In hindsight, Jared Kleinman would probably admit that inviting your crush over to work on a group project with you was a disgustingly cliché idea.
In all honesty, inviting Evan to work on the project with him in the first place was a disgustingly cliché idea. He and Evan were technically friends, sure, no matter how hard Jared tried to deny it, but they barely ever spoke in the few classes they had together. In fact, them sitting next to each other in Spanish was pretty much the only consistent interaction they had during the school day, and Jared was a little embarrassed to admit that despite his solid C average in the class, he always found himself looking forward to it.
However, that never really stopped him from spending the entire period pretending that Evan didn’t exist.
It’s an overcast Monday morning on the day Jared finally decides to talk to Evan. Third period Spanish class is about halfway done, and it’s proving to be as intellectually engaging as a third period Spanish class on an overcast Monday morning could ever hope to be. Jared is watching Evan out of the corner of his eye, because he doesn’t really care all that much about what Mrs Linares has to say about some project that’s coming up over the next couple of weeks because it’s not like he’ll do well anyway and, more to the point, because Evan keeps brushing his hair out of his eyes with small, brisk, nervous motions that quite honestly have Jared mesmerised (and if he could stop imagining himself gently brushing Evan’s hair back for him, that would be excellent).
Mrs Linares suddenly raises her voice, and Jared forces himself back to reality because he guesses that whatever she’s about to say might actually be kind of important.
“So, on the 18th you will all give presentations - in pairs - about the country that you’ve chosen to research.”
Jared notices the way Evan’s eyebrows furrow at the words “in pairs”, and although he looks away when Evan subtly, hopefully, inclines his head towards him, he feels a pang of empathy in his chest. After all, it’s not like he really has any other options for partners either.
Besides, says a rather obnoxious little voice in Jared’s head, presumably from the part of his brain where all those half-heartedly repressed memories of watching rom coms and cheesy high school dramas with his mom went, don’t you kind of want an excuse to spend time alone with Evan almost every day for the next three weeks?
He has to admit that the obnoxious little voice makes a very compelling point.
At the end of the period, Jared rushes to catch up with Evan in the corridor and taps him on the shoulder. Evan turns to face Jared, and Jared tries very hard to repress a smile at how he shyly pushes his hair back behind one ear again.
“So,” Jared says, trying to sound as casual as possible. “If no one else is going to work with you, I guess I will.”
“Oh - you don’t have to… do that-” Evan stutters, hands worrying at the strap of his backpack.
But I want to , Jared briefly considers saying, but instead he chooses to play it safe.
“Oh, come on , it’s a win-win situation. I’ll do all the talking, so you don’t have to stand there at the front of the class hyperventilating and causing everyone way more stress than necessary because you can’t say anything except um…. um…. ” (Jared hates the way his voice shoots upwards in pitch in a borderline cruel imitation of Evan) “and my mom will probably let me off washing dishes for a week or some shit as a reward for being nice to you.”
Evan pauses for a moment, still refusing to make eye contact with Jared.
“Atta boy.” Jared pats Evan on the back. “I’ll give you a ride back to my place after school.” He instantly regrets punctuating this last sentence with finger guns and a cheesy wink.
“Great. I’ll - um - I’ll see you then.” Evan feebly mimics Jared’s finger guns, and Jared’s heart attempts to make a swift exit from his body via his esophagus.
It’s starting to rain as they get out of school a few hours later. Evan is rummaging in his bag as he approaches Jared, and as he reaches the main exit he pulls out a small black umbrella.
“Do you want to - I mean it’s fine if you don’t - do you want to share this?” Evan gestures towards the dark skies outside.
The thought of Evan offering Jared his umbrella for the 20 second walk across the parking lot is, frankly, adorable. But taking him up on the offer would be a little too corny, even for the obnoxious little rom com loving voice in Jared’s brain, and he’s got to be subtle about this, so Jared instead chooses to berate Evan for needing an umbrella to cover such a short distance (“Are you going to, like, melt or something?”). Evan nods apologetically in agreement with Jared’s criticism - crap , Jared was only trying to tease him - and puts the umbrella back in his bag.
