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Experimental Glam-Rock Sensation This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

David Bowie is staring at me.

Billie Holiday and Oprah are looking too, pictures ripped hastily from magazines and taped onto his wall with the edges still crinkled. I see posters for bands I don’t recognize, newspaper articles about skydiving accidents, and a sticker advertising some brand of headphones I’ll never own. Nate probably has two pairs. Nate, the guy this room belongs to and the guy who’s currently sprawled out next to me on his bed with the Garfield sheets.

He adjusts his glasses self-consciously when he sees me looking, purposefully evading eye contact. I don’t know why this is so hard. Things with Nate aren’t usually this hard.

But even so, the atmosphere of this room probably couldn’t get any more awkward if all the pictures on his walls turned into real people, standing around and making clumsy small talk like the world’s weirdest office party.

“Dude,” I say finally, half just to say something and half because I want to know but always forget to ask. “Oprah?”

That startles a grin out of him. Quick, like he doesn’t want anyone to catch him smiling. “She’s a personal role model of mine,” he says in that way he has that sounds like he’s at once sincere and trying not to laugh.

“That’s pretty gay,” I say in a determinedly casual voice. We’re sitting way too close. Why didn’t I notice before? There’s barely a Garfield of space in between us. If I wanted, I could reach right over, and. Well. If I wanted.

Nate runs a hand nervously through his hair, buzzed close at the sides and long and messy on top, in the least threatening approximation of a Mohawk I’ve ever seen.

“Yeah, well. I’m pretty gay,” he says, so quiet I would miss it if I wasn’t listening.

But I am, harder than anything. Is it normal for my head to buzz like this? Probably not.

It’s not like I didn’t know this already, either. But right now, the first time we’ve been alone since I realized I’m not exactly Johnny Football either, the whole thing seems a whole lot more important than it did the first time.

Against my better judgment, I look him straight in the face, through the lenses of his glasses (perpetually smeared) and through his eyeballs (bloodshot from staying up all last night studying for a Trig test) and right into his brain (full of cool bands and hastily acquired mathematical knowledge and tons of other stupidly fascinating things), and that’s about when I start forgetting about consequences and getting more interested in horrible amazing life-altering things like leaning forward to kiss him.

I screw my eyes shut tight so I won’t have to see if he’s disgusted and lean forward to press my mouth against his, probably too hard and definitely too dry and oh God I am such a failure. It’s over as quick as his smile.

I don’t open my eyes again until I’ve safely retreated. “Salem,” he says, frowning, like he’s trying to manipulate whatever it is that just happened into something that makes at least a little bit of sense. “What--”

“Me too,” I say lamely, because that’s pretty much the maximum amount of syllables I can manage at this time. There's a pause that lasts for a second and feels like forever, a pause in which he holds the possibility of making me feel like the coolest guy in the world in one hand and the power to render me a complete loser schmuck in the other, and then without warning he offers up another smile and I feel weak with relief. This smile is a little more hesitant than the last, but it sticks around for longer.

“Cool,” he says.

I take that as my cue to kiss him again. And again, and again, until his mom calls him downstairs to help fold the laundry.

Until then, Bowie and Oprah and some band guy in an ironic T-shirt gaze down at us fixedly, crinkled edges and all. I still kind of feel like they’re judging us, but Nate assures me they’re very supportive.





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