Keep It Steady Episode 2
Good afternoon, Columbus High Students! It is Monday, March 6th, 2006, and these announcements are happening only in Zach’s mind as he silently goes just apeshit in his van. Be advised this episode contains bullying and homphobic slurs. Congratulations to Gymnastics captain Rare and the rest of the team for qualifying for State this year! And an even bigger congratulations to them for not at this moment being in the profoundly confusing situation in which Zach has found himself. Great work, Rare and the gymnastics team!
ZACH (NARRATION) Picture a giant-ass stoner van. Inside are two guys. For their own reasons, each of them would pretty much rather be anywhere else on earth.
ZACH (STRANGLED) ...what?
GABE (RESOLUTE) I need you to pretend to date--
ZACH No, no, I heard you. Just. What?
GABE Please. I need you to. (A BEAT) Andy’s got a girlfriend and I don’t really know any other guys.
ZACH What about Craigslist?
GABE (IMMEDIATELY) Too risky.
ZACH (NARRATION) He says it so fast, it’s clear he already thought of it.
I don’t know if you’ve ever found yourself ranked below Craigslist before but it’s not great, as feelings go.
ZACH Let’s be real. Nobody on the planet is buying us as a couple.
GABE I know this is asking a lot of you. And if you agree to it, I can pay you forty dollars.
ZACH (DISTANTLY) You think we should pretend to date. And in return, you’re offering me money.
GABE By the time prom comes, I can probably make it more like sixty.
ZACH (SUDDENLY FURIOUS) Get out of my car.
ZACH Get. Your ass. Out of. My car.
TRANSITION TORI What the hell?
FX: TORI FLOPS ONTO THE BED TORI You realize that’s basically the plot of Pretty Woman, right?
ZACH Y’know, it’s not actually cheering me up to be compared to Julia Roberts.
TORI Wasn’t trying to cheer you up. I just think it’s funny. You’re out of detergent, by the way.
ZACH I’ll get some tomorrow. Mom will think she bought an extra and forgot about it.
What’re you gonna do if your parents wake up and see their washing machine’s full of girl’s clothes?
Assuming they still even live here. ZACH What’s that supposed to mean?
TORI They are seriously never around.
ZACH That’s not true. My mom drove me home when I got my wisdom teeth out. Unless I hallucinated the whole thing, in which case, how’d I get back?
And where are my teeth?
TORI Wasn’t that in, like, December?
TORI It’s March.
ZACH I know. I know, okay?
ZACH What’d you bring to drink?
TORI Nothing. You’re not a fun drunk lately.
ZACH (FRUSTRATED SOUND) Why’d he have to offer me money?
TORI Y’know, as shit to complain about goes--
TORI Sixty bucks to pretend you’re getting laid--
ZACH Would he have offered Andy money? Or would he have trusted anybody else—anybody else—to do the right thing?
TORI “Will you be my pretend gay boyfriend for great justice?”
ZACH I’m not saying it wasn’t a stupid plan.
TORI What a douchebag.
ZACH He’s not, though.
TORI No, he is. He makes you sad, I get to call him a douchebag. That’s how it works. What’re you doing?
ZACH Drawing flowers on these shoes, what does it look like I’m doing?
ZACH I don’t know. Wanted to.
TORI You never wear them.
ZACH Because they’re white.
TORI And now you’ll never wear them because they’ll be covered in flowers.
ZACH Yeah. Uh, that’s accurate.
TORI ...want me to help color them in? I just saw your markers someplace.
ZACH What would I do without you?
TORI You’ll find out Friday. Field trip all morning, I won’t be at lunch.
ZACH (NARRATION) I can’t keep my mind off the whole disaster all the way to the cafeteria. I can’t keep my mind off it sitting alone at the lunch table. I probably won’t keep my mind off it waiting in line to buy nachos, but at least then I’ll have nachos.
As I join the back of the line, I can see Leslie standing maybe ten people ahead of me, ponytail bobbing up and down to some internal rhythm. Anyone else would be listening to music. She’s probably thinking about Leaves of Grass. This guy, Matt or Mark from detention walks by.
FX: BACKGROUND HUM OF THE CAFETERIA
MELISSA Hey, Mike.
MIKE Hey Melissa. Yo Zach, gimme five.
FX: PALMS SLAP
Ahead of us, Leslie is smiling at the lunch lady and paying for her food. Mike looks up at Leslie, glances back at Melissa to make sure she's watching, and starts forward. I have enough time to think, 'I don't like this,' and then it happens very quickly: Mike elbows Leslie in the side, hard.
