Henry had been an only child for a grand total of four minutes and twenty-two seconds before it was cut short but the arrival of his twin sister. His umbilical cord had wrapped around her neck and the doctor had to work quickly before the lack of oxygen could cause permanent brain damage or worse. Their mother would tell the story with the promise of tragedy and suspense she could invoke. She learned how from her fancy drama school in London after all and Pauline Forrester-Moon was a very accomplished actress.
She would smile at Mia and tell her how lucky they were that she came out alright. Mia used to preen from the attention when they were little until she hit puberty and found a mother's love suffocating as daughters tend to do. Henry wondered if Mia ever remembered his umbilical cord almost killing her like a phantom limb as their mother would smile at him knowingly. Her sweet Henry, the almost murderer, the almost only child, who would spend his life trying to atone for something he never meant to do.
He took care of Mia. Somebody had to. Their mother was always busy with filming, promotions, and playing silly games on late night talk shows. And their father had to keep teenage actors from overdosing on narcotics when he wasn't managing their mother's career.
In return, he had the full brunt of Mia's affection that she kept from their parents as punishment. Mia learned once she turned thirteen that love could be a form of currency to be bartered and taken away at any opportunity. She gave smiles and compliments like golden coins to be collected when the time came or when she was bored. Henry was special because she never limited her affection for him.
When they turned seventeen, Mia began dating the school basketball star and within a month he was madly in love with her. In another month, she was bored and sneaking away to give her affection to his best friend instead.
"Why do you do that?" he asked her. "Play with their feelings and hurt them?"
"They expect me to," she returned with a secret smile. "They want me because I'm elusive and they like to think they're the exceptional who can finally own me."
"Is that true?"
He wondered at that and the girls that kept on flirting with him at school even though he had no interest. Some girls took rejection as a sign to try harder or that there was something deficient in him. It was that summer he would realize that girls had no effect on him and maybe he was into boys instead. And there was one particular boy that affected him to distraction.
"Isn't love just a nicer alternative for ownership?" Mia pointed out. "As a species, we take great pains for ownership. We have rings, documents, and even tattoos. A few centuries ago, a man could beat his wife black and blue and the law would say he had the right to do so."
"Have you always been this cynical?"
He stared at her like he was seeing her for the first time. He tried to remember that girl who used to love Disney movies.
"Just about love," she replied. "All I know of it is from our mother's films or those sad plays she's obsessed with. I don't think I know how to really love anyone."
"You love me," He smiled. "You can do that well."
"That's different," She moved closer to him to grab his hand, her smaller fingers easily dwarfed by his. She was delicately made like all women in their family. "There's that Bronte quote: whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same. I couldn't hurt you even if I wanted to."
Deep down, he knew better. If there was anyone who could hurt him it would be Mia. She saw straight to the heart of him and knew how tear him apart. And sadly, he was right.
It all happened at a party. It could've been a scene in old movies because the best and worst things always happened in parties whether it was murder or an affair. Parties in high school were more of sad nights drinking cheap bear and hoping to not get caught by parents who cared about all the creative ways teenagers could destroy themselves. Their big beautiful mansion was a hollow masquerade of a home and made the perfect setting for such nights.
Their classmates came, always eager to find any shade of their mother in the immaculate cream walls. Being the child of a B-list actress was akin to being a fishbowl or a cage, always to be observed, judged or envied. Their first baby photos had been sold to a magazine for thousands of dollars that their parents donated to a charity for suffering orphans. Their parents saw love as currency, how else did Mia learn this?, and love was the same as attention.
Derek arrived with his big sad blue eyes. He had known the boy since they were boys on the youth basketball teams. Back when Derek was all scrapped knees and so achingly normal it made him green with envy. Way before Derek fell in love with Mia and only talked to Henry to ask for advice on his sister's mercurial moods.
"Hey, man," Derek had the best smile, all perfect white teeth that never needed braces. "Is your sister around?"
