In his senior year of high school, Julian has one goal: be invisible. All he wants is to study hard, play basketball, and pretend he’s straight for one more year. Then, he can run away to university and finally tell the world he’s bisexual. And by “the world,” he means everyone but his mom and best friend. That’s two conversations he never wants to have.
When he’s talked into auditioning for the school’s production of Hamlet, Julian fears that veering off course will lead to assumptions he’s not ready to face. Despite that, he can’t help but feel a connection to this play. His absent father haunts him like a ghost, his ex is being difficult, and he’s overthinking everything. It’s driving him crazy.
The decision to audition leads Julian on an entirely different path. He’s cast as Hamlet, and the boy playing Horatio is unlike anyone Julian has met before. Mysterious and flirtatious, Sky draws Julian in, even though he fears his feelings at the same time. As the two grow closer, Julian begins to let out the secrets he’s never told—the ones that have paralyzed him for years. But what will he do if Sky feels the same way?
|Publisher:||Ninestar Press, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.65(d)|
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7:35 PM: We need to talk.
8:00 PM: I'm sorry.
9:17 PM: I know you're awake.
9:20 PM: Please answer my calls.
10:00 PM: At least check your voicemail.
10:47 PM: Julian?
"Shut up Lucy," I muttered, fingering the phone in my hands. I placed it on top of my chest and watched it rise and fall as I breathed. The glow-in- the-dark stars on Will's bedroom ceiling had faded through the years, but they were still visible. I repeated the constellations in my head as I found them: Orion, Aquarius, Cassiopeia.
Will was already sound asleep in his bed, but I'd never been more awake. Everything I'd said replayed in my mind, every mistake I'd ever made flashing like a movie.
My phone vibrated again, and I jolted upright, the mattress groaning underneath. The message flashed on my screen as I glanced down at my hand.
I still love you.
I didn't want Lucy to want me anymore. I wanted her to leave me alone, let me self-destruct in peace. She didn't need my bullshit anymore. I was trying to spare her.
Before my phone went off again, I rolled off the mattress onto the floor and crept out of the room. Will barely stirred through all the commotion. I grabbed his set of keys from the desk and slipped out of his room.
Outside, the air was cool and damp. We'd started the second week of school and everything was still kind of green, but the smell of partially decaying leaves surrounded me. I sighed heavily, the breeze stinging my face. I probably should've put on a sweater before I stepped out, but I didn't want to turn back now.
I ran out into the street and jogged a couple blocks, unsure of my plan, besides getting the fuck away from everything and everyone. Just being silent with the night and forgetting I was a bad boyfriend and an even worse friend. It was kind of cloudy, but some of the stars shone through. I craned my neck and walked in a tight circle, spotting the North Star and part of Orion's Belt. Too cloudy for much else.
The sound of tires on the patched pavement snapped my attention to ground level. I stepped out of the way of an SUV and watched it inch down the road. The driver had the window rolled down, and he poked his head out as he passed me. His blond hair was slicked back, and his lips were full. He reminded me of a model.
He squinted his eyes at me, like he was trying to place where he'd seen me before. I just knew I'd never seen him before. Or had I?
"Salut," he said, his accent thick. He must've been a student at one of the French schools. What was he doing in Riverview, somewhere totally anglophone? Anyone who went to the French schools and lived in Riverview was an anglophone who was good at French.
"Hi," I said warily.
"I remember you," he said, mouth quirking into a smile. "Last summer. Austin's party."
"You remember that?" I tried to place him in my memory, but I'd been drunk for a good part of last summer. Lucy had broken up with me, and I was devastated. That time, I'd really wanted things to work out.
"How could I forget you?" he drawled, smiling again. It would've been sweet if I wasn't so on edge. And also incredibly sober. Drunk me always wanted everything sober me never took. Sober me was never what he remembered.
"I'm sorry. I don't remember."
He licked his lips thoughtfully, parted them slightly. "Let me help you remember."
