Gareth has a problem. He got expelled. Now he and his twin brother, Morgan, have to start over at an artsy new private school, and it’s all Gareth’s fault. Not to mention Morgan’s crippling social anxiety and Gareth’s resting jerk face aren’t making them any friends, and their father is furious with him. Gareth could live with this, but Morgan’s mad at him too, and Morgan is the only person alive who can make Gareth feel guilty.
Good thing Gareth has a plan. Cute, bubbly Felix, a student at their new school, has a crush on Morgan, and they both want to act in their school’s production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. Gareth figures it’s the perfect way to help Morgan come out of his shell and set him up with Felix. Then, maybe Morgan will forgive him, and Gareth can go back to not caring about anything or anyone.
But Gareth has another problem. He’s been cast as Oberon, and Felix is Titania. Oh, and Morgan doesn’t like Felix back. And maybe Gareth is enjoying the play and making new friends and having a good time at his new school. And maybe—just maybe—he’s got a crush on Felix. Can Gareth keep up his tough-guy act long enough to repair his relationship with Morgan, or will Felix get caught in the fallout of Gareth’s dumb schemes?
|Publisher:||NineStar Press, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.49(d)|
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To Thine Own Self Be True (Unless Thine Self Is an Idiot)
EVERYTHING STARTED WHEN I punched a guy in the face, but I only realized this was more than a regular Tuesday once my twin brother Morgan got home from school looking like he'd been hit by a truck.
Not literally. Morgan resembled the guy on the cover of a romance novel — not Fabio, the Twilight knockoffs, where they were angsty instead of buff. Morgan's hair was always windswept, except when he pulled it back as per the school dress code. While our school had a dress code, at least it was gender neutral, so anyone could wear whatever they wanted as long as their skirt hit below the knee and their hair was kept out of their face.
Morgan's hair is always kept out of his face, is what I'm saying.
I was hoping word hadn't gotten around school, but what a stupid hope. Morgan was ashen. I got to my feet. "Morgan —"
He shook his head without changing his expression.
Crap. I tried to stand still as Morgan went through his getting home ritual: shoes placed in a neat straight line next to the door, tie loosened but not taken off, laptop removed from bag, bag hung on the hook next to the empty one where mine belonged. I put my hands behind my back so he wouldn't see me digging my fingernails into my palm.
Morgan finished and turned to me. I couldn't read his expression. "So what happened this time?"
I tried to make my mouth work. But for one thing, I had a bad feeling Morgan already knew the answer. For another —
If he didn't already know, explaining would be impossible. This went deeper than being dumb and teenage and angry. This was about Morgan and his nerves and me protecting him the only way I knew how. If I could explain it out loud, I wouldn't have been in this mess. I could have talked things out with Warren Beauregard III (really, truly his name in the year of our Lord 2016) the way Sesame Street taught me, and we would sing a song, and everyone would have gone home happy after learning about the letter of the day.
But before I could figure out how to put it into words, my father came downstairs.
My father — excuse me, Dr. Trevor Lewis, PhD and some other fancy letters — was a professor of Welsh literature. He spent most of his time buried in books written in a language barely anyone spoke, writing papers seven other people would read. Whenever he tried to tell me about it, my soul left my body from sheer boredom.
I didn't see him much. In order to focus on his research, Trevor taught night classes, which meant all the good people working full-time jobs and going through school snored their way through his English 101. Therefore, he was at home while I was in school, and I was at home while he was at school. It worked well. I didn't have to see him and remember we looked alike and I hated it, and he didn't have to see me and remember the family disappointment.
"Let's sit in the parlor, boys." His voice was cool.
The change of scenery wasn't for anyone's comfort; the furniture was so old it doubled as a torture device. Morgan and I took our usual spot on the couch, Trevor in the chair across from us. Morgan chewed on his lower lip. I wanted to do the same, but I also didn't want Trevor to see he had me over a barrel.
