Chapter no 2

If Only I Had Told Her

“Go away,” Autumn says when I knock. She sounds like she’s dying. “You okay?” I know what she’s going to say.

“Yes. Go away.”

Autumn hates being vulnerable. She inherited that from her mother, despite all her complaining about Aunt Claire’s veneer of suburban perfection.

“Okay.” I have the urge to wait outside the door, even though I know she wants privacy. I turn and ignore the sounds on the other side of the door. When I was lusting after her a few minutes ago, what I should have been doing was worrying about her hangover.

Sometimes it feels like Autumn brings out the worst in me. She makes me feel like the kind of guys I hate, the jocks who say things in the locker room that stun me. I tried, especially after I was an upperclassman, to intervene in those conversations, but often I was so floored by what I’d heard that I missed my chance to interrupt. A few times over the years though, when something was said specifically, vulgarly, about Autumn, my mouth spoke before the rest of me knew what was happening.

I was able to speak up those times, berate them for their disgusting observations, because I agreed with them. I wanted what they wanted or

had seen the sight they recalled. Their words were a grotesque reflection of my own feelings.

Then, after the very last track meet of senior year, a freshman came up to me and said, “You’ve let Rick say worse stuff about other girls,” laying bare my hypocrisy.

I sneered at that poor kid. “Then I should have had higher standards before today. I’ll be gone soon. You can take over as chivalrous knight next year.” I slung my bag over my shoulder and stomped off. I can’t remember the guy’s name, but he’s probably going to remember Finn the asshole for a while.

In high school, Autumn only had eyes for Jamie. She didn’t want those jock jerks thinking about her, and she doesn’t want me thinking about her like that, then or now. She made that clear years ago. I get why she needed to make it clear. It’s for the best that she did. But someday if we talk about it, I will tell her that she could have at least told me that she didn’t feel the same way. She didn’t have to leave me the way that she did.

That’s probably what my mother meant yesterday. Aunt Claire is celebrating her divorce from Autumn’s dad, Tom, with a wine-themed weekend. She and Mom left Autumn and I cash and surprisingly few instructions for while they were away. When Mom hugged me goodbye yesterday, she whispered, “For fuck’s sake, kiddo. Talk to her.”

It’s been hanging between Autumn and I, this mutually incomplete knowledge. She knows I wish she felt differently about me. She needs to know it’s much worse than she thinks. My love for her is the closest thing I have to religion. But it’s okay that she doesn’t feel the same. I’m fine. I can handle it. We can be friends, like when we were kids. I was in love with her back then, except this time I’m not going to wig out and try to prove anything to her. I learned my lesson when I tried to kiss her and she didn’t kiss me back.

But my mother is wrong about the timing. This is not the weekend for that conversation. I need to get through today and breaking up with Sylvie tomorrow. After that, maybe I’ll talk to Autumn. Or maybe it should wait until Christmas. I don’t know.


Once again, I have forgotten about my other best friend. I came to the kitchen to make toast out of habit, though Autumn has never been hungover at my house before.

Jack appears in the doorway. He watches me.

“Are you going to put cinnamon and sugar on it too?”

“That’s not how Autumn likes her toast, loser.” There I go again, lashing out instead of dealing with my fucking feelings like a man. I try to sound more like myself. “Do you want some too?”

“Sure.” He sits and yawns. Jack has decided to let me off the hook for today. “Did she like Goodfellas?”

I laugh.

“We’d barely started it when you fell asleep. And you talked about it enough last night that she basically didn’t need to see it.”

“There is no way that can be true,” Jack says. “That film is like a carefully constructed house of cards…”

He continues, but I’m not listening. The bathroom door has opened. She’s back.

Behind me, I can hear her cross the kitchen and sit at the table. “Feeling better?” Jack asks.

“More or less,” Autumn says. Her eyes are closed when I turn around, and she’s curled up in the chair, chin on her knee.

I pass Jack the first plate of toast and turn back to make more.

“So if you go back to the original source material, Wiseguy,” Jack begins. He talks about this movie all the time. I don’t have to listen to know

what he’s saying. I can agree or say the right thing while focusing on her.

I butter Autumn’s toast the way she likes it, and she gives me a weak, grateful smile that melts me. I’m not sure what’s keeping me upright.

Jack is only trying to save me from myself with this Scorsese monologue, and I’m being a terrible friend.

Her breathing is focused and slow. She chews, swallows, and takes a deep breath. Chew. Swallow. Breath. It’s working. She’s relaxing. Her eyes are still closed; she still leans her cheek on her bent knee.