FX: A LUNCH TRAY FULL OF FOOD HITS THE GROUND, HARD, MILK CARTON SPRAYING EVERYWHERE
FX: THE BACKGROUND HUM OF THE CAFETERIA CONTINUES. A FEW LAUGHS.
MIKE (INSINCERE) Sorry. (COUGHS) Dyke.
FX: LESLIE STARTS TO SCOOP UP HER LUNCH
The set of Leslie’s shoulders, the resignation as she crouches down to scoop up the remains of her lunch: it’s an old story, almost too familiar to register. That's not what's bothering me. Because I choose the exact wrong moment to look back out at the cafeteria, and so I catch the expression that flickers, just for a moment, across Krista Cooper’s face.
It's like being punched in the stomach.
Krista is afraid, Gabe had said, and I had been too confused, and too wrapped up in my own bullshit, to think about what that meant. Krista is goofy and energetic and too young to buy cigarettes without a fake ID, and she carries this weight on her all the time.
And not just the fear of being found out, I mean, newsflash: being closeted at this school sucks. I know that part so well, at any given moment, it can fade into the background radiation of my mind.
But every day, Krista walks around knowing people want to hurt the girl she likes. That terrified certainty is a part of her day, like passing period or Pre-Calc or trying to make Leslie smile.
I know I’m about to do something stupid. It’s not a new feeling. What’s new is how little I care. I am so angry I can barely see, and is this how Gabe feels all the time? I’d be shocked we could ever have something in common, but I can’t care about that either. I’m crossing the room before I fully understand what’s happening.
FX: THE BACKGROUND HUM OF THE CAFETERIA
ZACH Hey Gabe! (A BEAT) Gabe!
ZACH (NARRATION) Gabe stops talking to Ponni and looks up. The easy smile slides off his face. Ponni looks up too, frowning slightly.
Actually, a lot of people look up. I’m about fifteen feet from the table, too far to have this conversation in private, and I don’t care about that either. In some detached way I think this makes more sense; if we do this once, in front of everyone, we won't need to keep telling the lie to make it spread. This is gonna get around on its own.
GABE What? ZACH (SIGNIFICANTLY) I changed my mind. (A BEAT) What you said yesterday, in my car?
KRISTA Dude, what’d you--
ZACH You were right. About some things. (AS SINCERE AS HE CAN MAKE IT SOUND) About us. Gabe Navarro, will you go to prom with me?
PONNI (HIGH-PITCHED NOISE) KRISTA Oh my god…
LESLIE (GASP) ZACH (NARRATION) Gabe is just. Staring.
That’s when I realise: Gabe is under no obligation to say yes. He could still be angry about yesterday. He could have already found some sketchy Craigslist replacement. He could say no, and leave me standing here.
Gabe opens his mouth. His jaw works, silent.
There is not enough oxygen in the room. There is not enough oxygen in the world, and there’s no way back into the closet now. I have taken a leap, and now my fragile mortal body is about to hit the ground, or the bullet, or the—metaphor.
Gabe closes his mouth. He opens it again.
GABE (BREATHLESS) Yes. I. Yes. We should date.
ZACH Cool, okay then. Great. I’ll just—I’ll just be off, then.
GABE Yeah. Great. Okay.
ZACH Cool. Yeah.
FX: THE CAFETERIA IS AMPING BACK UP ITS USUAL DIN
KRISTA What? Get back here! New rule, when you ask someone out, you sit next to them. Because we are not in kindergarten.
ZACH I—my lunch.
KRISTA Grab your food, and then get the hell back here.
Roughly 800 students at CHS have lunch this hour. That means that roughly 1600 eyes are on me as I cross the cafeteria to get my nachos, slouching like I can blend in again if I just hunch my shoulders enough.
I rejoin the lunch line where I was. It's not like anyone’s forgotten I was there.
Get away from me, homo.
I head to the back of the lunch line. Three separate kids leave rather than stand anywhere near me, and the pair of freshmen ahead of me are whispering loudly. When I finally make it to the front and hand the lunch lady my money, she glares like she’d deny me the little cardboard boat of nachos if she could. Like banning gay marriage isn’t enough, she needs to personally ban gay chips and queso.
I dodge two separate attempts to trip me on my way back to the table, mostly out of luck. I try very hard to formulate something funny about this, even if just for the benefit of my own head. Nothing comes.
