Jared has heard it said that you can tell the difference between having a crush and falling in love by your reaction when the person in question gets an ugly haircut.
So, really, he should have known a long time ago that he was totally fucked when it came to Evan Hansen.
Especially because the first time he heard that maxim was in 9th grade, when Evan had turned up to school one day with a mom-inflicted haircut that made him look like a member of a failed small town pop punk band, and objectively it was somehow even worse than the previous weird bowlcut situation that Evan had had going on throughout middle school but then during second period Algebra Jared had caught Evan frustratedly blowing his new abysmally choppy bangs out of his eyes and holy shit it was the most adorable thing he’d ever seen. Jared had gone home from school that day and immediately made a panicked post on /r/Dating_Advice (with a throwaway account, obviously) asking “What if I like this guy but then he gets an ugly haircut but I still think he’s hot? How long until this wears off?”
The number of upvotes on the top comment (“Hahaha you’re fucked dude.”) is still burned into his brain. As is the reply immediately below that, that stupid nugget of haircut-related wisdom that has literally haunted him ever since.
He remembered it again midway through sophomore year, when, following a second disastrous attempt at the Offbrand Mid-Noughties Pete Wentz look, Evan’s bangs had grown out enough that they started posing a serious risk to his ability to see, and instead of just getting a sensible fucking haircut to rectify the issue he’d taken to walking around with his hair firmly tucked back behind his ears. Like, at least the Freshman Year Hairdo could have been passed off as a lame attempt at an emo phase or something. There was no justification for this.
And there was definitely no justification for the way Jared’s heart had threatened to do a somersault out of his chest every time he caught Evan self-consciously pushing back a stray strand of hair. Like, every single time. For the entire fucking school year.
By the time junior year rolled around, Jared had pretty much come to terms with the fact that he was, apparently, doomed to live the rest of his life thinking that his weird best friend with a consistent string of bad haircuts was literally the hottest guy on earth.
So, naturally, because Evan Hansen can’t just fucking let him live, apparently, he had to go and shake things up a bit.
Over the past few years, Jared has observed a few constants for his first day of school that probably count as bizarre traditions by this point. His mom tries to make some kind of fancy breakfast and fails miserably. His dad presents him with a “super cool” (his words, every year, without fail) graphic t-shirt to spice up his first day outfit. Evan sends him a self conscious text about how he got a new haircut and he’s not sure if he likes it and please can Jared not laugh at him too much, as if Jared’s laughter at Evan’s increasingly painful hairstyles comes from anything other than bitter resignation at the severity of this stupid fucking crush.
And the first day of junior year starts off right on brand. His mom attempts to make pancakes, but they’re those weird pancakes that use banana instead of eggs that she’d heard about from an unknown but clearly malevolent source, and they somehow manage to be runny and lumpy at the same time. His dad leaves the breakfast table early, not to puke - which would have been totally understandable - but because he has a “super cool surprise” that he wants to put in Jared’s room and which, predictably, turns out to be a t-shirt (Pokémon-themed this year).
But Jared doesn’t get a text from Evan over breakfast. And he doesn’t get a text while he’s getting ready. When Jared pulls into the parking lot and checks his phone to see that he still has zero notifications, he begins to wonder if Evan’s annual haircut was so bad this time round that he actually just took one look in the mirror and dropped dead.
Or maybe Evan’s decided that he doesn’t really want to talk to Jared anymore, because Evan had asked if Jared had wanted to come over and Jared had cancelled on him no less than five times over the summer. It’s not Jared’s fault that, despite looking like he gets his hairstyle inspiration from BuzzFeed articles about “21 Hair Trends From The 00s That We Tried To Forget Existed”, Evan has this strange magnetic pull to him that ensures Jared can not be alone with him without feeling like he might suddenly lose all his practised self-restraint and lean in for what would surely turn out to be a horribly misguided and friendship-ending kiss.
Okay, that’s definitely 100% Jared’s fault. But it’s still a valid excuse.
Jared heads straight to his locker, and doesn’t even bother organizing his stuff because apparently this is going to be an even shittier school year than normal because he’s managed to end up with a grand total of zero friends. He’s so preoccupied with staring at the back of his locker trying to decide if he should even bother texting Evan to find out his schedule or if their already shaky friendship is officially a lost cause that he doesn’t notice someone coming up behind him.
“Uh, hey, Jared.”
Evan’s voice is so quiet that Jared shouldn’t even have heard it. But Jared’s brain is like a shitty gay radio, tuned to always pick up Evan Frequency even in the midst of the auditory chaos that is the main hallway on the first day of the school year. He braces himself, brief spurt of insecurity and anxiety suddenly totally replaced by the realization that he’s about to be tested by God (and Evan) yet again in the form of another horrendous haircut, and he turns around.