Henry considered telling him that Mia was up in her room with Xander and had told him she didn't want to be disturbed. Derek would run up the stairs and break down the door and he and Xander could duel to death like the knights of old. Mia would be furious but secretly find it amusing. She would go on IG and tell the story to a revering audience who ate up the drama of it all cause boys will be boys. But they might get blood on the expensive rug and Henry did not want to sacrifice his allowance just to get that cleaned up so he lied instead.
"She went out to get more drinks," he replied. "Do you want to wait for her? We still got some beer left."
Derek was disappointed but didn't decline as Henry led them to the kitchen. It wasn't the first time Derek had been in there. There had been a time when Derek would come over after basketball practice and they would eat on the vegan snacks their nanny would buy from that overpriced supermarket. And then it had been Mia sneaking down with him in the middle of the night cause she was hungry and they would make something vaguely edible.
Henry opened into the double doors of the fridge and found there was no more beer. They went to the living room and found the half-finished bottle of tequila Puckett had brought with him. It would have to do. He found shot glasses and Derek tried to convice him to play a drinking game.
Derek poured for both of them and said, "We'll play Twenty Questions. Shot for shot."
He frowned, remembering how Mia always made fun of him for being a lightweight and how chatty he got but Derek was smiling at him and those damn blue eyes were staring so intently at him that saying no felt so very difficult.
"Fine," He nearly reached for the shot glass in front of him but changed his mind and nudged the shot closer to Derek instead. "You first."
Derek smiled wider. "Ask away."
"Are you still planning on playing basketball in college?"
Derek swallowed the shot with a grimace, following it with a lemon soda. He grimaced at the taste and answered, "Duke wasn't interested. I'm gonna take up Business at UC Berkley instead and take over my dad's company someday. He's thrilled."
"I can't picture you without a ball in your hand and out of a jersey. Isn't that your brand?"
"I'm not just a jock," Derek nudged his still full shot glass. "Your turn. What are your college plans?"
He lifted the shot glass and tried to swallow as quick as he could. The trail of fire down his throat was never pleasant. He took a quick sip of soda and let the sweetness overtake the acrid taste of the alcohol. He resisted the urge to lick his lips.
He finally responded, "Architecture at NYU."
"You don't want to get into show business like your parents?"
"I'm not quite dead inside yet," And he knew he would be if he became an actor or worse a manager. "I want to build things."
He wanted to make something new. He didn't want to have to create facsimiles of people and emotions for public consumption. He didn't want to pretend to be someone else when he wasn't even very good at being himself. And the worse of it was he knew he might be good at his father's job of managing people and their lives and he hated that fact.
"Fair enough, Henry Moon," Derek refilled their shot glasses. "What do you want to ask me next?"
He wanted to ask that more than anything. Derek wasn't like them who had never been loved so they looked for it or rejected it. Xander was a child of divorce who was a piece of meat his parents fought for so his attraction to Mia was a foregone conclusion but Derek was different. He came from a good family with parents that loved him and he was never neglected or abused. And yet he went for a girl that could not and would not love him back.
Derek's dark eyebrows furrowed. "What do you mean?"
"I know my sister," Like no one else did and no one else ever could. "And I know what she's doing to you."
"What is she doing to me?" Derek smiled sunnily before swallowing the shot and closing his eyes. He opened his eyes looking forlorn. "I love her and I don't know how to stop."
"Have you tried?"
He asked that knowing how impossible it was. There were moments Henry didn't like his sister when she was mean and angry and she lashed out at everyone. There were times he wished he had killed her and he never would have never known her at all and lived his life as Henry Moon, only child. Those moments never lasted because he loved her more than anything in this world and putting up with all her flaws were part of that deal.
Derek looked contemplative, finger running over the mouth of his empty shot glass. "How do you stop loving anyone? Is there an off button you press or do you just wait it out until you don't feel like shit anymore?"