When I return, Gabe and his friends have rearranged themselves to make room for me, which is nice. My new spot is right next to Gabe, which is—something I’ll have to get used to. I sit down, glancing carefully to the right, but Gabe isn’t looking at me. Gabe is staring at the label on his bottle of green tea like it’s about to start rapping the solution to world hunger.
It’s a very particular look.
ZACH So, hey guys. What’s new?
FX: ZACH IS PUNCHED IN THE BICEP
ZACH Ow, Krista! What was that for?
KRISTA Oh my god, is this why you’ve been such an asshole this year? I know, I know, ‘Boys act like jerks when they like someone’ but you must like him so much because you have been unbearable.
ZACH (NARRATION) Krista is not a cruel person, which is why I’m already cringing thinking how awkward this will be in thirty seconds when Gabe comes clean to his friends and they learn the truth.
KRISTA Like, now that we’re past the pigtail-pulling, can I just say-- LESLIE (WHISPERING LOUDLY) Careful, don’t scare him away.
(NORMAL VOICE) He’s not that bad, come on.
KRISTA So, you two are really dating?
GABE He asked me out, didn’t he?
Now, granted, a crowded cafeteria is not the best place for Gabe to let his friends in on the plan, but the longer we delay this, the more people will say things they’ll regret later. I'll regret later.
Gabe glances in my direction for a moment, an almost-reflexive flick of the eyes, and I try to communicate using just my face how totally messed up this is, but Krista picks up on it from across the table, brow furrowed in concern or suspicion, so there’s no option but to reign it back in.
PONNI That’s so great, you guys! How long has this been going on? In retrospect, it explains so much, like why Zach kept coming to meetings and why Zach’s always trying to get Gabe’s attention and why Zach--
ZACH (WEAKLY) Some privacy here?
KRISTA You asked him out in front of a third of the school. Andy is gonna die that he missed it-- LESLIE Please. Andy probably already knows, somehow.
PONNI Two and a half months before prom! Gosh, you must really be serious, huh?
ZACH Yeah, and maybe now I’m wishing I’d done it differently.
GABE No, it’s, uh. Fine. It was fine, it’s fine.
PONNI (HIGH-PITCHED NOISE) LESLIE Gabe, what did you say in his car?
KRISTA You mean the part where Zach said Gabe was right about something?
ZACH He’s right about stuff all the time. I bet he could tell you the capital of Portugal without breaking a sweat.
ZACH (LAUGHS FONDLY, THEN COUGHS)
PONNI So, I think what happened yesterday in Gabe’s car.
KRISTA Oh? Well, well, do tell.
I think yesterday, Gabe confessed all his feelings, but Zach wasn’t sure he wanted to make the leap and come out. And then for some reason, today he had a change of heart—
Sure, he looked across the room and saw the way the fluorescent light set off Gabe’s hair, so he decided he could only fix it with a big cheesy grand gesture.
PONNI It’s like a movie.
GABE Yeah, that’s--pretty much how it happened, you’re right.
PONNI Aww…Gabe, when did you start liking him?
Hey! So, if we could have some privacy?
ZACH (QUICKLY) Yeah, would really really love a subject change.
I picked the poem I’m gonna close read for Lit.
LESLIE Ooh, can we hear?
KRISTA You probably already know it.
LESLIE Maybe, but I want your, y’know, dramatic interpretation.
KRISTA (AMUSED) It’s “My Loves” by Langston Hughes.
I love to see the big white moon,
A-shining in the sky;
I love to see the little stars,
When the shadow clouds go by.
I love the rain drops falling
On my roof-top in the night;
I love the soft wind’s sighing,
Before the dawn’s gray light.
I love the deepness of the blue,
In my Lord’s heaven above;
But better than all these things I think,
I love my lady love.
PONNI (CLAPPING) Yay, Krista!
LESLIE (MELTING) That’s really something else.
KRISTA You think so?
LESLIE I know it.
ZACH NARRATION They’re sort of staring into each other’s eyes. That much sincerity, it’s hard to watch. I almost wish they would start making out so I’d have an excuse to look away.
KRISTA (COUGHING, AWKWARDLY) Zacharus! Can we get your professional opinion? Y’know, as a fellow middle school musical veteran.
GABE You were in a musical?
ZACH (A LITTLE DESPERATELY) Come on, he’s your friend, shouldn’t you be saying embarrassing stuff about him?
