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the state of my heart (he was my best friend)

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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.

“I guess.”

“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.

Chapter Text

Evan can’t breathe.

He’s still trying to recover from his laughing fit (why did Jared have to sound so much like Mrs Kleinman when he yelled at his cat? And why did he have to call his cat Spaghetti, of all things?) and all of a sudden Jared’s hand is on his leg he’s just trying to clean up the mess don’t read into it Evan and Evan’s putting every ounce of energy in his body into not trembling with fear? excitement? something and they’re staring at each other and the air around them feels so electric that Evan half expects his hair to be standing on end. Jared is blushing ( Jared is blushing Jared is blushing) and his face is utterly unreadable and somehow all Evan knows is that he really really really wants to kiss him right now. His eyes flicker down to Jared’s lips, a wordless, tentative question, and when he looks back up Jared’s expression is somehow even more unreadable and Evan panics because what else would he do all he ever does is panic so he just looks away and desperately hopes that Jared didn’t notice what Evan thinks he noticed and they can just finish writing about the climate of Colombia and pretend this never even happened.

But then Jared’s hand is on Evan’s shoulder and his other hand is on his cheek and he’s so gentle and Evan feels so safe. And suddenly they are looking at each other again and Evan’s breath catches in his throat and Jared can probably feel his heart racing and then Jared kisses him.

Jared kisses him.

Evan’s heart is in his throat and he can’t believe this is happening but it is and this is all he’s wanted for longer than he thought, and for a moment he considers pulling away because this is too good to be true but even if it is too good to be true then perhaps, perhaps it might as well just happen anyway. So Evan leans in and normally he would desperately analyse every single aspect of his body language but his hands are moving beyond his control and this just feels so natural and right and his right hand comes to rest on Jared’s back and his left hand threads itself through Jared’s hair and his hair is so soft and everything is so soft and warm and bright and then Jared pulls away -

Jared pulls away and he laughs and his laugh is cold and his eyes are cold and Evan is so, so cold.

“Oh my God,” Jared says, and he’s still laughing as he speaks, he’s laughing at him he’s laughing at him. “Oh my God, Evan. You thought I actually liked you? That’s hilarious.”

Jared pauses for a second. He stops laughing. The room is getting darker around Evan and he can’t tell if it’s because of the rain outside or because he’s about to pass out.

Jared opens his mouth to speak again, every syllable cutting and calculated. “I’m going to ruin your life with this.”

Evan feels like he’s underwater and he gets up and forces his way out of the room and he can hardly move and Jared’s coming after him Jared was probably recording this whole thing on his webcam or something oh God oh God oh God and Evan somehow makes it to the bathroom and locks the door and his hands are shaking too much to type but he just about manages to send his mom a text mom please pick me up i need to go home something bad has happened and i’m scared please help me please please help and he curls up against the bathtub and waits for a reply and his phone vibrates but it’s not his mom it’s a facebook notification why is he getting a facebook notification and his phone vibrates again and it’s a text and he doesn’t recognise the number and his phone vibrates again and it’s another text and his phone vibrates and his phone vibrates and his phone vibrates and Evan starts to make out words “did you really make out with jared kleinman” “look at evan hansen kissing jared kleinman” “can you believe it?” “you’re pathetic” “evan hansen actually thought somebody would want to kiss him” evan hansen is worthless evan hansen is needy and pathetic and he kissed jared kleinman and jared kleinman doesn’t even want him as a friend let alone like that NOBODY wants him as a friend how could he ever believe that someone would want to kiss him and he’s pathetic and naive and gullible and and worthless worthless worthless WORTHLESS -

Evan wakes up, gasping for air, and rushes to the bathroom to throw up.

He stays hunched over the toilet for half an hour, even when his stomach is totally empty and his throat burns and his eyes burn, and he so desperately wants to go into his mom’s room and curl up next to her just like he did when he had bad dreams as a little kid but he can’t wake her up because she has a long shift tomorrow and needs to sleep and anyway, how could he even begin to explain all of this ?

Instead, he tries to reason with himself. That wasn’t what happened , Jared didn’t laugh at him, and Evan hasn’t had a single notification on his phone since he left the Kleinmans’, and why would Jared kiss him as a joke anyway?

Then again, why would Jared kiss him if it wasn’t some kind of joke?

Evan thinks back on the events of the previous day: how Jared refused to look at him when Evan tried to ask him to be his partner, and how Jared made certain that Evan knew he was only working with him out of obligation, and how he made fun of him for hating public speaking and for wanting to use an umbrella of all things and how, really, it was just like any other day. Jared always makes fun of him and that kiss was just another joke and it’s probably all building up to some horrible, horrible punchline.

jared kleinman doesn’t even want him as a friend let alone like that

Evan goes back to his bedroom and stares at the ceiling until his alarm goes off.

Over breakfast, he asks his mom if he can stay home from school.

“Oh, honey, are you still not feeling well?” She reaches out to feel Evan’s forehead and frowns. “Don’t you have that big bio test today?”

Evan’s heart plummets. He’d completely forgotten about the test. He’d planned on studying after getting home from Jared’s but instead he’d gone straight to bed and now he’s probably going to fail and he didn’t realise it was possible to feel even more dread than he had when his alarm first went off.

“I can probably - I could take it tomorrow if I - if I don’t go to school today,” he says, his voice high and panicked as he desperately tries to find an excuse, any excuse, to stay home.

“I thought you said your teacher was really strict about that kind of thing? I really don’t want you missing a test, Evan.”

Evan curls into himself in despair, and his mom must notice because she softens a little.

“When is this test, anyway?” she asks, gently ruffling Evan’s hair.

“It’s um - it’s before lunch. Just before lunch.”

“Okay,” says his mom, coming to a decision. “Can you just try and get through the morning for me? And if you still feel sick then you can go to the nurse’s office and I’ll try and pick you up on my lunch break. How about that?”

Evan smiles weakly. “Okay. I guess.”

“You’ll do just fine. I know it.”

Evan looks up at his mom, and she looks so hopeful , and he desperately wishes he could believe her.

In his World History class that morning, Evan is trying to force himself to concentrate on taking notes when the girl who sits next to him taps him on the shoulder. He jumps, and cautiously turns to face her. She glances up from the phone hidden on her lap and looks at Evan with a smirk and suddenly Evan’s hearing is muffled, as if he’s underwater, but he doesn’t need to be able to hear because he knows exactly what she’s asking.

“Hey, is it true that you kissed Jared Kleinman last night?”

Evan can’t breathe. He looks down at his desk, hunched up as small as possible, hoping that maybe if he makes himself invisible then all of this will go away or he’ll wake up in bed and it will turn out he’s still dreaming, that he’s been dreaming for the past 48 hours and none of this ever even happened in the first place, but instead the desk and the girl and the light from her phone shining in the corner of his eye remain very, very real.

“Well?”

Evan can barely whisper in response.

“I - no that’s not true actually and please can you not you know um -”

The girl looks at him, confused, and suddenly Evan can hear again.

“What are you freaking out about? I just wanted to know if you had a spare pencil.” She scoffs and turns to her friend in the next row with a shrug and Evan wants nothing more than to disappear.

But he can’t disappear, not yet, because he has to go and do this test.

Evan can hardly answer half the questions, and he’s so angry with himself because this is normally his best subject and he’s been getting straight A’s in bio since freshman year but today his head is throbbing and the words are all swimming on the page and his hands are shaking too much to write. He gives up about halfway through, but stays in his seat staring blankly at the question sheet for the rest of the period because he doesn’t want to be the first to walk up to the front of the class and turn in his paper. By the time the bell rings and he can finally escape, he feels like his legs might collapse beneath him.

He pauses outside the classroom, leaning against the wall for support, and texts his mom.

Evan is almost at the nurse’s office when the door to the bathroom down the corridor opens, and out steps Jared. He’s staring at the floor as he walks towards Evan, which is unlike Jared but then again Evan should have given up trying to predict Jared a long time ago, and Evan freezes as he tries to figure out a plan of escape.

Jared walks right into him and Evan can’t breathe .

Jared looks up, and he’s holding onto the straps of his backpack a little too tight and oh God Jared’s angry of course he’s angry he hates you and you’re here and you’re in the way you’re always in the way. Jared looks up at Evan, and he’s breathing heavily and Evan is half convinced that Jared is going to hit him.

Now Evan is staring at the floor, but he can feel Jared’s eyes boring into him and he can’t move and he can’t breathe and he can’t breathe and he can’t breathe and -

“Get away from me,” Jared spits the words out as if he’s disgusted by the mere thought of having to talk to Evan, and then he storms away.

Evan hardly registers stumbling into the nurse’s office, or choking out that he feels really sick and needs to go home, or being helped into a chair and handed a glass of water. He isn’t even aware of his mom rushing into the office until she’s holding him and whispering apologies - “I’m so sorry, I should have let you stay home, I’m here, you’re okay, it’s okay” - and Evan clings to her but he can hardly feel his own hands and he doesn’t even really feel like he’s here .

He wishes he wasn’t here.

Evan falls asleep in the car on the way home, only waking up as they pull into the driveway.

“Hey,” his mom says, gently squeezing his hand. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Evan shakes his head.

“It’s nothing, it’s really nothing, it’s just the test was really bad and I felt so sick and I thought you wouldn’t be able to pick me up and I’d have to stay in school for the whole day and-” he sees his mom’s face fall out of the corner of his eye, and he feels awful for lying and for placing part of the blame on her, but he can’t mention Jared. He just can’t.

There’s a moment of silence, and Evan shifts until he’s curled up on the passenger seat with his chin resting on his knees.

“Hey, you didn’t tell me about your project last night!” His mom’s voice is strained, and she’s clearly trying to change the subject to something , anything , that isn’t Evan’s panic attack. “How’d it go? It’s so nice that you and Jared are working together. I was kind of worried you two were drifting apart.”

Evan’s chest feels tight, but he can’t make this any worse. He smiles feebly, hoping that his mom will attribute a less than convincing answer to exhaustion rather than trying to read into things any further.

“Yeah. It was great.”

His mom gently pats him on the back, and unlocks the car doors.

Evan goes upstairs to his bedroom straight away, barely mustering the energy to kick his shoes off before crawling into bed. He feels totally drained, and can hardly keep his eyes open, but he forces himself to sit up for hours doing reading for English class because even though he can barely process what’s written on the page it still beats being left alone with his thoughts.

At some point that evening, his phone vibrates, and he turns it off without looking at the screen before shoving it into the little wooden box by his bed where he keeps his meds.

He’s too scared to check it.

 

Chapter Text

Jared also tries to skip school the day after the kiss.

For a brief moment after he wakes up he feels okay, but then the memories of the previous afternoon hit him like a tidal wave, and he decides to stay hidden under the blanket until his mom comes in to tell him that he’s running late.

“I don’t feel too good,” he says in protest, and he’s not sure how to feel about the fact that his voice cracks slightly. It might be convincing, at least. “I think I’ve caught whatever Evan had yesterday.”

Even without his glasses on, Jared can tell that his mom looks skeptical.

“Evan said he had a headache. Last time I checked, those weren’t contagious.”

Jared groans almost inaudibly, and decides to add a weak fake cough for good measure.

“I don’t want to go to school,” he says, burrowing back under the covers, and he feels the mattress shift as his mom sits down at the foot of the bed.

“Sit up, Jared.” His mom’s voice is more gentle now, and Jared reluctantly complies as she presses a hand to his forehead.

“You don’t have a fever.” She pauses. “Is everything okay?”

Jared knows she’s not asking about his physical health.

“Yeah. Why wouldn’t it be?” he says, a little defensively, because 7am is far too early to be having emotions.

Jared’s mom frowns, and it looks as if she’s trying to formulate a response. That’s all the motivation Jared needs to put his glasses on, throw himself out of bed, and start getting ready, because at least if he goes to school he can try and avoid Evan, whereas he has no hope of escaping his mom once she gets going.