And holy fuck, Jared almost passes out, because wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, Evan actually looks objectively really fucking good.
His hair is a lot shorter now, and it’s actually the kind of hairstyle that you’d expect a normal (devastatingly attractive) guy to have in like, this current decade. The bangs are back, but they just about fall over his eyebrows, framing his face in a way that seems to take every other feature and announce “Hey! I bet you’ve never seen eyes / a mouth / a nose this beautiful in your entire life!”, and his hair curls a tiny bit around his ears, and Evan has taken it upon himself to accessorize this already game changing look with a tiny shy smile that makes Jared feel like he might literally melt into the floor.
And then that small smile turns into an even smaller frown and Jared realizes he must have been staring at Evan for at least ten seconds.
“Did you get a haircut?” Jared says, at last, trying to sound totally casual, and he deliberately puts on a little frown of his own as if to say I thought something seemed a little different and I was only staring at you to figure out what it was.
“Oh. Yeah,” Evan murmurs, and he looks at the ground.
Despite the noise around them, Jared feels an almost suffocating silence fall as he desperately tries to think of a response that won’t give him away. He’s almost about to give up, to turn around and leave without another word because that’s a dick move but it’s definitely safer than actually working out some kind of appropriately platonic compliment, when Evan clears his throat like he’s trying to jump start his own vocal cords.
“Yeah, um, normally my mom cuts my hair because I guess it’s uh, it’s free and I don’t have to sit there trying to talk to someone I don’t even know who literally has control over my entire, over how my hair looks, or whatever.”
Jared nods, not entirely sure how to react without potentially singlehandedly destroying the Hansen-Kleinman family friendship with a poorly thought out comment on Heidi’s hairdressing skills.
“And that’s nice,” Evan continues, fully in unstoppable rambling mode now. “That’s totally great that she does that but I just wanted to try something a bit different so I saved up over the summer and then the other day I uh, I went and got, it was kind of funny actually because I got there and-”
Oh God, Jared likes Evan a lot (too much), but it’s like 7:30am and he cannot cope with one of Evan’s meandering anecdotes right now. Especially because Evan is still frowning as he speaks and one hand keeps darting up to fiddle with his hair and it’s almost like he feels embarrassed by what is probably the only good hairstyle he’s ever had, like he’s trying to justify it, and Jared suddenly feels like he has to say something. To shut him up and to reassure him.
“Evan. Evan. It looks fine.”
There. Hopefully that was casual enough.
For a fraction of a second, an absolutely radiant smile flickers across Evan’s face, and Jared very nearly has to reach out and grab onto the door of his locker for support.
“Oh. Okay,” Evan says, and he nods, lips pursed together in thought like he’s actually mentally telling himself okay, it looks fine apparently, you can shut up now.
“So,” Jared says after another few seconds of silence. He really hopes his voice doesn’t sound too strained. “What’s your schedule like?”
And Evan starts rambling again, and Jared learns that they have two classes together this year. He strongly considers letting his Spanish and English teachers know as a matter of urgency that he will be experiencing severe trouble concentrating in class for at least the next couple of weeks.
As it turns out, Jared’s concentration issues in Spanish last far longer than a couple of weeks, because his teacher this year doesn’t believe in seating plans and Evan had shyly asked Jared if they could sit next to each other and really, Jared couldn’t say no to him. He hasn’t sat with Evan in class for a long time, because there’s a fine line between being friendly and being clingy and totally giving yourself away, and now Jared has to sit here almost every single day watching as Evan shakes his head slightly to move his bangs out of his eyes and pokes his tongue out in concentration midway through class and holy shit. Jared is truly, absolutely fucked.
At least his English teacher had the decency to put Evan right on the other side of the classroom.
It’s getting into October when Jared finally comes to terms with the fact that apparently, his newfound fantasy of running his hands through Evan’s frustratingly beautiful hair isn’t going to fade away anytime soon. He actually briefly considers logging back into that old throwaway Reddit account - “Hi, my crush with the ugly haircut from 2 years ago just got a really good haircut and now I like him even more and I’m wondering if that means I should just give up and die?” - but he can’t remember the password and, anyway, he’s pretty sure he already knows the answer.
A couple of days after that unpleasant epiphany, Jared finds himself sitting in his room poring over a completely impenetrable Spanish assignment. It turns out that general ineptitude with foreign languages and sitting next to your crush in class is an academically fatal combination.
