Chapter no 5

If Only I Had Told Her

It’s five thirty, and I’m still in my boxer shorts, still thinking about all my misjudgments. I sit on my bed, holding my phone, even though Sylvie hung up long ago. I look over at Autumn’s window. Her curtains are still closed.

Attempting to sound offhand, I type into my phone, Hey, whatcha up


I don’t expect a reply so quickly, so I’m happy—until I read it.


Just the one word.

Autumn is where she wants to be right now, and that’s okay.

I get off my bed, pull a T-shirt over my head, and grab some pants. I clean my room to kill time and then head to the basement and put on a load of laundry. Back in the living room, I take down the rest of our tent, fold the blankets, and slide them into the linen closet. Autumn left half a glass of water on the coffee table. I finish it and wash and dry all our glasses.

I wish I had a dog. It would be good to have a dog that needed an evening walk. Autumn has always wanted a dog.

I go back upstairs and pick up my book. I’m not the voracious reader that Autumn is, but I almost always have a book I’m reading, slowly and


Autumn, though, I’ve seen her finish a novel, pause staring off into space for a minute like she’s receiving instructions, and then open another book. It’s as if her job is to read and she’s behind on her quota.

In elementary school, when she was particularly excited by a book, she would read it as we walked home, trusting me to make sure she didn’t run into anything. I remember being next to her and watching her cry as we walked, silent tears rolling down her cheeks, her gaze never wavering from the page. I also remember walking next to her as she laughed so hard that tears spilled out of the corners of her eyes.

I never get angry or sad or exhilarated by books the way Autumn does. It’s more of a break for me, some time spent as a detective or a spy before I go back to my real life. I usually forget a novel shortly after I’ve finished it. Books are Autumn’s real life. She is made of the stories she has read.

The best thing about Jamie breaking up with Autumn is that I don’t have to worry about him pressuring her into becoming a teacher.

Autumn would be miserable as a teacher. I know this because my mom is a teacher, and I see the sacrifices Mom makes because she loves teaching. Autumn would not love teaching. She might not hate it, but I know it would never be a passion. Writing is her passion. Autumn would grow to resent her students because they would take her away from writing. I can see so clearly how she would feel trapped.

When she changed her plans and started looking at colleges with creative writing majors, I was relieved, but not only because I thought she would be happier. I had started to wonder if maybe I didn’t know Autumn as well as I thought, that maybe she did want to be a teacher. But once she had switched back to envisioning a writing career for herself, it reconfirmed that I knew who she was deep down inside.

I don’t think Jamie ever understood Autumn. Jamie.

I remember punching the wall in my room after graduation when I thought she was waiting for him to whisk her off to make love somewhere romantic.

Autumn had loved reading Wuthering Heights in English class junior year. She always finished books before the rest of the class, ignoring the reading schedule. Autumn had gone on and on about Heathcliff’s passion during class discussions, often infuriating our classmates by spoiling the plot because she forgot the rest of us hadn’t finished the book yet.

I sat behind her in that class and stared at the back of her head as I hung on her every word. I’d tried to like it too. Wuthering Heights is about childhood friends in love. I wanted the plot to reveal that Autumn and I were meant to be together. But all I could see was how Heathcliff’s obsession with Cathy had turned him into the worst version of himself.

So after I punched the wall all those weeks ago, I rubbed my bruised knuckles, checked the wall for divots, and thought, There’s some Heathcliff passion for you, Autumn. Now Jamie can get you pregnant, and I’ll give myself a concussion on a tree when you go into labor.

Autumn brings out the worst in me, and it’s not her fault. Jack thinks it is though.

I owe it to him—my only other real friend, if I’m being honest with myself—to consider what he said to me when he left today: Either Autumn and I are the two stupidest people in the world who somehow don’t realize we’re in love with each other, or she’s fucking with me.

I don’t know where to begin with that though. It’s like he told me to consider the possibility that she murdered someone.

Autumn has her flaws. She’s offhandedly arrogant about her looks. She lacks tenacity or drive for anything that isn’t reading or writing. When she’s in a bad mood, you must tread carefully. She can, in the blink of an eye, casually strike with a few cruel words that get right to the heart of your insecurities.

But she almost always apologizes quickly. She’ll flinch after the words leave her mouth and tell you she’s sorry. I’m not saying it’s okay. It happens mostly when she’s depressed, and if her mom is any indication, depression is going to be a lifelong thing for her. I’m simply saying that Autumn’s base motivations are defensive, not cruel.

If Autumn knows I adore her, what would she get from torturing me with her presence all summer? She’s not insecure about her looks. If she wanted attention from a guy, she could…go somewhere public? And sit with a book until someone sat down next to her? It wouldn’t take long.

The girls had always insisted that Autumn’s friends were our rivals, and though Jack and I agreed Jamie was an obnoxious showboat, we didn’t see this competition with them that they did.

Could Autumn have seen it that way though? Autumn has never liked Sylvie in particular. She’s never said so to me, but it’s clear.