He only has one class with Evan on Tuesdays, and that’s not until the afternoon, so he figures that if worse comes to worst he can try and make an escape during lunch. Until then, he just has to pray that he won’t run into him in the halls.

Jared doesn’t realise how lonely his school day is until he no longer has seeing Evan to look forward to. There’s a couple of people in his first class that he could hold a casual conversation with if he wanted, and he’s surprisingly grateful when Alana Beck decides to regale him with the entire saga of the search for her latest summer internship during Chemistry, but with every passing minute Jared becomes more and more aware that he has nobody to actually talk to, and he becomes less and less inclined to make any effort to change that.

By the end of Chemistry, Alana appears to have grown tired of Jared’s increasingly monosyllabic responses, and has moved on to a new audience. Jared can’t say he’s surprised.

Jared makes it to lunch before realising the odds of seeing Evan in the cafeteria, and the very thought of an encounter at this point fills him with dread. He quickly weighs up the pros and cons of staying in school versus ditching for the afternoon - it’s not like anyone there would notice the difference either way - but his mom would kill him if she found out he’d skipped school and he honestly can’t deal with anyone else being mad at him right now. Instead, he takes his lunch to the bathroom near the nurse’s office, which nobody ever uses because it’s out of the way of all the main hangouts and it’s basically just where you go to vomit before going home sick so really it’s a terrible choice of eating location, but at least he’ll be far away from Evan.

It’s only when he’s halfway through the sandwich that his mom packed for him that morning that Jared realises just how pathetic his current situation is. He’s hiding in a bathroom stall during the lunch hour, sitting on the tank with his feet on the seat so that he won’t be seen on the off chance that someone does come in, just so that he won’t risk running into his best friend. His former best friend. His only friend. He kissed his best friend, and his best friend didn’t want to kiss him back, which is totally unsurprising in hindsight because Jared’s too fucking emotionally constipated to even try and be a good friend to Evan so why would Evan even tolerate him platonically, let alone want to kiss him, and Evan’s probably straight anyway, and if Evan didn’t hate him before then he definitely does now, and Jesus Christ Jared is so alone and it’s entirely his fault and the sob that he’s been holding in since the previous evening breaks to the surface and great , now he’s crying in the bathroom, which is just the icing on the fucking cake.

Jared only lets himself cry for a couple of minutes, because frankly he hasn’t earned the right to cry over something that was entirely his fault. He pulls himself together with one long, shaking, breath, dabs at his eyes with a square of scratchy toilet paper in the vain hope that they won’t look so puffy, and exits the stall.

He wants to go home.

He leaves the bathroom and starts to head in the direction of the main exit, his eyes glued to the floor so that nobody can see that despite his best efforts his eyes are still red and his face is still blotchy, and he barely makes it twenty paces before he walks straight into someone.

Jared hates how quickly he realises that he’s walked into Evan.

He slowly looks up, gripping the straps of his backpack as tightly as possible as if they’re some kind of weird security blanket, and he desperately hopes that Evan won’t notice that his breath is starting to get labored and shuddery again.

Even more, he hopes that Evan will say something, and that everything will turn out to be okay and that Jared’s just been overreacting and they’ll just forget all about this, or maybe that Evan will look at him and he’ll smile softly and gently wipe one last remaining tear from Jared’s eye and he’ll say that he didn’t mean to pull away last night, that he didn’t want to pull away, and he’ll draw Jared into his arms and maybe Jared will cry a little more but it will be okay because he’s safe and Evan won’t judge him and Evan’s holding him and maybe, just maybe, Evan loves him.

But Evan says nothing. He won’t even look at Jared, and Jared’s heart sinks as he remembers the way Evan had stared right into his eyes with so much trust just a day before, and Jared desperately wants to apologize or to say anything that would have even the slightest chance of fixing this mess, but he’s getting dangerously close to crying again and he realises his only hope is to protect himself, to put up some kind of wall to make sure that no matter what Evan thinks of him, at least he won’t see him be vulnerable ever again.

“Get away from me,” Jared chokes out, and he bolts before Evan can see the tears in his eyes.

Jared makes it to the end of the hallway before turning around to find it totally empty, and he realises that he’d been longing for Evan to run after him.

He just about makes it to his car without having a total breakdown, and almost punches the dashboard in frustration when he decides to put on some music to distract himself and the same CD he listened to on the way home from school with Evan the previous afternoon comes blaring through the speakers. Jared realises, with a sinking feeling, just how much he’s ruined everything .

He can’t listen to this stupid CD in his stupid car. He definitely can’t sit at his desk in his room. He can barely look at the picture of his own cat on his lockscreen because if she hadn’t knocked Evan’s drink all over him yesterday then Jared wouldn’t have yelled at her and Evan wouldn’t have laughed and Jared wouldn’t have fallen even more in love and they wouldn’t have been so close and maybe Jared would have just kept on being a coward who could never even come close to showing Evan how he really felt about him and maybe that would have been for the best.

Because of all the things that Jared can’t do any more, the fact that he can’t even talk to Evan hurts the most.

Jared isn’t quite sure how he manages to fall asleep as soon as he gets home, but it’s already getting dark when he’s woken up by a knock on his door. Before Jared can protest, his mom comes into his room and pulls up a chair (Jared tries not to dwell on the fact that it’s his dad’s spare computer chair, the same chair Evan was sitting on yesterday) next to his bed.

“I got a call to say you weren’t in your last class today,” she says, and Jared notices that she doesn’t even sound angry. “You really weren’t feeling well, huh?”

Jared shakes his head, hiding his face in his pillow, and his mom runs her hand gently through his hair.

“Jared.” His mom’s voice is suddenly more serious. “You know if anything is wrong, anything at all, you can talk to me or your dad about it?”

Jared doesn’t respond.

“I love you, you know that?”

“I know,” Jared says, and he hates how small his voice sounds.

He and his mom stay there in silence for a minute, before Jared’s bedroom door opens with a slight creak.

“Hey. Spaghetti’s come to see you.” Jared’s mom sounds almost as if she’s trying to comfort a small child, and it takes every bit of effort Jared can muster not to start crying for the third time that day.

The silence continues, broken only slightly by Spaghetti’s faint purrs at the foot of the bed. Eventually, Jared’s mom shifts slightly in her seat.

“I know you don’t want to tell me what’s wrong, and I’m not going to interfere any further if you don’t want me to-” she pauses to place a gentle kiss on the top of Jared’s head. “But whatever’s going on, I promise it will all work out sooner or later.”

Jared listens to his mom leave, and as he drifts off back to sleep, all he can think is how desperately he wishes he could believe her.

Chapter Text

For the next couple of days, all Heidi can do is watch.

Evan stays at home on Wednesday, and in all honesty Heidi is scared to leave him, but when she finally gets home he’s fast asleep and it looks like he’s been that way all day. Heidi eats her dinner in Evan’s room (she woke him up briefly, and he insisted that he wasn’t hungry), her heart stopping momentarily every time he stirs. A couple of times, Evan’s eyebrows furrow in his sleep, and Heidi wishes she could somehow enter his dreams and fight back whatever is causing him so much pain.

Instead, she has to go to class, although she can’t concentrate and she keeps checking her phone under the desk the entire time. On her way home she stops by the gas station and picks up a small cluster of yellow carnations, the only bunch of flowers left at 10pm that aren’t totally wilted, in the vague hope that they’ll cheer up Evan’s room a little for when he wakes up.

Heidi hardly sleeps that night.

On Thursday, Evan gets ready for school without even being asked. For a moment, Heidi feels a surge of protectiveness and she just wants him to stay home where nobody can hurt him - why is she so sure that somebody has hurt him? - but he shakes his head and insists he’ll be fine and he’s being so brave .

When Heidi drops him off outside school, she clutches his hand in a final plea for him to at least consider taking the day off, and she tries not to think about the small, sad smile that flickers across Evan’s face as he lets go.

Heidi only has a morning shift that day, and she’s curled up on the couch with a cup of coffee when Evan comes home, letting the door slam behind him. It’s so unlike him that Heidi immediately leaps up from her seat, almost spilling her coffee, desperate to reach him before he gets to his room.

“Hey, hey, hey,” she says, rushing over and gently placing her hands on Evan’s shoulders. “What’s going on?”

Evan’s voice is small, and it cracks slightly as he struggles to get the words out.

“I failed the bio test. I’m so sorry please don’t be mad at me -”

“Oh no ,” Heidi says, pulling him into her arms. “No, no, no, Evan, I’m not mad at you. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have made you go to school in the first place. Hey, you should ask to retake it, you weren’t feeling well, it’s not fair to-"

“It’s fine. It doesn’t matter.”

Heidi can tell that it does matter. She can also tell that Evan’s legs are about to collapse from under him, and she gently guides him from the corridor onto the couch in the living room. Evan curls into himself immediately, breathing shakily.

“Evan, honey, I know, and your teacher knows as well, that you are so, so smart and so capable of anything you put your mind to, and one test grade doesn’t change that, okay? I know you care a lot about bio, and this must be so hard for you, and I know you deserve to have done so much better, but listen - in the grand scheme of things, after the next test, even before that - this won’t matter. I know it’s tough. I know you must be so mad at yourself, but you shouldn’t be. You were sick,” - you’ve clearly got something else on your mind , Heidi mentally adds, but she stops short of saying so out loud - “you can do so much better, and you will do so much better. You’ll see. It will all be fine, I promise.”

Evan doesn’t look convinced, but he’s stopped hyperventilating, and Heidi decides that there’s not much point in pressing on with this conversation if Evan can’t really believe her words of comfort. Instead, she tries to change the subject, to begin to cheer him up, to take his mind off this awful test and whatever else is worrying him.

“Hey, at least you’ve got that project to work on? With Jared? How about you ask him to come over and work on it with you this evening, take your mind off things?”

Evan visibly tenses, staring at the ground as he answers.

“I don’t think we’re working together any more.”

Heidi sighs, wondering if she will get anything right in this conversation. “What happened? Did you two have a fight?”

“No, we - maybe. I don’t know. It wasn’t really a fight but. I don’t know, maybe.”

“Can you tell me about it?”

Evan pauses. “It’s nothing - it’s really nothing just-”

“Evan, please. Talk to me .”

“It’s stupid it really wasn’t a fight it’s just, we were just doing the project and, and then we had to stop working for a bit because of something really stupid and then, we were just, and, I - Jared kissed me as a joke .”

Evan’s hand flies up to his mouth the minute the words come out. There’s a moment of painful silence as Heidi tries to process what she has just heard, punctuated only by Evan’s increasingly ragged breathing.

“Jared… kissed you as a joke ? What do you mean? What happened?”

Evan just folds further into himself, sitting cross-legged on the couch and picking at the cuff of his jeans.

“I don’t know, he just, we were working and then I, then he kissed me and I don’t know I just pulled away and I didn’t know what was going on and so I asked him, I said ‘what are you doing, did you just kiss me?’ and he said ‘why the… why would I do that?’ and then he told me to leave and that he didn’t want to work with me any more which is why I went home and why Jared didn’t give me a ride back because he kissed me and then kicked me out and I think he’s going to tell everyone that I kissed him and-”

Evan stops, choking back tears.

Heidi wouldn’t normally consider herself an angry person, but when she sees Evan looking so scared and small and lost, and she thinks about Jared using her son and exploiting all of his fears and insecurities for the sake of some cruel joke, she realises with a twinge of horror that she would readily drive over to the Kleinmans’ house right now and slap Jared if given the chance.

But Heidi forces herself to take a deep breath and look at the situation objectively. Jared isn’t always the nicest kid, she knows that from years of overhearing his slightly too blunt jokes at family gatherings, but she can’t imagine him ever being actively cruel.

Especially not to Evan.

