Chapter no 10

If Only I Had Told Her

Autumn whimpers, and I feel one of the many reasons we shouldn’t have done this spilling from us. I move, but I am without regret, because I will always at least have this memory of us.

I’m coming out of my trance and need to know she’s still okay. “Autumn” is all I can get out.

“I love you too,” she says. “I forgot to tell you.” She begins to cry, but not like before, not like when she was grieving the end of her characters. Still, they’re tears, so I file what she said away for later and focus on her.

I lean down and kiss her face again and again.

“It’s okay. Don’t cry,” I say, because all the other things I want to say can’t seem to find their way out. You are safe. I kiss her eyes. You are cherished. I kiss her forehead. I’ll be whatever you need me to be after this. I kiss her cheek. Whatever you want me to be. I kiss her other cheek. “Don’t cry. It’s okay.”

“Will you hold me?” Autumn asks, and it is honestly the greatest idea I have ever heard. I slide over, and she’s quick to wipe her eyes and rest her head on my shoulder. I wrap my arms around her, and it is glorious.

“Like this?” I hold her gently but tightly.

“Yeah,” she says, and I’m never going to move again. I breathe in the scent of her hair and feel light-headed.

I’ve never known euphoria like this.

A choir of birds is singing a tribute to this beautiful new day, to her body, to my joy. In the morning light, I can see the shadows of her eyelashes on her cheeks, the swell of her hip under my blanket.

I’m so happy that I could die.

“I can’t believe that just happened,” I hear myself say. My eyes start to involuntarily close, and I’m glad when she speaks to help me stay awake.

“Did you mean it when you said you loved me?” she asks.

“Of course I did.” I’m so tired and so happy that I don’t think about what a silly question it is. I shift slightly beneath her to savor our skins against each other before we drift off. My eyes have closed completely when she continues.

“You weren’t just saying that because it’s what the guy is supposed to say?”

My eyes are still shut, and I’m thinking, What guy? when I realize she means me. I’m the guy. The guy who was supposed to say—

My eyes open.

Is she pretending to not know?

Fully awake now, I replay her question in my brain.

She is pretending to not know. Why is she doing that?

I roll out from under her and sit up on my elbow. I need to see her face. “Come on, Autumn,” I say. “I know that you know I’ve been in love

with you for forever. You don’t have to pretend.” Whatever she wants from me after this, my one rule is nothing left unsaid between us.

“What?” she says.

It’s very convincing, but I know how good of an actress she can be.

“It’s okay.” I sigh. I can’t help but feel a little exasperated even now. “I’ve always known that you knew.”

But Autumn’s getting upset. She sits up and pulls the covers around her protectively. She frowns at me. The birds are still singing.

Why is Autumn upset that I knew that she knew I loved her? I’m not mad at her for knowing it.

At least not now. I’d forgotten about my reaction to her novel last night. “What do you mean by ‘forever’?” Autumn asks.

“You know,” I say. “Forever. Since we were like what, eleven?” “Fifth grade? The year you punched Donnie Banks?”

There. She knows what I’m talking about.

“Yeah. You remember what Donnie Banks said?” “He called me a freak.”

“He said, ‘Your girlfriend is a freak,’ and he knew that you didn’t want to be my girlfriend and that I did.” Because everyone knew that. Everyone. Including Autumn.


“You liked me like that back then?” Her confusion is real. But if she didn’t know in elementary school, what happened to us?

I sit up all the way. I need to think clearly.

“But isn’t that why you stopped hanging out with me in middle school? Because you got tired of me wanting to be more than just friends?” That’s what happened. I was there.

“No,” Autumn says. “I had no idea you wanted anything like that.” It’s the truth. Somehow, some way, she hadn’t known.

“But after I kissed you, you knew?” Because Autumn knows I love her. I read her novel. It was there.

“No,” Autumn says. “I didn’t know why you had kissed me, and it freaked me out. I thought maybe you were experimenting on me.”

Experimenting on her? Am I hallucinating after all? My gaze wanders briefly around my bedroom. Everything else seems normal.