He wished he had the answer. He had never loved anyone beside his sister. Even when he tried, kissed girls who only made him feel empty inside. He felt inadequate with his ignorance.
"I don't know," He picked up his shot glass. "Next question?"
"How come you haven't dated anyone?"
He nearly choked and tequila was not one wanted to choke on. He coughed and sputtered, trying to breathe through the burn of alcohol and wanting immediate death. Derek grinned and thumped him on the back as if it wasn't his fault. Why did he even like this boy?
"So?" Derek prompted. "Is no one at school good enough for you?"
Henry tried to think from the burning in his lungs to his now burning face. Curse his Irish grandmother and the pale skin he handed down to them. He could turn twenty shades of red in a heartbeat. He scowled at the other boy.
"It's not that no one is good enough. It's just the one I like isn't available."
"Who is it?"
"That's none of your business."
"Give me a clue then," Derek gave him that boyish grin that made Henry so lightheaded he wanted to punch him a little. "We're friends, right?"
Friends. They hadn't been friends in a very long time. Derek was never one to notice though. Dating his twin sister did not make one friends.
"Why does it matter?"
"Cause you're obviously embarrassed about them. Is it someone ugly?" Derek assessed him, cocking his head to the side like a golden retriever trying to hear better. "Or it someone older like a teacher or that guidance counselor with the big boobs?"
Henry rubbed his hand over his face, wishing this conversation would end. "It's not…I'm just…I'm…"
He couldn't get the words out. He had not even admitted it directly to himself. He could've told Mia what he was feeling. But he didn't.
"Can you ask anything else?" He sighed. "Please?"
Derek might've learned perception over time because he shrugged and agreed. He asked him something about prom and the rest of the questions were lighter fare. They did not touch anymore uncomfortable subjects and they reminisced on the stupid and silly stories of their childhood until they were laughing so hard Henry couldn't breathe. And as he tried to catch his breath, Derek took it away with an unexpected kiss.
Their teeth bumped together and the pain nearly made him pull away but his mind was too busy trying to process what was happening. He had wanted this longer than he'd realized. Ever since he was eleven and he realized how blue Derek's eyes were and he wanted to run his fingers through his dark hair. And that crushing feeling in his chest when Derek chose his sister that made him just want to die. And now Derek was kissing him.
People had left and the house was empty. There was no one there to witness as they went upstairs to Henry's room. Maybe it was the tequila or just years of yearning and what-ifs finally coming to fruition but Henry never stopped to think and doubt what was happening. All he cared about was how Derek's skin felt against his, the way Derek moaned when he did something he liked, and the hunger to feel this close to another human being.
He woke up in the morning with a sour taste in his mouth. A quick glance at a clock told him it was nearly eight. Derek was asleep and dead to the world. He made his way downstairs, wearing only boxers and a robe.
Xander was there at the kitchen table, eating a bowl of Lucky Charms. Henry and Mia loved cereal as it was one of the few things their nanny would buy for them that weren't the gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan meals their parents insisted on. They had boxes of every cereal they liked. They could eat nothing but cereal for days.
"Morning," Xander greeted him. "Late night?"
"Party ended around eleven, I think," Henry replied, grabbing a bowl and spoon and took a seat at the table to pour cereal for himself. "Mia still asleep?"
"I would like to say I wore her out but Puckett probably put something in the tequila he brought," Xander told him. "He likes to raid his mom's extensive medicine cabinet. God knows what was in that bottle."
Henry stopped. "The tequila was drugged?"
"Puckett thinks it's funny to drug people. It'll land him in trouble one day," the other boy answered. "I didn't even realize it till this morning. Your head fell heavy like it's filled with cement? That would be it."
He felt like he was going to be sick. Because if they had all been drugged then that meant he and Derek did everything last night while under the influence of Puckett's creepy behavior. He was going to fucking sue Puckett. Was it even consensual if they were both drugged? Bile rose up his esophagus and he ran to the sink and threw up.