The more Heidi thinks about it, the more the situation as Evan described it doesn’t seem quite right. Several small incidents from the past few years begin to add up. Jared always seeming to remember the tiniest details about Evan, from his favorite popsicle colors to the fact that he was nervous around Jared’s cat unless you carried her over to him first. Jared greeting Evan with a hug so many times outside the school gates, becoming increasingly slow to let go until one day, without warning, towards the end of middle school, the hugs stopped entirely. Jared staying over all night because Heidi had been caught up at work until 3am and Evan had panicked, his mind leaping to the worst case scenario as it so often did, when Jared had acted like it was such a chore to stay up with Evan but the look of gentle worry in his eyes and the way he’d been holding Evan’s hand when Heidi got home had said otherwise - things that seemed inconsequential at the time, but now make Jared kissing Evan seem like the furthest thing from a joke.

Heidi knows it’s not her place to tell Evan any of this, but maybe she can at least guide him in what she thinks is the right direction.

“Evan, honey,” Heidi says, giving his hand what she hopes is a comforting squeeze. “Why do you think it was a joke?”

“Why wouldn’t it be?” Evan responds, his voice flat, and Heidi’s heart breaks a little at yet another reminder that her son, just about the only good thing in her life, thinks of himself as totally unlovable. She doesn’t have the words to reassure him right now, especially not without hinting at what she suspects really happened with Jared that afternoon, so instead she pulls him into a hug, clinging to him as if, if she just holds him tight enough, nothing can ever hurt him again and maybe he will be able to feel just how much she loves him.

And then Heidi thinks back to how Evan almost looked heartbroken earlier. He’d been so excited about going to work on the project with Jared, and Heidi had chalked it up to him just having someone to talk to. But then again, Evan’s face always lit up when he was talking about Jared, more than it did at any other time, and he was always dropping in seemingly unnecessary details when recounting their conversations (the color of Jared’s shoes wasn’t really a necessary component of the joke he’d told over lunch one day, was it?), and he’d leapt up in such a rush when Heidi got home that one night to find him sitting next to Jared with their hands intertwined and his head resting on Jared’s shoulder, and -

Heidi’s heart plummets as another puzzle piece falls into place.

She pulls herself out of the hug, placing her hands back on Evan’s shoulders, and tries to look him in the eye.

“If Jared kissed you,” she says, testing the water with each syllable. “And it wasn’t a joke… how would you feel about that?”

Evan doesn’t respond, but for a fraction of a second the ghost of a forlorn smile flickers across his face, and that’s all the answer that Heidi needs.

“Oh, Evan, I’m so sorry,” she says, not quite sure why Evan shrinks away when she goes to run a hand through his hair. “Have you liked him for a while?”

Evan nods, almost imperceptibly.

“And he knows ,” Evan says, spitting the words out hoarsely as if they’ve burned his throat. “He knows , and I think that’s why he did it, he’s trying to say that he’d never like me back and that I’m stupid to even hope and-”

Heidi sighs. She strongly suspects that Evan isn’t stupid to hope that Jared would like him back, not in the slightest, but it’s not her place to put words in Jared’s mouth.

“I know this will sound crazy, but have you tried talking to Jared?”

“He wouldn’t want to talk to me. I saw him on Tuesday and he told me to get away from him.”

Heidi’s heart breaks a little for Jared as well. She’s known him for almost his entire life, and she’s seen him become more closed off over the past few years, and she knows that whatever happened on Tuesday must have been Jared’s way of protecting himself from getting hurt even more.

“Maybe… maybe Jared just needed some time to think about what happened. Maybe he… he might feel bad, if it was a joke, he might want to apologise but he doesn’t know how. And if he doesn’t want to apologise then… Evan, I know it’s hard, I know you’re scared, but you deserve so much better than to let him walk all over you.”

But that’s not what happened , Heidi thinks, and for both Evan and Jared’s sakes she decides to carry on.

“Evan, honey, the thing is I don’t really know what happened. Jared is the only person who really knows what he was thinking when he… when he did what he did, and the only way that you can know for sure is to ask him. Who knows. Maybe this is all some big misunderstanding and you two will laugh about it one day and it won’t even matter.”

Heidi can tell Evan doesn’t want to believe her, and, honestly, she can’t blame him.

“Do you think you can talk to him tomorrow? I know you don’t like to… to talk to people about hard things like this. I know. But it’s always worth a shot, right? And you know , if things are bad, if Jared’s bad, if he tries to hurt you, I’ll be right here for you, okay? I’ll always be right here for you.”

The pause that follows seems to last ten minutes. Maybe it does. Evan is trembling a little when he finally responds.

“Okay.” Another silence. “I… maybe.” His voice drops even further in volume. “I think I’m going to go to bed now.”

Heidi smiles sadly, and lets him go.

Evan heads back upstairs, every sluggish step painful to Heidi, and when she hears the faint creak of him getting into bed (it’s only 5pm, she thinks sadly to herself), she pulls out her phone.

Jared’s mom picks up almost straight away, and Heidi can’t help but notice how tired she sounds.

“Hey, Rachel.” Heidi takes a deep breath. “Listen. Um. How’s Jared doing?” She tries to sound casual, but can’t help a slight air of concern creeping into her voice.

“Did Evan tell you he’d been off school?” - Heidi makes a small, confused noise - “Yeah. He’s been feeling really bad since Tuesday. He says it’s some kind of bug, but I don’t know. I think he might be hiding something.”

“Oh. I, uh, I hope he feels better soon.” Heidi pauses, trying to figure out how best to broach the subject. “Has he, um - I’m sorry, this sounds so weird - has he mentioned Evan? At all?”

“Evan? No, not at all. Why?”

“Okay. Shit. Look. I don’t want to interfere, it’s just - I think Jared might have said something to Evan. Or - done something. When they were working on that project together. And he meant well, he was just trying to be… to be a good friend, but it upset Evan, a lot, and honestly, you know our boys, they’re so reluctant to talk about things and I really don’t think Evan wants to lose Jared as a friend but-”

“Yeah, no, I understand. I really don’t think Jared wants to lose Evan either.” Rachel’s voice drops to a whisper. “Honestly, I don’t think Jared really has many other friends.”

“Poor kid,” says Heidi. “Listen, you’ll talk to him, right? I know Jared doesn’t really like talking about his problems, you always say that, but-”

“Yeah,” Rachel says, not needing to hear the end of Heidi’s sentence. “I’m worried about him too.”

***

Jared is trying to sleep when his mom knocks on his door.

“Hey,” she says, pulling up the spare computer chair again and gently ruffling his hair. “How are you feeling?”

Jared shrugs.

“Listen, I - I just got off the phone with Heidi. I don’t know what’s actually going on, and you don’t have to tell me all the details, but she said you and Evan have had some kind of falling out?”

“I guess you could call it that.”

Jared’s face is still buried in his pillow, but he can tell that his mom is probably doing that concerned half smile that makes him want to cry whenever he sees it. She’s always so kind to him, even when he doesn’t deserve it in the slightest.

“I know it’s upsetting you. I know you care a lot about Evan, and you really value having him as a friend, and-”

“You don’t know that.” Jared hates himself instantly for snapping, and for lying, and whatever else kind of bullshit defensive move that just was.

He hears his mom breathe deeply. She’s trying so hard to be patient.

“And I also know that sometimes we say - or do - things we don’t mean-” Jared lets out a small, bitter laugh at the idea that he didn’t mean to kiss Evan - “or we do things with the best of intentions and still end up hurting people. And they still deserve some kind of apology. Or closure.” The word is like a knife in Jared’s chest, the mere thought that he’s wrecked things with Evan enough that the best thing he can hope for is closure . The fact that this possibility isn’t remotely unrealistic hurts even more. “You can’t hide from Evan forever, sweetie. It’s probably hurting him more that he can’t even talk to you about this. You know Evan, he’s a sensitive kid, and I reckon he values you a lot more than you think he does.”

Jared scoffs.

“Promise me you’ll go to school tomorrow? And try to talk to him?”

Jared thinks. He can’t think of anything he wants to do less than talk to Evan and have to face up to the fact that Evan definitely hates him now. He’s already cried at school twice this week, and that’s enough for an entire lifetime. Forget the pain of having ruined his only friendship, the humiliation of being caught having the inevitable subsequent mental breakdown would probably kill him.

On the other hand, Jared doesn’t think he could bear another day of lying in bed listening to his mom being way nicer than he deserves.

Jared holds his breath for a moment, still not looking up from the pillow, and nods.

There’s a moment of silence, and Jared’s mom takes his hand from where it was resting on the pillow and starts rubbing comforting circles into his palm with her thumb.

“You two used to be so close,” his mom says, and she just sounds sad now. “And this project was the first time you’d properly hung out in months. What happened?”

Jared knows the answer all too well. He fell in love is what happened. He fell in love, some time towards the end of middle school, and right about the same time some assholes he considered friends told him he couldn’t join them on a summer camping trip because Jared was too needy and too clingy and it would ruin the whole trip because we’d just have to pay attention to you and make you feel wanted all the time and suddenly Jared was alone. Jared couldn’t even ask Evan to spend time with him over the summer instead because what if Evan thought he was being too needy as well? What if Evan thought too hard about the way Jared wanted to be near him all the time, the way Jared desperately asked if Evan hated him after each tiny misstep, the way that Jared looked at Evan so carefully, so lovingly , during every conversation, as if he’d never get the chance to see him again? What if he thought too hard about that, because Evan thinks too hard about everything and he always has done and he probably always will do, and he realised ? Jared didn’t need those assholes from the camping trip, but he really fucking needed Evan, and he didn’t know what he’d do if he lost him.

Jared realised that it didn’t really count as losing Evan if he pushed him away first.

So he’d stopped hanging out with Evan at school as well, and he’d made enough casual acquaintances that he could sit with other people at lunch and nod along with their conversations, laughing a little too hard at injokes he didn’t quite understand, but every time they asked him to hang out after school he’d turned them down because they couldn’t really mean that, and if they did they’d regret asking him to hang out after like ten minutes because he’s too much, and he ruins everything. When he did hang out with Evan, he’d let his normal sarcasm escalate to the point of just being a dick, and he’d go on this whole family friends spiel as if the past decade of sleepovers and secret handshakes and joyful hugs at the school gate never even happened. It seemed to work, at first; by keeping Evan at a safe distance, he wouldn’t lose him completely, and for a while that seemed like the best compromise that Jared could hope for. But no matter how hard he tried to separate himself from Evan and how he felt about him, every time Evan smiled that rare, nervous, fluttery ( radiant ) smile of his Jared fell a little more in love, and every time Evan retreated inwards in response to yet another cutting remark Jared’s heart broke a little more.

Jared still isn’t sure why that one tentative look in his direction in the middle of Spanish class on Monday was the one thing that wore him down enough to let himself reach out to Evan again (to reach out too far. He’d reached right into the fire and gotten burned, and he shouldn’t have dared to hope otherwise in the first place). Why was that the straw that broke the camel’s back, that made him realise that by isolating himself, he’d isolated Evan as well? Jared can cope with breaking his own heart, because he doesn’t deserve to expect anything less, but he could never break Evan’s.

Who is he kidding? He hasn’t broken Evan’s heart. Evan doesn’t love Jared, and he never will. Evan might be lonely, he might need a friend, but he doesn’t need Jared.

He certainly doesn’t want Jared.

His mom’s hand is now still, and Jared knows she’s waiting for an answer, and that she won’t leave him alone until she gets one.

“I don't know. I guess we’re just too different,” Jared says, but he knows the real issue is that they’re not that different at all.

Chapter Text

Evan wakes up with the sunrise on Friday morning, his room bathed in warm golden light that makes the small bunch of carnations on his nightstand (he realises that his mom has, at some point, swapped out the rapidly wilting yellow flowers for a new bunch, white and pink this time) look almost as if they’ve sprouted fresh out of the ground rather than being purchased from a gas station late at night. He reaches for his phone to check the time, panicking for a moment when he can’t find it, and then he remembers that it’s been hidden in the little box where he keeps his meds since Tuesday afternoon.

And he remembers the conversation with his mom.

He remembers his nightmares.

He remembers Jared.

The room suddenly feels darker.