If Autumn didn’t know that I loved her in elementary school or in middle school—no. No. She had to have known.

“But this doesn’t make any sense,” I tell her. “If you didn’t know, then why did you leave me?”

She drops her eyes. Is this it? Have I caught her in a lie? My stomach twists. I’ll love her even if she turns out to be cruel. That’s my curse.

“It just felt so nice not to be the weird girl anymore,” Autumn says. “I liked being popular. We did kinda grow apart that year.”

She’s blushing with embarrassment, and I feel my mouth hanging open. “I’m not saying it’s not my fault. I’m just saying I didn’t mean for it to


Oh, Autumn.

Autumn caring what people thought about her was never something I had considered. It seems incongruent with her character. I always defended her in elementary school but not because she’d never shown any sign of being bothered by what the other kids thought or said. Maybe a couple of times, there’d been things that happened that had made her cry, but I’d believed her when she said she was upset about the injustice or the principle of the matter.

When Autumn was finally appreciated by our peers, she seemed to take it as a matter of course, that things had finally settled as they should. She’d never said anything during the early days of middle school about being excited about becoming popular overnight. She’d seemed distracted, not elated.

Autumn is a good actress but not that good. For example, at the moment, she’s trying to hide her embarrassment and failing. Autumn is a good liar. Autumn is not a good liar. It’s true and it’s not true.

“You really didn’t know?” I ask to be sure. “No. I really, really didn’t,” Autumn says.

I believe her, and it’s more than I can handle. My nervous system decides that in order to keep functioning and engage in conscious thought, it can’t hold me up. I lie on my back and stare up at nothing.

Autumn didn’t know that I loved her.

I’m staring at the blank ceiling above me, but all I see are a thousand memories being rewritten with this new information. It’s like the DNA of my entire relationship with Autumn has mutated. Every time I’d inwardly flinched at how pathetic I must seem to her, she hadn’t known or noticed.

“And all these years I was terrified that you could tell that I still…you know,” I say.

“Still what?”

Because even after all this, she still needs me to spell it out. “Still wanted you.”


I can’t even answer that one.

All my agonies had been caused by figments of my imagination. That night I’d had to call Jack to sober drive Sylvie and me home, I found Autumn eating leftovers on her front porch. She was bummed about her parents and had been quietly patient with my inebriation while I thought I said the most obvious, drunkenly lovestruck things to her. The next morning, I lay in bed, sick as a dog and writhing with mortification.

But it had all been in my brain. None of it had been real. Autumn hadn’t known. Autumn hadn’t heard the love that had screamed so loud inside my mind.

That semester when we were partners in gym, I regretted so many of the things I said after class, and the moments I’d given in to the temptation to touch her seemed especially egregious. I was certain that I was always on the verge of being cast off by Autumn again, because I was doing such a terrible job of hiding my love for her.

But she hadn’t known.

It hadn’t been proof that I’d overstepped her boundaries when she said that Jamie wouldn’t like it if we hung out. Jamie probably would have been a dick about it, and if Autumn had actually loved me back then—

What had she been thinking all these years, this girl that I loved and thought that I knew through and through?

“What about Sylvie?” Autumn asks, and I can’t help my laugh. It all seems like such a madcap Shakespearean comedy of mistakes. Is this irony? Maybe Autumn can tell me.

“The only reason I started hanging out with the cheerleaders after soccer practice was because I thought they were still your friends. I thought that maybe I’d have a chance with you then, that maybe I’d be cool enough for you to see me like that. Then when the first day of high school came, you didn’t even say hi to me at the bus stop. And I found out that not only were you not their friend anymore, but you hated them. And then you started going out with Jamie, and Alexis was asking me why I was leading Sylvie on, and I didn’t even know what she was talking about…”

That had been an awful conversation. It was after a soccer game, the first one I’d really gotten to spend time out on the field, and Alexis had pulled me aside as I’d come out of the locker room. I was exhausted and soaking wet. She was going out with Jack by then, and it had kinda freaked me out the way she’d grabbed my arm possessively. She looked furious.