"The principal decided to avail me of a number of things about you, Gareth," said Trevor, after a long, long minute of staring at me. He still hadn't raised his voice. "He said you are, in most respects, a brilliant student. A leader in class discussions, consistently high achieving on standardized tests, and well liked by your teachers. I was aware of all of this."
I did not relax. Before everything else, Trevor was a rhetorician. He was not reassuring me; he was laying out background before he launched into his thesis. According to family legend, when he defended his dissertation, the evaluators only asked one question apiece because his argument about whatever he studied was so watertight.
"What I did not know is you have also been consistently on the verge of expulsion from the moment you started high school. I don't see the point of going into detail of the reasons. I'm sure you're aware — swearing, uniform violations, lashing out at other students."
The expulsion part was news to me, which was not going to help my case.
Trevor waited, not to see if I wanted to respond. He was pausing for effect. "And it has only been by the grace of the aforementioned good qualities and my not inconsiderable donations to your school that you have not been run out for conduct unbecoming a member of their academy."
I bit my tongue. Literally. It hurt. Sometimes, I appreciated Trevor's frankness. Take when he talked about college. He always said, "I expect both of you to attend either the school where I teach or the University of Wisconsin, unless you get into an Ivy League college." It might sound controlling, but I knew exactly where I stood with him — in the garbage.
"You're getting kicked out?" Morgan asked, as though I should have led with it when he came in the door.
"I guess, but I just found out too." I didn't even know my school expelled people. Then again, I was the only kid ever written up for fighting on school grounds.
Morgan stiffened like we were going over the first drop on a roller coaster, only there was no track at the bottom to catch us. "I can't stay there by myself."
Now that was news to me. Among other things, Morgan was valedictorian, first chair violinist in orchestra, and student council secretary. (He'd be president, but then he'd have to talk.) All the teachers thought he was God's gift to academia, and he'd been fielding college recruiters since we were in eighth grade. And everybody adored Morgan. Girls wanted to bang him, guys wanted to be him/possibly also bang him, nonbinary people high-fived him, et cetera. I wasn't exactly an outcast, but I wasn't anyone's first choice for gym, either.
Trevor's expression was unreadable. Behind his glasses, his eyes were the color of a freezing winter sky. My father had never been cuddly, but he used to talk to us more, before my mom killed herself four years ago. Suicide should have been the low point, but things only went downhill in our family from there. After the funeral ended and all the flowers were thrown away, we never talked about her again. I hadn't bothered trying, but Morgan had, and Trevor dismissed him. Not in so many words, maybe, but we got the hint.
Anyway, as long as Morgan was calm and under control, he and Trevor had long and involved conversations about books and crap. But the second Morgan faced something more complicated than precalculus, Trevor was out the door faster than blinking, leaving Morgan alone with his deep-breathing exercises. And me. I always cleaned up the mess, whether or not I made it.
To be fair, I usually made it.
I got to my feet, one hand clenched in a fist. I wasn't going to hit Trevor — no use. It wouldn't get a rise out of him. But the pain helped me concentrate so my voice would come out calmly, the same way it did at fancy dinner parties when one of Trevor's too-rich friends asked me a question that drove me up a wall. I knew Morgan hadn't meant to say anything out loud, nor would he appreciate it if I answered him right now. So I put on my best Trevor face and pretended Morgan wasn't hyperventilating beside me. "Well, this is all pretty shitty. When do I find out?"
Trevor's expression hadn't changed an inch; he might have been staring at one of the insipid paintings hung on the wall. "You've been suspended for the rest of the week while they decide. In the meantime, I suggest you research alternative options. I have enough work preparing for midterms."
I bit the inside of my cheek hard enough to taste blood so I wouldn't answer. Morgan was about ready to barf all over the fancy Persian rug, but he almost always was. I couldn't tell if it was worse than usual.