Evan pauses for a moment, hand hovering over the box as he recalls parts of the previous evening - “why do you think it was a joke?” “he might feel bad, if it was a joke, he might want to apologise” “Jared is the only person who really knows what he was thinking” - and the fact that nobody came up to him at school yesterday to taunt him for kissing Jared. He takes a deep breath, opens the box, and switches on his phone.

He only has one notification, from Tuesday, and it's just about a new post in some Facebook group he follows.

There's nothing at all from, or about, Jared.

Evan has never been so relieved at the world carrying on as if he wasn’t even there.


 

Jared’s mom drops him off at school on her way to work - normally, Jared would drive himself, but he suspects his mom thinks that he’ll skip if left to his own devices - and his heart is beating so fast he thinks he might collapse as he walks through the main doors. He’s halfway through sorting out the contents of his locker (and attempting to decipher the chemistry notes that Alana Beck has left for him) when he becomes aware of someone standing behind him. Someone who’s too nervous to actually make their presence known.

Jared can’t breathe.

He turns around slowly, willing the person behind him to be anyone but the most likely possibility. But Evan is standing there, and he looks like shit , pale and tired looking and dressed in a crumpled gray hoodie that somehow makes him look even smaller than usual.

This is your fault , Jared thinks to himself. You did this to him.

Jared goes to adjust the strap of his backpack, clutching it for security like he always does (God, he’s always made fun of Evan for all those nervous tics of his, but is he really any better himself?), and he tries to ignore how Evan flinches slightly at even this small movement.

Evan is fidgeting with the string of his hoodie, refusing to look Jared in the eye, when he finally speaks, his voice squeaking like it’s a rusty hinge that hasn’t been used in months.

“Can we talk?”

Jared is almost taken aback by how, squeak aside, Evan sounds incredibly determined, almost confident . He realises with a pang that this probably means Evan has been meticulously rehearsing those three words since he woke up this morning.

Then, Jared processes exactly what Evan has said.

This is it.

Evan wants to talk. Evan wants to tell Jared that he hates him, that Jared kissing him was the worst thing that ever happened to him, that he doesn’t even like Jared as a friend let alone like that , that he never wants to see him again.

Jared can feel a telltale, terrifying pricking at the back of his eyes.

He can’t start crying. Not in front of Evan, not at school, and especially not in the middle of the crowded main hall right at the start of the day. He can’t remember the last time he was actually seen crying at school (and Tuesday was an extremely unfortunate blip in his three year streak of No Crying At School, Period). His mind flashes to the pitying, almost patronizing way teachers look at Evan when he starts tearing up at the thought of having to present something to the class, to the girl in his trig class last year who burst into tears when she got dumped via text and became the hot topic of conversation for a whole week as a result, to all the times people have tried to get a rise out of Connor Murphy and he’s heard that familiar jeer of “aw, look, Connor’s going to cry ” (and to the handful of times that, against his better judgement, Jared has found himself joining in). If you cry at school, people judge you, you become a laughing stock, people know you’re weak and they know how to get to you in future. Jared can’t let that be him. He can’t let people use his emotions - use Evan - against him.

He can’t do this right now.

“Sure. Great. Can we do this after school?” Jared says, praying that the shakiness of his voice isn’t as obvious to Evan as it is to him. “I… I have to get to homeroom.”

Evan pauses, clearly trying to reconfigure whatever kind of mental script he had all planned out. Jared mentally urges him to come to a decision as soon as possible, because he can feel his chin starting to quiver and the minute his chin starts quivering it will all be over. He clasps his hand over his mouth as if deep in thought, hoping that it will buy him some time.

“Okay,” Evan says, after what seems like an eternity. “I’ll, um, should we meet here? By your locker?”

Jared nods, not trusting himself to talk out loud. Evan just backs away slowly, looking anywhere other than at Jared, and when he’s a couple of yards away he turns and runs.

Jared squeezes his eyes shut, takes a deep breath, and prepares to get through the day.

The next few hours seem to drag on forever. Jared barely takes in anything from any of his classes (particularly not Spanish, where he’s constantly aware that Evan is leaning away from him slightly, his breath catching every time Mrs Linares brings up that stupid project). Every time he looks up at the clock, all he can think is four hours to go. Three hours and twenty-seven minutes until Evan tells me he hates me. One hour and forty-five minutes until I get my heart broken for good.

The sound of the final bell sends a jolt of terror through Jared’s heart.

Evan is already waiting by Jared’s locker, hands worrying at the hem of his hoodie with such intensity that Jared is half convinced he’ll put a hole in the damn thing. He jumps slightly when Jared walks up to him, clearly unprepared for the continuation of this conversation.

“Oh. Hi, Jared.” Evan says Jared’s name so quietly, as if he doesn’t really want to use it at all.

“Sup,” Jared responds, and he’s trying so hard to be casual, as if they’re just going to hang out or something, as if his entire life isn’t going to come crashing down at any second.

“Should we, um, I know you wanted to, are we going to-” Jared doesn’t need to hear the rest of the sentence, which is good because already he can hardly breathe and his ears are ringing too loudly for him to take anything else in. Evan wants to go to his house. He wants to sit there and break Jared’s heart in the same room where Jared dared believe that Evan could ever love him back, the same room where Jared fucked everything up in the first place.

If he didn’t know Evan so well, if he didn’t know that Evan doesn’t have a cruel bone in his body, that he’d never intentionally hurt Jared no matter how much he deserved to be hurt, he’d think that was all part of his plan.

“Can we go to your house instead?” Jared says. He doesn’t really register himself making up some blatantly bullshit excuse about his mom having a friend over, but somehow he still manages to coax a small, jittery nod out of Evan.

They have to get the bus, and Jared hates himself for apparently not being trustworthy enough to drive himself to school that day because he knows Evan hates the bus. He wants nothing more than to comfort Evan when he leans forward in his seat, eyes closed tight and hands shaking, trying to get as far away as possible from the gaggle of rowdy freshmen sitting directly behind them. Jared wants to take his hand, thumb moving in calming circles like his mom always does, and whisper kind words and corny jokes to distract him, but he forfeited the right to do that days ago. If not long before that.

Instead, Jared stares straight ahead for the entire journey, trying to ignore Evan’s hunched figure in his peripheral vision.

When they get off the bus, Evan walks to his house in silence, Jared following behind. When Evan reaches the door, he turns to Jared expectantly, wordlessly inviting him in. His face is stony.

Jared takes off his shoes and heads toward the living room, and is halfway to putting his backpack down beside the couch when Evan finally speaks.

“We can, um, do you want to maybe go up to my room?” Crap, Evan’s voice is doing that strangely adorable squeak again, and Jared can feel his heart pounding in the same way that got him into this mess in the first place.

He can’t answer.

“It’s just, the living room is very, it feels a bit formal? I guess? I just, if you’re more comfortable we can talk there but I’d rather-”

“Jesus Christ, Evan, it’s fine. We’ll go to your room.” Jared’s words carry that same exasperated fondness he’s always used around Evan, but his voice is flat and his heart isn’t quite in it.

Evan nods, whispering a totally unnecessary apology that makes Jared’s heart sink.

They head upstairs, and Evan perches uncomfortably on the edge of his bed, eyes fixed on a sad looking bunch of flowers on the nightstand. Jared pauses in the doorway for a moment, before sitting in Evan’s computer chair on the other side of the room, as far from the bed as possible.

The whole setup feels like some kind of twisted interview.

The silence that follows seems to stretch out forever. Jared’s head is spinning, and it feels as if Evan’s side of the room - and Evan himself - is getting further and further from him with every passing second. Evan is oddly still, the rise and fall of his shoulders and the rapid blinking of his eyes the only proof that he hasn’t been replaced with some awkwardly posed wax figure. A couple of times, Jared opens his mouth to speak, but nothing comes out and he just sits there like a fish on land, gasping for air when he knows there’s no way he’ll be able to breathe here, when he knows that no matter how hard he tries, he won’t get out of this in one piece.

When Evan finally speaks, Jared’s heart almost stops.

“So. Um.” - there’s another full minute of silence. Evan swallows, eyes darting briefly in Jared’s direction. “You kissed me.”

Evan seizes up instantly as if he’s shocked at his own boldness, shoulders shooting upwards until they’re almost at his ears, and Jared can tell that he wants nothing more than to bolt, lock himself in the bathroom, do anything that gets him away from Jared and away from this conversation (if you could even call it that). Honestly, Jared feels the same. Hearing Evan state the bare facts of the situation, his voice flat, what emotion there was in his delivery completely undecipherable, grounds him in the worst way possible. Everything suddenly feels very real, and it only heightens Jared’s awareness that he has really fucked things up.

Jared opens and closes his mouth a few more times, still unable to find the right words. He wants so badly to just get this over with, to say sorry , a word that hasn’t been in Jared’s vocabulary since that awful fucking conversation about the camping trip in eighth grade. If he can just cut his losses and apologize maybe Evan won’t hate him too much, maybe things will eventually get back to something resembling normal, and they’ll just go back to being family friends , and Jared can just keep Evan at a safe distance until they eventually, inevitably, grow apart and Evan forgets him entirely.

This last thought sends a wave of nausea through Jared’s body, and he can feel his walls going back up, he can feel his brain reaching for some kind of dickbag response because he’s not ready to be vulnerable. He’ll never be ready.

So instead, he laughs.

“Kissed you? Ha, yeah, bro, I sure did.”

Immediately, Jared knows that he has made everything much worse.


 

Evan feels like he’s going to be sick.

Jared’s laugh sounds exactly like it did in Evan’s nightmares, a cold, empty chuckle that pierces Evan’s heart and seems to make the room around him go dark. Evan pulls his knees up to his chest, like if he makes himself as small as possible then Jared won’t be able to see him, won’t be able to hurt him. He suddenly hates Jared, hates his mom for convincing him that Jared could have meant something, anything else when he kissed him, when it really was some kind of sick joke all along.

He wants Jared to go.

He doesn’t want Jared to go.

Evan has no idea what he wants.

He takes a deep breath, and recalls what he wanted to say to Jared in the hall that morning.

“Jared, I, um.” He can hardly breathe, this is worse than that awful speech he gave in English class a few months back when he couldn’t get the words out and ended up sprinting out of the classroom and hiding in the bathroom for the rest of the period, it’s so much worse because reeling off quotes from The Great Gatsby in front of thirty people might be terrifying but it’s nothing compared to begging his friend, his only friend, the boy he loves, to take pity on him, to show any compassion at all, to break his heart gently . “If you hate me I. I really don’t mind, it’s fine, I understand because, because… yeah, um, if you hate me that’s alright, just, just tell me and then leave me alone you don’t have to, to make some sort of big joke out of it to try and, to scare me away or whatever because that. I’m sorry. I don’t want to… it’s just not fair I know I, I’m not… because I’m in - because-”

Evan stops dead, inhaling sharply. He doesn’t even know what he’s trying to say any more.

Jared just stares at him blankly, totally emotionless.

He doesn’t care.

It’s the push Evan needs to carry on.

“It’s not fair because… Jared you might not realise this, I don’t know, because you never, you never do anything except make fun of me and I don’t know if it’s because I’m, because I never say anything about it so you think it’s not, that I’m not upset, but believe it or not Jared I have feelings and I don’t know what you were trying to do, what you were trying to achieve by kissing me but if it was all some big joke then, then it wasn’t funny because I trusted you, I thought you might, that we were maybe friends and… please if you hate me just tell me but I’m so tired of being the butt of all your jokes.”

Evan’s heart is racing. He can’t remember the last time he stood up to Jared - the last time he stood up for himself at all. He feels like he should almost be proud of himself, but the air around him is heavy and something just feels wrong .

Jared is silent as he leans forwards in his chair, until he’s almost bent in half with his elbows resting on his knees, staring at the ground, his face completely unreadable. Finally, in a voice that is far more small and uncertain than Evan has ever heard Jared use before, he speaks.

“I’m sorry.”

Evan can’t believe what he’s hearing. He’s frozen at the edge of his bed, totally unable to respond, to even begin to understand what is going on, staring at Jared as if he might explode at any moment. Jared bites his lip, eyebrows knotted together.