“Why are you doing this to her?” she hissed at me.

“Who?” My brain went to Autumn even though it made no sense. “Oh. My. God.” Alexis whispered, “Sylvie, you monster.”

My feelings for Alexis after the past four years are like how a lot of people describe their feelings for their siblings. I love her because I have known her for so long, but she drives me crazy, and most of the time, I don’t like her that much.

Alexis was exaggerating that day, but there is always a grain of truth to her wild hyperboles.

I was kinda into Sylvie at that time.

Sylvie talked to me at the bus stop. No one else did. The fact that Sylvie was as pretty as Autumn, though in a different way, provided a welcome distraction. Sylvie felt safe to look at.

When Alexis made her case, I could see her point. And I felt responsible. Besides, I’d seen some guy kissing Autumn on those steps where she’d been hanging out. My plan had failed.

So I asked Sylvie to a movie, and we had fun. Real fun. She was the only other kid I’d ever met who listened to NPR while getting ready for school in the mornings. I liked that she read biographies and kept a shelf of her favorites. She was beautiful. She was nice. She wanted to be with me.

Sylvie has been good for me. I’ve enjoyed almost every minute with her. She has made me a better person in so many little ways. I hope that someday I’ll be able to fully explain this to Sylvie, but for now I say to Autumn, “Don’t think that I never cared about Sylvie, because I did.” I do. “She’s not really what you think.” She’s so much more. “And she needed me to take care of her when you didn’t anymore.” Because she’s like you: complicated. “I loved her, but I loved her differently from the way I’ve always loved you.”

I still love Sylvie, and there’s so much I’m not saying out loud despite not wanting to leave things unsaid.

But there is so much Autumn and I need to talk about besides Sylvie. “Oh, Finny,” Autumn says. Her voice has so much emotion in it that my

heart flutters.

I fill my lungs with air to steady my nerves. I look at her out of the corner of my eyes. It’s an old trick: looking at Autumn without really looking at her.

Autumn is watching me, still sitting up in my bed. Her hair is glowing around her face like an aura. The sheet has fallen away again. I cannot trust myself to look her in the face. I’ll lose my nerve.

“You said—” I start. I need to know. She was crying when she said it and, amazingly, unsure of how I felt about her. “You said that you loved me too.” Perhaps in her vulnerability, she said more than she meant.

“Yeah,” Autumn says, “I do.” Her voice is trembling but certain. “Since when?” Since last night? Last month?

“I dunno,” she whispers. “Maybe since forever too, but I didn’t admit it until two years ago.”

Maybe forever too?

I cannot resist anymore. I look directly up at her. Autumn has this soft, sublime smile on her face that breaks into a sigh as she collapses back on to my chest.

She loves me.

She really, truly loves me.

I’m holding her so tightly that I order my body to relax so as not to hurt her.


My Autumn.

If she wants to be.

“So…” I don’t know how to ask this. Autumn loves me, but I am trying to make sure there’re no more misunderstandings.


“It’s you and me now, right?”

I feel her laughter against my chest before she speaks.

“Phineas Smith, are you asking me to be your girlfriend?”

Isn’t that all I’m ever doing? I think wildly. My heart is beating fast. To me, this seemed like a formality, but perhaps my history of misunderstanding Autumn is catching up with me again.

“Well, yeah. Is that weird?”

“Only because it feels like we’re already so much more than that.”

I relax again. “Yeah, I know,” I say to her as I tell my brain to stay calm, that asking Autumn to elope to Vegas is absurd. “But it’ll have to do for now.”

For now.

I close my eyes.

“You still have to break up with Sylvie,” she whispers. My eyes open again.

“I know. I’m going to. Tomorrow.” “You mean today,” she says.

My stomach drops. Of course, it’s morning. I’m such a fool.

“Oh. Right.” I hug Autumn to me. “We should get some sleep, I guess.” “Yeah, I guess,” Autumn says.

We cuddle up close, and soon, Autumn is snoring softly. But I don’t sleep. There’s too much to think about.

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