KRISTA Oh, that’s easy. Gabe’s failed his driver’s test three times, he still doesn’t have a license, and once, he walked into a wall because he was thinking about affirmative action.
GABE (THIS IS AN OLD, FAMILIAR CONVERSATION) It was a door!
KRISTA It was the door to the janitor’s closet, and—
GABE What musical was it?
PONNI Peter Pan! I played in the pit, it was fun!
GABE (CAUTIOUSLY FRIENDLY) So, Zach, were you in the orchestra, too?
ZACH It was a long time ago…
KRISTA (SO CLOSE TO CRACKING UP) He was Peter Pan.
GABE Seriously? ZACH That’s the danger of doing school plays when you’re a dude. There’s always way more parts than guys willing to audition. They were all but knocking boys unconscious and stuffing their limp bodies into pirate costumes.
PONNI I still don’t see why they couldn’t’ve cast girls in some of the boy parts.
KRISTA The director said it would mess with the realism.
GABE Of Peter Pan.
KRISTA Oh man! Funniest Zach story! So it’s the last show, and it’s the very last scene, right?
Where all the adventure has happened, and they’re back in the nursery, and Peter’s saying goodbye to Wendy. And it’s this, like, super bittersweet dramatic moment—
Oh god. How is this happening.
And he’s got the flying harness on under his costume, because he’s supposed to leap out the window and, and soar away majestically. So he says his last line, and he jumps up, you know, very sprightly, very in-character, and the people backstage yank up the ropes—
PONNI (BRIGHTLY) Oh hey, I remember this!
—but they yank too hard, so instead of sailing through the open window, he flies right into the wooden backdrop. He smacks into this thing from the waist down, full speed, like a bird hitting your house, like—
FX: KRISTA CLAPS HER HANDS
And meanwhile, we’re all in the wings for curtain call, so we can see the wall almost collapse, he hit it so hard. And from the audience, you hear this collective gasp, like suddenly the play has kind of stopped happening? And everyone’s watching this little kid, clearly in pain, just dangling from a rope, whimpering.
But tiny thirteen-year-old Zachary is such a goddamn professional, the audience has barely breathed in again, and he just shouts, ‘Farewell, Wendy! Uh, sorry about your house!’ Aaaaaand the curtain falls!
In my defense, I was thinking about affirmative action.
It’s my usual nonsense, as easy as breathing. I don’t care about making a bunch of Justice Club nerds laugh, I’m just—maybe a little surprised when they do.
When I get to Con Econ, Andy Li is already waiting by the door.
ANDY Fistbump! Congrats, man, you should bring in cake or something. To celebrate.
ZACH Wow dude, I’m touched.
ANDY Hey, I was rooting for you guys! (A BEAT) Yeah, not really, I had no idea. But I’m happy for you. So think how happy I’d be if there was cake.
ZACH (NARRATION) Andy’s got the most conditional sense of friendship I’ve ever seen. It’s fantastic.
After Con Econ is Algebra. (IT’S VERY BAD) Let’s just say, nobody there is lining up for a fistbump.
I keep my earbuds in for the whole hour, music as loud as it will go. It drowns out most of what people are trying to say to me, and anyway my math grade won’t suffer more than it already does.
Unfortunately, the battery on my mp3 player dies five minutes into World Myth.
FX: TERRIBLE MID-OUGHTS ROCK MUSIC, WHICH SUDDENLY CUTS OUT
Who wants to read the next paragraph?
EDDIE Mr. Clark, can I move? Zach’s making me uncomfortable.
ZACH (MUMBLED) I’m not doing anything.
Please, Mr. Clark.
MR. CLARK Uh, you should probably stay where you are, Eddie?
EDDIE But Mr. Clark, I don’t feel safe. Zack likes boys.
FX: SCATTERED GIGGLES
EDDIE Mr. Clark!
LESLIE Okay. Okay. That’s--
FX: BOOKS AND PAPERS ARE SHOVED INTO A BACKPACK. FOOTSTEPS CROSS THE ROOM
EDDIE (STUNNED) What? LESLIE Move. You don’t want to sit by Zach, I do. Move, we’re uh. We’re switching places.
MR. CLARK Nobody’s moving, Leslie. There’s assigned seats for a reason.
LESLIE Yeah, and I’m reassigning them.
EDDIE I’m not gonna go sit--
LESLIE What, in my chair? I’m not contagious. You’ll be fine. Seriously, move. Everyone will be happier.