I shook my head, though part of me kind of wanted to remember. He had lips that were perfect for kissing. And the pieces were falling together in my head. An empty basement room, the air thick from smoke and humid heat. And a blond boy with messy hair with his hands on my waist. He kissed me.
"I have a girlfriend."
He rolled his eyes. "And I'm straight." He laughed softly and shook his head. When he regained his composure, he glanced down at me again. "Take care, you mess of a boy."
He rolled away from me, and his car crept down the street and turned the corner. I waited until the sounds of his engine died away into the night before I dared move.
Letting out a sigh of relief, I pushed the hair back from my forehead. My whole body shook. I never expected the worlds of drunk and sober me to meet. Not this way. Not this year. We only had two more semesters of school. This wasn't the time to change everything. It was all about surviving and moving on.
I needed to be what people thought I was. People here would never understand. Better to go away and let them find out much later. That was the way it had to be.
I breathed deeply again, trying to regain my composure. It had only been a moment, and he wasn't a boy who went to my school. He was just a boy. Less faceless than before, but still anonymous. And people like him didn't belong to someone like me. Not yet. I wasn't ready for the world to see me.
My phone vibrated again. This time, it wasn't Lucy texting. Will's name flashed on the screen.
Where are you??
Had to get some air. I wrote. Can't sleep.
Get over here. We got school.
I let out a grim laugh. School was the last thing on my mind right then. Lucy and boys danced in my head. I couldn't stop it. I didn't know how. The two were linked somehow. Lucy and my failure to love her — and the boys I kissed every time we ended things.
She deserved better than me. She deserved someone who wasn't afraid, who told her about the storm overtaking him. Who wouldn't let her assume he was on drugs or cheating because he was too afraid to admit he wasn't ...
I hated that word. I hated the alternatives. Hell, maybe I hated everything.
I craned my neck to look to the sky again and stared at the clouds passing over the horizon. When the wind picked up again, the frozen cold on my cheek made me aware I'd been crying.
"Shit," I muttered, wiping at my cheek. I had to keep myself together.
This place had closed me in. I needed to survive one more year, and then I'd escape forever.
I wiped at my cheeks again as Will's yells grew closer. He was wearing his pyjamas and jean jacket, carrying my hoodie. His flip-flops slapped on the pavement, echoing in the quiet street.
"Fuck, Jules!" he panted when he reached me. "What are you doing?"
I shrugged. "Thinking."
He furrowed his brow. In the orange lamplight, his red hair was almost brown, and the freckles on his face were dark pinpricks. "About Lucy?"
I nodded and didn't elaborate.
"You realize you don't have to break up with her?" he suggested with a small laugh.
I pulled the hoodie over my head. "No, I should. We keep fighting."
"My parents fight all the time," he offered. "And they're fine."
"I don't know," I sighed. "I just think she's miserable with me. I need to ... let her go."
"She doesn't want to."
"Yeah, well, maybe I do," I shot at him.
Will raised his hands and took a step away. "Well, whatever. Whatever will make you happy."
Happiness didn't seem to be an option.
He squinted, as if he were trying to break me apart and analyze me, the wheels turning in his head as he tried to find the right question. "But you're okay?"
"I'm fine." He'd meant to ask me something else, but I wasn't going to give him the answer he wanted to hear.
"Okay. Let's go."
I followed Will to his house with heavy steps. What had only been hours seemed like a lifetime since I'd told Lucy we needed to break up. Since she'd cried and screamed about how much she loved me. Since I'd been too upset to go home to an empty apartment while my mom worked the night shift.
I slumped down on the mattress Will had laid out on the floor next to his bed. Remembering I held the spare keys in one hand, I threw them on the desk.
"I'm going early," Will said once we'd settled under our covers.
"To school? Why?"
"Gotta practice for this group project. You wanna drive me?"
"No," I scoffed, pulling the blanket to my chin. "Nice try."
He laughed softly and rolled over so his back faced me. "Try to sleep, Jules."