Derek snuck out of the house and went home without a word which made Henry feel shittier than he already was. He didn't know who to talk to about what happened. People did things they didn't normally do when they were drunk and drugged. Things felt a lot more different in the daylight and he had no idea how Derek was feeling and if he even remembered the previous night.
Mia knocked on the door of his room, the sharp three knocks that was their code. She opened the door and went inside. She was wearing a Vivienne Westwood deconstructed shirt dress that looked like two fabrics sewn haphazardly together. Mia had gushed about it when she bought it.
On another girl it would've looked messy, a patchwork dress, but Mia was slender and pretty. She looked like a fairy escaped from a magical realm. It suited her. Mia never quite wanted to exist in the one they were in and longed for escape. Like Alice wanting to go to Wonderland or Wendy running away to Neverland except if neither girl ever wanted to go back home.
"Puckett's having a party," she said. "You should come. Everyone's going."
He'd wanted to tell Mia. But how do you tell your sister you fucked her ex while under the influence of a bottle of tequila and unknown narcotics? He didn't even know how to process what had happened to him. He should've stopped before they got too far and called a Lyft for Derek and he wouldn't be feeling like he did right then.
Fearing seeing Derek and having to own up to what happened terrified him. He didn't know how to even broach the subject with him. He might just kill Puckett on sight. God knows how many people Puckett had put in this position.
"I don't know," he replied. "Aren't you getting tired of going to parties? It's the same people getting drunk and doing stupid things."
"Those people are our friends," she told him. "And when are you too cool for parties? You always come with me."
He always came with her because he was afraid of what happened when he wasn't there to look out for her. Mia had no problems getting so drunk she couldn't walk. She would strip and jump into the pool. She played drinking games and gave out kisses as prizes. She trusted the wrong people and if he hadn't been there – the thought alone would give him nightmares.
"I just think we're going to be in college soon so maybe partying isn't what we need," he explained. "Maybe it's time to start growing up, Mi."
She burst into laughter. She had the best laugh, loud and vibrant. Derek once waxed on about how he fell in love because she laughed at one of his jokes. Taking a seat on the bed beside him and smacked his arm lightly.
"Don't say that. You'll curse us and we can't stay younger forever."
"No one stays young forever," he returned. "Even us."
"I disagree," She grinned. "You and I are going to be young and stupid forever."
Young? No. Stupid? Maybe. Neither of them were very good at making decisions.
He stared into Mia's grey eyes, the same exact color of his, and the events of last night tumbled out of him like a torrent of bad memories. He didn't say Derek's name, refusing to part with that fact, fearing the reality of telling somebody the whole truth. Mia listened, taking in all the information, without interrupting him. At the end of it, he felt like he would burst into tears from the shame, fear, and unfairness of it all.
She took his hand in both of hers. Her eyes kind as she asked gently, "Henry, are you gay?"
"Yes," He closed his eyes, bowing his head. "I think I've always been."
She moved closer to him and ran her fingers through his hair. "And this boy, do you like him?"
"For years," He sighed. "He's only dated girls. I'm not even sure if it was just that he wasn't sober or if I'm just…just an experiment."
"Henry," The sharpness of her tone made him open his eyes. "If he was using you for that then he's not worth it."
"I know," he confessed. "But I still want him."
She moved closer to him and leaned her head on his shoulder. "How is it you're the one with boy problems? You're the responsible one."
"That doesn't mean I'm going to have the best luck in boys," he countered. "I'm a good student. That's all."
"And a good brother," She smacked him in the arm again. "Don't forget that."
"I won't," He leaned down and kissed the top of her head. "Should I talk to him?"
"Is he gonna be at the party?" she asked. "Everyone is going so he'll probably be there."
"Who is he anyway?"
He paused. "I don't really want to tell you yet."
"You tell me everything."
That wasn't true. He kept things from her. About how he felt about Derek and how he was going to college instead of taking a gap year like she was. She wanted to go to Europe and take hundreds of photos and he just wanted to be away from California and all the memories.
