Start Reading From This Novel About Life As An HIV-Positive Teen

by Kerri Jarema
Originally Published: 
Pictured above is the cover of "Full Disclosure" by Camryn Garrett, a story about an HIV-positive te...

It is definitely true that media about the HIV/AIDS crisis of the '80 and '90s — Jonathan Larson's beloved musical Rent is one notable example — have been crucial in raising understanding and awareness of the epidemic and its aftermath. But very few of those stories have been told from a teen perspective, for teen audiences. Camryn Garrett's Full Disclosure, which you can begin reading below, is one such story.

In Full Disclosure, Garrett explores the history of HIV and examines what it's like to live with a positive diagnosis today, through the eyes of her heroine, Simone Garcia-Hampton. Simone is starting over at a new school, where she's making real friends, making a name for herself as student director of Rent, and making a play for her crush, Miles. The last thing she wants is for word to get out that she's HIV-positive. But keeping her diagnosis under wraps isn't simple.

When Simone and Miles start going out for real, she knows she has to tell him, though she's terrified of how he'll react. Then she finds an anonymous note in her locker, threatening to reveal her status unless she breaks up with Miles. Simone's first instinct is to protect her secret, but as she gains a deeper understanding of the prejudice and fear in her community, she begins to wonder if the only way to rise above is to face the haters head-on.

Full Disclosure is available now, and you can begin reading an excerpt below:

Chapter 7

There are a few secrets I won’t share with just anyone. One is the fact that I have HIV, obviously. But there’s also the fact that I didn’t know how to masturbate until one of my old friends taught me. She took me into her room, with Sarah trailing behind. We locked the door — against the rules at Our Lady of Lourdes — and she pulled up pictures of the guys from The Vampire Diaries on Tumblr. Then I lay down on her bed, with a blanket over me, and she talked me through it.

It’s embarrassing as hell, but hey, it was eighth grade. Can you blame me?

It’s a little different now, mostly because of the viewing material. Claudia laughed when I told her, but I like to look at pictures of old white guys from their prime years. Say whatever you want about me, but Bruce Willis, Harrison Ford, and Richard Gere weren’t bad-looking at all. Sometimes Cate Blanchett is thrown into the mix, but Claudia says it doesn’t count.

“She’s Cate Blanchett,” Claudia had said emphatically. And that was the last time I talked to her about possibly liking girls.

When I’m done this time, I stare up at my ceiling. Our house isn’t wide, but it’s tall and narrow, and my room is at the very top. Being so far away means that my parents can’t hear me. At least, I think they can’t. If they can, I’m grateful they’ve never mentioned it. After I finish, my brain is normally clear. It’s like the moment right before I drift off to sleep, no worries at all. Right now, though, I can’t stop thinking. It might be horrible, but I’m jealous of my friends.

I thought the lonely feeling would go away after our first kiss, but it’s just morphed into something else: longing.

Claudia’s asexual, and I know she doesn’t spend her mornings thinking about sex the way I do. On the other hand, Lydia fools around with her boyfriend when her parents aren’t home. I have neither situation.

Last week, my health teacher made this long speech about how girls should spend their formative years discovering themselves and making close friends. Friendships, she said, are just as fulfilling as relationships. And I guess she’s right. I’m so grateful to have found Lydia and Claudia. I love them tons, but not in a romantic way. Not having that makes me lonely in a way that’s hard to describe.

I force myself to sit up. It’s a Saturday, which means I’ll have to be at rehearsal in an hour, where I’ll see Miles. I thought the lonely feeling would go away after our first kiss, but it’s just morphed into something else: longing. Knowing that there’s a chance we could have sex almost makes it worse because I can’t help but hope. Even if it means I’ll have to tell him.

Most people are worried about contracting the virus. If I told Claudia and Lydia, they wouldn’t have to worry about that, since we’re not exactly going to be exchanging “fluids” any time soon. But it’s different with Miles.

