Noah aka NOS2321: Gamer. Weeb. Up-and-coming rock star. And gay. Encouraged by his anonymous pen pal, XES6969, Noah takes the leap and comes out of the closet—no instructions needed—accidentally sending his father to the hospital during his reveal. Despite his horrible dating track record which included two girls (because it was required that he at least try) and one boy (because he had to start somewhere), Noah believes in happily ever after. That belief gets tested when he falls for Evan Santiago.
Evan aka XES6969, believes in sacrificing yourself for those you love. Learning NOS’s identity hadn’t been his fault. Except he carries the lie which begins to fester, trapping him into silence. When a stray football brings them together, Evan no longer wants to keep silent. And when he learns that Noah is interested too, he takes a chance at love, risking everyone he’s tried to protect, including himself.
16+ due to sexuality, adult situations, substance abuse
The green dot next to his name meant he was currently online, and he must’ve been waiting for me, because I got a request to join his party chat. I put my gaming headset on and accepted.
“You there?” Noah asked.
The high-pitch version of his altered voice wasn’t that much different from his real voice.
“Yeah, sorry, what’s up,” my own deeper one responded.
“I hate football players. They are male hulks who think about nothing but their balls,” he said very animatedly.
I had started to drink water and almost spilled it out of my nose. I coughed instead. “Ouch,” I said. “Balls are important, I might add. What happened?” I entered the realm of gamers, although I wasn’t playing. I couldn’t get my thumbs coordinated with my brain enough to score a kill. I’d given up trying a few years ago when Noah said I sucked. I agreed. Gaming just wasn’t for me. I could tell by his occasional outburst that he’d settled in for a few hours of gameplay. Which was okay with me. I just liked listening to the guy talk. Even raging.
“I got slammed by a ball thrown by a Neanderthal today. Then called the wrong guy an asshole, and when I tried to apologize—he just made it so difficult. Like he was having fun with me. Liked seeing me squirm. I don’t know. Maybe it was a hetero thing. I’m still trying to figure out biases against my kind.”
He used the word hetero to refer to all insecure males who had something against the gay community. I hated him thinking that I had made him feel awkward because he was gay and not because I was insecure and had a secret crush. “Your kind is human. Stop setting yourself apart from the rest. It doesn’t end well.”
He swore right before I heard him slam his controller down. Then he sighed. I could imagine him leaning back on his bed, like me, staring up at the ceiling, with his headset, like me. It made it feel as if we weren’t a world apart. “Some guys just have it all, you know. Looks, muscles, smile—okay, my prickly non-asshole football player has a really nice smile.”
I smiled. Couldn’t help it.
“But the guy has gone through a girl a week. Maybe less. I mean, who does that?”
Someone pretending. I’d only been with two, and that had ended after a few weeks. I had experimented. Safely. But I had a rep to uphold and people to lie to, so the rumor held. “Sounds like you don’t like him much. That bad?” I loved torture.
“That’s the thing. No. You really want to hear this?”
Yes. I did. I really did. “Yeah, I’m listening.”
“He had these bruises he said were from football, but I don’t believe him. He fights a lot. I think.”
My heart crumpled a little. “Are you afraid of him? Do you think he’ll hurt you?” I felt like a cheater, fishing for information on how Noah felt about me. It didn’t stop me from asking, though.
“No. I mean, not on purpose. He could ram me in the hallway, he’s so big. It’s just … you’re going to think me a horrible person, but I think I’m attracted to him. I mean. I don’t think he’s my type, but the way he looks at me sometimes. I’m just really confused.”
That got my heart pumping. Fast. Do this right, Evan. Don’t push. If he ever finds out you knew, you’ll lose him. Then I closed my eyes and heard the words tumble out of my mouth. “What about Carlos?”
“That’s the thing. I think I don’t want to be with Carlos anymore. Oh, God, I didn’t have this much anxiety with girls.”
I chuckled. Relieved. Elated. Scared again. “It’s called life.”
“What about you? You don’t talk about your girlfriends.”
Uh-oh. “I’m single.”
He snorted. “Bullshit.”
“For real. Don’t need that drama, you know?”
That seemed to make him drop the question.
“This is our last year of high school. Did you ever think we’d stay friends for this long?”
Not really. “I’m happy we did.”
There was a long silence, but I could hear him breathing. “You don’t say much. Ever.”
“You keep telling me that.”
“I’m just saying. Are we ever going to meet, meet? I mean, we’re not kids anymore. This isn’t going to last forever. I have money saved up. Except where I need a passport, because I don’t have one. I can visit you.”
Knowing Noah would go out of his way to meet me made my heart ache. I hated the lie. I wanted to tell him the truth. It hadn’t been my fault my dad hauled us to Florida, to the same town as Noah, to the same high school. Not my fault I found out who he was. And he was attracted to Evan. Me. Me! “I need to tell you something.” I shut my eyes, concentrating on his breathing, on my body coiled tight, and on the words I probably shouldn’t say.
Just then, I heard someone in Noah’s background. “Okay, Ma. I’m ending it,” he hissed out. Then into the mic, “I gotta go. I didn’t realize it was so late. School tomorrow.”
I let out a relieved breath. “Okay, talk to you later.”
I ended the call and yanked off my headphones and threw them across the room, where they always ended up whenever I got pissed. I’d gone through five of them already. I leaned back on my bed, staring at the pale ceiling. I’d almost told him. Almost. The cosmos were probably pointing and laughing at me. Out of all the towns and high schools, I had moved into my anonymous best friend’s life. I would’ve preferred meeting NOS when we were both away in college. When I escaped my father and the shit show of high school. Not now, when I couldn’t do anything with how I felt for him.