“PETER FRITZ has gone goth,” said my best friend, Rafe, as we walked through the school grounds together.
“Goth or emo?” I asked.
“Don’t know the difference, but he’s dyed his hair black. When he first came into the dorm, he was wearing all black and had on eyeliner. Like, lady eyeliner. Looked like an idiot.”
“Great,” I said. “Well, he’s your friend.”
“Want to see him? He’ll be finishing maths now.”
I pulled a face. “I was planning to do some biology reading. I just want to skim through the textbook so I’ll be a bit ahead when I go to the first class.”
“What’s a single-celled organism called?”
“I don’t know.”
“What does DNA stand for?”
“I know that one. Something to do with things… moving?”
“Looks like you’re already about a year behind,” said Rafe cheerfully, wrapping his arm around my shoulders, “so another afternoon won’t matter much to your future grade. Come on, let’s go find Fritz. Who knows? If we’re lucky he might have painted his nails.”
Grinning, he steered me across campus. It was the first week of the new term at St. Peter’s, our high school, and the weather was still holding up after a brilliant summer. Teachers were holding classes outside in the gardens and courtyard. Students dashing between classes, pausing only to fan themselves with their textbooks. At the front of the school, the great stone fountains had been turned off due to water restrictions.
Rafe and I had spent most of the afternoon shooting pool in the air-conditioned dormitory lounge—we’d both wrangled ourselves a double free period—and hadn’t felt the heat until we’d stepped outside. It was intense and muggy, but there was enough of a breeze to make it pleasant if you stuck to the shade. It was probably just about the worst time of the year to make a style transition from nerd to goth, though.
We found Peter Fritz sitting outside the school cafeteria, reading a book. I hadn’t seen Fritz since the previous term, but we weren’t really friends, so that wasn’t unusual. He wasn’t wearing eyeliner and his nails weren’t painted, but he had dyed his hair black. It looked unreal in contrast to his pale skin.
Fritz and I were known for looking alike—we were both thin, short blonds with similarly shaped faces—and I was happy to see that the black hair easily differentiated us. I didn’t relish another year of getting mistaken for him.
“Hello, Fritz,” said Rafe.
“Raffaello, Parker,” said Fritz, nodding briefly without looking up from his book. He didn’t have to look to know I was there too—Rafe and I were pretty much inseparable. “Did you have a nice holiday?”
“Not bad,” I said. “Went to museums and art galleries.”
“Awful,” said Rafe. “Got followed around by a lot of dirty old tourists.”
Fritz raised an eyebrow—an eyebrow, I noticed, that was still blond.
“Went to Spain with my sisters,” Rafe explained. “They’ve got bikinis. And boobs. And their boobs were in the bikinis. We got attention everywhere.”
I didn’t doubt that. Rafe’s sisters—there were five or six of them—were notoriously attractive. Much like Rafe himself. Every time Rafe’s sisters showed up at school for family events, Rafe had to fend off a crowd of optimistic and romantically inclined students. I assumed the same thing happened to Rafe when he went to visit their posh single-sex boarding school.
“Boobs and bikinis. Fascinating,” said Fritz, in a tone that said he was anything but fascinated.
“Hardly,” said Rafe. “My dad wants to lock them all up in the house until they either turn forty or they consent to stop waxing their mustaches. Anyway. Parker and I want to know why you’re a goth now.”
Fritz shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said, finally setting aside his book. “It’s kind of a mood thing.”
“That’s deep,” said Rafe.
“Super deep,” I said.
“My boyfriend died during the break,” said Fritz.
That revelation changed the mood of the conversation abruptly. Both Rafe and I did a little shift backward on our heels. We’d really only come to tease him—this was way too serious. Especially for the first week of term. Fritz watched us in a tired, resigned way from underneath his diagonally cut goth fringe.
“Oh,” said Rafe, exhaling a winded breath, as if he’d had all the goth jokes sucked out of him. Rafe liked annoying people for fun, but he was also a really, really sympathetic kind of person. “I’m sorry.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry too,” I said quickly. I was sorry, but I was even sorrier that my first thought had been a jealous When did you get a boyfriend? Not because Fritz and I had ever dated—he’d had an embarrassing crush on me for a while, but that was it—but because I’d always assumed I’d get a boyfriend before he did.
Mainly because people liked me, while they tended to avoid Fritz.
“Thanks,” said Fritz.
“Um, how did it happen?” Rafe asked.
“AIDS,” said Fritz. “It was very sudden.”
I’d never heard AIDS described as a sudden illness before, but then I didn’t know much about it, except that it was basically killing everyone in Africa and there wasn’t a cure. I couldn’t really picture it happening to anyone in the closed, urban world of St. Peter’s, though.
“How long were you, um, going out?” I tried, hoping it sounded sympathetic.
“If you must know, five weeks and four days,” said Fritz defensively. I guessed he could tell I was a little doubtful. “But the length of a relationship doesn’t mean anything. You can fall in love in an instant, you know? Look, I’ve got a photo of him….” He dug out his phone and began flipping through pictures. “See. There’s Luke.”
I’d been expecting a candid photo of Fritz and this Luke guy together, maybe grinning in a cafè somewhere, or hanging out at the beach, or even in hospital. Instead the photo Fritz held out was from a professional modeling shoot. In it, Luke was dressed up in a red goth outfit and posing like a prince. His hair was spiked like a character from a Japanese video game.
He was wearing makeup, but not so much that it hid the fact he was unbelievably beautiful.
Beside me Rafe was similarly impressed. “Okay, so I don’t usually look at guys,” he said, “but even I can tell that he’s pretty hot. Looks kind of like a lady, though….”
“You actually know him?” I spluttered. “I mean, you actually knew him?”
“I told you,” said Fritz smugly. “That’s Luke. My boyfriend.”
“My condolences,” said Rafe.
“Yeah, mine too,” I said, still shocked.
“Thanks,” said Fritz again.
Rafe and I looked at each other uncomfortably. It turned out we had nothing more to say to Fritz about his dead boyfriend, so we made more fumbling apologies and slunk off back to our dorm.