Adam Silvera was born and raised in the Bronx. He has worked in the publishing industry as a children’s bookseller, at a literary development company, and as a book reviewer of children’s and young adult novels. His debut novel, More Happy Than Not, received multiple starred reviews and is a New York Times bestseller, and Adam was selected as a Publishers Weekly Flying Start. He lives in New York City and is tall for no reason.
You’re still alive in alternate universes, Theo, but I live in the real world, where this morning you’re having an open-casket funeral. I know you’re out there, listening. And you should know I’m really pissed because you swore you would never die and yet here we are. It hurts even more because this isn’t the first promise you’ve broken.
I’ll break down the details of this promise again. You made it last August. Trust me when I say I’m not talking down to you as I recall this memory, and many others, in great detail. I doubt it’ll even surprise you since we always joked about how your brain worked in funny ways. You knew enough meaningless trivia to fill notebooks, but you occasionally slipped on the bigger things, like my birthday this year (May 17th, not the 18th), and you never kept your night classes straight even though I got you a cool planner with zombies on the cover (which you-know-who probably forced you to throw out). I just want you to remember things the way I do. And if bringing up the past annoys you now—as I know it did when you left New York for California—know that I’m sorry, but please don’t be mad at me for reliving all of it. History is all you left me.
We made promises to each other on the day I broke up with you so you could do your thing out there in Santa Monica without me holding you back. Some of those promises took bad turns but weren’t broken, like how I said I’d never hate you even though you gave me enough reasons to, or how you never stopped being my friend even when your boyfriend asked you to. But on the day we were walking to the post office with Wade to ship your boxes to California, you walked backward into the street and almost got hit by a car. I saw our endgame—to find our way back to each other when the time was right, no matter what—disappear, and I made you promise to always take care of yourself and never die.
“Fine. I’ll never die,” you said as you hugged me.
If there was a promise you were allowed to break, it wasn’t that one, and now I’m forced to approach your casket in one hour to say goodbye to you.
Except it’s not going to be goodbye.
I’ll always have you here listening. But being face-to-face with you for the first time since July and for the last time ever is going to be impossible, especially given the unwanted company of your boyfriend.
Let’s leave his name out of my mouth as long as possible this morning, okay? If I’m going to have any chance of getting through today, tomorrow, and all the days that follow, I think I need to go back to the start, where we were two boys bonding over jigsaw puzzles and falling in love.
It’s what comes after you fell out of love with me that it all goes wrong. It’s what comes after we broke up that’s making me so nervous. Now you can see me, wherever you are. I know you’re there, and I know you’re watching me, tuned in to my life to piece everything together yourself. It’s not just the shameful things I’ve done that are driving me crazy, Theo. It’s because I know I’m not done yet.
I’m making history today.
Time is moving faster than this L train, but it’s all good since I’m sitting to the left of Theo McIntyre. I’ve known him since middle school, when he caught my eye at recess. He waved me over and said, “Help me out, Griffin. I’m rebuilding Pompeii.” A puzzle of Pompeii made up of one hundred pieces, obviously. I knew nothing of Pompeii at the time; I thought Mount Vesuvius was the hidden lair of some comic book overlord. Theo’s hands had entranced me, sorting the puzzle pieces into groups according to shades before beginning, separating the granite roads from the demolished, ash-coated structures. I helped with the sky, getting the clouds all wrong. We didn’t get very far with the puzzle that day, but we’ve been tight ever since.
Today’s outing takes us from Manhattan to Brooklyn to see if the lost treasures in some flea market are as overpriced as everyone says they are. No matter where we are, Brooklyn or Manhattan, a schoolyard or Pompeii, I’ve planned on changing the game up on Theo on this even-numbered day. I just hope he’s down to keep playing.
“At least we have the place to ourselves,” I say.