MR. CLARK Leslie, if you keep this up, you’ll have to go to the principal’s office.
LESLIE I’m not going.
MR. CLARK (SPUTTERING) Leslie!
Nobody ever, ever gets in trouble in this class. They act out all the time, but. You know they wouldn't listen to you anyway, so you let them do whatever. Do you know the, the things people have said to me in this room?
You think that because I follow the rules, I respect you. But I don't. I behave because I'm here to learn. Nobody in this room respects you less than I do. I'm not walking to the office, and I don't think you're gonna carry me. So I'm going to wait here until he gets up and moves, so we can all do what we're supposed to be doing, which is to read a very, very oversimplified retelling of the Trojan War.
MR. CLARK I--detention. You have detention for the rest of the week.
LESLIE Sure. Sounds good.
TRANSITION HALLWAY END-OF-SCHOOL SOUNDS
ZACH —So then, then, she turns to Eddie, and even the unicorn on her shirt looks like it is about to throw down, and she just says, she’s like, “Eddie, these are comfortable shoes. I can stand here a long time.” And he moves! He actually fricking moves!
KRISTA (SO IMPRESSED) Jesus, Leslie, you’re a force of nature.
LESLIE (AWKWARDLY PLEASED) Come on, you two, it wasn’t--
KRISTA But it was. It was.
ZACH Leslie McClary, the Sophomore Who Wouldn’t Sit Down. Leslie McClary, terror of shitty teachers everywhere.
KRISTA Leslie McClary, champion of the people, defender of the weak.
KRISTA Leslie McClary, rebel with a cause!
ZACH Leslie McClary, my hero!
KRISTA Careful, don’t wanna make your boyfriend jealous.
FX: THEY WALK INTO A CLASSROOM AND SHUT THE DOOR BEHIND THEM
GABE Uh, hey.
PONNI Super, so now that everyone’s here, we can get started! ZACH (NARRATION)
I spend the meeting reading the book Leslie lent me. World War One poetry. The fastest way to break the illusion that Gabe and I are actually together would be to pull my usual heckling routine. I have a feeling I wouldn’t be able to resist if I actually listened to Gabe and his merry band of outlaws, so aggressively zoning out seems like the safest bet.
And go figure, World War One poetry is actually, like, good. It’s like someone reached into a black and white photograph, snatched up all the young, smiling boys and girls in hats and knee-breeches, and flung them into the apocalypse. Here are a bunch of kids born before cars, trying to describe what basically sounds like hell, and the only tools at their disposal are these quaint rhyme schemes and a language that wasn’t designed to hold this kind of horror.
The plus side is that the hour goes by quickly. The downside is that with the end of the meeting comes the end of the meeting.
PONNI Bye, Gabe! Bye, Zach!
ZACH Bye, Ponni!
ANDY Second fistbump! (PAUSE) Think about that cake, I’m telling you.
ZACH Bye, Andy! Uh, Gabe, do you want a ride home? So we can talk? About—things?
GABE Yeah, that’d be—good.
KRISTA Enjoy your weekend, you two! Leslie, let’s go, the next episode of Xena waits for no woman!
ZACH (NARRATION) The inside of my van is way messier than I remembered. I’m throwing papers and wrappers into the back, silently daring Gabe to criticize me, but he doesn’t. Maybe just to be contrary.
GABE So. We need to talk about this.
FX: CAR STARTING SOUNDS.
ZACH Yeah. Okay. Also, I have no idea where you live.
GABE Left out of the parking lot, right at the third light, right on Miller, left on Hemlock. And I think we should have a system. Over the course of maintaining this, uh—
ZACH Think the word you’re looking for is ‘lie.’
GABE Look, if we want to pull this off, there’s probably going to have to be at least a little bit of. Uh.
ZACH What. Give me something to work with. A noun, rhymes with purple, something.
GABE (GRITTED TEETH) Physical contact. (PAUSE) It’s just, I can see so many situations where—one of us would be uncomfortable, but wouldn’t feel like he could say anything without blowing his cover. (PAUSE) So I think, it would be useful if we had a codeword, to say, you know, ‘I need some space’.
ZACH Wow, someone thinks highly of himself.
GABE What are you talking about? ZACH (SNEERING) No, man, I get it. How about mondegreen? Boysenberry. Achromatic. Or hey, there’s always ‘you’re an incredible douchebag’--
GABE Of all possible things, why are you making this difficult!
