So, he was never going to be cool. He could live with that, right? He’d never had an issue with being a loser before, but he just felt so tired. More than usual. At least the drama club was meeting. As far as he knew he and Christine were the only people who had signed up after Jeremy, that could be good. At least for the first meeting before Mr. Reyes would try to get more students involved. They could establish some sort of early connection, they’d have a reason to talk.
christine (2:52 pm): hey!! go ahead and head to drama im gonna be a little late
christine (2:52 pm): gotta run something to a teacher!
michael (2:53 pm): jesus christ now i gotta go alone?
christine (2:54 pm): you dont have to do this mikey
christine (2:54 pm): but if you dontttttttt i might just have to steal jers heart for myself over a bond of theatre
michael (2:55 pm): cmon dude how late are u gonna be?
There was no response, of course he’d be so lucky. With a sigh he tucked his phone into his pocket, pulling up his hood as he headed down one of the back halls. Once he got to the auditorium doors, he paused, taking a long breath to steel himself. He was Michael Mell, he was capable. ‘I’ve got this.’
The second he pushed the door open Jeremy’s head jerked up from where he was sat on the edge of the stage. He fidgeted with his sleeves, pulling them over his fingertips. Michael couldn’t help but wonder if his hands were cold, he couldn’t help but wonder if his own hands would be warm.
Pulling his hood down, Michael took a few hesitant steps across the auditorium, towards the stage. He tried to put his normal bounce in his step, fighting off the nerves that tried to claw up out of his chest. Clearing his throat he gave a half wave, “hey! Is this, uh, where you meet for the play?”
“Oh, this is where you meet for swim team,” something lit up in Jeremy’s eyes and he pulled a crooked smile. A flash of panic crossed his face as he noticed Michael lock up a bit. “Uh, I-I’m kidding!”
“I’m Michael!” He fought the urge to tug his hood back up, feeling his palms get sweaty. What was it about Jeremy that just utterly broke him?
“I’m Jeremy,” it was soft, accompanied with a barely stifled laugh that made Michael’s face heat up. Before he could choke out an ‘I know’ and embarrass himself any further Jeremy was speaking again. “You seem n-nervous?”
“I’m.. always this shaky.” Michael held his hands up as he shrugged, conveying a ‘what can you do?’ sort of emotion, smiling awkwardly. He bit his tongue, just willing himself to be steady.
“First time acting?” Jeremy patted the stage next to where he was sitting and Michael grit his teeth, steeling himself as he made his way to sit next to him.
“Uh.. yeah.” He’d prepared some monologue about how he was actually only there to do tech but it completely disappeared from his mind when he met Jeremy’s eyes.
“You’ll love it,” Jeremy assured him, reaching out a shaky hand to give his knee a pat. “Rehearsal is just.. a-amazing!”
Michael could have passed out, Jeremy’s voice cracked a bit and his eyes lit up as he sat up a bit straighter. He waved his hands a bit, excitement bubbling up out of him.
“I just love it.. it’s.. great.” He seemed to notice his overexcitement and tried to calm himself a bit, shoulders slumping slightly. “I just.. I can’t h-help but get so excited. You don’t have to worry a-a-about anything else when you’re acting. You don’t have to worry about school or homework or.. I have a lot of anxiety!”
It was blurted out and Jeremy flinched a bit, rubbing the back of his neck.
“Yeah, I.. get that. Me.. too.” Michael offered up a smile, watching how the light returned to Jeremy’s eyes.
“It’s easy to just.. r-read a script. You know what c-comes next and you don’t have to be afraid.” Jeremy stuck his arms back out, leaning back a bit where he sat. All of Michael’s worries melted away as he watched a beautiful boy bubble with excitement. “And life.. just isn’t like that. I get.. to be under a sp-spotlight without being too scared. I get to be s-someone I’m not for a few hours.”
All Michael could manage was a nod, keeping his eyes focused on a point behind Jeremy’s head. Eye contact was important, or at least faking it was, he wanted Jeremy to know he was listening. “Yeah.. for sure.”
“Ah,” Jeremy let out a shaky breath, almost wheezing out a sound. He waved his hands dismissively, face going red. “Sorry, I don’t know.. why I’m telling you a-all this.”
For a moment they sat in silence, Michael opened and closed his mouth, weighing his options. He wasn’t always the best at saying the right thing, but he wanted to try. Before he could say anything, though, Jeremy was talking again. “I guess.. part of me just w-wants to?”
There was a sheepish look crossing his face and Michael’s gaze shifted, truly meeting his eyes. He froze up a bit as Jeremy leaned over, bumping their shoulders together lightly.
“Yeah!” Michael felt his body buzzing from the contact, nodding a bit frantically as he dropped his gaze. “I get that. Sometimes.. I can’t help but just want to do everything? Like.. there’s so much to do and I want to try it all.”
Jeremy nodded, a smile flashing over his face. He reached out a hand, turning to face Michael a bit more directly as he laid a gentle hand over his shoulder. “Well I’m glad you’re here! I don’t think many people are really g-gonna come.. so..”