There’s another pause.

“I don’t hate you,” Jared adds, at last.

He’s even quieter this time, and Evan is half convinced that he’s imagining things. Jared isn’t making any sense , there’s no other explanation for all of this, there can’t be. But Jared looks so serious, and for a brief moment Evan trusts him again.

“If you don’t hate me,” he asks, and Jared looks up, frowning. “Then why did you kiss me?”

Evan knows the second the words have left his mouth that he’s just said something catastrophically stupid. Or at least it would be stupid, if he wasn’t Evan, because why would anyone, especially Jared, even consider kissing Evan if it wasn’t for the sake of some weird joke? Even so, Evan hopes that Jared will at least have the decency not to laugh.

Unfortunately, Jared doesn’t seem capable of being decent these days.

He lets out a surprised splutter that quickly morphs into another cold cackle, and he’s looking at Evan incredulously, as if he can’t believe that Evan could be such an idiot , and Evan can’t really blame him.

“Evan… Jesus… why the crap would I kiss you if I hated you?”

He’s turning the question back towards Evan, trying to trick him into saying what he must know Evan is thinking, because I’ve been in love with you since we were fourteen and I was hoping you’d kissed me because maybe, just maybe, you feel the same way, even though I don’t deserve that, I don’t deserve you, I just thought that somehow…

Instead, Evan takes a deep breath. He remembers what his mom told him yesterday - “You deserve so much better than to let him walk all over you ” - and he doesn’t believe her for a second, but he can’t bear Jared laughing at him and he has to say something .

“This isn’t funny any more, Jared,” he says, shocked at how little his voice shakes.

Jared nods, biting his lip. He leans forward further, breathing deeply, and suddenly his hands are clutching at his hair and it almost looks as if he might cry. He looks so small, so unlike Jared , that Evan begins to wonder if he’s slipped into another awful nightmare, somehow even worse than those which have plagued him all this week. The real Jared, the Jared who kissed him as a joke, the Jared who tried to manipulate Evan into saying how he truly felt, wouldn’t crumble like this.

Or maybe, Evan thinks, his heart sinking, he’s only just seeing the real Jared now.

Then Jared looks up, and he looks terrified , like he’s a little kid again, like he’s been possessed and he has no control over the words that he hoarsely chokes out.

“Do you hate me?”

Evan hasn’t heard those words come out of Jared’s mouth since they were in middle school. Jared had been so different then. Kinder, more affectionate, more emotional. More nervous. Evan was used to hearing those words, with varying degrees of seriousness, after every little dispute or misstep, and every single time he’d had the same answer: No, Jared, I’ll never ever hate you . Jared would look up at Evan, eyes wide and hopeful, and he’d say Really? and Evan would nod and they’d hug and everything would be okay.

But then Jared stopped asking. He stopped caring. Now Jared is colder, he’s brash, and unkind, and he acts like he’s embarrassed to even be seen with Evan, and he kisses Evan for reasons that Evan can’t understand but that he knows can’t possibly align with what Evan really wants, and Evan knows that everything won’t be okay. Now Jared doesn’t care about hurting him, now, no matter what he says to the contrary, he can’t possibly care about whether or not Evan hates him .

Now Evan doesn’t know how to answer.

But he keeps staring at Jared, and Jared keeps staring back, and Evan realises he really is waiting for an answer, looking more and more desperate with every passing second. And the more utterly scared, and vulnerable, and somehow hopeless Jared looks, the more Evan finds himself believing that Jared really meant that question, and he finds himself longing to take Jared’s hand and look him in the eye and, like they were in middle school again, whisper No, Jared, I don’t hate you. I never have done, and I never could. Even if you hate me - even though you hate me - I will never, ever, hate you.

But he doesn’t say that. He doesn’t say anything at all, even though Jared is starting to shift in his seat and it looks like he wants nothing more than to leave. A part of him is yelling that he has to say something, that this is his last chance, that if Jared leaves now he will never come back, that something within Jared is breaking before his eyes for some reason that Evan can’t quite understand, and for some even more unfathomable reason it’s Evan who has to try and hold all these broken parts together while he still can. But Evan isn’t brave enough. He’s never brave enough.

Evan can’t breathe, he can’t speak, he feels like he’s back in English class doing that presentation and all he wants to do is run , but he can’t run because he’s in his own house and he has nowhere to run, and even if he had somewhere to go his legs are shaking so hard that he could barely get up from the bed and the silence is suffocating him and he feels like he’s underwater. He feels like he’s drowning.

But even worse, he feels like he’s watching Jared drown.

Chapter Text

The minute Jared opens his mouth, he knows he’s ruined things with Evan beyond repair.

As if him laughing at Evan wasn’t enough, as if him kissing Evan in the first place and then hiding in his room like a coward for two days wasn’t enough, suddenly the walls he’s been keeping up for years collapsed and Jared asked that question, that awful fucking question that lost him so many friends when he was fourteen, and now Evan will see how needy and pathetic he is, now Evan will know that Jared’s in love with him, now Evan will know for certain that he wants nothing to do with Jared ever again.

In a way, he’s almost prepared for Evan to look at him and say Yes. Yes, I do hate you. I always have done, and I always will do. I’ve only tolerated you for years, and now I can finally get you out of my life for good. It will hurt, Jared knows, he’ll go home and crawl into bed and want to die and maybe he’ll never stop wanting to die, but at least he’s ready for the blow. At least, for all the advantages Evan has over him in this situation, he can’t surprise Jared.

But Evan doesn’t say anything at all, and it turns out Jared hadn’t prepared himself for that.

The silence is utterly suffocating, and Jared feels like he’s in one of those rooms from action movies where the walls and the ceiling are slowly closing in on him and if he doesn’t escape soon then he’ll be trapped in this room with Evan - still, silent, Evan - forever, crushed and unable to breathe.

He has to go .

Slowly, not quite trusting his legs to support him, Jared stands up, still clinging to the arms of Evan’s chair. His eyes are glued to the floor as he tries to speak, willing himself to make a sound, but not quite ready to accept that these might be the last words he ever says to Evan. Part of him wants to make them count, to throw in some last-ditch, grandiose love confession while he still can, but he knows there’s no point.

“I guess I’ll just. I’ll go,” he says instead, and before he can catch himself he punctuates the last word with a vague, fluttery gesture towards the door that is so like Evan that Jared starts remembering all those stupid articles on the internet about how you’re more likely to mimic the body language of people you’re into that he read back when he was first learning how to close himself off, and he almost barks out a bitter laugh at the fact that, even now, he can’t stop giving himself away.

He walks slowly towards the door, praying that he can at least make it out of Evan’s bedroom before he inevitably shatters. Despite everything, he realises a small part of him is still hoping that Evan will stop him.

But he won’t.

But he does .

WAIT -” Evan cries out, the sudden change in volume almost knocking Jared’s legs out from under him. “Don’t go, I - I don’t hate you. I don’t hate you honestly if this is all, even if this is all some big joke I don’t hate you if anything I hate myself for falling for it-

Jared stops in his tracks, clinging to the door handle as if it will somehow stop him from passing out.

I hate myself for falling for it.

What does that even mean?

Jared’s brain flips through a thousand possible explanations, all varying degrees of ridiculous, but he keeps coming back to one in particular. The only one that really seems to make any sense in the slightest. His heart feels like it’s doing backflips.

You can’t let yourself hope, Jared , he tells himself. You can’t let yourself hope Jared it doesn’t mean what you think it means he hates you he hates you he hates you-

“You… what ?” Jared’s voice is hoarse, and he’s half convinced he didn’t even make a sound until Evan starts talking again, words rushing out as if a dam has suddenly burst, as if he's no longer capable of holding anything back.

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I mean - I mean if this is a joke it’s my fault for being stupid and falling for it because I, because I wanted, because maybe it’s horrible for you to kiss me as a joke, if it was a joke, what am I saying it had to be a joke because why, why else would any - why would you kiss me oh my God, but I can’t blame you I can’t ever hate you for it, the whole thing, the whole problem is that I can’t hate you because it’s my fault for falling for it and GETTING MY HOPES UP THAT YOU WOULD EVER LIKE ME TOO.

Jared feels every remaining bit of breath leave his body.

He can’t have heard that right.

He can’t have.

“Too” has to mean something else, right? He has to have missed some obscure vocab test or something back in, like, the second grade where Evan discovered some alternate meaning of the word “too” that actually means the complete opposite of what Jared thinks it means, and Evan’s using this knowledge against him, and that’s fucking absurd, Jared is going mad but even that batshit theory is still more likely than the alternative.

Jared is gripping the door handle so tightly that his fingers are starting to hurt.

He still can’t look at Evan.

“Too?” he says, at last, his voice deliberately expressionless because he can’t let on that he’s suddenly hoping again. If he hopes he’ll just jinx this whole thing. If there’s even a thing to be jinxed in the first place.

He hears Evan’s breath catch in his throat, and Jared is suddenly ready to run away again. Slowly, he looks up.

Evan is visibly shaking, and he almost looks as if he wants to run away as well, but instead he opens his mouth again.

“I… too ?” Evan’s voice cracks sharply and God, Jared does not need Evan to start squeaking right now.

“Too,” Jared says again, quieter this time, a small part of his brain that’s still capable of humor suddenly aching to make some kind of joke out of this increasingly ridiculous conversation.

Don’t get ahead of yourself, he tells himself, don’t turn this into more than it is, it doesn’t mean anything, and don’t fucking ruin it by making a joke again don’t you ever learn-

Evan clearly wants to say too again.

Jared can’t let this go on any longer.

“You mean.” He pauses, suddenly petrified, realising that really he’s just about to ask that awful question again, except this time it’s rephrased in a way that somehow makes it even worse, even scarier . “You - um - you like me?”

Evan doesn’t answer. Fuck .

“No. Don’t worry. I’m a fucking idiot. I’ll just -” Jared is halfway out the door when Evan starts babbling again.

NO , I mean, yes, I do, I do like you , I mean, as more than a friend, I like you as a friend as well, of course, but, this is so stupid I’m sorry I’ve had, I think I’m in, I’ve had this stupid crush on you for years and I thought, I thought you’d never like me, you don’t like me oh my God I’ve ruined everything you hardly even like me as a friend and now I’m just, I’m saying all this and, it’s fine you hate me you hate me that’s why you kissed me it was, you kissed me to try and get me to leave you alone and-”

“Dude.” Jared says, his voice coming out at least an octave higher than anticipated.

Evan likes him.

Evan likes him.

Jared is still half convinced he’s hallucinating, but Evan is staring right at him and he looks so hopeful, so scared that this could all go wrong at any moment and Jared can’t explain this away any longer, no matter how much his brain wants to tell him that Evan hates him and this is all some weird dream.

Evan likes him.

He can’t even begin to process what he’s feeling right now. He’s still trying to pull himself up from the brink of a total breakdown, still not totally able to believe that Evan doesn’t hate him, let alone that he actually feels the exact opposite and has done for God knows how long.

Evan likes him Evan likes him Evan likes him-

“Dude,” Jared says, and he can feel that pricking at the back of his eyes again but somehow, this time, he’s not scared. “I’m about to completely embarrass myself,” - his voice starts to shake - “and you’re not allowed to use this against me ever,” - his chin starts quivering oh fuck his chin starts quivering - “and we will never speak of this again but-”

Jared bursts into tears.

He can’t hold himself upright any longer, his legs folding under him, and he just about manages to collapse onto the end of Evan’s bed rather than falling to the floor. He’s covering his eyes with his hands so he can’t see a thing but he can feel Evan’s hands flying all over the place around him and he can’t help but feel awful because Evan is freaking out and it’s Jared’s fault for crying and God , Jared can’t even get this moment right.

Even if Evan does like him now, he won’t do for long.

“Jared? Jared? ” Evan’s voice is high and panicked. “Oh my God I’m sorry, did I do something wrong, I’m sorry-”

Jared shakes his head frantically, desperate to salvage this while he still can. He looks up at Evan, fully aware that he probably looks like a mess (because he’s always been an ugly crier and, crap, he’s really doing everything within his power to make Evan have second thoughts, isn’t he?), silently urging Evan to trust him, to believe that for once he’s being totally serious.

