Evan wakes up on Monday morning to the shrill sound of his alarm clock, and almost immediately wishes he could roll over and go back to sleep for the next twelve hours.
He’d been feeling a bit under the weather all weekend, with that weird scratchiness in the back of his throat and heaviness behind his eyes that were telltale signs that he was getting sick, but he hadn’t wanted to worry his mom or make her stay home when she’d been picking up extra shifts whenever she could for the past two weeks, so he’d stayed in his room getting plenty of rest and drinking water in the hopes that whatever was making him feel unwell would pass without major incident. And now it’s perfectly clear that his preventative measures were pretty much useless.
The second he tries to get out of bed he’s hit with a wave of lightheadedness that threatens to send him crashing to the floor, and he rapidly lies back down and tries to think of a plan of action. His mom’s already at work, taking some weird new extra early shift, so he can’t ask her if he can stay home. And he can’t call in sick himself - he’s pretty sure it’s against the rules, and the thought of picking up the phone and having someone accuse him of trying to skip school for no reason adds nausea to his growing list of symptoms. The only other option would be texting his mom - he doesn’t know when her break is, when she’d even see it - and going back to sleep without contacting the school at all. Trying to sleep through the angry phone calls from school, not to mention the anxiety of someone else contacting his mom first and her getting a totally contextless message that Evan hasn’t shown up at school, doesn’t actually feel like an option at all when Evan thinks about it for more than two seconds.
So he takes a deep breath, takes a sip from the bottle of water by his bed, and gets ready for the day ahead of him.
By the time Evan gets to the bus stop, his head is throbbing with pain on top of every other way in which his body feels like it’s threatening to fall apart at any moment. The bus is just as noisy and crowded as ever, which is torture at the best of times, but now Evan just wants to curl up in his seat with his hood up and his hands over his ears and try not to cry or vomit or pass out. But even that feels overdramatic, too conspicuous, so instead he just stares intently at the seat back in front of him, willing himself to muster up the energy to get through the next seven hours.
When he’s trying to get off the bus, someone behind Evan sharply jostles him - he can’t tell if it was an accident - and he’s forced to stop in the middle of the aisle, clinging to the seat next to him as he waits for the world to stop spinning. Exclamations of frustration and dismay bubble up around him - “Come on, move!” “Oh my God don’t just stop , what are you doing?” “Get out of the way!” - and after a few seconds Evan stumbles into the nearest empty seat and lets everyone else pass. He feels awkward having to be the last person off the bus, but it’s marginally better than giving everyone else more reason to hate him.
While he’s waiting, he gets a text from Jared.
hey bro, did you finish our script for that spanish presentation thing? meet me @ my locker before school i wanna go through it
Evan thinks back to the weekend he spent lying in bed trying to rest, to the dreamlike state he was in while getting ready for school this morning, to the piles of paper on his desk that he’d walked right past on his way out of the house, and his heart hits the floor.
Evan Hansen cries a lot. It’s just a fact of life. If Jared had to describe everyone he knew in just one sentence, he’d probably have the hardest time summarising Evan for reasons he doesn’t really want to think about at 8am, but “Evan Hansen cries a lot” would certainly be a good start.
Even so, it’s more than a little alarming when Evan comes sprinting up to him before school already looking like he’s on the verge of a full on, actual breakdown.
“Jared, I’m so sorry, I was running late this morning, well, I wasn’t running late I just-”
“Evan. Holy shit. Please calm down.”
Evan’s visibly shaking, and he looks like shit, pale and tired and dishevelled, and all Jared wants is to hold him until he stops trembling. But that’s completely out of the question, so instead Jared just stares at him, feeling totally fucking useless.
“What’s up?” Jared asks, and he hopes he doesn’t sound too frantic.
“I didn’t finish the Spanish work.” Evan spits the words out like he’s been choking on them for the past five minutes.
Crap. Okay. That’s definitely a slight problem.
Jared pauses, trying to figure out how to express the fact that he and Evan are quite possibly totally fucked without upsetting Evan further.
“Oh.” Evan tenses at this. Nice going, Jared. “Well, uh. We’ve got something, right? We worked on some of it in class on Friday. We can just. Give the sheet to me and I’ll try and finish it before third period, it’ll probably suck but it’s better than nothing-”
“I left everything at home,” Evan wails, one hand darting up to cover his mouth, and Jared’s heart seriously threatens to shatter into several pieces.
Not a helpful response.
“I’m really sorry, it’s just,” Evan sniffles and draws in a long, shaky breath. “I was, I wasn’t feeling well. Over the weekend. And then this morning, I don’t know, you know I, sometimes I just don’t think and I had to get the bus and the work, I left everything on my desk and I’m so sorry I’ll tell Mrs Linares it was my fault and-”
“Hey, no way,” Jared says, even though a little part of him can’t help but be pissed that he’s definitely going to fail this assignment, which is not what he needs considering the current state of his Spanish grade. “If you were sick we can totally get an extension. Honestly, you probably won’t even have to ask . You still look like crap.”
Jared pauses, looking Evan up and down, trying not to let his eyes linger in any one place for too long.
“Jesus, you’re still sick, aren’t you?” he says at last, and he hates how he can’t stop concern and - shit - affection from creeping into his voice.
“I’m fine,” Evan murmurs. He’s an absolutely terrible liar.
“Go home,” Jared says, more firmly than he intended.
“You’re clearly about to drop dead at any second, if you go home then neither of us will have to freak out about this Spanish assignment, I literally do not know why you’re still standing here instead of staggering to the nurse’s office right this second.”
“I don’t think I can go home,” Evan says. “My mom’s working and besides I’m really not that-”
“Well, she can pick you up and then go back to work if it’s that much of an issue,” Jared cuts in, although the thought of Evan lying in bed alone all day, sick and miserable, makes him want to cry. “Crap, if it’s seriously that difficult for her to get out of work then feel free to call my mom.”
It’s a horrifically stupid, impulsive suggestion, and Jared isn’t sure how to feel when Evan shakes his head in shock. “No, oh my God, I don’t want to - I’ll be fine. Seriously.” Evan takes another deep breath, clearly still trying to hold back tears. “I’ll be fine.”
No, you won’t, and if you keep being an idiot I’ll take you home myself, