A/N: Hello again! Without too much delay, here’s the second and final part of So, What Are We Now? It goes directly with the first part, so be sure that you’ve read that before proceeding.
Other than that, I sincerely hope that you enjoy the culmination of this canon spin-off and hope you feel that it was worth the time invested to show what happened all those years ago.
Happy reading! I’m extremely anxious to see what you all think! ^_^;
Sophomore Year. Mid-November. Scene VI.
“So…nothing has changed then?”
Augustus peered up at his twin sister, Gemma, through his bangs and then followed her gaze across the lunchroom, where Isaac was sitting and chatting with his friends. Elena, as usual, was seated closely beside him. She appeared to have brought an assortment of homemade cookies to share with the table. Carefully selecting one, Elena offered it to Isaac and then giggled when he playfully liberated it from her hand with his teeth, a smile spreading across her face when Isaac beamed and presumably praised her cooking.
“They’re just friends,” Augustus replied with a shrug. He picked up one of his strawberries and bit into it thoughtfully.
The two really were friends and had apparently known each other since middle school, when Elena had moved to Starlight Shores knowing little English and Isaac had helped her out as she struggled to learn it. He had been there for her during one of the most stressful times of her life, so perhaps it wasn’t surprising that she ultimately fell for him. Perhaps for the same reason, after a brief period of chilliness toward him, Elena was back to laughing and chatting with him as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened between them.
“I know they’re just friends,” Gemma said in exasperation. “Thus, nothing has changed.”
Augustus finished the strawberry he was eating and frowned. To him, a lot had changed since their conversation because even though he and Isaac weren’t officially dating and even though they kept their interactions at school to friendly, short snippets of conversation here and there, there was something deeper that had shifted between them. It was in their purposefully stolen glances; their barely suppressed smiles; and the subtle brushing of their shoulders whenever they hung out outside of school. It was in the unspoken desire to not have to hide and the understanding that as much as he wanted it, Isaac wasn’t yet ready to take that step.
How could he explain this to Gemma though when he wasn’t able to tell her even half of what was going on between them? Sure, she had puzzled out most of it, but all Augustus could do was shrug, neither confirming nor denying her usually accurate hypotheses. It frustrated her, Augustus knew, but at the same time, she seemed to understand that the only reason why he didn’t tell her everything was because “everything” included secrets that were not his to tell.
“It feels like it has,” Augustus insisted, but before he could elaborate the bell rang shrilly. Gemma briefly looked back at the analog clock by the doors and then sighed as she began to clean up.
“Could you answer at least one of my questions definitively?”
“Depends what you ask,” Augustus admitted, throwing away his trash and then following his sister past the emptying lunch tables.
Gemma gave him a sidelong glance and then seriously asked, “Are you happy?”
“Yeah, I am.”
“Truly?” she pressed.
Augustus hesitated, admittedly thrown off by his sister’s concern. “I…well, I mean, I wish.…” I wish we didn’t have to hide. I wish it didn’t scare him to get close to me. I wish being with me didn’t make him feel guilty. I wish I could hold his hand as we walked through the halls. I wish…I wish….
Taking a breath, Augustus shifted to fully face his sister and then replied, “There are things that I wish weren’t the way they are, but even with that.…Yeah, I am.”
Gemma’s face softened and then she slowly nodded. “Then I’m happy too,” she decided.
Her amethyst eyes darted upward then, an uncharacteristic giddiness overtaking her. “Um, right, well, I’m off to class. I’ll see you on the bus,” she said rather cheerily, and then turned to disappear within the masses reluctantly trudging toward the exit.
Augustus didn’t have to turn his head to see what, or rather who, had caused his sister’s odd reaction, his stomach fluttering and a smile already pulling at his lips.
“Hey there,” Gus said casually, and then smiled even wider when he turned and sure enough, found himself looking into a pair of familiar golden eyes.
“Hey,” Isaac said with a smile of his own.
“Cookie?” The brunet held up his palm, which had a small stack of what he recognized to be Elena’s baked goods sitting upon it.
“Oh, sure, thanks.” Augustus happily took one of the cookies and then nibbled on it as the two followed the tail end of the crowd out of the lunchroom, retrieved their backpacks from their lockers, and then leisurely made their way to their respective classes.
They chatted easily about how their mornings went, lamenting the amount of homework they had and then laughing at the stupid ideas they had about how to get out of it, which ranged from feigning illiteracy to claiming that their little brother’s chameleon had consumed it (an admittedly plausible excuse for Augustus—though Tobias would kill him if he allowed Spectrum to eat paper).
“Mm, you know, I really like these cookies. What kind are they anyway?” Augustus curiously asked after finishing his second.
“Dulce de leche with chocolate chips,” Isaac answered. He surprised Gus then by abruptly bumping his shoulder and directing him around the corner and into a secluded dead end where the door to the maintenance closet stood.
Augustus was about to inquire what he was doing when Isaac wrapped his arms around him and pressed him into the wall, his face hidden in Gus’ shoulder and his body pinning him in place. The act made every inch of Gus’ skin feel as though it had ignited, his heart thrumming so noticeably that for a split, irrational second he thought the sound of it would give them away.
“I couldn’t resist,” Isaac mumbled, his hand coming up to hold the back of Gus’ head. “You’re so damn cute.”
“I’m not complaining,” Augustus said a little breathlessly, and then slid his arms around Isaac to hug him so close that he thought he could hear the brunet’s bounding heartbeat. He honestly half expected Isaac to realize how risky this was and pull away, but he didn’t, not at all.
Instead, Isaac shyly nuzzled Gus’ neck and then lifted his head and did something he had never done before; he kissed Augustus softly on the cheek. A sensation like hundreds of little birds being released into the skies flooded Gus’ system, a gasp of surprise escaping his parted lips. He thought he might have been floating—maybe even dreaming, but that was impossible because his cheek was still burning where Isaac had kissed him.
Augustus wanted to return the gesture, or better yet take it further, but it was then that Isaac did take a step back, looking suddenly nervous.
It took Augustus a moment to regain hold of his senses, but when he did he remarked in a lightly teasing manner, “Hmm, so you can make out with girls no problem, but kissing me on the cheek nearly gives you a heart attack?”
Isaac let out a quiet laugh at his expense, averting his gaze and reaching up to rub the back of his neck. “It’s different.”
“Because it means something,” he answered softly.
Augustus felt his heart give and he reached out to at least take a hold of Isaac’s hand, but it was then that the bell trilled once again, causing both of them to jump.
“We’re late,” Augustus exclaimed, paling a bit. “I’ve never been late before. What do I do?”
Isaac looked at him in disbelief and then started laughing, though he tried to stifle it so as to not reveal their location. “Oh well, since you’re in good with the teachers you might be able to rush there now and they’ll let you in, but worst case they’ll just send you to the office to get a tardy pass and then you come right back. Waste of time and you end up missing more class than you would’ve had they let you in from the start, but whatever.”
“And then what happens?”
“You’re burned at the stake.”
Isaac chuckled again, his bright eyes sparkling. “Nothing, but if you get three of them it’s an afterschool detention.”
“I guess I should hurry then,” Augustus said, though a large part of him wanted to stay here for the rest of the day.
“Yeah,” Isaac agreed with a smirk of amusement. “Sorry I turned you into a delinquent.”
Augustus laughed. “Eh, worth it,” he replied, and then hurried off to his class grinning from ear to ear. Yes, quite a bit had changed between them and Augustus was really, very happy.
So, what are we now?
* * * * *
Sophomore Year. Late November. Scene VII.
It was an unseasonably warm day, the thick humid air feeling out of place in a world painted with the brilliant colors of autumn. Rain would likely soon hail the return of plummeting temperatures, but for now it was only the comforting rays of the sun and two teenaged boys trekking down a seldom travelled path. Fallen leaves and branches crunched beneath the soles of their sneakers, the somewhat smaller of the two taking the occasional hurried step in order to keep up with his seemingly tireless friend.
“Are you sure it’s this way?” Augustus asked, out of breath.
Isaac peered at him out of the corner of his eye and then smirked as he placed a bracing hand upon his shoulder. “I’m sure,” he confirmed. “It’s just a little further.”
Trying not to let his stumbling heart rate concern him, Augustus laughed and replied, “As sure as you were about that game you designed being ready to play? You know, the one where Gemma and I spent FIVE hours trying to solve a puzzle that turned out to be UNSOLVABLE?”
Isaac laughed too, but a definite grimace flashed across his face as he said, “I didn’t mean it to be. It was a programming error. See? That’s why I need testers!”
“You mean victims?” Augustus teased with raised brows, and then smiled and shook his head. “I’m kidding. It turned out to be a good distraction anyway.”
“Distraction?” Isaac repeated quizzically, his hand falling back to his side. “From what?”
“It’s kind of a long story.”
“We’re kind of a long ways a way.”
“I thought you said it was only a little further!” Augustus protested.
“I was trying to be encouraging,” Isaac replied matter-of-factly.
The two exchanged glances and then broke into laughter, startling a nearby rabbit who immediately darted into the underbrush.
It was remarkable how often they did that—laughed, that is. Smiled. It struck Gus how dull his life would have been had he traded that number with Elena; how profoundly empty it would have been had the brunet not stepped into his world.
“What are you thinking?” Isaac asked with an inquiring tilt of his head.
“Why?” Augustus asked, his cheeks growing a little warm. “Did I have a weird look on my face?”
“I dunno. No. I mean…. It’s more like….” Isaac shifted awkwardly, sliding his gaze away from Gus’ and to the ground as he tentatively stated, “Sometimes, even when you’re quiet, it’s like you’re saying a hundred things at once.”
Augustus gave a small, uncertain laugh. “Sounds noisy,” he stated honestly.
Isaac smiled, his eyes still determinedly averted. “Yeah. It can be,” he admitted, “but I’d never want you any other way.”
Augustus’ face flashed scarlet, his heart flitting in his chest and a warmth greater than that of the sun’s rays spreading throughout his body, but he tried to retain his composure.
“Um,” he began, and then chanced a glance at Isaac before confessing, “I was thinking about how important you are to me.”
This time Isaac lightly laughed and Augustus was surprised to see that the tips of his ears and the apples of his richly tawny cheeks had turned a subtle, but unmistakably rosy hue. He wasn’t sure if he had ever noticed Isaac blush before. It was incredibly cute and overwhelmed Augustus with the sudden desire to push this perfect boy into the grass and kiss him until they could no longer feel their lips.
Isaac exhaled sharply and then asked a bit louder than necessary, “So, what was it then? That you needed a distraction from?”
Augustus furrowed his brow in confusion, his mind reluctant to pull away from the direction it’d been wandering, but after a second he recalled what they’d been talking about. “Oh. Well uh, do you remember how I said I have an older half-sister?”
“Yeah,” the brunet said, looking more relaxed now that the topic had changed. “Joanne, right?”
“Right,” Augustus said, glancing up at the finally thinning canopy of leaves and then back down at the sunlit path. “Well, her manager left an automated message saying she won’t be making it for the holidays again and it’s…I don’t know, changed the mood of the whole house. It’s all tense. My grandpa’s disappointed, my dad’s sad, my mom’s hurt, and Gemma’s pissed to hell at them all because she thinks they shouldn’t give a shit since ‘clearly Joanne doesn’t give a shit about us.’”
Isaac let out a low whistle, to which Gus said, “Yeah, I know. She’s nearly lost her temper on them about a dozen times, but I mean—I get it. She’s frustrated because she hates seeing them put so much time and energy into worrying about someone who hasn’t acknowledged our existence in years. But of course they are—they’re concerned. And then meanwhile Tobias keeps going out and wandering who knows where because all the tension makes him uncomfortable and he doesn’t know how to react anyway since he barely knows Joanne.”
“Though, he does at least know her a lot better than Thomas,” Augustus mused. “He hasn’t even met her because she hasn’t visited since he was born.”
“Damn,” Isaac remarked. “And to think the most conflict my family has seen lately is during Monopoly nights.”
Augustus smiled. “Honestly? That sounds great right about now.”
“I imagine so.”
The two fell momentarily quiet as they walked before Isaac knitted his brow and curiously asked, “What about you?”
“You mentioned everyone’s reactions except yours. How do you feel about all this?”
“Oh,” Augustus said, frowning. “I…well….” He thought for another moment, the only sound that of their footsteps on the dirt path. The sun seemed to be gaining strength.
“I don’t know,” he finally admitted. “It feels weird I guess. She doesn’t feel like the same person anymore. The person I knew used to sing us to sleep when we were little; used to read us stories and played games with us. Now she’s never even met our baby brother. It’s really weird. I feel like she got abducted or something.”
“That sounds kind of sad.”
Augustus smiled weakly. “Yeah. Yeah I mean, you could say that. But like I said it’s weird for me because…it seems to be what she wants? We’ve tried to visit when she’s in town, but she comes up with excuses why we can’t or usually, we can’t get in contact with her at all. I mean, maybe she’s really that busy, but the fact that she doesn’t try to squeeze in at least a text must mean she doesn’t want to. And on the one hand, that kind of hurts and it does make me sad, but on the other, I start thinking, well maybe we weren’t that close anyway. She’s thirteen years older than us, after all.”
He hesitated, but feeling oddly safe with Isaac he tentatively confessed, “Sometimes she feels more like a favorite babysitter than a sister.”
“Yeah,” Isaac murmured. “I get that…and the fact that she seems to be avoiding you guys probably doesn’t help.”
“No, it doesn’t,” Augustus glumly agreed. “I guess…I mean, I’m trying not to think about it much, but I do hope things change. Especially because it hurts my parents, you know? And I hate seeing them that way. I hate seeing them so sad and frustrated. And I hate feeling powerless to do anything about it.” He paused then, feeling like he’d revealed too much of what was on his mind. It left him feeling overly exposed.
Whether sensing this or whether reading something else from his expression, Isaac reached down and took his hand in his. The act caught Augustus completely off-guard, heat spreading up his arm and enfolding him like his hand in Isaac’s grasp. He looked at him in surprise, but the brunet wouldn’t meet his eyes, his gaze instead trained on the winding trail before them.
“Maybe you do help,” Isaac said as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. “Maybe you help your parents just by being there and caring.”
“You think so?” Augustus asked somewhat absently.
“Yeah. I do.”
They continued walking hand in hand, shade gradually becoming scarcer as they left most of the massive oaks behind them. A squirrel was scurrying about among the brush, presumably looking for a place to bury the acorn it was carrying in its mouth.
Augustus tried again to catch Isaac’s gaze, and this time was successful as the brunet finally glanced his way. He smiled shyly, squeezing Isaac’s hand, and then positively beamed when Isaac squeezed back. Augustus felt like maybe he should say something then, something meaningful and sweetly profound, but nothing he could think of quite felt right. How was it that there could be so many thousands of words in existence, and yet none of them seemed to accurately describe what he wanted to convey now?
Isaac looked away, but soon after his face lit up as he excitedly exclaimed, “Check it out! We made it!” He let go of Gus’ hand to point ahead at the shining sliver of water that had come into view as they rounded the bend.
“Great,” Augustus said with a grin. “Race you!”
Before Isaac could register what he said Augustus took off running as fast as he possibly could. He used every ounce of strength he had to maintain his lead, but of course the brunet soon caught up, laughing as the two burst out of the trees and onto the banks of the secluded lake.
Augustus struggled to catch his breath, his hands on his knees and a stitch aching in his side, but it was worth the discomfort to see the joy apparent on Isaac’s handsome face.
“Hey, how about one more run?”
Isaac laughed again. “Just down to the dock there and straight off it into the water, no hesitations!”
“Oh, there might be some hesitating….” Augustus warned, and then couldn’t help but giggle himself when the brunet started cracking up.
“No! No hesitations,” he repeated with a smile. “And it’s not a race this time. I’ll stay right by your side.”
“Nice,” Augustus said, standing up straight. “I’ve always wanted to see your slow motion run.”
Isaac grinned. “It’s pretty epic,” he playfully preened, which made Augustus laugh even more.
The two unshouldered their backpacks and took off their shoes then, but neither of them could quite bring themselves to look at the other as they lifted their shirts over their heads and tossed them aside.
“Um, okay, on three then?” Augustus asked, his face faintly burning.
“Yeah. On three.”
“Three!” they shouted simultaneously, and then sprinted straight for the dock. Though it wasn’t a race, Augustus again ran as fast as he could, admittedly thrilling in the feel of the wind in his hair and the anticipation of jumping into the likely frigid waters. True to his word, Isaac ran right beside him.
“No hesitations, remember?”
Their bare feet came into contact with the wood of the dock, the boards creaking and jumping beneath their heavy steps.
“Shit, shit, shit!” Augustus cried as the pier rapidly came to an end, and then they were both yelling as they flew out over the water and splashed straight into its depths.
Augustus came up first, gasping at the iciness of the water and then feeling a brief jolt of panic when Isaac didn’t join him at the surface, but a split second later he popped up in front of him, letting out a string of curses in Spanish and making Augustus laugh.
“I can’t feel my fucking face!”
“I can’t feel my anything! I’m an amorphous being floating in the—No!” Augustus yelped and then ducked below the water as Isaac splashed him again with a laugh. Resurfacing, Gus pushed his soaking hair out of his face and then exclaimed with sudden optimism, “Hey, I think all this frantic flailing is helping me warm up!”
“You think—” Isaac began to echo in a deadpan tone, but then couldn’t keep a straight face and started cracking up, which caused him to sink beneath the rippling surface of the water again.
“Isaac!” Augustus cried out with a laugh, and then laughed even harder when he reappeared spitting water out of his mouth.
“Man, if I swallowed a spider I’m swear I’m going to die.”
“Why would there be spiders in the water?”
“Aren’t there aquatic spiders?”
“I think they’re only native to Asia and parts of Europe.”
“How do you know?”
“You’re important to me too,” Isaac told him out of the blue, his face serious. He took a steadying breath and then added in a low voice, “Eres y siempre serás, la persona más importante en mi vida.”
Augustus peered at him, his face feeling hot despite the icy temperature of the water. He was fairly certain he’d captured the gist of what he’d said, but before he could confirm his understanding Isaac dove underwater.
“What are you…?” he began to wonder aloud, and then yelped when Isaac grabbed his ankle, taking a breath at the last moment before he was pulled under the surface too.
This, of course, warranted retaliatory action, and so it began with the two attacking and vying for revenge on the other; holding competitions to see who could reach the bottom of the lake first; and then catching their breaths in the shallows before they’d race out to the center again. The hours melted by in this way; all thoughts of the water being too cold vanishing right along with them.
It wasn’t until the eventual rumblings of their stomachs that they felt compelled to return to shore, grabbing beach towels from their bags and laying them out on the sunniest patch of grass they could find. The two flopped onto them in relief and then pulled out sandwiches, chips, and lukewarm cans of Coke which they shared between themselves as they gradually dried.
There they chatted until they could no longer ignore the aging day, glancing at the orange skies and reluctantly gathering their things. Augustus pulled on his shirt and stepped into his sneakers as the brunet did the same beside him, but neither of them were in a hurry, content to stay together here in their quiet corner of the world.
The relentlessly setting sun bathed them in warm, amber light. It made Isaac’s eyes shimmer like liquid gold and his slightly damp hair shine like newly minted, copper coins. All these precious materials and Augustus thought Isaac was more precious than any of them. The way talking to him was so easy; the way Isaac looked at him whenever he thought he wasn’t paying attention; the way he could make Gus feel like he was so much more than he believed. If they could stay like this, always, Augustus thought that the world would always feel like it made sense.
If they could stay like this…so close. They were so close to one another. How had that happened? Was it his fault? Had he unconsciously stepped forward to narrow the space between them? If so, when? Gus’ heart was beating so erratically that he was certain he had to be imagining the sharply syncopated rhythm and god, they were so close. Close enough that Augustus could hear Isaac’s breath hitch as he slowly leaned toward him; close enough that he could count the dark lashes resting on Isaac’s cheeks as his eyes fell shut. Isaac was gold and he was beautiful and he was so close.
Every butterfly, every bird, every buoyant bubble Augustus had ever felt around Isaac flooded his system all at once as he lifted his head to kiss him, but right before their lips touched Isaac took a step back, nearly tripping over his own feet.
“Is that a pond slider?” he blurted out, pointing across the bank.
Augustus gaped at him, feeling as though he’d been whammed in the stomach by a gigantic, swinging pendulum. “W-what?”
“A pond slider—the turtle we were trying to track down with Tobias last week. That’s it, isn’t it? With the red spot behind its eye?”
“I…I don’t see it,” Augustus faintly answered, barely able to focus his attention; barely able to think at all as the realization of what just happened made every molecule in his body cringe. It was like beetles scuttling across his skin; worms writhing in his stomach; the combined weight of them making him feel two inches tall. So embarrassing, so fucking embarrassing. He wanted to be engulfed by the earth and never emerge.
“It must have gotten away,” Isaac stated uneasily. “I could have sworn I’d seen it.”
Could have sworn…could have sworn…
“Isaac,” Augustus began to whisper, but then was cut off by the sound of the brunet’s phone ringing from his bag. It was a familiar ringtone, one that made both teens wince because it meant that Isaac’s parents were calling, and if they were calling instead of sending a text, then he was in trouble for having stayed out too late.
“Ah…hang on,” he muttered. Isaac turned away, retrieving his phone to answer it and then promptly speaking in rapid Spanish. It sounded like he was trying to explain himself, but judging from the deep, insistent voice on the line Isaac’s father was having none of it.
“Okay,” Isaac relented. “Ahorita voy pa’ yá…. Yo sé. Okay, yo sé. Ya voy, Pa. Bye.” He let out a breath, pocketing his phone and then mumbling, “I have to go.”
Augustus stood frozen for a second, unsure how to even breathe, but as soon as their eyes met words tumbled forth, unbidden. “I’m sorry,” he said in a rush. “I know you have to go, but I’m really sorry. I shouldn’t have—”
“No,” Isaac interrupted, looking concerned. “Don’t do that. Don’t apologize. I—” He hesitated, perhaps realizing that every minute he continued to stand there was another minute longer his parents would be angry and worried about him not being home. “I’ll call you,” he firmly decided. “I’ll call you tonight, okay? As soon as I can.”
“You didn’t do anything wrong, Gus. I promise you, okay?”
Augustus hugged himself, thinking back to the day that they’d been randomly paired to complete a group project and how Isaac had promised him then that he didn’t have a single problem with him, or who he was. He’d been telling the truth then, so Augustus nodded, trying to ignore the spiky mass that seemed to be expanding in his throat.
“Anyway, I’m the one who’s sorry,” Isaac whispered, and then cast Augustus one last, unreadable look before he bolted with an incredible burst of speed.
Augustus watched as Isaac’s retreating form was consumed by the woods that separated the lake from the main road. It was only when he heard his phone vibrate in his bag that he seemed to come to, absently pulling it out to check it and then sending his dad a quick text stating that he was on his way home. In preparation for the text he would likely receive right back that his father was coming to pick him up, Augustus slowly made his way toward the road too.
Although judging by Isaac’s words he hadn’t royally fucked up everything between them, Augustus couldn’t help but feel he’d done exactly that.
So, what are we now?
* * * * *
Sophomore Year. Late November. Scene VIII.
Isaac never called.
It was nearing midnight and the only sign that Isaac hadn’t been abducted or hit by a car was a short text stating that he’d made it to his house, and then silence ever since. Augustus had even tried calling him around 10, but evidently his phone was turned off.
Isaac hadn’t ever turned off his phone before.
It made Augustus feel uneasy, the first pangs of regret resounding in his chest. They’d had such a perfect day together—why did he have to fuck it up by pushing Isaac too fast? Why couldn’t he stop himself? Why couldn’t he have at least asked? A verbal rejection would still have been embarrassing, but nothing that would have felt as awful as this.
A soft knock on his bedroom door momentarily distracted Augustus from his thoughts. He wasn’t feeling up to having company, but he also didn’t feel up to arguing against it when his twin sister was such a formidable opponent.
“Come in,” Augustus mumbled, sliding his phone beneath his pillow.
Gemma slipped into the room, closing the door behind her. Her usually tied up hair was sitting loose on her shoulders and her amethyst eyes were shining with concern as she took in Gus’ appearance. “Are you alright?” she inquired. “You hardly ate anything at dinner.”
“Don’t tell me you weren’t hungry,” Gemma interjected, anticipating her brother’s response. “Something is bothering you.” She took a seat on the foot of Gus’ bed, looking at him expectantly.
Augustus sighed heavily. “I tried to kiss him,” he dully said, cutting right to the chase, and then before he could lose his nerve described everything that happened from the time they met up to Gus’ recent discovery that for the first time since he’d known him, Isaac had shut his phone off.
Gemma listened carefully, even perplexing Gus by not interrupting once with a question of her own. When he finished he glanced at her uneasily, wondering what conclusions she was drawing in her sharp mind. Seeming to sense this, she lifted her gaze to his and then confused Augustus a second time by giving him a reassuring smile.
“I realize that must have felt awful, but I think that everything’s okay,” she comforted. “It sounds as if you simply caught him off-guard—maybe even scared him, but there’s no way any lasting damage was done. In fact, I bet he feels even more embarrassed than you right now for, well, chickening out. As for the missed call, I’m guessing that either he fell asleep and his phone died, or his parents grounded him for being late and took his phone. I’m sure tomorrow before school he’ll be frantically seeking you out to apologize for it. I wouldn’t worry one bit.”
Doubt weighed heavily on Gus’ chest, but even in his current state of mind he had to admit that Gemma’s words didn’t seem wholly unlikely. In fact, they made perfect sense given the way Isaac had reacted. He didn’t actually feel that it was likely that Isaac fell asleep after everything that transpired, but being grounded and having his phone taken away from him seemed possible. Gemma herself had her phone confiscated for a month last year when their parents received a call from the school that she’d been caught making out with a guy in the chemistry lab after hours. Still…it also didn’t seem wholly unlikely that the reason was something more insidious either.
“How can you be so sure?” he asked.
Gemma sat up straight, casting him an impatient look before she stated matter-of-factly, “Because I have no evidence that indicates otherwise. Plus, didn’t he tell you that you were the most important person in his life? There’s no way you messed that up.”
“Unless he meant an important friend,” Augustus mumbled. “And then I just went in and fucked everything up.”
“Don’t be silly,” Gemma snapped reproachfully. “You know very well that’s not the case. Stop pretending that you don’t.”
“Besides,” his sister continued, getting to her feet, “my theory is about a hundred times more plausible than yours because it’s based on concrete evidence. What is yours based off of? Fear, conjecture, and a lack of confidence in yourself. He likes you, maybe even loves you, and for both your sakes I hope you come to see that sooner rather than later!”
Augustus had no time to formulate a response for no sooner had Gemma stopped speaking than she turned and swept out the door, shutting it behind her. He could hear her bare feet on the stairs as she traipsed back up to her room in an apparent huff.
A sigh of irritation escaped him. He was unsure what he was more annoyed about, the fact that Gemma left before he could reply, or the fact that even if she’d stayed he wouldn’t have known what to say. Why was it that he always found himself at a loss for words? He felt wholly inadequate, stupid, and scared, but Gemma…. Gemma was usually right. She was usually right and for once, he needed to take comfort in that.
Augustus reached over to turn off the light and then burrowed into his bed, his body curled into a small ball and his covers pulled up to his nose. He not only needed to take comfort in Gemma’s words; he needed her to be right.
So, what are we now?
* * * * *
Sophomore Year. Late November. Scene IX.
Isaac wasn’t at school the next day.
In the morning Augustus had anxiously shifted from foot to foot as he waited for him by the picnic tables where they usually chatted before the bell, but the brunet had never shown up. He’d figured then that perhaps Isaac had been running late or talking to other friends, but Augustus was sitting in the one class they shared together now and he was nowhere to be seen. His seat remained empty, much like the feeling that was beginning to creep into Gus’ chest despite his concerted efforts not to jump to fatalistic conclusions.
After all, they’d swum in cold water yesterday—perhaps he’d gotten sick. Yes, it was entirely possible that Isaac was absent because he’d caught a cold, but also he’d been grounded for staying out too late and as such, had his phone confiscated. But wasn’t that a lot of assumptions? They seemed to be stacking up, and with each additional assumption the likelihood of Gus’ theory being true decreased. With each additional assumption, Augustus couldn’t help but feel that the simplest explanation, was that Isaac was purposefully avoiding him.
It didn’t seem like something Isaac would do, but he hadn’t called like he’d promised, his phone was turned off, and he wasn’t here today. It didn’t seem like something Isaac would do, but at the same time Augustus found it difficult to believe that this was all purely coincidental.
The bell rang, and Augustus was dismayed to find that he didn’t have any memory of anything Mrs. Fenton had said in the past hour. Hoping that whatever she’d discussed was in the textbook, the raven-haired boy stood up, packing away his things and trying to ignore the fact that his worries were steadily increasing in intensity.
The sound of two girls speaking animatedly in Spanish reached Gus’ ears, and before he could think about what he was doing he shouldered his backpack and hurriedly followed them out the door, his heart beating in his throat.
“Hi,” he said quickly as he approached them.
The two girls halted in their steps, their voices trailing off as they turned to peer at him with nearly identical expressions of curiosity and bemusement. It made Gus’ face heat up, but he knew that Floribel and Elena were some of Isaac’s closest friends, so if he wanted to know anything about the brunet these two were the ones to ask.
There was another second of silence during which Augustus debated running, and then Floribel brushed a dark curl out of her almond-shaped eyes, the corners of her pale pink lips turning upward in a small smile. “Hey,” she said, sounding a little surprised. “What’s up?”
Augustus held back a sigh of relief, instead returning her smile gratefully and asking, “Have either of you heard from Isaac? I can’t get in touch with him and he’s not here today.”
“No,” Floribel answered with a slight shake of her head.
There was another silence, and then Elena turned pink as she seemed to realize they were waiting for her response. She averted her gaze, toying with the pendant on her necklace as she said, “I have not heard from him either. I tried to call him in the morning, but his phone was not on.” She had a fairly pronounced accent, a fact which she appeared to feel self-conscious about as she was carefully enunciating each of her words and still had not looked up.
Augustus nodded absently, experiencing a conflictual mixture of relief and renewed concern at her words. He was relieved because if Elena was also having trouble getting in touch with Isaac, then the brunet probably hadn’t blocked him…and Augustus was probably being silly for believing that he would. He was concerned because it was strange that no one had heard from him. What if something bad had happened to him?
His worries were apparently showing on his face because Floribel abruptly chimed in with, “We’ll let you know if we do. Honestly, though? He probably stayed up all night playing video games and faked sick. He’s done it before.”
“Not since last year,” Elena said, finally lifting her head to look at her friend.
“Hmm,” Floribel mused. “I suppose you’re right. He’s changed a bit, hasn’t he? Actually, that reminds me, did you know he has straight A’s right now? I caught a glimpse of his progress report. He snatched it away so fast,” she said with a giggle. “Don’t know why he’s so embarrassed though. I think it’s great. Maybe I can even convince him to sign up for some AP classes with us.”
“He used to do badly?” Augustus asked curiously, and then flushed a little because both girls looked at him as if they’d forgotten he was there. Meanwhile a group of friends started running down the hallway, laughing and shoving each other as they tried to make it into the lunchroom first.
Floribel’s eyes flickered toward them and then back to Augustus as she shook her head again. “Nah, not badly—more like average. I think maybe it’s because he figured he wasn’t going to continue after high school anyway, but the other day I heard him asking Mr. Lock about what sorts of majors were available in the computer sciences.”
Elena looked happy about this news while Floribel unexpectedly giggled again.
“You know it’s because of you, don’t you?” she practically purred, meeting Gus’ eyes with a rather intense gaze. “I think he looks up to you. You must have made a real impression on him.” Floribel looked like she wanted to say something else then, but after a quick glance at her oblivious friend decided against it. Instead she continued to look at Augustus meaningfully, as if trying to transmit her thoughts to him.
Augustus shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t know about that,” he said, sliding his gaze away. “Maybe he was just inspired by the project we did.”
“Mm, yeah, that could be it,” Floribel agreed, which surprised Augustus until he realized that Elena was beginning to pick up on what was being suggested and was looking at them in concern.
“We should be at lunch,” Elena said slowly, back to absently messing with her necklace.
“Definitely. I’m starving!” Floribel replied, and then turned toward Augustus once more. “Let us know too if you hear from him, okay? It’s not like him to go AWOL.”
The three exchanged additional smiles and then bid one another goodbye as they split up, the girls straight to the lunchroom while Augustus wandered in the vague direction of the art room. He wasn’t in the mood to fend off the questions Gemma was liable to ask and didn’t have much of an appetite anyway. All he wanted—needed—was to talk to Isaac himself.
It went beyond wanting to sort things out after yesterday’s awful awkwardness. Augustus missed him. Since they’d first spoken they’d never gone so long without saying a word to one another, which was saying something because it hadn’t even been a day. Not even a day and Augustus missed him. Not even a day and the world already felt like a lonelier place. It felt unnatural—like flopping down onto your favorite couch after an exhausting day, only to find that it’d vanished, so you collided with the hardwood floor instead.
These feelings lingered with him the rest of the day, leaving him quite incapable of paying even the slightest attention in his classes. Instead, he daydreamed, at times trying to think of anything but his concerns, and at times consumed by nothing else until finally he was able to go home.
He forced himself to eat dinner so as not to draw suspicion and then drifted right up to his room where he remained for the rest of the evening. Remarkably, he was disturbed only once and by Tobias no less, who’d knocked on his door teary-eyed because he couldn’t find his chameleon, Spectrum. Augustus had helped his brother find him (he was hiding behind a box underneath Tobias’ bed), and then returned to his room where, figuring it was late enough now, he got ready for bed.
Lying there and staring up at the ceiling, Augustus decided that if Isaac wasn’t at school the next day, he’d ask Elena where he lived and check on him. He didn’t care how weird that might be. At this point he simply needed to know that Isaac was safe…and that everything between them was okay.
He fell asleep imagining that everything was okay.
At 2:27 A.M. though, Augustus received definitive evidence that nothing was okay. Fast asleep, he hadn’t known it at the time, but when he woke up for school and checked his phone, it was there glowing brightly on the screen: A text from Isaac.
Augustus’ heart jumped as he hurriedly unlocked his phone and pulled up the message, but just as suddenly as hope had risen in his chest it was shot down by a high-precision sniper rifle. The text didn’t even sound like it was from Isaac. It was impersonal and strange—like a text written to anyone other than him and the contents made no sense at all:
“What the hell?” Augustus muttered, figuring it was some kind of a bad joke, and then jabbed the “call” button next to Isaac’s name. The line rang once, and then an automated recording began to sound in Gus’ ear:
“We’re sorry. You have reached a number that is no longer in service. If you feel you have reached this recording in error, please check the number and try your call again.”
So, what are we now?
* * * * *
Sophomore Year. Mid-December. Scene X.
If you looked up the phrase “piece of shit” in the dictionary, there would be a picture of Isaac Santiago Taveras, of this Augustus was certain. It’d been weeks of pressing for information, of visiting an eerily abandoned house in the heart of Starlight Shores, of writing desperate emails, and of harassing the guidance counselor for information—weeks of not hearing a single additional word from the accursed brunet! Floribel and Elena had received the same fucking text as him, neighbors reported that the family had left without even taking their furniture, every email Gus sent had bounced back, and the guidance counselor confirmed that Isaac had transferred to another school, though to which she could not tell him. The entire family had left with barely a whisper.
Augustus felt like smashing everything in sight, a feeling that was particularly perilous given the fact that he was surrounded by countless dozens of fragile Chinese antiquities that his late grandmother had dug out from thousand-year old tombs. He tore his eyes away from a massive axe displayed on the wall, not wanting to be tempted.
Before he’d left, Isaac had told Augustus that he was important to him, but how could that be true when he’d dropped him so easily? How could anything Isaac had ever said or done be true when he’d written him out of his life so completely?
It all had to have been lies. Nothing else made fucking sense!
The raven-haired boy tensed, his sneakers skidding to a halt and his jaw clenching. He would recognize his twin sister’s voice among thousands.
One quick glance behind him confirmed his suspicions. Gemma was standing by the door, looking at him anxiously and likely wishing that he would come back upstairs instead of wearing down the lacquered wood floors of their sprawling basement.
Augustus folded his arms firmly across his chest. “I don’t feel like talking right now,” he managed to say, but his voice didn’t sound like his own. It was flat, distant, and made Gemma’s face fall. He could see it in the reflection of the mirror on the opposite wall. He could also see the unmistakable guilt etched onto her features for having instilled such hope in him, but this wasn’t her fault—it was Gus’ fault alone for having been stupid enough to trust the bastard.
Gemma didn’t respond. For once, she seemed to have neither words of comfort nor reproach; no logical arguments why he shouldn’t be feeling the way he did, nor even reasons why he should rejoin the family upstairs.
Augustus almost wished that she did. Tell me how much of an idiot I’m being, Gemma. Tell me how Isaac is a fucking piece of shit asshole who was never worth my time. Tell me that I’m better off without him, please.
“I’m so sorry, Gus,” his sister whispered instead, looking inexplicably teary-eyed. “I know how much he means to you; how much you love—”
“I don’t fucking love him!” Augustus interjected in a shout, rounding on her. “I never have. I hate him actually and I hope he’s fucking miserable right now because I really fucking hate him!”
“If that were true this wouldn’t hurt so much,” Gemma said, unperturbed by his yelling. “You miss him terribly.”
Augustus snorted. I don’t, he told himself. I hate him. I hate him for leaving with barely a word of explanation and then never contacting me again! I hate him for every word he ever spoke to me, every touch, every laugh, every motherfucking smirk! I hate him for making me believe that I ever fucking mattered to him!
Augustus told himself these things. He told himself…. He told himself….
Augustus told himself these things, but he couldn’t fucking convince himself of even a word. He couldn’t convince himself because Augustus had never met anyone like Isaac. He’d never met anyone who he got along with so well; who could make his heart bound the way Isaac did; who made his stomach feel so fluttery; who make him laugh until his sides hurt; who he trusted so completely; who he…who he….
Gemma’s arms wrapped around him and Augustus fell into them as he dissolved into loud, broken sobs that scared even himself. He’d never even known he was capable of making such wretched sounds. He’d never felt so utterly destroyed…and he felt so disgustingly pathetic for it.
Not because it was unreasonable for a person to be upset by such bitter disappointment, but because of the awareness of a truth powerful enough to drag his very conceptualization of reality to its knees and obliterate it:
For as much as Augustus had treasured even the sheer existence of the golden-eyed brunet, Isaac had clearly never felt the same about him.
So, what are now?
What were we, ever?