Jack says, “I think you’d dig the narrative style, like, as a writer.”

Autumn opens her eyes and blinks at him. I’m certain she has not been listening to the film history lesson either.

“Why don’t we restart the movie? We can all watch it.” Jack gives me a look to remind me that our other conversation isn’t over.

Autumn shrugs and finishes her toast.


I don’t pay attention to the movie. We all sit on the couch in a row, the tent abandoned. They’re watching the movie. I’m just here, near her. It seems like the toast did the trick for the nausea she had when she woke.

When had she woken? What had Jack and I been saying?

When I warned Jack that she was about to wake up, we’d been talking about—

Sylvie or soccer. That’s what she could have overheard.

I already told Autumn that I’m breaking up with Sylvie. I don’t think I said anything that could have revealed the real reason. It’s one thing to be in a relationship with Sylvie while in love with the girl next door; it’s a step too far if she’s going back to being my best friend too.

“She’s just not who I want to be with,” I finally said when Autumn asked me why. It was the truth, even if it omitted so much. She nodded like

she understood, and it felt like we both said more than we were, but I’m a fool like that.


My best friends sit on either side of me for two and a half hours. Last night, we joked and teased. Today, we are quiet. Either way, hanging out with both of them at the same time feels so right. I hope in the fall, when we’re all in Springfield, they can be friends too. Just friends though.

It’s a silly thought to have, but the point remains: I need to convince both myself and Jack that when Autumn does meet someone again, I’ll be ready to let her go this time.


“Hey, Finn,” Jack says. “Come get your cleats out of my car.” He’s getting ready to leave, and my cleats are not in his car. His car is a dumpster, and I’d never leave something of mine there, even cleats.

“Sure.” I glance at Autumn before I get up. She’s nestled in a blanket, finishing the glass of water I got her and having another slice of toast. I take note again of how unfair it is that she can be so beautiful while hungover.

I walk Jack to his car, and when he turns to me with that look on his face, I know what he’s going to say. I open my mouth.

He beats me to speaking. “Your story doesn’t make sense.” That’s not what I expected.

“My story?”

“That she knows but also simultaneously doesn’t know that you’re in love with her.”

“That’s not what I said.”

“It basically is. Maybe you are the two stupidest people on earth who somehow don’t realize you’re in love with each other, but I’m leaning

toward she knows you love her and she’s fucking with you to make herself feel better.”

“That is not—”

He gives me a look, and I stop talking.

“Break up with Sylvie tomorrow. Call me after. Think about what I said.”

“Fine.” I shrug one shoulder and look away. “We’re cool?”

I meet his eyes again. “Yeah.”

He nods and leaves. I head back inside.


I wonder if I should have pretended to go upstairs and put away my imaginary cleats before sitting next to her on the couch, but she doesn’t seem to notice.

“Did you have fun?” I ask her.

She smiles faintly. “You were right about that fourth drink and maybe about Jack’s bartending skills.”

“I was definitely right about both things. You’re looking better though.” She looks amazing; that’s how she looks by default.

“The toast helped. Thanks.” She flashes me another smile, which fills me with warmth.

“Just a trick I learned.” From taking care of Sylvie, I don’t say. “I think I’m going to go home and take a shower,” she says.

I’m surprised and disappointed. I feel myself blink.

“Okay.” Perhaps it’s for the best. I need to collect my thoughts. Figure out what I’m going to say to Sylvie tomorrow.

Autumn stretches her arms above her head and groans before getting up, and I wish I could have that moment, like so many others, on instant replay.

She calls, “Bye, Finny!” over her shoulder as she heads to her house next door.

I pause, then rush to my room to catch another glimpse of her before she goes inside, perhaps see her again when she goes to her room, since our windows are across from each other.

Not that I’m trying to see her in any state of undress. Believe me, I’ve had my chances, and there’ve been close calls, but I’ve always made myself close my curtains when she forgets to close hers. Today though, she comes into her room and closes the curtains with efficiency. I leave my curtains open and stretch out on my bed. I should be thinking about what my mother and Jack have said to me about my relationship—my friendship—with Autumn. They both agree that I need to tell her.

But all I can think about is Autumn. The way her brown eyes shone as we built the tent yesterday. The way I could smell her soft hair as she was curled up against me this morning. The way she had arched her back and made that noise before getting off the couch. That she is now undressing to take a shower.

I am thinking about Autumn intensely, but not in a way that is going to make me feel better, now or in the long run.

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