It doesn’t help that now I have to figure out who wrote that stupid note. I don’t even know the first place to start looking. At the freshmen in Drama Club? Eh, I doubt any of them have the patience to leave a note in my locker and wait for me to read it. Ms. Klein? Doubtful. She’s a pain, but not evil. Who else could it be?

Whatever I’m feeling — frustrated, horny — gets worse at rehearsal. It’s like an itching inside that I can’t scratch and it just makes me uncomfortable.

“Why does this have to be so complicated?” I ask out loud. The Aida poster on my wall just stares back at me.

Whatever I’m feeling — frustrated, horny — gets worse at rehearsal. It’s like an itching inside that I can’t scratch and it just makes me uncomfortable. Rent is a great musical, but watching it every day makes me think about the friends my parents only mention occasionally, the ones who died before I could meet them. Ignored because they were gay guys with AIDS.

The epidemic is scary in a way I can’t fully wrap my head around, like a horror movie that sticks with me for hours after the ending credits, making my stomach flop and my knees shake. It doesn’t seem real. The fact that it is real, that it happened, makes me want to grab the kids onstage, shake them, and ask, “Do you know how serious this is? This isn’t just stuff someone made up for a musical, this is about actual lives.

It doesn’t help that Ms. Klein is obsessed with perfecting “Seasons of Love” today, stopping and starting over and over again. Mr. Palumbo watches with his mouth set in a flat line. I decide to wander around backstage. I could pretend I’m checking on the crew, but it would be a waste of time. My eyes look onto Miles as soon as I’m past the curtain.

He’s clad in a short-sleeve black shirt and dark jeans. As he folds his arms, the veins in his wrists ripple out. I swallow. If there were no one else around, I’d kiss him until he couldn’t see straight.

He’s pushing a towering set piece, one even taller than him, onto the stage. Once that’s in place, he picks up two benches, one in each arm. Pieces of bright blue tape signal where he should put them down. Kids scurry in different directions so they don’t get trampled. Set pieces aren’t usually that heavy, since the crew builds them on their own out of cheap plywood and other lightweight materials, but they weigh enough that teams of two are usually needed to move each piece. Miles is the only one who does it by himself. It’s totally hot, but I should probably talk to him about it. Everyone knows about his injury. I don’t want him making it worse.

I clear my throat. “Can’t believe Jesse has you moving everything all by yourself.”

He drops the benches into position, glancing up at me with a smile. I want to kiss it off his face, right here, right now, in front of everybody.

“It’s not that hard,” he says, wiping his hands on his jeans. “Not as hard as remembering lines.”

“Maybe because it takes brains to remember important details.”

“Are you saying I don’t have any brains?”

I give him a pointed look. It only lasts for a few seconds, since I can’t help but smile.

“I’m hurt,” he says, holding a hand over his chest. “I might not have brains, but I have tons of skill. You know what my job was on the lacrosse team?”

“Pushing people.” I shrug. “You might’ve mentioned it once or twice.”

“Yeah, well, that’s because it’s important.”

He steps away from the set so that he’s beside me. Whatever he’s saying about lacrosse fades out of focus as I glance down at his hand. It’s barely inches away from mine. He did that on purpose, right? We’ve kissed before. Holding hands is, like, on a lower tier than kissing. I can hold his hand.

This isn’t anything close to staying away from Miles. I don’t know if I can do that, honestly.

“Simone?” His voice is close to my ear. “You still there?”

I grab his hand fast. I’m sure mine is sweaty and unpleasant, but he doesn’t pull away. His fingers wrap around mine. I bite my lip to keep my smile from splitting my face.

This isn’t anything close to staying away from Miles. I don’t know if I can do that, honestly. I glance up, but not at Miles. I turn toward the backstage area. Kids are sweeping up wood shavings or painting the back wall. No one is paying attention to us. If the note-leaver were here, I’m sure their eyes would be glued to us. I guess this means they aren’t.

“You know,” Miles starts, his voice a stage whisper. “We missed the musical of the day yesterday and the day before.”

That’s because we’d kissed the day before.