"I'll tell you after," he compromised, not wanting to let out the secrets he kept though few could break her. "Promise."
Xander drove them to the party in a silver Aston Martin that he drove carelessly. Mia abandoned him three minutes after finding her friends. He looked around the house, moving past his drunken classmates and trying to find anyone to talk to. He found Puckett at the balcony in the second floor overlooking the pool.
Puckett saluted him with his glass. "Want a drink, Henry Moon?"
"The last time I drank anything you gave me I ended up with the worst hangover," And he fucked with his sister's ex. "What did you put in the drinks this time? Meth? Cocaine?"
"Nothing this time," Puckett grimaced. "I landed myself in some boiling hot water after my mom drank a bottle of scotch I messed with and she ended up sleeping with the pool boy."
He gaped at him in shock. "Shit."
"She and dad are now going through marriage counseling and as punishment for what I did I'm getting cut off," The other boy took a sip of his drink. "This is my last hurrah before I have to go through menial drudgery."
Maybe karma was real.
"Might do you some good," Henry told him. "Drugging people is kind of messed up."
"I'm beginning to see that," Puckett furrowed his eyebrows. "I didn't mess up your life too, did I?"
Yes. Yes, he fucking did. And he was glad that Puckett's parents took away his silver spoon and would have to get student loans and be in debt after college. Because fuck you, Timothy Puckett.
Instead, Henry replied, "No. I'm good."
He left Puckett and his questionable bad choices to himself. He still didn't touch any of the alcohol, not trusting Puckett's word, and went to the kitchen to find seltzer. He grabbed a can of La Croix and turned away from the fridge and rush of déjà vu hit him as Derek entered the kitchen. He froze like a deer in headlights and waited as Derek saw him, his blue eyes widening in recognition.
"Hey," Derek greeted him awkwardly. "How are you?"
"I'm good," He applauded himself inwardly for not stumbling over the words. "How are you?"
"Good," Derek tried to smile but it came out more of a grimace. "About last night…"
Henry could feel his heart at his throat, trying to escape from this moment. His world had shrunk to only this moment in Puckett's stupid fucking kitchen and he knew the next words out of Derek's mouth would kill him. He would be dead before even reaching eighteen and the tabloids would talk about what a tragedy it was for Pauline Forrester-Moon's son to die so young. And his dad would use the press to promote the lifetime movie and make millions of dollars of it.
"We were both really drunk. And I'm not…I'm not into guys, you know that," Derek continued, refusing to look at him. "It was just a one-time thing. It didn't mean anything."
Henry's heart was somewhere by his feet and he could stomp over it with his Doc Martens if he moved. He had known this would happen. There would be no doubt that Derek Knight would always be in love with one girl and Henry never had a chance. He didn't know whether to vomit, scream, or cry. Maybe all of the above.
"Just no hard feelings, huh?" Derek finally looked up at him, offering his hand for a shake. "Friends?"
His hand raised automatically as if he was being piloted by some unseen force and he accepted Derek's "thanks for the fuck but I'm not into guys" handshake. Derek walked away without looking back and Henry realized he was still holding that unopened can of La Croix. He threw it at the wall and the can exploded on impact, the carbonated water sizzling on the white paint. It didn't make him feel better and his fight-or-flight instincts were kicking in.
He needed to get out of that damn house. He needed to find Mia first. She was already drunk and flirting with some boys from the lacrosse team. Xander was nowhere to be seen.
He went up to her and tried to pull her away. Mia pulled back, giggling as she swayed on her heels. She quipped, "What's up with you, Oscar the Grouch?"
"We need to leave," he insisted. "I need to go, Mia. Please just come with me."
"What? No. I'm partying with my friends," Mia waved at the lacrosse players. "We're going to play strip poker."
"You're going to regret that tomorrow," Henry tried to reason with her. "Please just listen to me."
"I am listening, Hen, and you're being too uptight," Mia rolled her eyes. "Why don't you have a drink or five and we can have some fun?"
