But then, he so often took that leap for me.
Ocean had always been so honest about his feelings. He told me the truth about how he felt even when everything was uncertain, when I otherwise would’ve stayed silent forever.
So I tried to be brave.
“I miss you,” I said quietly. “I know I saw you a few hours ago but I already miss you. I want to see your face. I want to feel your arms around me,” I said, and closed my eyes. “You feel so strong and you make me feel safe and I just— I think you’re amazing,” I whispered. “You’re so wonderful that sometimes I honestly can’t believe you’re real.”
I opened my eyes, the hot phone pressed against my flushed cheek, and he said nothing and I was relieved. I let the quiet devour me. I listened to him breathe. His silence made me feel like I was suspended in space, like I’d been dropped into a confessional.
“I really wanted to kiss you tonight,” I said softly. “I wish you were here.”
Suddenly, I heard him sigh.
It was more like a long, slow exhale. His voice was tight, a little breathless, when he finally said, “There’s really no chance of you getting out of your house right now, is there?”
I laughed and said, “I wish. And trust me, I’ve thought about it.”
“I don’t think you’ve thought about it as much as I have.”
I was smiling. “I think I should go,” I said to him. “It’s like three in the morning.”
I laughed again, softly.
We said good night.
And I closed my eyes and clutched my phone to my chest and felt the room spin around me.
Ocean and I had managed to remain relatively drama-free for just over three weeks now. People were still occasionally staring, still wondering, but my rules about how we spent time together had kept things from getting out of hand. We talked most nights, saw each other as often as our schedules allowed, but kept our distance at school. Soon, most people had moved on, as there wasn’t much news to report. I refused to feed the gossip. I didn’t answer people’s inane questions. Ocean really wanted to drive me to school in the mornings and I wouldn’t accept his offer, no matter how badly I wanted to, because I didn’t want to make a spectacle out of us.
He didn’t love it. In fact, I think he really hated it, hated how I kept pushing him away. But the harder I fell for him, the more I wanted to protect him. And I was falling harder every day.
We’d stopped at my locker at lunch one day so I could switch out my books, and he waited for me, leaning against the wall of ugly metal units, occasionally peering into my open locker. Suddenly, his eyes lit up.
“Is that your journal?” he said.
He reached in and grabbed the weathered composition book and my heart seized so fast I thought I saw stars. I yanked it away from him and clutched it to my chest and felt, for a moment, truly horrified. I did not want him to read this, not ever. There’d be no way for me to maintain even a semblance of self-respect around him after he’d read my many pages-long descriptions of how it felt to be with him—to even be near him. It was way too intense.
He’d probably think I was crazy.
He was laughing at me, laughing at the look on my face, at the speed with which I’d yanked the thing out of his hands, and finally he just smiled. He took my hand. He was running his fingers along the inside of my palm and I swear that was really all it took, sometimes, to make my head spin.
He held my hand up against his chest. It was a thing he did with me a lot, pressed my hands against his chest, and I wasn’t sure why. He never explained it and I didn’t mind. I thought it was kind of adorable.
“Why don’t you want me to read your diary?” he said.
I shook my head, eyes still too wide. “It’s really boring.”
He laughed out loud.
I remember it so clearly, the first time I saw him—it was at that exact moment, right when Ocean laughed and I looked up at his face—that I felt someone staring straight through me. It was rare that I ever felt compelled to seek out the source of a stare, but this one felt different. It felt violent. And that was when I turned and saw his basketball coach for the very first time.
He shook his head at me.
I was so surprised I stepped back. I didn’t actually know who the guy was until Ocean spun around to see what had startled me. Ocean’s face cleared. He called out a hello, and though the guy—I learned then that his name was Coach Hart—nodded what seemed to be a pleasant hello in return, I caught the millisecond he took to catalog the details of my appearance. I saw him glance, just briefly, at my hand and Ocean’s, intertwined.
Then he walked away.
And I felt a sudden, sick feeling settle in my gut.
Ocean came over for Thanksgiving.
My parents really loved Thanksgiving, and they did the thing really well. My mom also had a soft spot for strays; she’d always leave the door open for friends of ours who had nowhere to go, especially around the holidays. It was kind of our tradition. Every year our Thanksgiving table featured different guests; there was always someone—and usually they were friends of my brother—who didn’t have family to spend the day with, or, alternatively, had family they hated and didn’t want to spend the day with, and they’d always find refuge in our house.
This was how I’d convinced my parents to let Ocean come over.
I didn’t tell them anything except that he was my friend from school, a friend I claimed had no one with whom to cook a turkey on Thanksgiving, but also a friend who was very interested in Persian food.
This last bit delighted my parents to no end.
They lived for opportunities to teach people about Persian everything. Whatever it was, Persian people had invented it, and if they hadn’t invented it, they’d almost certainly improved it, and if you were able to explain in careful, thoughtful detail that maybe there was something Persian people hadn’t invented or improved, well, then, my parents would say that whatever it was probably wasn’t worth having anyway.
The interesting thing about Thanksgiving this year was that it fell almost right in the middle of Ramadan, so we’d be breaking our fast and having Thanksgiving dinner all at the same time. But we started our dinner preparations early, and our guests were always invited to help.
Navid whined all day, even though he was given the simplest task of making mashed potatoes. Ocean thought Navid was hilarious, and I tried to explain that he wasn’t doing a bit, that Navid was really just, like, super annoying when he was fasting, and Ocean shrugged.
“Still funny,” he said.
I’m not sure whether it will surprise you to hear that my parents loved Ocean. Maybe it was because he didn’t argue with them when they explained that Shakespeare, in Farsi, is pronounced sheikheh peer, which means “old sheikh,” and that they felt this was definitive proof that Shakespeare was actually an old Persian scholar. Or maybe it was the way Ocean ate everything they put in front of him and seemed to genuinely enjoy it. My parents had made sure to make an entirely separate, six-course meal for this friend of mine who’d never tried Persian food before, and they’d sat there and stared at him as he ate, and every time he said he liked what he’d eaten they would look up at me and beam, proud as peacocks, finding in Ocean further proof that Persian people had invented only the best things, including the best food.
Ocean sat patiently with my dad, who loved showing everyone his favorite videos on the internet, and never betrayed a hint of irritation, not even as my father made him watch video after video about the remarkable design and efficiency of European faucets. He went through phases, my dad did. That week was all about faucets.
Later, when all the food had been eaten and my mother had turned on the samovar, Ocean listened—attentively—as my parents tried to teach him how to speak Farsi. Except they didn’t really teach; they would just talk. My mother was, for some inexplicable reason, convinced she could force an ability to speak Farsi directly into a person’s brain.
She’d just said something really complicated, and nodded at Ocean, who she was certain would make a fine student, because why wouldn’t he want to learn Farsi, Farsi was obviously the best language, and she repeated the phrase again. Then she gestured to Ocean.