“I didn’t think it would last this long,” I admit, watching as he swings our intertwined hands back and forth. If I saw anyone else standing like this, I would laugh at them. I feel a little bit like laughing right now, but the fact that we look ridiculous is only part of it. “It’s not like you’re actually into theater.”

“I mean . . .” Miles pauses. “I don’t not like it.”

“Come on, Miles,” I say, squeezing his hand. “You don’t even know the difference between Hairspray and Hair.

“That’s true,” Miles says, glancing down at our hands. “But — I don’t know. I’ve never met someone so serious about it until now.”

It’s not like I expect him to be an expert. Just because I’m wild about musicals and plays and everything that happens onstage doesn’t mean he has to be. This is my thing. It’s like musicals are a different language, one that’s easier to speak than English. The only downside is that it can make communicating with the nonmusical crowd harder.

When I was little and always in the hospital, Dad and Pops watched The Wiz with me until I had all the songs memorized. The week leading up to my first day here, I listened to the Dear Evan Hansen album on repeat. Musicals are what keep me going when everything else feels pointless. Everyone needs something like that. “Well, yeah.” I glance around as if to prove my point. “Joining Drama Club will do that to you.”

“No, I mean, I like the way you talk about musicals.” The intensity in his eyes presses me into my spot on the stage. “Jesse likes musicals a lot, too, but he doesn’t talk about them the way you do. You get so excited. Your eyes light up and everything. I don’t even know what you’re talking about most of the time, but I want to listen because you’re the one saying it.”

My mouth twitches open, but nothing comes out. I’ve always figured he just listened because he’s nice. And he is — this just seems like more than that.

“Was that weird?” He licks his lips. “Do you —”

He doesn’t get to finish because Jesse’s heavy footsteps cut him off.

“Miles,” Jesse starts, out of breath, “I need you to move the — Oh, hey, Simone. I thought you were in the choir room with Palumbo.”

The thing about Jesse is that it’s impossible to be mad at him. I’ve never heard him talk shit about anyone, which seems unrealistic, because everyone talks shit at some point. If he were anyone else, I could snap at him so he would go away. Instead, I pull my hand from Miles’s, ignoring the look he gives me.

“Yeah, we were just . . .” My voice trails off as I stick my hands in my pockets. What were we doing? Talking?

Miles turns to Jesse. “Do you need the apartment set moved again?”

“Yeah.” Jesse nods. “You’re the only one who can do it.”

The two of them walk toward the curtain, and I lean against the wall. I can’t even touch Miles’s little speech. What can I say to him in response to that? I like your ass? He can’t be all sweet and mushy while I just think about kissing him the whole time.

I take a deep breath, gathering courage, and run after them.

Miles turns at the last second. “Simone? What—”

I grab at his shirt. I’m hoping for a special kiss, one where he leans down and music swells in the background. Since this isn’t a movie, he doesn’t lower his head, and I end up with my face buried in his shirt.

That could mean a million things — my brain keeps jumping to sex, and that thought triggers the note, and my stomach plunges...

“I was trying to” — I gesture vaguely with my other hand — “you know. Uh, have a moment.”

Miles ducks his head. For a second, it looks like he’s pissed, but then I see his shoulders shaking in silent laughter.

“Don’t laugh.” I let go of his shirt, taking a step back. “I’m not sure how to do this.”

“Don’t feel bad about it.” His face softens. “We could hang out later, if you want. And have a real moment.”

That could mean a million things — my brain keeps jumping to sex, and that thought triggers the note, and my stomach plunges — but I force the thoughts away.

“I wish I could, but I can’t,” I say, rocking back on my heels. “I have to do something with my friends. We’re gonna — well, we have to go do something. I swear that I’m not making it up.”

No matter how cool Miles seems, I’m definitely not telling him that I’m spending my Saturday afternoon in a sex-toy store with my friends. It might freak him out. But honestly, I could use the space to figure out what the hell I’m going to do about this stupid note situation.

“Miles?” Jesse calls.

“I guess I believe you.” Miles turns toward the sound of Jesse’s voice. “Next time?”

I smile. I can’t help it. “Definitely.”

Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett is available now from Knopf Books for Young Readers.

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