Henry closed his eyes, wanting everyone to just go away. He wanted to be in his bed and disappear for the rest of his life. "Mia, please…"
"Just stop," Mia pushed him away. "You go home and do what you want. I'm staying and doing what I want. We don't always need to be attached at the hip. I have my own life outside of you."
She was crossing a line they couldn't go back from and he watched almost detached as she continued, "You have this need to control my life as if you think you're both mom and dad. And it's just sad and pathetic. It's like you're not really anybody when you're not with me. Like you don't exist unless you're taking care of me."
All this time he thought he was taking care of her because she needed it but maybe he had suffocated her. He thought they were giving and taking, he loved her in his way and she returned it. But maybe he was wrong and he had been wasting his time.
The same way he wasted his time liking Derek who would never return his feelings. Maybe he was that sad and pathetic. He didn't say anything as he walked away, his feet moving off their own accord to some unknown destination. He was outside the house and walked down the dark, empty street, barely seeing what was in front of him.
Silver in his peripheral vision made him look and there was Xander in his fancy car. Xander stopped the car beside him and cocked his head to the side, his auburn hair looked like fire in the dark. He could see why Mia had chosen him. Xander looked like those Instagram models with the cheekbones and floppy hair.
He offered, "Need a ride?"
Henry got into the passenger seat, buckling in the seatbelt. Xander drove slower, more carefully than he had earlier.
"Were you really gonna walk home, Henry?" he asked. "Your house is across town."
"I was gonna call a Lyft," Well, he would've if he wasn't so shell-shocked from earlier. "And why aren't you back at the party?"
"Not in the mood for it."
"Since when aren't you in the mood for partying?"
"I'm more than a burgeoning alcoholic, thank you," Xander gave him a look. "And Mia didn't feel like being my girlfriend tonight so that wasn't fun."
"She didn't feel like being my sister either."
"That's Mia. You never know what you're gonna get with her."
On any other night he would've defended her. He would've pointed out all of Mia's good traits and downplayed her bad ones. She was warm, sweet and thoughtful when she wanted to be so what did it matter when she was mean, careless, and selfish at times? Henry just wanted to hate her for one night and not feel guilty for it.
"Just between you and me. I wish I loved somebody else sometimes," Xander confessed. "I love Mia, she hit me like a hurricane, even when she was with Derek I felt something for her. But then there are times I wish I didn't love her. Does that make sense?"
"I think you're making perfect sense," Henry replied. "Wouldn't the world be a better place if we could choose who we love instead of beings stuck with people?"
Xander laughed. "I would've probably chosen someone nicer and less prone to kissing other boys when they're drunk."
Henry would've chosen someone who actually wanted him back. He would've chosen someone who would not see him as a mistake. He would've chosen someone who could love him and only him. He would've chosen someone who also hadn't had sex with his sister because gross.
"I would choose someone who's not an asshole."
"What Derek did was prime asshole behavior."
Henry stared at him in shock. "What?"
"Derek went to me earlier and told me what happened between the two of you. Despite dating the whole dating his ex-thing, I am still his best friend," the other boy explained. "And he was confused about what happened. Derek's always thought he was very, very straight and then there was…you."
"Well, I hadn't planned to be his sexuality crisis," Henry frowned. "And he told me it meant nothing."
"Not defending Derek at all but he has stuff to figure out. Whether he's gay or bi or whatever, that's his problem," Xander returned. "You deserve better than have to wait for him to figure out where on the Kinsey scale he falls on. And quite frankly, as potential boyfriends go, he couldn't do better than you."
He narrowed his eyes at Xander's handsome profile and demanded, "Are you hitting on me?"
Xander laughed again. "In another life, maybe, Henry. I am a relationship man and I am madly in love with your sister who you are nearly genetically identical with and that is just too weird for me to mess with."
"That's what I was thinking!" Henry agreed. "And we've both been with Derek. That has to be illegal, somehow."
