HOLD ~ EXCERPTS
Something had made the whole world stop around him, like his own bubble in time, but it was gone. He couldn’t crawl back inside.
* * *
He broke into a weak smile with the shine again in his eyes. “You came to the game. It was a crappy game, but you were there.”
Luke inched in the door and sat on top of the desk closest to the door. The two desks between them might as well have been two miles. “Of course I came.” He didn’t say, “I came because you asked,” or “I had to go because you wanted me there,” because that didn’t make any sense at all. “I didn’t really know what I was watching, but I tried. Dee gave me a crash course in lacrosse.”
“Next time, I’ll come over and give you a tutorial,” Eddie said with a shaky grin. “You see, there’s this ball, and the whole team is trying to make sure it goes into the other team’s net.”
“Shut up” Luke rolled his eyes, but he couldn’t help smiling back. Next time. He said, next time. What happened to Wes? “I’m sorry, but I can’t take lacrosse lessons from a man who looks like he’s going to the opera.”
Eddie eyed his black-on-black. “I look like I’m going to an audition,” he finally said. “I don’t know. Today, I wanted to look good.”
You do, Luke thought. You are.
He opened his mouth, but the words stuck in his throat. He felt the influence of their room, just like all the rehearsals before this one. Even when he couldn't find a good direction to save his life, he eventually sank into their place, their stage and Eddie’s smile, as if he could stay here forever. As long as Eddie kept looking at him as if he were the smartest, funniest, most talented boy he’d ever known, part of him was sure the outside world would hold its breath and wait. Outside, there were secrets and questions and too many hospital beds, but in here—Luke’s stomach clenched. It would be glowing and perfect for a while, but then he had to go.
* * *
If he were a better person, he would have made Eddie stop. If he were in a movie, Luke would have said “stop” really quietly, and Eddie would have listened, because that’s how movies worked. Luke scowled. Real life needs better editing. He scooted off the desk, stuffed his sketchpad into his backpack and walked into Eddie standing perfectly static outside the doorway.
He wasn’t the only one. He’d dotted the hallway with statues in a picture so silent he could hear his shoes clip against the floor.
Luke hadn’t just stopped Eddie. He’d stopped everything and he hadn’t felt himself try. When Eddie had walked out the door, Luke had wanted him to stop and listen, but his demented mind had only managed one thing. He slid out into the hall with his back flat against the wall and his bag clenched against his stomach.
It had been less than a minute since Eddie picked up his bag. Luke couldn’t have counted to one thousand in his head, and Eddie had already turned into someone new. The sad boy from their stage had disappeared. He had his back to the door and one hand in the air, as he turned toward a cluster of students in track pants and T-shirts. The whole group stood across the hallway with their mouths open and smiling, and, in the middle, a pretty girl stood on her tiptoes to wave back. Luke stepped closer to see her face. She glowed as if she made energy in her fingertips. Her skin was darker than Eddie’s, and she had her hair piled into a ponytail that spilled from the back of her head in a high, elegant pouf. Three years at this school, and Luke couldn’t have picked her out of a lineup, but she already knew Eddie. Luke had frozen the moment when her face lit up with joy. She was so happy to see him, and he—
Luke circled around to see Eddie’s face, and he was beaming back at the girl. In the seconds it took him to step away from the classroom door, he’d been remade. Luke peered into Eddie’s happy eyes and wanted to interrogate their shine.
How? He thought. How did you learn to be everyone at the same time?
* * *
They didn’t have to say where or when they would find each other after school. Dee, Luke and Marcos met outside the south entrance by the wobbly picnic table, because that’s what they’d been doing since they were thirteen. Luke let Dee hug him, twice, and they walked toward her house as though nothing had changed in a month of absences and ignored calls.
They fell into step along the side of the road with the February wind at their backs. Neither of them said anything about the funeral, and, after days of flowers and cards promising Lizzy’s arrival in heaven with all the pretty angels, Luke was so grateful he would have let them hug him all over again. It was the kindest silence.
Five years ago, in seventh grade, the walk had begun as a two-some. Back then, Dee and Luke had bonded, in hushed, embarrassed giggles, over their shared crush on the new boy with the soft brown skin and the big, toothy smile. He was so sweet. She’d been the first person to get how the pieces of Luke fit together, before his parents and long before anyone else at school. She’d glommed onto his side like sticky tape and it all should have been a mess. By rights at least one of them should have ended up heartbroken and in tears, but by luck they’d both fallen for a boy who liked neither of them and was too dense to understand the problem.
It wasn’t until freshman year, when all three of them were connected at the hip, that Dee finally had broken down and told Marcos why she and Luke had both suddenly become obsessed with Ender’s Game. Of course it was a good book, but it was also his favorite book and at the time that’s what had mattered. They’d created a Marcos Aldama book club, for God’s sake, and they might have started on The Song of Ice and Fire series if Dee hadn’t gotten up the courage to ask if hewantedtowalkhomewiththemsometime.
