The world felt suddenly full of promise.

Ocean walked me to his car and it was only after I was buckled in that I realized I’d never asked him where we were going. Part of me didn’t even care. I would’ve been happy to just sit in his car and listen to music.

He told me then, without my asking, that we were going to a park.

“Is that okay?” he said, and glanced at me. “It’s one of my favorite places. I wanted to show it to you.”

“That sounds great,” I said.

I rolled down the window when he started driving and leaned out, my arms resting on the open ledge, my face resting on my arms. I closed my eyes and felt the wind rush over me. I loved the wind. I loved the scent of the night air. It made me happy in a way I could never explain.

Ocean pulled into a parking lot.

There were gentle, grassy hills in the distance, their soft contours lit by dim uplights. The park seemed vast, like it went on and on, but it was clearly closed for the day. The thing that made the whole thing shine, however, were the bright lights from the adjacent basketball court.

It wasn’t impressive. The court looked weathered, and the hoops were missing nets. But there were a couple of tall streetlamps, which made the space seem imposing, especially this late at night. Ocean turned off his car. Everything was suddenly black and milky with distant, diffused light. We were silhouettes.

“This was where I first learned to play basketball,” he said quietly. “I come here when I feel like I’m losing my mind sometimes.” He paused. “I’ve been coming back here a lot, lately. I keep trying to remember that I didn’t always hate it.”

I studied his face in the darkness.

There was so much I wanted to say, but this seemed like such a sensitive topic for him that I also wanted to be careful. I didn’t know if what I wanted to say was the right thing to say.

Eventually, I said it anyway.

“I don’t get it,” I said, “why do you have to play basketball? If you hate it, can’t you just—I don’t know? Stop?”

Ocean smiled. He was looking straight out the windshield. “I love that you would even say that,” he said. “You make it sound so simple.” He sighed. “But people here are weird about basketball. It’s more than just a game. It’s, like, a lifestyle. If I walked away I’d be disappointing so many people. I’d piss off so many people. It would be . . . really bad.”

“Yeah, I get that,” I said. “But who cares?”

He looked at me. Raised his eyebrows.

“I’m serious,” I said. “I don’t know anything about basketball, that’s true, but it doesn’t take much to see that people are putting pressure on you to do something you don’t want to do. So why should you have to do this—put yourself through this—for someone else? What’s the payoff?”

“I don’t know,” he said, and frowned. “I just, I know these people. Basketball is, like, the only thing I even talk to my mom about anymore. And I’ve known my coach forever—I knew him even before I started playing in high school—and he spent so much time helping me, training me. I feel like I owe him. And now he’s relying on me to perform. Not just for him,” Ocean said, “but for the whole school. These last two years—my junior and senior year—I mean, this is what we’ve been working toward. My team is counting on me. It’s hard to walk away now. I can’t just tell everyone to go to hell.”

I was quiet a moment. It was becoming clear to me that Ocean’s feelings about this sport were far more complicated than even he let on. And there was so much about this town and its interests that I still didn’t understand. Maybe I was out of my depth.

Still, I trusted my gut.

“Listen,” I said gently, “I don’t think you should do anything that doesn’t feel right to you, okay? You don’t have to quit basketball. That doesn’t have to be the solution. But I want to point out one thing. Just one thing I hope you’ll think about the next time you’re feeling stressed about all this.”


I sighed. “You keep focusing on whether or not you’ll disappoint all these people,” I said. “Your mom. Your coach. Your teammates. Everyone else. But none of them seem to care that they’re disappointing you. They’re actively hurting you,” I said. “And it makes me hate them.”

He blinked.

“It isn’t fair,” I said quietly. “You’re clearly in pain over this, and they don’t seem to give a shit.”

Ocean looked away. “Wow.” He laughed. “No one’s ever framed it for me like that before.”

“I just wish you’d take your own side. You’re so worried about everyone else,” I said. “But I’m going to worry about you, okay? I get to worry about you.”

Ocean went still. His eyes were inscrutable as he looked at me. And when he finally said, “Okay,” it sounded like a whisper.

I faltered.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “Was that mean? Everyone’s always telling me how mean I am, but I don’t really do it on purpose, I just wanted t—”

“I think you’re perfect,” he said.

We were both quiet on the drive back. We sat together in a comfortable silence until, eventually, Ocean turned on the radio. I watched him, his hands coated in moonlight, as he picked out a song, the contents of which I wouldn’t hear and wouldn’t remember.

My heart was far too loud.

He texted me, much later that night.

i miss you

i wish i could hold you right now

I looked at his words for a while, feeling too much.

i miss you too

so much

I was lying in bed, staring at the ceiling. My lungs felt tight. I was wondering about that, wondering why it was that feeling good made it so hard to breathe, when my phone buzzed again.

i really love that you’d worry about me

i was beginning to feel like no one ever worried about me

And something about his honesty broke my heart.


is that weird?

to want someone to worry about you?

not weird

just human

And then I called him.

“Hi,” he said. But his voice was soft, a little faraway. He sounded tired.

“Oh— I’m sorry—were you sleeping?”

“No, no. But I’m in bed.”

“Me too.”

“Under the covers?”

I laughed. “Hey, it’s this or nothing, okay?”

“I’m not complaining,” he said, and I could almost see him smile. “I’ll take whatever you’re offering.”



“You sound so sleepy.”

“Yeah,” he said quietly. “I don’t know. I’m tired, but I feel so happy.”

“You do?”

“Yeah,” he whispered. “You make me so happy.” He took a deep breath. Laughed a little. “You’re like a happy drug.”

I was smiling. I didn’t know what to say.

“You there?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I’m here.”

“What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking I wish you were here.”


“Yeah,” I said. “That’d be great.”

He laughed and said, “Why?”

I had a feeling we were both thinking the same thing and neither one of us was saying it. But I’d wanted to kiss him all night. I’d been thinking about it a lot, actually. I’d been thinking about his body, the way it felt to have his arms around me, wishing we’d been alone longer, wishing we’d had more time, wishing for more. More of everything. I often daydreamed about him being here, in my room. I wondered what it would feel like to be wrapped up in him, to fall asleep in his arms. I wanted to experience all kinds of moments with him.

I thought about it, all the time.

Somehow, I knew he was hoping I’d say this to him. Out loud. Tonight. Maybe right now. It scared the crap out of me.