"What a merry foursome we all make. We could be a soap opera."
"This is California. It's normal."
They arrived at the house and Henry didn't immediately get out of the car. He turned to Xander and thanked him for the ride. Xander told him it was no problem and gave him a fist bump. Henry made his way inside and wondered about how weird his life was.
He went to bed but it took a while before he fell asleep. He kept reliving the party in his head and bemoaning his stupidity over Derek. He was never leaving that bed. He would have to live the rest of his life there and the media would talk about how 'eccentric's Pauline Forrester-Moon's son was and maybe he was part mole.
The next morning he made his way downstairs and found Mia cooking in the kitchen. This was rare as they usually had a Cook come in to make meals for them and Henry made do when she wasn't around. Mia never cooked if she could help it. That morning she was making plates of waffles.
She smiled at him sheepishly as he took a seat at the island. She placed a plate of waffles with vanilla ice cream on them, a lopsided smile made from M&Ms on top. Just like how he liked it. He gave her a questioning look.
"This is my 'I'm sorry I was such a bitch last night. You're totally in the right to hate me but I hope you'll forgive me cause I can't live without you' waffles," she explained. "The things I said last night were not okay and I didn't realize how shitty of a sister I was till I got home last night. Sorry again. Please forgive me."
As if there was any doubt he could stay made at her. He picked up the fork and took a bite. "These taste good. When did you learn to cook?"
"Xander thought me. I can do breakfast food and only breakfast food," She looked very proud of herself. "I can do pancakes, bacon, and eggs. And Xander is teaching me how to cook fish next week."
"I don't think you're ready for fish," Henry took another bite. "But you're doing really well so far."
She did a little pleased dance and got a plate of waffles for herself and joined him to eat.
"About last night," He started. "I think you were right about some things."
She froze, staring at him with wide eyes. He reached across the table and took her hand in his.
"Maybe we're too co-dependent. It's not healthy."
She looked down at her untouched plate and sighed. "I'm too dependent on you. It's true that I don't know how to live without you. You've always taken care of me and it's unfair to you."
"I didn't mind. I love you so it felt like part of the deal," he said. "But in college, I kind of want to see who I am besides being your brother."
He told her about NYU. She had been saddened as she both thought they were going to be at Columbia together. She understood and confessed she got into the Stella Adler Studio of Acting and had been conflicted about going there as she wanted to be with him at the same school. Mia had a talent for acting and it was in spite of their mother who would take this news as glory for herself as if she had any hand in raising them.
"You should go," he insisted. "They only take sixteen students per semester. Pauline Fucking Forrester couldn't get in and she can never take that away from you."
Mia laughed. "She would lose her goddamn mind."
"She might have a fit in public and it goes viral," Henry smiled conspiringly. "Don't take that away from us."
"Okay, okay. I would always regret it if I turned down Stella Adler," she admitted. "And we'll still see each other right? We'll both be in the same city."
"Definitely," he agreed. "We'll make it work. We always do."
"And I think it'll be good for me to be more independent," She smiled. "And you can finally have some fun without having to keep me from being such a walking disaster."
"It wasn't that bad," Then he changed his mind. "No. It was that bad."
She smacked his arm as he laughed. "You're such a dick!"
"It's the genetics. Theo and Pauline Moon are assholes so what else we're we gonna end up being?"
"Better?" she said. "We promised we'd be better than them."
They did. When they were twelve he and Mia swore a pact to be better people than their parents. They swore to be kinder, less selfish. They swore that if they ever had kid, they would love them and give them attention and not just use them for photoshoots.
"And we will," He smiled reassuringly at her. "We already are."
He ended up telling her about Derek. She had been surprised but mostly grossed out at having slept with the same person. She had been outraged at Derek's callous treatment and threatened to go to his house to castrate him if he hadn't stopped her. Derek's fate was not up to them to decide and Henry wanted to move on from that futile crush. He had his future ahead of him and that was what he wanted to focus on.