“Oh yeah, my uh, frien-”
Before Michael could finish the auditorium doors practically flung open to Christine popping in. Michael perked up despite the interruption because it was going well. The happiness didn’t last long, though, Jeremy jumped from the noise and pulled his hand away. A few more kids pushed in behind Christine and Michael deflated a bit. Of course.
“Thank god, the popular kids are here,” Mr. Reyes' voice was soft as he made his way onto the stage. Michael wasn’t really listening, regardless - of course this happened. Life couldn’t help but send him curveballs. At least Christine was there to help keep him grounded, taking her usual spot beside him.
Chairs scraped against wood as the popular kids dropped into some of the seats and soon Jeremy hauled himself up from where he sat on the stage to get a chair. After a moment Michael followed, offering Christine a hand to help her up. By the time he turned around he saw Jeremy sitting down next to Brooke. Brooke. He cringed a bit, taking his own seat, she was gorgeous. And she smiled at Jeremy, giving him a soft wave. Normally he was able to take note of his own merits, but now there was a beautiful girl sitting next to Jeremy with a wide smile and an incredible physique. Maybe he should have tried out for some sport. Maybe Jeremy had a thing for jocks.
A pat on his shoulder drew him back to reality and he relaxed at Christine’s comforting touch, zoning back in to whatever Mr. Reyes was going on about. Zombies? A play about zombies? Anything else was more interesting to him so he let his gaze wander a bit, glancing between his peers. He almost swore he felt eyes on him but when he looked up there was nothing. He couldn’t help but notice Rich who was on his left. He couldn’t help but think about that morning - for some reason Rich had noticed him. It almost made the hair on the back of his neck stand up, it was.. odd.
At least their first meeting was short. All Michael wanted was to go home and crawl into bed. Just when he thought he had a handle on life he had to have the worst of the worst days.
Couldn’t he just get lucky once? Couldn’t someone just help him out?
Christine gave him a wave and a sad smile before she ducked away, she had to get home before too late. Instead of taking the bus she was getting picked up. He couldn’t even have that small comfort of a friend on the bus.
“Hey, Jeremy right?” Michael winced, Brooke’s voice was as pretty as she was. The bus was still going to be ten minutes and the auditorium was a lot calmer than outside. Even if it meant he’d have to witness whatever was unfolding before him. He pulled up his hood as his shoulders slumped, aimlessly scrolling on his phone.
“Yeah. Uh, Brooke?” If he looked up Michael would have seen her smile, genuinely at him.
“Can I say something kinda dumb?”
There was a silence and Michael grit his teeth, just hoping Jeremy would say no, would get up and leave. He must have nodded and Brooke started talking again. It was almost hard to feel dread when her voice had that lilt to it.
“You.. were in the play last year, right?” Another pause. Michael pictured the bounce of Jeremy’s hair as he nodded his head. “You were the guy that died.”
Deciding he’d had enough Michael tugged his headphones up over his ears. They couldn’t muffle everything but it was enough to cut out the voices, they were speaking low enough. He let his gaze drift and fall out of focus, it was almost as if he’d blinked and he was alone with Jeremy. Alone. Brooke was gone. It made him perk up a bit.
With a jolt he hopped out of his seat, struggling to slip his bag on as he approached Jeremy who seemed a bit dazed.
“Hey, I saw the pins on your bag and if you ever wanted to play games I-”
“What did you say?” Jeremy spun around to face him, something far off in his eyes.
“Uh. Nothing,” Michael forced it out with a smile. “I’ll.. uh, see you?”
Even his tone seemed far off, breathless.
It stung, of course it did. Sure, maybe he was a bit head over heels for Jeremy but that wasn’t the point. For once he’d thought he’d made some sort of connection, a friend. He’d even thought he could take place in a play on a stage, now he’d just have to see if he could drop out. Even if Christine would tease him over it - he’d take that over the rolling nausea at the thought of performing in front of his peers. At the thought of Jeremy smiling back at Brooke.
Maybe he was just destined to be alone. The lonely, sad, queer kid. That’s who he was, wasn’t it? Just some loser. For the first time in years the thought stung. He and Christine had always branded themselves as losers and he was okay with that.
Until he wasn’t.
How was Christine still okay with it? She always had that smile on her face, no matter what she got called for hanging out around him, she always came back. She always made it through. So how come Michael felt like he was drowning? It had to be him, right? Something must have been wrong inside of him. He was the problem.
Michael Mell was a lot of things.
For once he wanted one of those things to just be.. okay.
It could have worse, it really could have. As far as rejections went it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. There was still a familiar sting in his chest, the voice of his mom seemed to ring out in his head, babbling about rejection sensitive dysphoria, but all he could respond with was a plea for his mom to just stop treating him like one of her patients. To treat him like a son.
At least this time he didn’t have a panic attack.
Maybe he didn’t even have to survive high school anymore. All he wanted was for Jeremy to look at him like that, with that smile. For once he could feel seen and he’d be happy.