And then, he was out.
But sleep wasn't easy for me. I kept thinking about Lucy and boys. And how Will was too good a friend to me. He'd let me come and go whenever I needed to. He didn't question it anymore. Sometimes, he tried to ask the hard questions, but he didn't push when I was in a bad way. I wished I could tell him everything. But I couldn't. He'd assume what he wanted to assume. He wouldn't understand.
No one could.CHAPTER 2
I READ LUCY'S series of texts over again as I sat in my idling car and waited for my friend Kelsey. Earlier that morning, I'd listened to Lucy's voicemail enough times I had it memorized. The last time we spoke, I was pretty clear I wanted to end things. Maybe I wasn't clear enough.
A tap on the passenger window brought me to the present. Kelsey opened the door and climbed in, throwing her bag on the floor in front of her. The day I got my license, I bought a car off of someone's front lawn with my summer job savings. I drove her to school most days since she lived near me. We were both on the bus route, but we hated taking it.
"Hey, sorry," she said breathlessly.
"What happened?" I asked as I reversed out of her driveway. "Hair issues?"
Kelsey's red-blonde hair was a mass of waves and frizz, which she found incessantly annoying. Most of the time she kept it down because it was too much trouble to do anything with.
"Not this time. I was taking forever to eat, and Dad wouldn't let me leave until I finished." She rolled her eyes but shook her head like she was taking back the gesture.
"Yeah." My mom was never home while I got ready for school. She wouldn't know if I ate or not.
Kelsey reached over to turn the volume on the radio up. She leaned against the headrest and closed her eyes while I kept my focus on the road. There were some days when we didn't talk much, but that was fine. I preferred it to being asked a myriad of questions and answering in ways that never satisfied her.
My friends were all very open people. Their feelings weren't off limits to anyone. Two of them were in the drama club, and they'd rubbed off a little on everyone. They were so used to expressing imaginary emotions that talking about their real ones wasn't a big deal.
But more importantly, their emotions had never seemed wrong to them like all of mine did. What did they have to hide?
I'd never been one to give things away so easily. A part of me feared if I started talking, I wouldn't be able to stop, and I'd reveal something I wasn't sure they'd like or understand. My feelings were a river I'd dammed. One small move, and it'd all come rushing out. Too much of a risk.
I thought about Lucy's voicemail as I drove down the various side streets, the rows of trees and little houses flashing by in my peripheral vision.
Hey. I'm sorry things are so messed up right now. I keep messing up. But I still love you. I think we can make it work this time. I need to trust you love me too. I keep having that problem, don't I? Please call me. I don't want to lose you.
I gritted my teeth to keep myself from getting emotional in front of Kelsey. I didn't want to lose Lucy either. But I needed to.
"What?" I yelled, snapping out of my thoughts.
Kelsey laughed at my reaction. "There's a party tonight at Dan's, after the game. Will was texting me about it last night. You wanna go?"
I shrugged noncommittally. It'd be a bad idea for me to go. Parties always led to boys and regrets. But Lucy was trapped in my mind. It'd be a good escape.
"Are you going?"
"Depends if I'm not dead after student council."
"Oh, damn. What are you planning now?"
"The assembly." She sighed heavily, sinking lower into her seat. "First one for the year."
By now, we'd approached the school driveway. Luckily, we'd missed the usual rush by a few minutes. I pulled into the student parking lot and killed the engine.
"Not going well?"
She shook her head and climbed out of the car. "Everyone wants Vanessa to sing the national anthem like she did last year, and I really don't want her to. She can't sing! At all. And I have to be nice about it? I can't straight-up say 'she sucks, let's find someone else.' I need to be all 'let's give someone new a chance.'"
I followed her out of the car, slinging my backpack over one shoulder. "I'm sorry to hear you're under such emotional distress."
"Yeah, I totally feel your sympathy." I had to smile in response. "Anyway, I'm also gunning for the —"
"Excuse me." A voice from behind stopped us.