After an hour of work - if typing one word into Google Translate and rewarding himself by watching inane YouTube videos for the next five minutes counts as work - proves almost totally fruitless, Jared groans and pushes his school supplies off his desk.
His mom obviously hears the sound of textbooks and pens crashing to the ground, because less than ten seconds later she knocks on his door.
“Everything okay in there, Jared?”
Frustrated almost to the point of tears, Jared doesn’t answer.
“Can I come in?”
Jared takes a deep breath. “Sure.”
His mom opens the door and walks in, quickly surveying the perfect tableau of scholastic stress that is Jared’s bedroom.
“What’s the problem?” she asks.
“The entire existence of the Spanish language, basically,” Jared grumbles, and he leans over in his chair to start gathering up his stuff.
His mom frowns. “Hey. There’s no point in carrying on right now if you’re this stressed. Why don’t you get up, go on a walk or something, get out of your room for a little bit?”
She pauses, and then her face lights up as if illuminated by the actual proverbial Good Idea Lightbulb.
“Hey, I know! You’re in the same Spanish class as Evan, right? How about you ask if you can come over, get a change of scene, work on stuff together?”
Jared cannot think of anything less helpful in the given circumstances.
“Yeah. I think I’ll just go for that walk,” he mutters, and he dashes out of his room before his mom can start asking any questions about why he doesn’t seem keen to hang out with Evan.
Jared finds himself walking in the direction of the local park. He’s not really a nature person, not like someone that he’s trying very hard not to think about, but even aimlessly wandering around staring at trees or whatever seems like a better use of his time than trying to decipher that stupid homework assignment. He loops around the main path once, which turns out to be a mind numbingly boring use of his time, and is about to head back home when he sees that a group of kids he shares a couple of classes with are now hanging around near the gate. He doesn’t have anything against them, doesn’t even really talk to any of them, but he’s not in the mood for a bunch of people from school seeing him wandering around alone like some kind of weirdo, so Jared turns on his heel and heads back along the path in the same direction he just came from.
There’s a decent sized patch of woodland at the far end of the park, and Jared decides that it might prove to be a slightly more interesting destination for the second leg of his supposedly calming stroll through nature. Besides, the probability of having to interact with another human being there is pretty low. That’s probably why Evan’s so obsessed with forests and shit and Jesus Christ, this one-track mind of Jared’s is really starting to prove irritating.
It’s around that stage of fall where most of the leaves are still on the trees, so when Jared ducks into the woods it gets a little dimmer, dappled patches of afternoon sunlight painting the ground around him. He has to admit it’s actually kind of beautiful. He trudges towards the very back of the park, the few leaves that have fallen to the ground crunching beneath his feet in a way that’s even more satisfying if he imagines he’s walking over crumpled up Spanish worksheets, and tries to appreciate how quiet and still everything seems after an entire month of stress and school and Evan .
And then, as he passes under a particularly large tree at the edge of a clearing, the leaves above him rustle alarmingly loudly.
It takes Jared a few seconds to realize that the voice is also coming from above him, and it takes him another second after that to properly recognize both the voice and the fact that he almost definitely isn’t hallucinating, and oh, holy shit.
This really is just a perfectly logical continuation of his embarrassingly tragic life, isn’t it?
“Evan?” Jared calls out, and he looks up to see that yes, Evan Hansen is literally sitting on a branch a good twenty feet off the ground, beaming down at Jared as if this is a totally normal thing to do. “What the crap are you doing in a tree?!”
“Climbing!” Evan responds. “Well. I mean, I’m not climbing now, right now I’m sitting here and I was just reading, but I was climbing, that’s how I got up here. Obviously.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Walking,” Jared says, and he’s pretty certain that even from up there Evan can see the shit-eating grin that spreads across his face. “Well, I’m not walking now, right now I’m standing here yelling at you because you’re sitting in a tree like a weird squirrel, but I was walking. That’s how I got here. Obviously.”
Jared can’t quite be certain, because Evan’s face is a long way away at the moment, but he thinks he rolls his eyes.
“Can I come down?” Evan says.
“I don’t know, can you?”
This time Evan definitely shakes his head in exasperation, and he puts his book back in his bag and begins climbing back down the tree. For a second Jared is nervous, instinctively reaching out his arms just in case Evan loses his grip and falls. But Evan’s moving from foothold to foothold at an almost unbelievable speed, more graceful than Jared ever thought him capable of being, and he looks so comfortable and at ease that Jared’s pretty certain he’s fallen even more in love by the time Evan lets go of the lowest branch and hops to the ground.
“Hi,” Evan says shyly, as if he hasn’t been carrying on a conversation with Jared from twenty feet up in the air for the past couple of minutes.
