The Quick and the Tad
I DIDN’T sleep much last night.
It’s stupid, practicing something to make it sound spontaneous. But this isn’t Where do you want to go for lunch? It needs practice and a hell of a lot of courage.
I dump my bike on Quick’s front yard and go around to where the mulberry tree half hides his window. He never locks it and doesn’t even startle when I open it.
I’ve got one leg over the sill when I blurt out, “I’ve got something really important to ask you!”
Quick’s on the phone and doesn’t seem to hear me.
“S-sure,” he says to the caller. “I mean, I didn’t even realize you noticed me. But ’s cool. Can I, um, call you back later? We can talk more.”
I plop down on his bed, my head buzzing with my question. “You okay, Quick?”
“Do you know who that was?” He holds up his cell.
“Nope. Psychic powers must be on the fritz.”
“It was Kelsey Harold.”
Oh…. “What’d she want? Trying to get you on that stupid decorations committee for Spring Fling?”
“Not… quite,” he says slowly, raking his hand through his hair. I try not to stare. It’s long, dark, with streaks of gold. He sometimes pulls it back in this man-bun thing that makes me forget to finish my sentences. “More like asking me to Spring Fling.”
“Yeah, that’s… something.”
My best friend’s had a thing for Kelsey since the eighth grade, but I ignored it because he never had a shot. She’s pretty and nice in a goopy banana syrup way. What’s not to like?
“What should I do, Tad?”
“Tell her yes.” My mouth is totally autonomous. I force a smile even though I feel like someone has punched me in the gut. “Hey, I’m gonna go. You should call her back.”
“You just got here.”
True. But I don’t have any reason to be here. Not now.
“And you were gonna ask me something. You said it was important.”
“Nah…I….” Forgot what I was going to say. Lame lie.
I can’t ask him now. But maybe I can tell him something instead. “Um, turn around,” I say, and he raises an eyebrow at me. “Just turn around, all right? And I’ll tell you a secret.”
With a suspicious glance over his shoulder, Quick slowly turns his back to me.
We haven’t done this since we were kids and we’d trade secrets at sleepovers when we didn’t want my little brother to hear us.
“You’re being weird, Tad.”
When I put my finger on his back, he flinches.
“What are you doing?”
“Telling you a secret. We used to do this all the time.”
“When we were, like, eight. You’re being really weird.”
“C’mon, you want to hear my secret, right?”
When we were kids, we got really good at being able to read the feel of the letters. We’d write them big and slowly. I really liked when he touched my back. Now I’m not writing big or slow. I know Quick has no idea what I’m spelling, and that’s good. If he’s got a shot with Kelsey, then I really don’t want him to know how I feel about him.
I leave my palm on his back after the last word for longer than I need to. I can feel his warmth. As he shifts, I feel his muscles move under my hand. My heart starts racing. Keep your head, Tad.
I’VE GOT something new to practice during my bike ride home: being happy for Quick. Like, really, stupidly happy for him. He’s going to Spring Fling with Kelsey.
So I’m happy.
I’m happy my best friend gets a shot with the girl he likes.
But, question. Can you be happy and totally miserable at the same time?
I SAW Quick on Snapchat on Friday, but I ignored him. He bombarded me with texts last night. When he called this morning, I made an excuse not to talk.
“Why are you avoiding Quick?”
This is not a question I expect from my little brother. Andy’s standing in my doorway, looking at me like I’m stupid. We don’t really talk much. I don’t know why he cares.
“Not.” I shrug at him. “Everything’s fine.”
“Yeah, ’cause he sends me a text when ‘everything’s fine.’”
Quick texted Andy?
“It’s nothing. Kelsey Harold and him….” I shrug again.
Has he called Kelsey back and told her yes yet?
“You’re a moron.”
“Get the hell out of my room.”
Andy takes a tiny step back so he’s technically in the hall. “You like him, don’t you?”
“What?” I try to sound offended and incredulous. “It’s not like that.”
Liar, liar pants on fire.
“You’re happy he’s got a girlfriend?” Andy asks dryly. He’s fourteen;nothing he says is supposed to come out that dry.
“Yes.” Totally. Completely.
“Whatever. You should tell him how you feel.”
I MANAGED to avoid Quick all morning and then hid out in the bathroom during lunch. But now it’s English, and we usually sit next to each other. Kelsey’s in this class too, though, so maybe….
I pull out my book and start flipping through it like I’m suddenly interested in Victorian short stories, but then Quick’s there. I can feel his scowl. I glance at him. Thaddup. I’m too young for a heart attack, right? He passes Kelsey and walks toward me, throwing his bag down so hard, he almost flips his desk over.
“So you are here, Tad.” It’s an accusation.
I try to sound casual. “Yeah, I mean, I’ve been here, but….”
“But you’re avoiding me.”
“Hey, don’t you want to go sit with Kelsey?”
He looks over his shoulder at her rigid back. “I don’t think she wants me to sit with her.”
“That’s too bad. Having your first fight?”
His gaze snaps back to me. I can’t remember him ever looking so pissed. “You’re such an asshole.”
“That’s me,” I mutter.
Quick drops into the seat. “Look, can you just say what’s on your mind? You’re really starting to piss me off.”
The Yellow Wallpaper blurs before my eyes. “I thought you’d want some alone time with Kelsey.”
“I’m not going out with Kelsey.”
“Yeah, right. You’re going to Spring Fling.”
“No, we’re not.”
“Why are you so angry, Tad?”
Saved by Mrs. Michalski and her man hands. She raps on the whiteboard. I listen without listening and take notes without knowing what I’m writing down.
Is he for real? She’s not his date?
QUICK STEPS in front of me when I try to leave.
“Gotta hurry to math.”
“Nope. Follow me.”
I follow him through the sea of students. When I don’t move fast enough, he grabs my hand. If I closed my eyes, I could pretend. He lets go once we’re free of the crowd.
There’s this little room at the back of the school near the auditorium. There’s nothing in there, just a high window and a stack of gym mats. If we ever want to skip, this is the perfect spot.
We sit down next to each other on the mats. “Wanna tell me what gives? You say you wanna ask me something but you write on my back instead and bolt before I can reply. Now you’re avoiding me.”
What gives is that I’ve got feelings for my best friend, and it’s eating me up inside. I’m not brave enough to just be friends. Not brave enough to let go, either.
“I’m happy for you, Quick.” I’ve practiced those words so often they almost sound real, even to me. “It’s Kelsey, man.”
“Did you even hear me? We’re not going out.” He glares hard at me as if it’s my fault.
“Jesus, Tad. That was you writing on my back, right? ‘I like you. Don’t date her.’ Ring any bells?”
But I wrote it so fast and so sloppy! How the hell did he…?
“Jackass. Do you like me or don’t you? Because I said no for you, Tad.”
I look down at the dirty floor and hope I’m not blushing. Blindly I grope for his hand and pull it to me. I lay it on my knee, palm up.
“Ask me a question.” The room absorbs my words, my secrets. We’re alone here, but I can’t say it out loud.
“Do you like me, Tad?” His voice is quiet.
I write on his palm with my finger. Large letters, slow, so there can be no doubt.
“Do you want to go out with me?”
“No, how long have you liked me?”
I repeat my last answer.
His palm is sweaty. It’s not even that warm in here.
And then very slowly, I ask him the question I’ve been wondering for years: “Do you want to be my boyfriend?”
For a minute we sit there, not looking at each other, our palms pressed together, and then slowly he laces his fingers with mine. Like it isn’t a secret at all, Quick says, “Yes, I really do."