"You wanna help me search?" I asked. If I didn't give Morgan some kind of out, he would sit there until the end of time, caught in his own head.
Morgan stood, jerkily. He nodded at Trevor and followed me upstairs.
EVEN THOUGH WE didn't have to, Morgan and I shared a room. This way I could keep an eye on him.
Once I closed the door, Morgan sat on the bed. Really, it was collapsing with grace. He dug his fingers into his scalp.
On a different day, I'd walk over, tell him to breathe. But this wasn't ordinary Morgan anxiety. I might have said he was angry, except Morgan never got angry.
I settled on hanging around by the door, leaning against it to pretend I wasn't fighting the urge to flee.
Finally, Morgan let out a long breath. "You punched him because of me." It wasn't a question.
I could have argued. I had plenty of reasons to punch Warren Beauregard. For one thing, he was a racist, always making snide comments about the black and brown kids at school just vague enough so I was the jerk if I said anything. He also made gay jokes in my direction and expected me to laugh, because people thought I was straight. As if I couldn't be angry and gay at the same time. I could have corrected them, but it never felt worthwhile, not even with Trevor. I was sure he assumed I'd get some nice girl pregnant, and he'd either have to pay for an abortion or an over-the-top wedding.
Things were different with Morgan. I sanded the sharp edges off the truth or pretended to be better than I was, but I didn't outright lie to him. "Yeah."
I planned to leave it there, except my mouth kept going, because goddammit I was still angry. "He was making fun of you, okay? About how nervous you get. And I was gonna tell him to shut up and then —"
Morgan scrubbed a hand over his face. "I'm so sick of this," he muttered, so quietly I almost didn't hear him. He wore an expression I usually only saw on Trevor's face: where did you come from, and why are you pretending to be related to me?
It was there and gone faster than a blink, but I still saw it.
I ... I really had fucked up.
I looked away, biting my lower lip. I realized I was jiggling my leg and made myself stop. "Can we talk about what you said to Trevor?"
Morgan's mouth twisted to the side. He'd been counting on me not to bring it up. "It'll be fine. I've only got a year left anyway. You can do whatever you want."
I bit my lip harder. I didn't know why Morgan hated Cherrywood Prep, and me getting out of his way could only help — but what if something happened, and I wasn't there?
Which was ridiculous. The last thing Morgan needed was my help. But I didn't want him to stay somewhere that made him miserable either. "You could come with me. If I get kicked out."
Morgan frowned at his feet. Then he straightened and pushed his hair out of his face. He seemed calmer, but I didn't feel any better — this was the mask he put on for other people. Trevor in miniature.
Morgan never turned it on me. "I'll help you search, and we'll see what we find."
As we compared the different high schools in the area, things were almost okay. I started to hope it would all blow over. We'd be laughing about this in a week.
LONG STORY SHORT: it wasn't okay, it didn't blow over, and we weren't laughing about it.
Longer story, less short: I got expelled. Trevor's deep pockets kept Warren's mom from pressing charges, at least.
When we got home from meeting with the principal, Trevor turned to me. "You are responsible for filling out all entrance paperwork. I know you're familiar enough with my signature to forge it."
I nodded rather than speak. After several tearful conferences with Warren's mother, Warren, and the principal, I was at my limit. But one time paid for all, and if I fucked up now, I'd be looking at something worse than an expulsion letter.
Not that I cared about school. Morgan hadn't spoken to me all week. He stayed long after the final bell, doing his homework at the library, and when he came home, he put his headphones on or went to the basement to practice his violin. I was used to trying to get him to talk, but not ... not when his silence was my fault.
Once we got up to our room, I coughed into my fist. "This is the part where I make a crass joke and you tell me how screwed I am. But I'm all out of jokes, so ..."
Morgan took in and let out a long slow breath through his nose, the way his therapist had taught him. And the way I badgered him into doing when he was stressed out. "There's nothing to joke about. You've screwed yourself, and you're taking me down with you. But I'm used to it."