The ride home isn’t uncomfortable, per se, but it’s definitely quiet, apart from Evan tentatively asking if Jared has thought what country he wants to write on yet (he hasn’t, because how could he think of a Spanish project when Evan is in his car and going to his house and Jesus Christ this whole experience is going to do nothing for his painfully average grades). When they get in, Evan goes to put his backpack in the living room.
“Why don’t we work in my room instead?” Jared says, once again inwardly berating that obnoxious little voice in his head. “I can get the spare computer chair out of my dad’s room or something. You can grab yourself a drink if you want.”
He’s pleasantly surprised when Evan makes his way upstairs with a glass of water. Knowing Evan his whole life - and having paid far too much attention to every one of his quirks and mannerisms for at least three of those years - means that Jared can tell from the smallest action how comfortable he is in any given situation, and him getting a drink by himself at Jared’s suggestion is a pretty good sign. Evan places his backpack down, sets his drink near the edge of the desk, and looks shyly across at Jared as if asking his permission to get to work.
They make pretty good headway over the next hour, distracted only by Jared’s mom getting home from work and coming in to offer Evan a cookie (he accepts, and Jared can’t help but observe that Evan holds it in both hands as he eats it in tiny bites and he looks like a fucking squirrel and it’s adorable ). Neither of them are amazing at Spanish, but the combination of Evan’s slightly superior linguistic skills and Jared’s willingness to put forward ideas makes them a fairly good team.
Maybe, Jared thinks to himself, they should work together on things more often.
Evan leans across to correct a spelling mistake, and suddenly there is a muffled jingle as a small black and white cat springs out from behind Jared’s curtain and bounds across the desk, knocking the glass of water straight into Evan’s lap.
“SPAGHETTI!” Jared screams, frantically reaching for the box of tissues at the other end of his desk. “For fuck’s sake , you dumb loser cat!”
And, seemingly out of nowhere, Evan laughs . Jared’s heart practically does a somersault there and then because honestly he can’t even remember the last time he saw Evan really smile around him and now he’s laughing , and his laugh is soft and clear and almost musical and Evan’s face crinkles up a little bit and for a moment he looks as if he has never cared or worried about anything in the world and he looks so genuinely happy.
Evan is genuinely happy in his presence.
In fact, he’s laughing so hard that he has tears in his eyes as he struggles to explain himself.
“Sorry, it was just - you yelling Spaghetti like that just sounded so stupid - like not that you sounded stupid but it was just such a weird thing to say and that’s not what I mean but-”
“Don’t worry, bro, it’s my fault for naming her when I was seven.” Jared takes another wad of tissues and presses them to Evan’s leg. “And it’s also Spaghetti’s fault for being a clumsy piece of shit.”
As Evan’s laughter begins to die down, Jared becomes painfully aware of just how close they are. Evan lets out one last, almost inaudible, chuckle and smiles directly at Jared, and everything is suddenly very, very quiet. Jared looks down at his hand, still pressed to Evan’s thigh (albeit with a clump of damp tissues in between them), and quickly snatches it away, painfully aware that he is probably the color of a tomato right now. Evan stares at Jared - Jared realises with a jolt in his chest that he can’t remember the last time he really made eye contact with Evan and have Evan’s eyes always been that beautiful hazel color? - and it almost seems like he’s trying to tell him something. To ask him something. Jared stares back, and he isn’t surprised when Evan looks away, but he certainly is surprised that rather than looking at the floor or the laptop or out of the window, Evan’s gaze seems to pass tentatively, gently, over Jared’s lips.
He’s got to be dreaming.
And yet Evan’s eyes meet Jared’s again, and Evan’s eyes flit downwards again, and when he pushes a lock of dark hair behind his ear, clears his throat softly, and turns to look at the laptop again it almost feels like an apology.