Sylvie has never liked Autumn. She has said so to me clearly.

Would Autumn purposely blow air over the coals of my long-burning love for her to torture Sylvie? Could her heartbreak over Jamie be so deep that she’d take pleasure in hurting Sylvie through me?

It doesn’t sound right, doesn’t sound like the Autumn I love, but it sounds more likely than any theory of Autumn simply wanting to hurt me.

Autumn knows I have an old crush on her. Maybe, maybe, maybe, Jack is a little bit right, and she is messing with my head to mess with Sylvie?

It seems too vicious for Autumn.

But I promised Jack that I would think about it, and I have.

I’ve been lying here with my thriller open on my chest staring at the ceiling.

I try to read.

I don’t care that the ambassador from the fictional country was poisoned.

Autumn said to me once, “When you’re reading a book and you can’t focus, ask yourself, ‘How much is the writer’s fault, and how much is mine?’ Be honest. That’s how you’ll know if you should set it aside forever or for a few hours.”

I can’t tell if it’s the book or me, so I set it back on the nightstand. Autumn’s curtains are still closed.

I get off the bed and reach for the light switch.

It isn’t fully dark yet, but Autumn’s house sits in the shade of mine. I’m pretty sure her lights are not on. I would see a glow between the curtains.

What kind of stalker am I that I’ve stared at her window enough to come to that conclusion?

I can read her moods by assessing a variety of factors: the time she’s taken with her appearance, her level of concentration while reading, how forthcoming she is with different topics. At school, I could pick out her laugh in a crowded hallway. In class, I could predict her feelings about books assigned and events studied.

Even when I could have escaped her or avoided thoughts of her, I chose not to. For example, I’ve used Autumn in my mnemonic devices for countless vocab words in school. She is comely, hallowed, and impervious. My love for her is vehement, protracted, and interminable.

Sylvie caught me at it once. We were studying for the SAT and running flash cards together on the couch. The word was pulchritudinous (I pulled her to me after Christmas).

“Autumn—beautiful!” I said, my brain too focused on studying to remember to keep my secrets.

“What?” Sylvie looked at me over the cards. “Beautiful, right? That’s what it means?”

“Yeah,” she said. “But you said—”

“Oh! Autumn, like my birthday! Fall leaves and stuff. You know how I like the leaves changing color.”

Sylvie knows I love fall leaves. It’s my favorite season, my birthday, etc., etc., but I honestly don’t know if she believed me.

No, that’s not true. I know that Sylvie didn’t believe me.

She had looked at me for a long moment. She didn’t seem angry. She seemed resigned. She flipped through the stack of cards in her hand to find one in particular.

“Mendacious?” she finally quizzed me. “Dishonest. Next word?”

She let us move on.


I hate myself for interrupting her, but I take my phone out and type, Can I come over? and send it before I can second-guess it.

I head downstairs to the kitchen and eat the leftover pizza. I recycle the box and pour a Coke. There’s an inch of rum left. I look at it and then put it back on the counter. It won’t help me. Maybe Autumn will want it before The Mothers come home tomorrow.

I check my phone even though I’d have heard her respond.

I sit down at the computer and watch a few clips of the Strikers game I missed. I can give them website traffic at least.

I glance at my phone again. This summer, she’s always texted me back quickly.

What if, this morning, she woke up in the tent before I thought? What if she woke up as I lifted my arm off her, then lay there wondering why I had been touching her, why I was still lying close to her and not speaking? If that was the case, she would have—or could have—heard me say many, many, incriminating things to Jack outside the tent.

For fuck’s sake, talk to her, kiddo!

Tell her you’re sorry. Tell her you know she doesn’t feel the same way. Tell her you’re working on it. Tell her that you just want to be there for her.

That isn’t the speech I should be working on tonight.

I have to figure out what to tell Sylvie, because I can’t tell her the truth.

Before Sylvie took me back after our breakup sophomore year, she asked, again and again, if I was really, really, really sure that I no longer had romantic feelings for Autumn.

I lied to Sylvie, again and again, because I loved Sylvie, I missed her, and I desperately wanted her back.

I even used the idea that had so offended me when my mother shared it: I told Sylvie that Autumn was my first love, but now, we were like brother and sister. Finally, she believed me. Or rather we both pretended to believe me.

I cannot tell Sylvie, “I can’t be with you anymore because I am in love with Autumn. She doesn’t want me that way, but it isn’t fair to you now that she wants to be my friend again.”

Because Sylvie would say that if I still loved her, I should stop being friends with Autumn.

I can’t tell Sylvie that I’m choosing friendship with Autumn over our nearly four-year relationship. She’s worked so hard to value herself again after what happened before we met.

It strikes me how backward my plan sounds: give up a girl who adores me, who I love well enough, to be a disciple for a different girl who will never fall for me. Jack has always said I’m irrational when it comes to Autumn, and maybe I should have taken him more seriously, because he was right earlier today.

I’m in way over my head.

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