My lips parted in shock. I'd thought those exact same words, but I'd never imagined Morgan would say them.
But Morgan shook his head. "I didn't mean it."
"Yes, you did," I said, trying to be gentle. "But it's okay. You're ... you're totally right."
"That doesn't mean it's productive." He tried to square his shoulders, but he was still cringing. He always did unless he was holding his violin: then, and only then, he stood tall, his shoulder blades touching, and his chin in the air. "I talked to Father. He's not happy, but I've never asked him for anything before, so he said I could transfer with you. All of these schools are as good as Cherrywood — some of them are even better — so he accepted it."
I'd expected him to tell me I'd be headed to a new school by myself, and I'd been trying to find a good reply, one which wouldn't push him any further away but also said I didn't need him around. Good thing I hadn't picked yet. "Wait, you're gonna go with me?"
Morgan disregarded the question; he'd already answered it. "I pointed out it would be easier to get you in if we're a pair. Everything about me should be enough to take care of — well."
"You can say I'm a fuck up, Morgan. It's just the facts." I wanted to hear him say it. Morgan pretended I was better than I was, and then I had to try to live up to it, and I ended up exhausted. If Morgan gave up on me, then I'd be off the hook for the rest of my life.
"You know I don't swear."
Which wasn't disagreement, but I decided not to dig any deeper. "So fine. You're going with me. Do you have a preference?"
"They're all the same," Morgan said, but he hesitated.
"You do. So which one?" I wrinkled my nose, nudging some of the papers aside. Honestly, they all sounded alike; their websites talked about prestigious histories and extracurricular activities and "a challenging academic roster," complete with photos of multicultural students smiling fixedly at the camera. They'd clearly been promised academic credit or money. "I hope it's not the one three towns over. I am not looking forward to commuting."
"It's in town, and it's —" He stopped himself. "I said they're all the same."
He'd never tell the truth if I didn't stop acting so nice. "If you don't tell me, I'll go to Trevor and tell him I want to be by myself and I think it'll help me improve."
Morgan knew what I was doing, but he sighed. "I suppose if we have to bail out of the plane, I don't get to bicker over the color of the parachute." He took out the second most prestigious private school in town after Cherrywood: the Ainsworth Academy.
I skimmed the basic information, my frown deepening as I went down the list. "Morgan, this is an arts school."
"Morgan, I have no talent for anything except causing trouble."
Morgan nodded again. "I know. But they have plenty of students who don't participate in the arts."
"So they can have scholarship kids." Thinking about walking inside a new school made this feel more real than the week I'd spent at home, sleeping in too late and playing Dragon Age until four AM.
But beggars can't be choosers or whatever. "The good news is, arts kids are all gay, right?"
Morgan didn't laugh. But he never laughed at my jokes, so I tried not to take it as a bad sign.
ON OUR FIRST day at Ainsworth, our driver Carl was nice enough to drop me and Morgan off at the corner so we could walk to school. Along the way, we passed three separate groups clustered around a performer: one with an acoustic guitar; one with a lap harp; and two opposing group of seniors reciting the opening lines of Romeo and Juliet, complete with thumb biting.
Okay. Fine. Art school.
At the top of the front steps was a group of three boys. I only noticed because the black boys were twins, wearing nametags though they didn't dress alike. The boy on the left wore his hair in purple dreadlocks. His nametag had Zach crossed out; beneath it, he had written Lando. The second twin was wearing a full suit, a bowtie, and oxfords, and his nametag had Alex crossed out with FN-2187 below. The boy in the middle, the white one, had dark curly hair, and he couldn't seem to stand still. Alex snapped his fingers in rhythm and hummed a single note, and then the boys launched into "God Only Knows."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Diamond Heart"
Copyright © 2019 M.A. Hinkle.
Excerpted by permission of NineStar Press, LLC.
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