“Hey,” Jared replies, and he hopes he sounds appropriately casual despite having been thrown into a totally unwanted Evan encounter at the worst possible moment.
“So. Um. I’ve never seen you in uh, well, literally, this neck of the woods.” Evan laughs nervously at his own joke, and Jared busies himself with staring at the ground to try and hide how violently he must be blushing right now.
“Yeah. I was literally about to lose my fucking mind over that assignment Mrs Linares set the other day so I decided to take a leaf - pun not intentional - out of your book and investigate the calming power of looking at a bunch of trees.”
“Oh,” Evan says. “Is it. Is it helping?”
Not in the fucking slightest, thanks to you, Jared thinks.
“Because if not,” Evan continues. “I, um, I actually found the Spanish work kind of easy. Not to brag. Or, like, say that you should have found it easy, or anything like that. Sorry.” He shakes his head, and Jared gestures at him to carry on. “So, I mean, if you want I could help you? I have all my stuff with me now, I, uh, I came here straight from school. Or you could come over. I guess.”
If Jared’s mom has any kind of weird sixth sense, she must be feeling extremely pleased with herself right now.
“I’ll pass,” Jared says. “I didn’t exactly bring all my school shit to the middle of the woods.”
“Oh, of course. Sorry, I should have noticed you don’t have your, um,” Evan gestures in the vague direction of Jared’s shoulders, like he’s trying to visualize an imaginary backpack. “I don’t know why I said that, really, I’m so stupid.”
No, you’re not. Don’t put yourself down like that, Jared wants to say. But he doesn’t.
“Right,” he says, instead. “Anyway. I should leave you to your reading. That tree’s probably missing you already.”
“Oh, no. I should, um. I should get going anyway. I think my mom’s going to be home soon and we’re actually, she’s cooking dinner tonight, so.”
Evan doesn’t look at a watch or his phone or anything as he speaks, and Jared strongly suspects he’s telling the time by the shadows of the trees or something like some kind of fucking boy scout.
“We could, um. I don’t know if you have to, do you want to walk back with me?” Evan blurts out the last question so fast that it almost sounds like one long word, like it will burn him if he lets it linger in his mouth for too long.
Jared thinks for a moment. He certainly wants to walk back with Evan, because despite the fact that he wanted nothing less than to see Evan approximately five minutes ago, talking to him is like walking straight into quicksand and Jared can’t help but get drawn in every single time. But the more he talks to Evan, the more he risks giving himself away. He’s got to be careful, he’s got to be fucking sensible about this, and no matter what he can’t look up and see Evan and how he probably looks like a sad neglected puppy and he absolutely cannot look at Evan’s stupid beautiful hair.
So, naturally, because Jared is a total fucking idiot, he looks up at Evan for the first time since he got down from that tree.
And Jesus Christ, Jared is more screwed than he thought.
Evan isn’t doing his sad nervous puppy look, he’s smiling at Jared, and a beam of sunlight is shining down on the top of his head like some kind of twisted divine sign, casting a golden glow over his hair and oh fuck , Evan’s hair is all tousled from the tree climbing and oh.
“Evan, uh.” Jared’s mouth opens before he can do anything to stop it and he knows that just by saying Evan’s name right now he’s passed the point of no return and nothing he does now can possibly hope to disguise his thoughts. “You’ve got. Um. Just-”
And then, feeling like he’s watching someone else’s arm entirely, Jared sees himself reach out and gently brush a stray leaf from Evan’s hair.
The second he actually touches Evan’s head it’s like the sensation in his arm suddenly returns, just to really drum in the fact that holy shit , Evan’s hair is soft, softer than Jared ever anticipated in all his hopeless overthinking about how much he’s wanted to do this for the past month. Fuck, he’s wanted to run his hands through Evan’s hair for years , probably, come to think of it, even when he had the stupid bowl cut or the stupid emo bangs or when his hair was stupidly tucked back behind his stupid ears. Although frankly, the stupidity of any of Evan’s past hairstyles pales in comparison to the absolutely catastrophic reckless idiocy that Jared’s displaying right now.
As soon as the leaf falls out of Evan’s hair and starts drifting to the ground, Jared forces himself to snatch his hand away. He suddenly wishes he had brought his backpack with him to the park just so he could hold onto the straps and give his hands something else to do.
He can’t stop staring at Evan.
And Evan can’t stop staring back at him, and Jared can’t even begin to decipher his expression but he knows it can’t mean anything good.
Evan’s figured it out. He has to have done. He knows, he knows , and he’s just trying to work out what to say, how to tell Jared that he never wants to see him again, that Jared can never talk to him ever again, that Jared needs to go , right now.