It’s almost suspicious how empty the subway car is. But I’m not questioning it. I’m too busy dreaming up what it would be like to always share this space and any other space with this know-it-all who loves cartography, puzzles, video animation, and finding out what makes humans tick. On a crowded train, Theo and I squeeze together when we sit, our hips and arms pressed against one another’s, and it’s a lot like hugging him except I don’t have to let go as quickly. It sucks that Theo sits directly across from me now, but at least I get the very awesome view. Blue eyes that find wonder in everything (including train ads for teeth whitening), blond hair that darkens when it’s wet, the Game of Thrones T-shirt I got him for his birthday back in February.
“It’s a lot harder to people-watch without people,” Theo says. His eyes lock on me. “There’s you, I guess.”
“I’m sure there will be some interesting people at the flea market. Like hipsters.”
“Hipsters are characters, not people,” Theo says.
“Don’t hipster-shame. Some of them have real feelings underneath their beanie hats and vintage flannels.”
Theo stands and does a bullshit pull-up on the rail; his brain gets him top marks, but his muscles can’t carry him as high. He gives up and hops back and forth between the train benches like some underground trapeze artist. I wish he would somersault to my side and stay put. He holds on to the railing and stretches his leg to the opposite bench, and his shirt rises a little so I peek at his exposed skin peripherally while keeping my focus on Theo’s grin. It might be my last day to do so.
The train rocks to a stop and we get off, finally.
Manhattan is home and all, so Theo never bad-mouths it, but I know he wishes more of its walls were stained with graffiti like they are here in Brooklyn, bright in the summer sun. Theo points out his favorites on the way to the flea market: a little boy in black and white walking across colorful block letters spelling out DREAM; an empty mirror demanding to find the fairest of them all in a crazy neat cursive that rivals Theo’s perfect handwriting; an airplane circling Neptune, which is just fantastical enough that it doesn’t give me flying anxiety; knights seated around Earth, like it’s their round table. Neither of us have any idea what it’s supposed to mean, but it’s pretty damn cool.
It’s a long, hot walk to the flea market, located by the East River. Theo spots a refreshment truck, and we spend five bucks each on cups of frozen lemonade, except there isn’t enough of the sugary slush left so we’re forced to chew ice to survive the heat.
Theo stops at a table with Star Wars goods. His face scrunches up when he turns to me. “Seventy dollars for that toy lightsaber?”
Theo’s inside voice sucks. It’s a problem.
The forty-something vendor looks up. “It’s a recalled saber,” she says flatly. “It’s rare and I should be charging more.” Her shirt reads Princess Leia is not the damsel in distress you’re looking for.
Theo returns her glare with an easy smile. “Did someone pull an Obi-Wan and cut someone’s arm off?”
My knowledge on all things Star Wars is pretty limited, and the same goes for Theo’s knowledge on all things Harry Potter. He’s the only sixteen-year-old human I know who isn’t caught up on everyone’s favorite boy wizard. One night we argued for a solid hour over who would win in a duel between Lord Voldemort and Darth Vader. I’m surprised we’re still friends.
“The battery hatch snaps off easily and children can’t seem to keep them out of their damn mouths,” the woman says. She isn’t talking to Theo anymore. She’s talking to an equally unhappy dude her age who can’t figure out an R2-D2 alarm clock.
“Okay, then.” Theo salutes her, and we walk away.
We stroll for a few minutes. (Six, to be exact.) “Are we done here?” I ask. It’s hot, and I’m melting, and we’ve definitely seen that some of the treasures are way pricier than they legally should be.
“Hell no, we’re not done,” Theo says. “We can’t leave emptyhanded.”
“So buy something.”
“Why don’t you buy me something?”
“You don’t need that lightsaber.”
“No, stupid, buy me something else.”
“It’s safe to assume you’re buying me something too, right?”
“Seems fair,” Theo says. He taps his dangerous watch. It is actually for-real dangerous, as in it’s not safe to wear. I’m not even sure how or why it got made, because its sharp sundial hands have scratched unsuspecting people’s bodies—mine included—enough times that he should throw it in a fireplace and kill it dead and then sue the manufacturer. He wears it anyway because it’s different. “Let’s meet at the entrance in twenty minutes. Ready?”
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