“Evan,” he chokes out, fully aware that he’s crying so hard he’s barely even coherent. “Evan, I like you too .”

Evan pauses, and he looks utterly perplexed for a moment. There’s a painful silence, broken only by Jared’s sobs.

“Wait, so… you mean… you kissed me because… why ?”

Jared can’t believe his fucking ears.

“Evan,” he says, and now he’s laughing through his tears and he must look absolutely batshit crazy, “Evan, oh my God , why do you think I kissed you?”

For a moment Evan’s face takes on an expression unlike anything Jared has ever seen, a combination of shock and relief and doubt and hope and trembling bottom lip that, if Jared hadn’t fallen in love a long time ago, would certainly do the trick right now. And then suddenly Evan’s arms are wrapped around Jared’s neck and his head is buried in Jared’s shoulder and Jesus, Evan’s crying too, and Jared starts crying even harder and he clings to Evan, fingers knotted up in the fabric of his hoodie, as if he’s scared Evan might blow away at any moment and he’ll lose him all over again.

Neither of them hear the door open. Neither of them are aware of anything except each other, until -

“Hey,” says a soft voice from Evan’s doorway. Jared springs away from Evan, twisting around to see - oh shit - Heidi, standing just outside holding a box of tissues. She’s smiling warmly at the two of them, and there’s something awfully knowing about her expression. “I’m glad you two have sorted everything out. Here.” She places the box of tissues next to Jared.

Jared, mortified and totally lost for words, doesn’t know what else to do except give Heidi a shaky thumbs up.

The second the bedroom door closes, he lets out a high pitched, almost hysterical laugh.

Shit ,” he says, tears still streaming down his face. “I can’t believe your mom just walked in on me - on us - having total emotional breakdowns.”

Evan smiles shakily, as if he wants to laugh too but can’t quite find the strength, and wraps his arms around Jared again.

Jared isn’t sure quite how long they stay that way, but eventually Evan stops crying, and Jared’s tears subside into small, irregular hiccups, and they collapse against one another, sitting side by side on Evan’s bed. At some point, Evan takes his hand, and they stay that way for what seems like hours, fingers intertwined, breathing deeply, Jared’s head resting on Evan’s shoulder. There’s a stillness in the air around them, but it’s nothing like the stagnant, oppressive feeling that had hung around Jared’s bedroom all week, it’s nothing like the cold terror that seized Jared when he was so convinced that Evan was going to say exactly what he dreaded hearing the most. It’s the pleasant, balmy stillness of a summer afternoon, like a blanket made of light itself wrapped around them both, encompassing them in a soft, bright world that is theirs, and only theirs.

It feels like they could stay like this forever.

Jared’s eyes are almost drifting shut when he catches sight of the clock on the opposite wall.

“Fuck, I have to go,” he blurts out, pulling himself upright. “My parents will be expecting me soon, do you think your mom will give me a ride?”

“Yeah. For sure,” Evan says, squeezing Jared’s hand.

Jared smiles, swinging his legs over the side of the bed.

“Anyway,” he says, suddenly sheepish. “Uh. This will sound weird, considering all I did for like an hour was cry, but this was… nice.”

Evan nods in agreement, more to himself than to Jared. He doesn’t let go of Jared’s hand.

He’s being very quiet.

“What’s up?” Jared can feel his chest getting tight, wondering if this was all too good to be true and everything is going to come crashing down again at any second.

Evan can’t even look Jared in the eye, and his voice is barely audible when he finally speaks.

“Can I kiss you?”

Jared’s heart almost leaps out of his throat. He tries to find the right words - of course? please? you’re totally welcome to but, just so you know, I might start crying again? - but he’s totally speechless. Instead, he just nods.

The corner of Evan’s mouth flickers upwards in a tiny, shy smile.

As Evan leans in, Jared swallows nervously, and he reaches up to brush Evan’s hair back out of his face, just like he wanted to, what feels like a lifetime ago, in that Spanish class on Monday morning. It’s softer than he could ever have imagined.

Evan is tentative at first, lips barely brushing against Jared’s, hands pinned awkwardly against his sides. Jared is scared too, terrified that at any moment Evan will pull away again, that he’ll push Jared away, that once again this will all turn out to be some horrible mistake.

But Evan doesn’t pull away. In fact, he presses his lips against Jared’s more firmly, one of his hands suddenly tangled in Jared’s hair, the other coming to rest halfway down Jared’s back, pulling him closer, and Jared can feel the breath get knocked out of him and it’s a very good thing he’s sitting down because otherwise he’d probably collapse all over again. In this moment, Evan seems more sure of himself, more confident than Jared has ever known him to be before, and his heart swells at the fact that despite all of this, despite everything that Jared ever has been and ever will be, Evan somehow feels safe around him. And Jared feels safe too. He goes to wrap his arms around Evan, only to have to plant his right arm down for stability because Jesus Christ Evan is kissing him so desperately that he’s nearly pushing Jared down onto the mattress, and he lets himself take in the moment.

The kiss isn’t quite perfect. Evan is shaking despite his newfound boldness, and Jared is still a bit snotty from all the crying and his glasses hit Evan in the face at one point, but somehow it still feels like coming home.

Jared breaks away first, pulling himself upright and pressing his forehead against Evan’s to show him that this wasn’t a mistake, he’s not pulling away because he hates him or anything, if he could he’d stay here for the rest of his life, here with Evan where he’s safe and warm and so, so in love. But he can’t.

“Crap, Evan, I really have to go. I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Evan says, and he leans in for one quick, final kiss and Jared can feel Evan smiling against his lips. “I’ll, um. I’ll see you at school? On Monday?”

Jared nods, finally standing up. He’s about to call down to Heidi that he needs to head home and could he possibly get a ride, and - ah. Heidi.

“Fuck. Do you think your mom…”

Evan’s face twists into a joking grimace, totally unlike anything Jared has ever seen him do before. He didn’t realise he could fall even more in love.

“Oh. Probably.”

Jared groans, shaking his head and mimicking Evan’s expression with a chuckle. “This is going to be the most awkward ride home of my life .”

He’s almost at the door when Evan clears his throat quietly.

“Hey, um - one - one more thing…” Evan says, his voice almost fading into nothing, and he’s leaning over towards his nightstand and Jared very nearly starts sobbing again because Evan’s reaching for the vase and he pulls out a single carnation and hands it to Jared with a nervous smile.

“Jesus Christ , Evan, you sappy piece of crap,” Jared says. He wouldn’t normally think of himself as one for sweet romantic gestures, but something about the small, almost pure white flower, tinged with pink, is so understated and fragile and gentle that it’s very, very Evan . It couldn’t be more perfect. He notices Evan bite his lip, breaking eye contact with Jared, clearly ready to apologise, and so he adds, more gently, “I love it.”

Evan doesn’t look back up at Jared, but the warm smile that spreads across his face as he blushes scarlet says everything.

It takes every ounce of self control Jared has not to outright skip down the stairs and into the living room. Heidi hastily grabs at a magazine on the coffee table as he enters and fixes her eyes on a random page, a desperate attempt to look casual that doesn’t fool Jared for a second.

“Hey, is it cool if I get a ride home?” he asks, trying to sound as if he’s not about to die from embarrassment.

“Of course, Jared, honey,” Heidi says, looking up with a clearly feigned air of absent-mindedness, as if she’d only just become aware of his presence. Her eyes immediately fall on the flower, and Jared splutters out some horrendous excuse that doesn’t contain a single full sentence as he quickly shoves his hand behind his back.

“I’m so glad that you and Evan are… are friends again,” Heidi adds, smiling softly.

“Yeah,” says Jared, and he’s trying so hard to play it cool but he can’t quite hide the excitement in his voice. “Me too.”

“Well, you know you’re welcome to come over whenever you want.” Heidi is barely able to conceal her own enthusiasm, and Jared can’t even find it in himself to be embarrassed any more. “To work on that project, of course… maybe I’ll order pizza for the two of you one day, how about that?”

“That sounds great,” says Jared, slinging his backpack over one shoulder.

Suddenly, Heidi leaps up from the sofa and pulls him into a hug.

“Evan is so, so lucky to have a friend like you, Jared,” she whispers, and Jared can tell that she means so much more than that, and he also knows that he wants whatever it is that he has with Evan to be so much more.

Maybe it will be. Jared isn’t too scared to hope any more.

Jared doesn’t talk much on the way home. He’s still exhausted from the events of the afternoon, of the past week , and his mind is preoccupied with thoughts of Evan, with the memory of Evan’s lips on his, with the knowledge that somehow, despite everything, despite all of Jared’s doubts and flaws and insecurities, Evan likes him.

Evan might even love him.

Instead, Jared rests his head against the passenger side window, watching the world go past, the late afternoon sun casting a warm haze over everything he sees.

He can’t help but feel that it’s an apt metaphor for the state of his heart right now.

Chapter Text

Two days before their Spanish project is due, Evan catches up with Jared in the hall before homeroom.

“Hey,” he says, clearly a little out of breath - was he running after Jared just to come and say hi? Jared melts a little at the mere thought. “Hey. Can I, um - do you have a second?”

Jared rolls his eyes affectionately, trying to disguise the jolt of anxiety he feels at this incredibly vague conversation starter. Is it even possible to break up with someone when you haven’t officially said that you’re dating yet? It’s been almost two weeks since Jared’s near breakdown at Evan’s place, since they kissed properly for the first time and Evan gave him that flower that Jared kept by his bed even after half the petals were browned and drooping. Even though since then they’ve kissed a couple more times, and worked on the project with their arms around each other as if they’d been doing this for years (one evening Evan had ended up sitting on Jared’s lap and Jared had been genuinely concerned that he would pass out and they’d both end up on the floor), neither of them have actually said anything about what this is. If it even is anything. So, like, it’s definitely not too late for Evan to back down. Jared wouldn’t exactly blame him.

“Yeah, I’m all ears,” Jared grins a little too widely.

“It’s just, um, I know we were going to go to your house tonight to work on the project and stuff but-” Fuck. Here it comes. “-but my mom’s working late tonight, so I mean, she won’t be home for ages she said, she’s going straight to class from work I think so if you want to come over we’ll be, we’d have the house to ourselves so that might be, I don’t know, better?”

Jared is so relieved that he can’t help but laugh.

“Jesus Christ , Evan. Pulling the ‘my mom isn’t home, we’ll have the house to ourselves’ trick already ?! I’m positively scandalised.”

Evan goes scarlet.

“No! No, that’s not - I didn’t mean it like that , oh my God Jared stop laughing -” he splutters. “I just meant we’d - it would be quiet and we could probably get more work done and - Jared, stop! ” Evan bats at Jared’s hands, apparently not appreciating the air quotes he’d added around the word “work”.

“Okay, okay,” Jared holds his hands up again, this time in mock surrender. “Works for me. See you in Spanish?”

Evan smiles that tentative smile of his that will probably never stop making Jared’s heart do a somersault, and waves goodbye.

God , Jared loves him.

Evan is quiet as ever in Spanish class, focused intensely on the translation exercise they’ve been given (at one point he appears to poke his tongue out in concentration, and Jared very nearly has to put his hand up and ask permission to go to the nurse’s office to lie down). Towards the end of the class, Mrs Linares reminds them of the upcoming presentations, and Evan looks over at Jared and smiles. Jared remembers how, not so long ago, during the worst week of his fucking life, Evan had frozen in his seat at the mention of the project, and he can’t help but marvel at how he ever managed to resolve that nightmare.

Most of the day goes by in a blur. Evan is retaking some biology test from the other week during lunch (Jared is somewhat confused that Evan would ever have to retake anything bio related, but he knows that Evan probably doesn’t want him to pry about whatever happened there), so Jared spends the hour in the computer lab catching up on homework. Just before the warning bell, Jared’s phone vibrates, and he flips it over to see a text from Evan.

