself getting so incredibly angry at him. Come on, Thomas, you stupid bitch, why can’t you fucking get it together?
At first I’m thinking this is the worst possible week for something like this to happen. But then I start to wonder if maybe it’s a good thing. You better believe I take this finals shit seriously. This is the last push. My full scholarship as an international student at UBC depends on my performance over the next five days. That trait I told you about earlier, the one I’m so lucky to have—I can feel it starting to click in. I feel like I’m swept up in this wave of great urgency.
“I have to study,” I say all of a sudden. And then guess what? I just leave. Lexie understands. Lexie knows how important this is to me. She’s too busy consoling Madison to notice, anyway.
I stay focused on what’s most important in my life. Right now, that is my grades. I don’t care anymore if I sound like a huge nerd. If it was your only way of getting out of here, you wouldn’t care either. The whole school day goes by and I swear to god, I barely think about Thomas at all. We have this crazy block-scheduling at my school, and he’s not in any of the three classes I have that day. How I manage not to pass him in the halls is anyone’s guess. I finally start to wonder if he skipped school. But then I remember he has that math final—there’s just no way. I haven’t looked at my phone all goddamn day, so I don’t have an update from the girls. I don’t want one.
I’m headed out to the parking lot to meet Lexie at her car. It catches me off guard when I see Thomas’s car just sitting there, only five or six spaces away from Lexie’s. She’ll be a few minutes, I’m sure, because she’s never in a hurry to get out of that place at the end of the day. Don’t ask me why. Anyway, I guess I’ve got him trapped, like some kind of parking lot ambush situation. I make up my mind that it’s a good thing.
And then he shows up. I can see his face change when he sees me. What the hell was he expecting? He’s got to be as surprised as I am that we went this long without running into each other. We both knew the moment was coming.
He’s standing there with his key in the door. I walk right up to him. “What the fuck?” I say.
“I’m sorry.” He’s looking really strange, not like himself at all.
“This is all because of Saturday, isn’t it?” I don’t know quite why I am so livid with him.
He grabs the sleeve of my shirt. I can feel a few pops in the fabric. “We can’t do this. Do you fucking understand? I can’t talk to you.”
“What the hell?” I rip myself out of his grasp. “It’s not my fault you’ve lost your fucking mind over this. I thought we said we were going to keep quiet about it.”
“Quiet about what?” he says. “Nothing fucking happened, Niko.”
I pause in order to compose myself. Sure, I’m willing to play his dumb game. “Fine,” I say. “You’re right.”
He’s starting to look emotional, to be perfectly honest with you. I get the sense he’s sort of begging me to leave, in that telepathic way we have of communicating with each other. But it’s what he says out loud that really gets to me: “Niko, we have to stop spending time together.”
“What are you talking about?”
“How do you not fucking understand?” He’s pleading with me now. “Fuck, dude, how do you not get it?”
I just don’t. That much is clear to me. All I can see in that moment is how broken up he’s getting over this. I start saying something, but he’s already getting in his car. I try to hold the door open but he wrenches it closed so hard that I have to jerk my hand out of the way so it doesn’t get crushed.
If you think I’m dramatic enough to stand in the way of that shitty old Lexus, you’re wrong. He’s clearly intent on leaving. Good for him. I let him go. I turn away as he speeds out of the parking lot.