"Just let me punch him at least once," Mia insisted. "We'll punch and run."
"You're gonna get suspended and I don't feel like explaining to our father why," He shook his head. "Leave Derek Knight alone. He's not worth it."
"I can get Xander to do it."
"Don't drag him into this," Remembering Xander's kindness from last night had softened Henry towards the other boy. "And he's a good guy, Mia. If you don't want him, let him go."
Mia quirked her mouth. "Part of that growing as a person thing, I kind of want to try being a better girlfriend. And Xander is a good guy."
"No more kissing other boys then?"
"Nope," Mia promised. "I solemnly swear to be better from now on for how long this will last."
He raised his eyebrows at her. "Mia…"
"I've seventeen and he's going to stay here in California for college. Long distance is not gonna work out."
She had some point. He couldn't deny them. They could be completely wrong or completely write about what would happen with Xander but that would be determined over time. And a part of him couldn't wait to see what else would be coming.
He prompted, "But in the mean time?"
"In the meantime, he's gonna teach me to cook and play Queen on the piano when I need cheering up."
"We do still have the rest of the year before we go to New York."
"Yes, and we should enjoy every second of it," She raised her glass of orange juice and he bumped his glass against hers. "Together, like we always do."
The next morning was one of the sunniest Mondays in his life. They made their way to school and he pretended like he hadn't had to watch Xander and Mia suck each other's face as they greeted each other good morning. He met up with the prom committee and they discussed the theme for Senior Prom. He daydreamed about New York.
He wanted to do all the tourist stuff with Mia. They wanted to have breakfast outside of a Tiffany's store. They wanted to go see a Broadway play. They wanted to take pictures at Times Square.
He finished with the meeting and was on his way to the parking lot when Derek appeared like an apparition in the desert. He looked around for an escape route and found none. Xander's Aston Martin was still there but neither he nor his sister were around. He needed to come up with some kind of emergency code word with Mia.
"Hey," Derek gave him that boyish smile that he was ashamed still worked some of its charm on him. "How are you?"
Like clockwork, they repeated the same scenario. They asked how each other were and the both answered 'good' and it was still very awkward. The fact they had sex loomed over them like a bright pink elephant in the room. Henry just wanted this to be over with.
"About yesterday," Derek said. "I realize maybe I was too quick to just dismiss what happened."
"What do you mean?"
"It wasn't nothing," Derek's eyes looked even bluer against the afternoon sun. "What happened between us wasn't nothing because it's you, Henry. And even though I'm still trying to figure out what this all means but I do know that letting you go would be a big mistake."
He didn't know what to say. He had wanted this for so many years. He wanted this moment of Derek Knight finally returning his feelings and yet he was wary. Because if Derek was just going to use him as a litmus test of how gay he was, it would break him.
"Derek, I don't know…." he admitted. "I don't know what you want from me or what this is supposed to be but I'm not going to be used and discarded like a toy."
"That's not what I want."
"What is it you want?"
"I want you, Henry," Derek answered. "Isn't that enough?"
Before this weekend, he might've said yes. He might've been okay taking whatever Derek wanted to give him. But now, he wanted more. He wanted to be somebody that deserved more. He didn't want to give so much to people anymore and be resentful when they didn't return it.
He was also only seventeen. And he wanted to be with this boy no matter if it felt like a bad choice. They could crash and burn or maybe this was forever. He still had a lot to learn and some lessons weren't painless. Still, it wouldn't be good to look so eager.
"I'll think about it," Henry said. "And I'll get back to you."
Derek looked at him like he was a completely different person and Henry hid a smile. He turned away from his too-handsome face and walked to where Mia and Xander were waiting by his car. Mia raised an eyebrow at him. She shot a glare in Derek's direction.
She asked, "Is Derek bothering you, brother?"
"Were you bothering him?"
She returned his smile. "I'm so proud of you, Henry Moon."
No other words had made him happier.