When she’d explained, he’d just stared at her over the top of his ham sandwich. “But how?” He’d asked. “I looked like Manny from Modern Family.”
He hadn’t, not really. Except maybe a little in the face.
Most of all, even when he’d awkwardly clarified that no, he didn’t want to date Luke or Dee and asked if that was cool, Marcos had never said a thing about Luke being a boy. It had probably never occurred to him to care.
They walked out of the school parking lot and down West Thirty-third toward Dee’s house. As always, she marched ahead while the boys trailed behind. Marcos’s arm was slung around Luke’s neck, as if to make sure that Luke was actually, physically, there. Their hips knocked together in an uneven beat when Luke stepped forward on one side and Marcos stepped forward on the other. They couldn’t find a rhythm, but neither pulled away. Luke used to imagine that this was what a first kiss would feel like: all awkward limbs and too much feeling.
Neither of them asked questions. Instead, Dee chattered about one show she’d convinced Marcos to watch and another, which she hadn’t. Luke hadn’t heard of either of them, but that wasn’t new. Lizzy liked old TV shows, so that’s what he knew best. Luke caught every other word as she ran through the plots, but the rest flowed together like music.
* * *
As he entered the junior commons, Luke almost stepped on a pair of shoes. The girl wearing them found her way around him and scowled under her breath as Luke leaned against the nearest wall. He was going to look teary-eyed and breakable no matter what. Along the edges he couldn’t do more damage, and that’s where he caught the flash of blue. It was on the wall next to the boy’s bathroom.
The poster, held up by Scotch tape, announced the theater department’s Spring Review in the same color and font they’d used when Luke was nine. Ten years from now they would probably still perform Shakespearian tragedies and Oklahoma. This year, they were doing 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, but he didn’t care about that. He cared about the names of the tech crew written across the bottom of the poster. That was their spot, his and Marcos Aldama’s and Dee’s. For a year and a half, since they’d been trusted to not to electrocute themselves, they’d run tech for every production this school had bothered to stage. Dee was supposed to be the stage manager, Marcos was supposed to be on sound and he was supposed to be on sets.
But he wasn’t there.
He found Dee’s and Marcos’s names right where they were supposed to be, and then there was a third name. He’d been replaced by Neil Vargassi. Vargassi? Luke had last heard that name when he’d found out that “that Vargassi kid” had fallen off the stage during warm ups and had had to be sent to the emergency room.
Luke read the poster three times with his hand pressed against the wall beside it. The wall wasn’t going anywhere. He wasn’t sure about anything else.
They wouldn’t—He read it again. But of course, they would. He’d been gone a month at the beginning of the spring semester with no explanation. Of course they would have found someone to take his place, and he’d had the easiest tech job in the world. He wasn’t irreplaceable, but he’d never thought—
He turned away from the poster and made himself move, as the sickness slid into his gut. It pooled in a sludge below his navel, like a toxic spill, and his body wanted it gone, but there were people going in and out of the bathroom. There were people everywhere.
Luke clasped his hand over his mouth. On his right, the door to a dark classroom sat ajar. He threw himself inside, grabbed the trashcan by the door and gagged until his eyes watered. Nothing came up. He couldn’t even make himself puke. He couldn’t do anything but make people feel sorry for him.
Luke crouched at the closed door with his back flat against the metal kick plate, and pressed his fingers against his temples until pain blossomed under his skin. His stomach turned.
I can’t make it stop, because I shouldn’t be here anymore.
He closed his eyes against the empty classroom, the dirty book jackets and the kick marks on the legs of the chairs.
I should be gone. It should have been me.
Luke pushed himself to his feet and tasted tears. His phone rang in his backpack again and again. He had to answer it because it could have been his mom, but his hands couldn’t remember how. He pulled at the zipper on the front of his bag, but it wouldn’t give. He couldn’t make it move. He tried again and, before he knew what he was doing, he hit it. He hit the bag over and over again until it crunched under his fists. He punched grooves into the plastic lining and ripped holes in the straps.
The holes were real. He made them. The fabric tore under his hands. He made that happen. But the phone wouldn’t stop ringing—four, five, six—and, as he gasped for air, he lifted the backpack and heaved it across the room like a grenade.
Luke turned away, closed his eyes and waited for it to smash against the far wall. He waited and listened for the crunch and the snap, but it never came. His bag never hit the floor.
* * *
Beyond the trees, the road stood frozen, and, above his head, the leaves were still, but on the ground, Luke vibrated with life.
Hold will be published by Duet Books on October 20, 2016. Connect with author Rachel Davidson Leigh at racheldavidsonleigh.com; on Twitter @rdavidsonleigh; and on Facebook at facebook.com/rdavidsonleigh/