I think the test went well. :) See you after school x

Jared has to clamp one hand over his mouth to stop himself from screaming.

He’s still exuberant by the time he gets to Chemistry, his last class of the day. He even catches himself grinning at Connor fucking Murphy, who looks tense at the best of times but now stares at Jared as if he’s just sprouted a second head, on his way to sit down. Jared wonders briefly, jokingly, if it might be best to stop this thing with Evan before it turns him into a legitimate Disney princess.

Even thinking about that kind of scenario in jest makes Jared have to surreptitiously reread Evan’s text to cheer himself up.

Jared’s practically out of the classroom before the bell has even finished ringing, which turns out to be a stupid decision because now he has to wait for Evan and a small voice at the back of his mind starts wondering if he’ll actually even turn up. Within a few minutes, however, he catches sight of a familiar, hunched figure trying to navigate the crowded hall. Evan looks up at Jared, and it’s as if the anxious voices in both their respective heads were banished at the exact same time, because he straightens up a little and beams as he covers the remaining distance to Jared’s locker.

“Hey, sorry I’m late, we got let out late and then the, you saw how crowded the hall was, I should have texted you or something.”

“Dude, it’s fine, I was early.” Jared hopes there’s no residual traces of worry in his expression. “Cmon, are you good to go?”

Evan nods, clearly wanting nothing more than to get somewhere quiet. Jared gives his hand a subtle, comforting squeeze, and they head out towards the parking lot together in companionable silence.

“So, the test was good?” Jared says, as they get into his car.

“Yeah,” Evan replies. “It was. I wasn’t feeling well, you see, when we did the test for the first time, so I, um. I didn’t… do very well, then.”

“That sucks,” Jared says. “But you’re, like, some kind of freakish biological genius, right? I bet you aced it this time.”

Jared hopes that Evan doesn’t notice that his voice is a little flat. He can’t help but do the mental math - the test was two weeks ago, Evan had said earlier today. Two weeks ago, Evan and Jared weren’t talking, because Jared had been an idiot and kissed him. Two weeks ago, Jared had run into Evan in the hallway outside - shit - the nurse’s office. It’s not totally outside the realm of possibility that Evan wasn’t feeling well, and that Evan failed his bio test the first time - Evan , failing a bio test - because he was that upset about Jared kissing him. Fuck, Jared really does have a gift for ruining everything .

But he didn’t ruin this, he tries to tell himself. Evan kissed him a few days later. They sorted everything out, Evan probably isn’t even mad at Jared about the test. In fact, Evan’s done the test again, and he’s probably done brilliantly, and he texted Jared earlier and put an actual freaking kiss at the end, and he’s sitting in Jared’s car watching the world go by and looking as if he’s never had a care in the world while Jared is busy moping.

Jared decides to distract himself before he actually does fuck anything up.

“Do you want to listen to some music or something?” he asks, fishing his phone out of his pocket and handing it to Evan. “Here, plug it in.”

Evan fumbles with the aux cord for a few seconds before looking back up at Jared uncertainly.

“Do you want to - um. I don’t know, my music taste isn’t that good, you can choose what we listen to.”

“Oh my God ,” says Jared, hoping he’s hitting the right balance of frustrated and affectionate. “Okay, just open up Spotify and hit play on whatever-”

Jared is unable to finish his sentence before the unmistakable strains of “Love Story” by Taylor Swift come blaring through the speakers. Evan’s head snaps up, and Jared grabs at his phone with a shriek, the car swerving into the opposite lane so sharply that Evan starts screaming as well. By the time Jared has managed to revert to driving on the correct side of the road, Evan looks as if he doesn’t know whether to start crying or slap him, and Taylor Swift has been unceremoniously silenced in the course of Jared’s phone’s forceful trajectory to the back seat.

“Um,” Evan says, after a deeply uncomfortable silence. “What was that?”

Jared pauses, unsure whether or not to reveal that Evan just accidentally stumbled upon the deeply embarrassing playlist (titled: “evan <3”) that has made up 99% of his listening history for the past two weeks.

“That was Taylor Swift’s iconic 2008 hit ‘Love Story’, Evan,” he says at last.

Evan still looks somewhat unimpressed.

“For real, sorry about, uh, almost killing us there,” Jared tries. “That would have been a pretty humiliating way to go.”

Evan is silent for a moment, and then finally lets out a small giggle that makes Jared’s heart grow a thousand sizes.

The rest of the ride home is comparatively quiet. Jared is a little concerned that Evan is still upset about the fact that they very much could have died on the way home, so as soon as they’re both out of the car he reaches for Evan’s hand, an unspoken “Do you hate me?"

Evan pauses, and then slowly lets his fingers intertwine with Jared’s.

No, Jared, ” his gesture says. “I will never, ever hate you .”

They walk up to the house hand in hand, only letting go briefly so that Evan can crouch down to take his shoes off once they’re inside.

“Are we going to your room?” Jared says, pulling Evan upright.

“If you want,” Evan responds. “I left my laptop downstairs last night, though, I just like working there sometimes, so.”

There’s something oddly endearing, if a little sad, about the way Evan trails off like that sometimes, his voice fading into nothing as he realises that he’s heading off on a tangent again. At the same time, Jared can’t help but think that he’d willingly listen to Evan talk about everything and nothing for hours on end.

Jared pushes open the door to the living room with his free hand, only to almost pass out from shock when he realises that he and Evan aren’t alone after all.

“Oh, hello, boys!” Heidi cries, her voice at least an octave higher than usual. She flings her mug down on the table with such force that it tips over, sending coffee everywhere. “ Shit - sorry, Jared, excuse my language, I-"

“Mom!” Evan shrieks, tearing his hand away from Jared and appearing to leap two feet horizontally across the room. “You’re home ?!”

“I thought I’d surprise you! I swapped shifts with Erica, I thought we could order pizza, spend some time together, but it’s okay, I can see you and Jared are-”

Heidi stops in her tracks, clearly not sure exactly what Jared and Evan Are. Jared isn’t entirely sure either, to be fair.

“We’re, um, we’re doing some work. On the project?” Evan says, his voice strained.

Oh , of course !” Jared can’t tell if Heidi looks relieved or disappointed. “You know I said weeks ago you’re welcome to come over whenever, Jared.”

Evan shoots a confused look in Jared’s direction. For the past two weeks, Jared has insisted upon them working on the presentation at his place, ostensibly because he has a better computer, as if that really makes any kind of a difference when it comes to making a PowerPoint presentation for Spanish class. In reality, Jared has been avoiding coming over to Evan’s house because he is fully aware that Heidi probably knows, or at least strongly suspects, that he and Evan are some kind of tentative thing . Like, she saw Jared come downstairs from Evan’s room holding a flower , for fuck’s sake. He doesn’t mind that in itself, but from years of experience he also knows that Heidi, to a lesser extent, shares Evan’s tendency to just start talking in any kind of remotely awkward situation, and if Heidi starts talking then Jared will have to talk to Evan about this whole thing, and despite everything there’s still a small part of Jared that is absolutely terrified that it will turn out that this was all too good to be true.

God, he wishes he could stop being so scared for once.

“Well,” Heidi continues. “You two could always order pizza for yourselves? That might be nice. I can find my own dinner, leave you two alone, if you want-”

Evan’s expression graduates from confused to mortified.

“No, no, it’s fine, um, we could have dinner together? All of us? If that’s okay with you, Jared?” he splutters.

“Yeah, yeah, it’s not like, this isn’t a-” Jared forces himself to stop short of saying date , because what the fuck . He’s so flustered that he’s beginning to sound like Evan. “That’s cool with me. Okay. Evan and I should probably get to work. We’re kind of behind and the project’s due on Friday, so, like...”

“Oh, no, of course, no worries,” Heidi says, beaming at the two of them. “Let me know if you need anything!”

“Cool,” Jared can still hardly get the words out. “We’re just gonna. Um. Head upstairs then. See ya.”

He heads out of the room a little too fast, hissing at Evan to come with him right now because he does not need Heidi to stop Evan and interrogate him.

“I’m so sorry,” Evan whispers as they climb the stairs. “I didn’t realise my mom was going to be home, you heard, she said it was a surprise, if I’d known I would have, I don’t know. I don’t know what I would have done. It’s not that I don’t want you to come over, or that I really wanted us to be alone oh my God it’s not like that , or that, that I don’t want her to see us, um… I don’t know. It’s just. I’m sorry.”

“Jesus, Evan,” Jared says, and he stops at the top of the stairs to give Evan what he hopes is a reassuring peck on the cheek. “Don’t worry about it. It’s cool.”

Evan doesn’t say anything, but the tension in his face seems to fade away a little.

They get into Evan’s room and take up position at his desk, and Jared finds himself letting out an involuntary shiver.

Shit , Evan, your room is freezing,” Jared realises only after he’s spoken that that definitely sounded like he was hinting at wanting to cuddle or something equally sappy, and he kind of wants to slap himself right now.

“Sorry. I mean, it’s always been like this so I’ve never really noticed it myself.” Evan stops, looking as if he’s internally debating where to take this conversation. “I, um. I have blankets? Or you could borrow a jacket or something if you want. I don’t know.”

Before Jared can even answer, Evan has grabbed a gray hoodie from the top of his filing cabinet - Jared’s breath catches in his throat when he realises it’s the same hoodie Evan had been wearing the last time they were sitting in this room together.

“Is this okay?” Evan asks.

“Yeah,” Jared says, pulling the hoodie on. It’s softer than he expected, and it smells like Evan and it feels like a never-ending hug from Evan and holy crap, Jared is gay.

The room definitely feels warmer now, but Jared’s not sure how much of that can be attributed to the actual, physical hoodie.

“Okay,” he says, hoping to distract Evan from the fact that he’s definitely blushing right now. “Let’s get to work.”

They make good headway before hitting a lull in their work a couple of hours in, at which point Evan heads downstairs to ask his mom if it’s alright to order the pizza now. In his absence, Jared takes it upon himself to migrate over to the bed, flopping down onto the mattress with Evan’s computer on his lap. When Evan returns, he looks at Jared with what could almost be affection , and sits down next to him.

“Do you want to choose the pizza?” Evan says. “I mean. You’re the guest, and I always get the same thing so that’s sort of boring, so.”

Jared pauses, and realises that he can’t actually remember what Evan always gets. He and Evan probably haven’t ordered pizza together since freshman year, which is extremely fucking sad when Jared thinks about it. He forces himself not to dwell on it, because sure, it sucks that he basically pretended to dislike Evan for years, but they’re here now, and he’ll be damned if he’s not going to make the most of it instead of sitting here being miserable.

“Hey,” he says, desperate to lighten the mood for himself. “Are you acquainted with my all-time greatest culinary masterpiece? It’s a little something I like to call the Vegetarian Hell Pizza.”

Evan looks horrified.

“It’s… what?”

Jared continues as if he’s making a sales pitch. “So picture this - almost every single non-meat topping, on one pizza. I wouldn’t quite call it Michelin star-worthy, but, like, it’s definitely close.”

This description apparently does little to reassure Evan.

“I think… I might just order a regular pizza for my mom…” he says. “And maybe myself.”

“Oh my God , Evan, live a little. There’s an art to the Vegetarian Hell Pizza. You’ve gotta get the ratios right, it’s not like you just throw crap on at random. Watch and learn, kid.”

Evan is totally silent while Jared pulls up the website and works his way through his order, but continues to look skeptical with every ingredient Jared adds. When he’s done, Jared sets the laptop down with a flourish, as if to say “ Voilà! One Vegetarian Hell Pizza coming right up!”, and looks at Evan expectantly.

“Can I add something?” Evan asks, almost inaudibly, and Jared is briefly relieved that he appears to finally be entering into the spirit of things. That is, until he sees where Evan is moving the cursor, and Jared realises that, apparently, he’s fallen in love with a godless heathen.

“Evan, so help me, if you put pineapple on that pizza I’ll dump you,” Jared says.