ZACH Dude, I’m not going to jump you!
GABE (OVERLAPPING) For crying out loud, I am trying to respect your boundaries!
A BEAT ZACH Wait, what? GABE What?
ZACH I just don’t see the point? Look, I promise I'm not going to do anything to you. And you’d never, obviously. So if something comes up, just do whatever you're comfortable with, and I'll deal.
GABE What if I’m comfortable going way further than you?
ZACH If it makes you feel better, fine, whatever, we can have a safe word. But we only need to keep this up in public, at school, so it's not like we need to go around, uh— (ZACH PROMPTLY LOSES HIMSELF IMAGINING HE AND GABE GOING AROUND KISSING. HE FORCES HIMSELF BACK INTO REALITY.)
I think we could pretty much stick to—I mean, are you okay with holding hands?
GABE It’s fine. Are you okay with hugging?
GABE Friendly arm around the shoulder?
ZACH Yeah, okay.
GABE Your turn to suggest something.
ZACH ...obnoxious pet names? GABE It’s almost better if you do. You’re still pretending to be you. (A BEAT) A peck on the cheek.
I can't imagine a universe in which it would ever seem like a good idea to actually kiss Gabe. I can't imagine a universe in which Gabe would ever be willing to kiss me. I am sure of few things in this world, but here is one of them: that shit is flat-out never happening. So when I answer, it’s purely in the interest of science fiction.
ZACH (MUMBLING) Sure, why not.
GABE We still need to pick a word.
In case the hand-holding gets too intense? GABE Humor me.
ZACH Ugh, fine. (FX: ZACH DRUMS HIS FINGERS ON THE STEERING WHEEL.) Dear. If one of us doesn’t like what’s going on, he can be like, ‘okay, Dear.’
GABE I--yeah. That’s actually pretty clever.
ZACH “Actually.” (A BEAT) Hey, when’re you letting your friends in on the plan?
GABE We can’t tell them.
ZACH The hell? (FX: ZACH SWERVES ONTO THE SHOULDER AND PUTS THE VAN IN PARK.)
GABE In order for this to work, nobody can know. I’d trust them with m y life, but Leslie and Krista can’t know, obviously, and Ponni can’t keep a secret.
ZACH You could tell…Andy.
Andy and Ponni are best friends. If Andy knows, Ponni knows. If Ponni knows, the entire school knows.
Shit, it's like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, but instead of movies it's just lies and agony.
GABE Uh, if you want to back out of this--I mean, you can. Back out. If you want.
ZACH No, whatever, at this point the damage is done.
FX: ZACH PUTS THE VAN BACK IN DRIVE AND EASES BACK ONTO THE ROAD
How long do we need to keep this going, really?
The night of Prom. I want Krista and Leslie to feel like they have some backup, in case the chaperones are awful to them.
Okay. And in the meantime, we just—sit together at lunch, hold hands or whatever, and then once a week, we have a pretend date.
GABE Two and a half months. That’s...a lot of pretend dates.
ZACH (SNAPPISH) Well, obviously we won't do anything. (A LITTLE MORE UNDER CONTROL) Just—in case someone asks what we did last weekend. Our stories should match.
GABE Which means we’ll have to check in with each other. And debrief every now and then.
ZACH I’ll meet you in the janitor’s closet by the gym. Tuesdays, 1:47 sharp. Make sure you aren’t followed. Wear a disguise. Trust no one.
ZACH NARRATION Is it too much? When I glance over, Gabe has his head in his hands. Okay, probably.
I can give you a ride home from meetings, so that’s twenty minutes, two days a week. And if we need to, we could trade email addresses?
GABE And phone numbers.
ZACH NARRATION Sorry, Gabe. I like my new flip phone. It’s got knockoff Tetris and everything. I don’t need to go around carrying something in my pocket that could any minute ambush me with your voice.
ZACH ...nah, email’s fine. As far as this weekend, let's say you're coming over to my place. We'll order Chinese, watch some movies.
Okay then. Sounds good.
And the problem is, it does sound good. No hassle, no 1950’s going steady bullshit, just sharing a couch, maybe inching closer during the tense parts, arms brushing and yeah, sometimes a guy gets jealous of his alternate reality self, what of it?
GABE ...you missed my street.
FX: A SLOPPY THREE-POINT TURN
GABE You know to tell the group if someone hassles you, right?
ZACH (FLAT) Why. Has nobody hassled you yet?