They are still so, so close .
Jared’s heart is pounding - Jesus Christ, Jared’s heart is pounding - as he looks at Evan and the far too small distance between them and he thinks back on today, Evan’s laughter and the way he had glanced across at Jared the second Mrs Linares mentioned working in pairs and how he had offered Jared his umbrella (had he been blushing? Jared thinks he can remember him blushing) and how his gaze had drifted to Jared’s mouth and why would he do that if he didn’t want -
Maybe he’s going mad, but Jared can only think of one possible explanation for all of this.
And if there’s only one possible explanation, perhaps what Jared so badly wants to do right now is the only possible solution.
He thinks for a moment, and the obnoxious little rom com loving voice in his head also thinks for a moment, and he makes a decision.
Jared hasn’t kissed anyone since eighth grade and that was different because he was fourteen and that was a girl and, most importantly, that wasn’t Evan, and he feels like he shouldn’t know what he’s doing but his right hand is curved around Evan’s shoulder and his left hand finds its way to Evan’s cheek as if it has always belonged there and he gently turns Evan’s face towards him and, his eyes drifting shut, he kisses him and everything is Evan, Evan, Evan .
The next second seems to take a hundred years. The instant their lips meet (why are Evan’s lips so soft ) Jared feels his entire world erupt into warmth and light and the bedroom around them and the rain outside and this stupid project all seem to fade into nothing and Jared might be imagining things but he swears he can feel Evan lean into the kiss and-
And he was definitely imagining things because suddenly Evan tenses and he jerks his shoulder back sharply, shaking off Jared’s hand, and now his hands are on Jared ’s shoulders but they’re not gentle, they’re pushing Jared back so hard that his chair slides backwards across the room, and Jared’s eyes snap open and he swears the room wasn’t this dark when he closed them.
“What are you doing ?” Evan says, his voice choked, and Jared realises with a twinge of something awful in his gut that he looks horrified and almost betrayed.
Jared feels like he should be speechless, and he wishes he could be speechless, but instead he feels his stupid big mouth open as if beyond his control.
“I… I lost my balance?”
Jesus Christ what the fuck.
Evan just looks at Jared as if he’s gone mad.
“Did… did you just…”
“Did I just kiss you?” Jared spits the word out as fast as he can so that he doesn’t have to really think about it, and it comes out a lot harsher than he intended. “What the fuck? Why would I do that?"
Jared desperately hopes he’s imagining things again, because it almost looks as if Evan flinches.
“Sorry I don’t know why I - I don’t know I just thought -” Evan’s voice crescendos sharply before cutting off entirely as his hand darts up to wipe at his mouth.
Jared slams his laptop shut.
“I have to go,” he mutters, and he stands up and heads towards his bedroom door and it feels as if he’s walking through glue. And then he realises he’s trying to escape from his own room and holy shit, could he be any more of an idiot today?
Jared turns around, holding the door open as if that was his intention all along.
“I mean. You should go. And, you know, maybe we should find different partners for this stupid project.”
Evan gets up, his hands shaking as he reaches for his backpack.
“Yeah,” Evan says. “Maybe.”
Jared tries not to think about how Evan shrinks away from him as he walks through the door, or how he goes down the stairs a little too fast, or how he can make out Evan stammering something downstairs. When his mom calls out that Evan’s not feeling well and she’s just going to drop him off home, Jared stays in his doorway. He doesn’t even bother saying goodbye.
As soon as he hears his mom’s car pull out of the driveway, Jared closes his bedroom door and lies down facing the wall. He can’t even bring himself to look towards the desk where he and Evan were working just five minutes earlier. Instead, he pulls his blanket over his head, still desperately trying to repress the sob that’s been building up in his throat ever since Evan left the room, and closes his eyes.
Maybe, if he can get to sleep, he’ll wake up later in a world where none of this ever happened.