His brain suddenly catches up with whatever the fuck just came out of his mouth, and Jared inhales so sharply that he chokes violently on his own spit.

Evan, meanwhile, is frozen with his hand hovering over the mouse.

“You mean… uh… but to - to dump me that - that would mean I’m your - that we’re - um-”

It seems that, for once, Evan’s propensity for nervous babbling has completely failed him.

“Um?” Jared says hoarsely, gesturing wildly to encourage Evan to finish his train of thought.

“Like…” Evan pauses for what seems like twenty years. “...Dating? Or whatever? Or, like… boyfriends ?”

Jared feels like his heart has left his body and is currently doing a running jump out of Evan’s bedroom window.

“Yeah,” he says, his voice resembling a frog on helium. “I guess it would mean that.”

“So are we?” Evan is barely speaking above a whisper. “Um… boyfriends?”

Jared’s heart is beating so loudly that he can hardly hear his own reply.

“Do you want to be?”

Evan looks straight at Jared for the first time in this conversation, and nods shyly. Jared just laughs, an overjoyed, surprised thing that releases two weeks’ worth of tension he didn’t even really know was there , takes Evan’s face in his hands, and kisses him.

It’s a joyful, somewhat messy kiss, with both Evan and Jared breaking apart periodically to laugh against each other’s lips. Evan wraps both his arms around Jared, kneeling up on the mattress and pulling Jared up with him (Jared is suddenly reminded that, for all his slouching and curling over, Evan is actually technically taller than him, and he almost fucking swoons there and then). Jared wants this kiss to carry on for forever, just him and Evan and the promise that this is something now, he and Evan are something , and the whole world seems to be made of warmth and light and-

“Evan? Jared?” Heidi calls from downstairs. “How’s the pizza coming along?”

Crap ,” Jared hisses, pulling away sharply as Evan blushes. He raises his voice to reply. “Yeah, it’s all good, we’re almost done ordering!”

Evan stares at Jared, biting his lip as he lowers himself back down to a sitting position. He looks nervous all of a sudden.

“Hey.” Jared rests his hand on Evan’s knee. “What’s up?”

Evan frowns, his eyes wide.

“You won’t actually break up with me if I put pineapple on the pizza, will you?”

It’s all Jared can do not to actually say “aww” out loud.

“Oh my God,” he laughs. “You are just cute as a freaking button, you know that?”

Evan smiles, and buries his head in Jared’s chest.


They get a little more work done sitting on Evan’s bed, leaning against each other, as they wait for the pizza to arrive. Jared does all the typing, with occasional interjections from Evan about grammar or the fact that what Jared thinks are incredibly humorous asides aren’t really appropriate for presenting to the whole class.

“Speaking of presenting,” Jared says after one such protest. “Are you going to be okay with this whole thing? Like, I know Mrs Linares said everyone has to talk, so you can’t just sit there clicking through the slides while I do all the talking, or whatever, and I was just-”

Jared pauses, thinking of how different this is to when he first asked Evan to work with him, when he’d just looked right at Evan and made fun of how scared he always gets about public speaking. He doesn’t really feel the need to resort to those awful, cruel distancing tactics anymore - of course, he won’t stop teasing Evan entirely, because Evan is still Evan, so he still comes out with stupid, adorable crap like “Are you going to break up with me for my choice of pizza toppings?”, but he can at least try not to be a complete asshole.

That said, switching right to the other end of the Good Friend Spectrum - the Good Boyfriend Spectrum - doesn’t quite come naturally, so Jared just trails off instead.

“You were just?” Evan says, prompting him in a way that feels almost like some kind of weird role reversal.

Jared is quieter when he finally responds.

“I was just... worried, I guess.”

He hates that, despite everything, Evan almost looks surprised that Jared cares.

“Thanks,” Evan says, after an agonising pause. “For worrying. I mean, I’m scared about it, I’m probably going to choke, you know me, I always just freak out and things go wrong, but. At least you’ll be up there with me. Maybe it won’t be as bad. Because of that, I mean.”

Jared can’t even begin to think of a response that comes close to expressing how much Evan’s trust, the implication that Jared somehow makes Evan feel safe , means to him.

Thankfully, he doesn’t have to, because at that exact moment the doorbell rings and Heidi calls out that the pizza’s here.

Instead, he just smiles at Evan, and hopes that’s enough.

“Come on,” he says, mentally ushering away the fifteen different emotions he was just feeling. “You’re about to experience the best pizza of your life .”

“Right...”

Jared sighs, and quietly accepts that the Vegetarian Hell Pizza might just be one thing they never agree on.

“Should we… should we tell my mom?” Evan says as they get up. “About… us?”

Jesus , I only asked you out like, half an hour ago,” Jared says. “I mean, do whatever you want, she’s your mom. But bear in mind that she will definitely tell my mom, who will definitely fatally embarrass me, so it really depends on whether or not you want to kill your boyfriend within like 24 hours.”

Jared’s heart leaps when Evan flushes at the word “boyfriend”.

“Oh. Well, I, um. I definitely don’t want that,” Evan says. “But, I don’t know, I think my mom thinks something’s going on, anyway, so, um. I guess we’ll just. See what happens.”

“You’re going to kill me, Evan,” Jared warns jokingly, and they head down the stairs.

Heidi has already artfully arranged the pizza boxes on the coffee table by the time they arrive in the living room.

“Well, bon appetit!” she exclaims, arms outstretched. She smiles broadly at Evan, and then her eyes drift over to Jared, and her smile fades into something totally unreadable.

Great , Jared thinks. What the fuck is going to go wrong now?

“So, the big box is for me and Evan, right?” Jared asks, smiling a little too enthusiastically as he reaches for a way to jumpstart the conversation.

Heidi doesn’t respond. If it wasn’t for the fact that her arms have slowly moved back down to her sides, Jared would think she’d literally just frozen somehow.

Everything is very, very quiet, and Heidi is still staring at Jared as if trying hard to figure something out.

“...Are we going to eat?” Jared adds, fully aware that he probably sounds like a total brat, but this awkward silence is threatening to actually kill him.

Heidi frowns, looking as though she might burst if she doesn’t say what’s on her mind.

“So. Jared.” She says. “That’s Evan’s jacket.”

Holy shit.

Holy. Fucking. Shit.

Jared, totally speechless for once, can only nod.

There’s a few more moments of painfully awkward silence, before Evan apparently decides that he can take it no longer.

Jared was cold !” he blurts out. “It’s not like a, we’re not, I mean we're kind of-” Jared swiftly administers a small kick to the back of Evan’s ankle. “- Ow! Anyway, he was just cold so I, I lent him my hoodie, that’s all.”

Heidi looks unconvinced.

“You’re kind of…” she repeats, and Jesus Christ she just had to pick up on that one half finished thought of Evan’s. “Listen. Evan, sweetie, I’m not going to pressure you, but is there something you might want to tell me?”

“Um. Well, I. Uh-” Jared kicks Evan again, which this time apparently has the same effect as hitting a faulty television to get it to work properly. “ Jared just asked me out and I wasn’t going to, I mean we weren’t going to say anything, not yet anyway it’s not, it’s not because I wouldn’t tell you but, it was really only just now and I mean, I said yes, so that’s, um, that’s probably. That’s probably a thing.”

Jared would very much like for the ground to swallow him up.

Heidi, meanwhile, has never looked happier.

“Oh, I’m so happy for you!” she leaps up from the couch, pulling Evan into a hug that looks almost suffocating in its enthusiasm. She breaks away after a few seconds to hug Jared next, before stepping back and looking at them both lovingly.

“You know,” she says, suddenly quieter. “I think you two are going to be really good for each other.”

Jared is a little surprised when, in a burst of confidence, Evan takes his hand, leaning his head against Jared’s shoulder.

“I think so too,” Evan says, and Jared can feel him smiling and he’s honestly about to melt because every time he thinks he can’t fall even more in love Evan pulls something like this and Jesus Christ, Jared never wants this to end.

Heidi smiles warmly. “I’m glad.”

And then, suddenly more animated, she adds, “So! Who wants pizza?”


After dinner (Evan’s final review of the Vegetarian Hell Pizza was “never again”, which was definitely his fault for upsetting the fine balance of flavors with the addition of pineapple, but whatever), Jared heads upstairs to grab Evan’s laptop so that they can continue working in the living room. This was Evan’s idea - he felt bad because his mom had swapped shifts at work just to spend time with him, and now instead he was upstairs working with Jared, and he doesn’t really get to spend time with his mom all that often, and maybe this would be a nice compromise, and Jesus Christ, why is Evan the most adorable person on the planet? Jared doesn’t mind at all, because Heidi is lovely and has been so nice about this whole thing, even if she did take it upon herself to spend the entirety of dinner reminding him and Evan about increasingly embarrassing stories from their childhood (Jared had totally repressed the memory of Heidi having to take him home early from a sleepover in the fourth grade because he cried too hard at The Lion King , and he kind of wishes it had stayed that way).

Jared and Evan manage to wrap up the project over the next few hours, and, at Jared’s suggestion, they rehearse the presentation in front of Heidi, who hardly understands a word of Spanish but applauds enthusiastically after every slide anyway. It’s probably not the greatest project in the world, and it’s not going to singlehandedly save Jared’s mediocre Spanish grades, but as he leads Evan in a needlessly flamboyant bow, Jared realises that he’s far too happy to even worry about that right now.

“Well, I should go,” Jared says, checking his phone and inhaling sharply when he realises he’s been at Evan’s a lot longer than he thought. “You’re sure the project’s all good?”

Evan nods. “I guess I’ll say goodbye then?”

“Okay,” Heidi adds, and Evan looks at her with the most pointed expression Jared has ever seen him use.

Heidi sighs in mock exasperation, getting up from the couch.

“Okay, okay, I get it, you don’t want to say goodbye in front of mom, well, I’ll be in the kitchen not embarrassing you.”

The minute the living room door closes, Jared bursts out laughing.

“She is absolutely texting my mom right now.”

“I know.”

“I’m literally going to die.”

“...Probably.”

“Well,” says Jared, scoffing in mock indignation. “I’m appalled that you’re not immediately heartbroken by that prospect, Evan. You should be on the floor, wailing mournfully, for sure. I’m sorely disappointed.”

“Okay, okay, sorry. So, I’ll see you at school tomorrow?” Evan says, reaching for Jared’s hand. “I mean, if you’re not dead.”

“If I am, I expect an overblown dramatic tribute in front of the entire school.” Apparently, even joking about this degree of public speaking is a little much for Evan, who looks at Jared with abject horror. Jared backtracks swiftly. “I’m kidding . I’ll settle for you, like, planting a fucking tree in my memory or something.”

“I’ll bear that in mind,” says Evan, and the jovial glint in his eye is so adorable that Jared can’t help but lean in and kiss him.

When they finally break apart, Evan holds Jared’s gaze for a moment before pulling him into a hug. They’re silent for a moment; Jared’s head is pressed into Evan’s shoulder, and he can just about hear Evan’s heartbeat, and he’s suddenly very aware of how real all of this is. He’s here, with Evan, Evan , his boyfriend , and Evan’s hugging him and Evan just kissed him and Evan might even love him and everything is Evan, Evan, Evan .

And then Evan speaks.

“I’m so happy,” he whispers, his voice so soft that it feels like he and Jared are the only two people on earth.

“Yeah,” says Jared, somehow unfazed by the fact that he’s suddenly blinking back tears. “Yeah. Me too.”

They stay that way for what seems like an hour. Suddenly, Jared’s phone buzzes loudly in his pocket, and the rest of the world falls back into place around them.

“Crap,” he mutters, pulling away from Evan and checking his phone to see a text from his mom. “ Crap!

“What is it?” Evan says, suddenly worried. Jared looks at him, totally deadpan, and raises his phone up to Evan’s eye level.

Evan’s eyes widen, and he looks at Jared with a sympathetic grimace.

Jared’s mom, always a firm believer in the idea that brevity is the soul of wit, has sent him a single exclamation point.

He’s in for an interesting conversation when he gets home.