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“Oh, right, of course. I figured that’s what we were going to be doing anyway.” I nodded, sitting in one of his beanbag chairs. “By the way, what’s O.G.A.A.?”

He walked out of his closet with a bulletin board. He flipped it around, and I stared at a crayon drawing of a girl with four groups of four note cards.

“Operation Get Awkward Abigail.”

“That’s a drawing of Abigail?” I tilted my head and narrowed my eyes.

He fiddled with his hands. “I didn’t get her nose right.”

“Her body proportion is a little off. Not that Abigail’s fat, but she’s a little bigger than that.”

“Well, clearly she’s not really a stick person, Levi. Aria is the artist. I’m just the weird red-haired best friend.”

“Oh, well. All right. Sorry, but I thought last time we spoke on this subject you were anti-Abigail.”

“But then I ate her cookies.”

“And you liked her cookies,” I said with a wide grin.

“They melted in my mouth.” He sighed heavily, sitting on his bed. “I loved her cookies.”

“That explains why we are in O.G.A.A. What’s on the notecards?”

“Different scenarios of how I ask her out on a date.”

I walked over to examine the board. “Sky diving? Hiking? A sign on a blimp balloon? These are your ideas for asking her out?”

“Yes! Think about it. You’re jumping out of a plane, falling, falling, falling, minutes away from your death because your parachute is stuck, you look over at those blue eyes of hers and say, ‘Awkward Abigail, will you go out with me for a milkshake if we make it to the ground?’ And then she would say yes and we would obviously live happily ever after.”

“Unless you died from the, you know, impact of slamming into the ground.”

He smirked. “Well, yeah, there’s that.”

“Have you thought of, I don’t know, just asking her to go out with you?”

“Like, in person?”


“Face to face?”

“Uh huh.”

He started laughing hysterically, turning redder and redder. Then he went deadpan. “You know what, that might work.” He dropped his board to the ground. “Video games?”

I laughed.

We started playing some game where we shot a bunch of things, then we switched to a game where we killed a bunch of things, and then we switched to a game where we shot and killed some more things.

Trying to be nonchalant, in the middle of some kind of battle field where Simon and I were blowing off the heads of zombies, I said, “I saw your family pictures in the hallway.”

He cleared his throat. “Yeah. Mom’s a picture addict.”

“I didn’t know you had a little sister.”

He continued playing the video game as he spoke. “When I was five, I begged my mom to take Lizzie and me out for ice cream, even though she was already tired from working at the diner. When we went, we were in a bad car accident and Lizzie ended up being in a coma for weeks. The doctors told us that for a three-year-old she fought hard, but wasn’t going to make it. Then one day, she was just gone.”

“God. I’m so sorry, Si.”

He kept playing the game, but his focus was elsewhere. “Then they found out Mom would have trouble getting pregnant again due to the same accident, so they spent years trying to have another.”

“You blame yourself?”

“Wouldn’t you? If it wasn’t for me, my little sister would still be here. And Mom and Dad would’ve had more kids, and they wouldn’t have been going through hell these past years. I’m the reason their lives are screwed up.”

“Dude, you were just a kid. You didn’t cause the accident.”

“Didn’t I, though? We should’ve never even been out. We should’ve…” I could see the guilt in his eyes as he tapped the triangle button on the controller four times hard, before he moved to the square button and hit it four times, too. “Next topic?” he asked, not wanting to talk about it anymore. I wouldn’t push him to keep talking. Therefore I went to a lighter subject.

“So, I was thinking about Aria—”

“Well, duh.” He smirked, growing comfortable again.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe it’s the fact that every second of every day you’re eye-loving the hell out of her.”

“Dude, shut up. I’m not. Anyway, I need an idea for her birthday gift since I missed it.”

Simon arched a brow. “And you’re asking my advice?” I nodded. “Well, get her anything related to art. She was actually talking about this one thing, but it’s kind of expensive.”

“What is it?”

He proceeded to tell me, and the price made me cringe. I hadn’t seen that kind of money in a long time, but it was the perfect gift, which only left me one option.

* * *

“I need eighty dollars,” I said to Lance after school one day as he moved things around his shop. Whenever Dad didn’t want me around the house, I would go to Lance’s music store and mess around with some of the instruments.

“For what?”

“A school project.”

“What kind of school project makes you pay eighty bucks?”

“I don’t know. Public school is weird. They even make you eat cow intestines, I think.”

“I definitely remember it being pig intestines when I went there. They sure are uppity nowadays. That’s the problem with your generation. You boneheads are eating like kings and queens.” He leaned back against a box and narrowed his eyes on me. “So really, what’s the money for?”