GABE That’s not the same. (MATTER-OF-FACT) Most people didn’t like me to begin with.
ZACH (SO IN LOVE WITH THIS WEIRDO) Man, you could teach a class on how to be a badass without even trying. You and Leslie. You should’ve seen her today.
GABE (FOND) What, did someone insult Mary Shelley?
ZACH NARRATION This is how he sounds when he talks about his friends, I can’t help thinking. It's a world away from that angry kid in detention, ranting to the first burnout willing to listen. Social Justice Club has been good for him. I wonder—
GABE You, uh, missed my street again.
ZACH ...Of course I did.
FX: ANOTHER THREE POINT TURN.
ZACH Hemlock! The long nightmare is almost over. Let’s get you home.
GABE It’s that one, with the red door.
ZACH (KNEEJERK RESPONSE) Really?
ZACH It’s so...normal.
GABE Where...did you think I lived? ZACH An underground rebel base? (FX: ZACH TURNS ONTO A DRIVEWAY AND ROLLS TO A STOP.) See you Monday. And enjoy our imaginary date tonight, I guess.
GABE Tonight doesn’t work for me.
Okay, I’ll admit it: I have to fight down this brief, weird pang of hurt. Like, what, does Gabe have another, better imaginary date lined up?
ZACH (FLAT) You realize this is pretend, right?
(SHARP) Obviously. (CALMER) Krista and Ponni are coming over to work on a Lit project. Uh, how’s Saturday?
ZACH Fine. (A BEAT) Also, just so we’re clear, if you offer me money again, I’m gonna punch you in the jaw.
But you don’t believe in what we’re doing. It’s not fair if you don’t get anything out of it.
ZACH Sheer joy of screwing with people? (THIS DOESN’T GO OVER WELL) Look, if it helps you sleep at night, we can always leave it at, ‘I hereby have the right to someday ask you out of nowhere for my own weird, sketchy favor.’
GABE If there’s anything you’re not comfortable with, we can go over this again. I really, really don’t want—
ZACH Jesus, give it a rest. Message received, okay? My bathing suit area is safe with you.
(PRETTY ANNOYED) I get it, I’m a virgin. Who cares, it’s a made-up social construct anyway.
ZACH Uh. I didn’t actually know you were, so thank you, Gabe, for somehow managing to make this more awkward—
GABE So why do you keep acting like it’s funny—
ZACH (SPUTTERING) Because, you’re acting so worried for my virtue when I have no proof you can even deal with holding hands!
FX: GABE UNBUCKLES HIS SEATBELT
ZACH NARRATION Gabe shoots me this very determined look, and suddenly the world is going upside down because Gabe is reaching out and his fingers are shockingly warm against the skin of my inner wrist, where my pulse is racing like a frightened rabbit. Our faces are just a little too close together.
GABE There. I’m holding your hand. Okay?
ZACH That’s my wrist. (A BEAT) It’s okay, you had the right, uh, general idea.
FX: THE CAR DOOR HANDLE OPENS AND GABE HOPS OUT.
GABE See you Monday.
ZACH ...see you.
FX: THE CAR DOOR SHUTS
TORI One day, Zach! I leave you alone for one day and this is what you do?
ZACH Okay, in my defense, it didn’t seem like a good idea even while it was happening? TORI
How do these things happen to you? And like, why?
ZACH Are you okay eating at Gabe’s lunch table for a while?
TORI I can pretend to stand the nerd squad if you can pretend to date Gabe.
ZACH Yeah. Hey, don’t tell Cody.
TORI What, like he can’t keep a secret?
ZACH I know he can. I just—
ZACH NARRATION Don’t want your kid brother to think I’m this much of a loser, I can’t make myself say. Cody has taken to wearing a knit hat and covering his school folders in scribbled cartoon characters and monsters. He’s pretty damn good for an eleven-year-old, and watching him pore over paper, frowning in a very familiar way never fails to fill me with a weird stew of pride and panic.
ZACH All the lying. Not setting the best example.
TORI Fair. (A BEAT) What about the whole “gay boyfriend” thing?
ZACH I remember the fifth grade rumor mill. He’s bound to find out eventually.
BEDROOM DOOR OPENS A LITTLE.
CODY Who’s bound to find out what when?
TORI Hey Cody, Zach’s got a boyfriend.
ZACH NARRATION In the thoughtful silence that follows, Cody jams an entire S’more Pop-Tart into his mouth.
CODY (THROUGH AN ENTIRE POP-TART) You’re into dudes?