Jared only realizes now that, in the course of brushing that leaf from Evan’s hair, he’d ended up standing far too close to him. He wants - needs - to step back, do what he can to redeem this situation, but it’s like Evan’s quicksand-like powers have extended to the ground as well because Jared’s feet just will not fucking move.
He’s still staring at Evan, and he’s not sure if it’s a trick of the light, something to do with the sun shining down through the red leaves above them, but it almost looks like Evan is blushing.
What kind of pathetic wishful thinking?
And then Evan’s hand moves, and for a second Jared is briefly convinced that Evan’s going to hit him even though he’s pretty certain that Evan wouldn’t even raise his hand to swat a fly, but Evan’s arm is moving far too slowly for that and Jared is still frozen in place as Evan’s hand brushes against his cheek and Evan leans in, gradually closing what remains of the distance between them, and Evan kisses him.
Jared doesn’t even have time to register what’s happening properly, let alone lean back into the kiss, all he knows is that Evan is kissing him and then suddenly Evan isn’t kissing him, Evan practically leaps backwards, hands flying to his mouth, eyes wide almost as if he’s shocked at himself.
“Oh my God,” Evan blurts out. “Oh my God, I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have done that I don’t know why I just wanted, I mean-”
“Evan. Evan ,” Jared says, and he finds himself thinking back to that conversation on the first day of the school year.
He wants to finish his sentence like he did back then. It’s fine. I’m fine. You’re fine. But Evan looks terrified, like he’s about to bolt, like he wants to scramble back up into that tree and never come down, and for the first time in a while Jared’s brain forgets those wise words about the haircut and recalls a far older proverb.
Actions speak louder than words.
So Jared steps towards Evan again, and he kisses him back.
Evan freezes for a moment, and Jared can’t help but wonder if he somehow still managed to misread this entire situation. But then Evan’s hands - both of them, this time, holy shit - are on Jared’s face, and he’s reciprocating the kiss with a confidence and determination that Jared can’t remember ever seeing in him before, and Jared feels weak at the knees but he doesn’t have to think twice about reaching up and threading one hand through Evan’s hair.
Jared isn’t sure how long the kiss actually lasts - it feels like an eternity, like they’re frozen still while the world keeps going around them, but in reality it can’t have been that long at all because suddenly Evan pulls away again (this time, instead of moving away, he goes to hold Jared’s hands) and says that he really does have to get home.
“You can still walk with me. If you want,” Evan adds, and Jared shakes his head and smiles affectionately at how apparently, for Evan, kissing your best friend doesn’t necessarily mean you like him enough to walk home together.
“Sure,” Jared says, although his legs feel like jelly and he’s not entirely sure he’ll be able to stay upright for the entire walk home. “I’d love to.”
The walk back is quiet, because there’s not really much left to say, because somehow, that kiss said everything that Jared has wanted to say to Evan for so, so long.
Almost everything, that is.
When they reach the end of Evan’s street, Evan turns to go, but Jared finds himself reaching for his hand again.
Evan looks at Jared, his expression a strange mixture of confusion and - heartbreakingly - fear.
“What is it?”
“Um.” Jared runs his free hand through his own hair this time. “You know on the first day of school? When I said your hair looked fine?”
Evan looks slightly taken aback. “Yeah. I remember. Why-”
“It looks more than fine,” Jared continues, and it’s taking everything in his power not to engage in a fit of Evan-like babbling. “It looks really good. Uh. You look really good.”
Evan blushes scarlet.
“Thanks.” He pauses for a moment, seemingly deep in thought. “You too.”
Jared can’t help but laugh at this typically Evan verbal blunder.
“I didn’t get a haircut, you dumbass,” he says, squeezing Evan’s hand, and he’s pretty certain he’s just broken some obscure record for affectionate delivery of the word dumbass.
Evan just smiles.
“I know," he says. “See you tomorrow.”
And with that, he lets go of Jared’s hand, and turns to head toward his house.
Jared watches him go, reluctant to actually walk away, and when Evan reaches his front porch he turns around and waves tentatively back at Jared in a way that threatens to make Jared’s heart do an actual physical backflip. And then Evan is gone, and Jared starts to make his way home.
“Hey, sweetie!” his mom calls out in greeting when Jared steps through the door. “Did you have a nice walk?”
“Yeah. It was, uh. It was pretty good.” Holy crap, Jared can't stop grinning like a fool.
“I bet you’re ready to take on that homework now, right?”
Jared really doesn’t have the heart to tell his mom that, if anything, her advice proved actively detrimental to his chances of ever concentrating on Spanish work again.
But honestly, he’s far too happy to care right now.