I turned around to see a girl I'd never met before standing behind us. She had soft features and tawny skin that was darker than most people in our town. Her long black hair was pulled into a braid over her shoulder. "We're trying to find the main office."
Kelsey's eyes lit up. "I'll show you. It's easy to miss."
"No, you don't have to —"
"Don't worry about it," Kelsey cut in, smiling. "It's easier for me to show you than give you directions."
"She sucks at directions," I added. Kelsey scowled at me, but her eyes betrayed that she wanted to laugh.
The girl gave us both a hesitant smile. "I'm Ruth, by the way."
"I'm Kelsey. That's Julian."
"It's nice to meet you."
"We should probably go," Kelsey said after a quick glance at the time on her phone. "You coming, Jules?"
"Nah, I gotta get notes from Will."
The day before, I'd been too distracted to register anything Ms. Crawford was saying or writing on the board. The only thing going through my head was how I needed to break it off with Lucy that night. Will had offered me his notes to copy.
As Ruth and Kelsey left, I heard Ruth say something that sounded like "let me find my brother," and they were swallowed by the crowd of students milling around.
I took the first door into the school and followed the staircase to the second floor. The long stretch of hallway had four cross-hallways leading to the different science labs. I was about halfway to the Biology lab when a voice yelled out my name.
"Jules! Julian! Jules!"
Belle sprinted to reach me, a pile of fliers in hand and her bulging backpack slung over one shoulder. Her boyfriend Daniel followed at a more reasonable pace, an amused smile on his face.
"Hey ... what's up?" I said a little hesitantly.
She took a moment to catch her breath and slip the other strap on her shoulder. Her brown bangs were plastered on her forehead and her leaf- shaped earrings were slightly crooked. "I just wanted to catch you when I saw you. You're totally good at disappearing."
Dan had also caught up to us and put an arm around her slight shoulders. In a lot of ways, Belle reminded me of Lucy. They wore the same clothes, had similar interests and personalities. I was positive they'd been best friends in middle school. But Belle and I had never dated, so I liked her a lot more.
She handed me a small yellow flier with the words HAMLET printed in big, bold letters. "We need more guys to audition. I mean — I'm all for all-lady productions of Shakespeare, but Ms. Black thinks that'll be too crazy for Riverview."
"What happened to musicals?" The school always put on tolerable family musicals that wouldn't offend any conservative parents. An all- female cast of Hamlet would probably blow the school up. Figuratively, or literally.
"Well, Mrs. Peters is on maternity leave, and Ms. Black hates musicals. So, you in?" She threw the last sentence in so hastily I almost missed it.
"Are you in?" she said, enunciating every word like she was about to go onstage. Her dark eyes were wide and unblinking.
"I don't act," I said firmly, handing the flyer back to her. She didn't know I had the entirety of The Sound of Music memorized, thanks to my mom, and she didn't need to. I glanced over at Daniel, hoping if I glared at him long enough, he'd steer Belle away. He shook his head, giving me a sheepish smile.
I'd managed to pass through public school without being singled out. I did sports, had decent grades, stayed out of the way when people fought one another. Now was not the time to do anything that would shove me in a literal and figurative spotlight. Especially not a play.
"Anyone can act," Belle protested. "I'm serious! Especially with Ms. Black directing. She's a miracle worker."
I turned to head to class and said over my shoulder, "Not my thing!"
Belle wasn't about to retreat because I started walking. She jogged beside me to match my pace. "Please, Jules! We're desperate. Dan's doing it! So's Will. It'll be like basketball, but without the ball."
I sighed. Dan doing the show would be seen as him being a good boyfriend. Will was already out and gay. But me? I didn't want to find out what people would think.
"You may never see me again after this year," Belle wheezed. "Make my last memories fond ones."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "I Knew Him"
Copyright © 2019 Abigail de Niverville.
Excerpted by permission of NineStar Press, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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