ZACH Uh, sometimes.
ZACH NARRATION For half a second, I am, like, paralyzed in fear but all he does is shrug his narrow shoulders and swallow down a mouthful of chocolate and fake marshmallow filling.
CODY Okay. My turn on the computer.
Midnight rolls around, and when Tori taps Cody on the shoulder, all she says is, “Brush your teeth,” which is how I know both of them are staying over. When Cody is in the bathroom, I squeeze her shoulder, and she doesn’t shrug it off, which is how I know it’s something worse than usual.
ZACH I’m sorry. Uh, the table thing.
TORI It’s fine. It’s—distraction, you know.
FX: DOOR OPENS.
CODY (GRINNING HUGELY) Check out this minty-fresh shine!
ZACH Someone’s way too happy...what’d you do to my iTunes?
Got rid of all your shitty stuff. Now your boyfriend has a fighting chance of thinking maybe you’re cool. Took forever, it was like half your music.
(SIGHS) CODY I hid it in a subfolder on your desktop, I’m not an animal.
TORI Gabe already knows Zach’s not cool. Where’s my pajamas?
CODY And he’s dating you anyway? Whoa, marry this dude.
FX UNDERNEATH THE DIALOGUE: TORI CAREFULLY PICKING HER WAY ACROSS ZACH’S EXTREMELY MESSY FLOOR
Tori? You wanna help me with this one?
TORI Have fun.
FX: DOOR SHUTS
Michigan, man. They passed a thing. Same-sex marriage is like, extra illegal here.
CODY Then do an illegal wedding. Bribe a priest.
ZACH (GROWING SERIOUS) Cody...
Before you ask. I have no idea what’s going on.
ZACH Please. I just wanna make sure things are okay.
CODY Look, I wouldn’t worry, dude. It’s just family shit, you know? ZACH If you guys are in danger--
CODY Tori and I will kick whoever needs kicking in the balls.
ZACH I was gonna say, ‘Call the police.’
Point of fact, we’ll probably call you.
FX: DOOR OPENS
TORI Dibs on the bed.
Tori and Cody leave at 6 am, muzzy-eyed and subdued. I tiptoe into the kitchen and grab them each another packet of Pop-Tarts. The street outside is dark and quiet, the wet grass impossibly green, supersatured like it’s been photoshopped. Tori wrestles her bike from some bushes and Cody perches on the handlebars.
The last time they came over, they each had a bike. It’s never clear, when it comes to the Kruegers, what’s worth worrying about. I’m standing there telling myself Cody would know if something was up, when I realize I’m swaying on my feet, queasy with exhaustion. I drag myself into my room and flop into bed, ready to pass out until at least 2007. FX: A DOORBELL. IT SOUNDS JUST TERRIBLE.
ZACH (STILL HALF-ASLEEP) ...what?
FX: DOORBELL AGAIN
ZACH Mom, get the door!
ZACH Dad…! (TO HIMSELF) Like that’s gonna do anything.
FX: ZACH MOVING THROUGH HIS HOUSE
ZACH (MUMBLING) Gonna have words with whatever asshole goes around, ringing doorbells on a Saturday, “ooh, look at me, I’m awake!”
FX: ZACH WRENCHES OPEN THE DOOR
GABE (IN A RUSH) Let me in and I’ll explain.
CLOSING MUSIC - SISYPHUS WITH NO LYRICS
Ashton Reid as Zach
CHRIS Chris Rivera as Gabe
Ishani Kanetkar as Tori
ELLA Ella Moira Seet as Melissa
ANDY Andy Emmerson as Mike
Paige Alena as Leslie
REGINA Regina Renée Russell as Krista
NAT Nat Razi as Ponni
PERSEUS Perseus Rebelo as Andy
STEPHEN Stephen Indrisano as Eddie
NATE Nate Dufort as Mr. Clark
GREG Greg Vinciguerra as Cody
RYE Directed by Rye Dorsey
PHOEBE Sound effects by Phoebe Izzard Davey
Audio mixing by Rebecca Lynn
JESS Written by Jessica Best. Zach’s narration music is by Chiron Star. The closing credits music is composed by Jessica Best and performed by Chiron Star.
The music on Zach’s mp3 player is “Say You Will” by Shane Ivers, at Silvermansound.com
MORNING ANNOUNCEMENTS And I’ve been Kay Watson, your morning announcements. Thank you and have a great day, Columbus High!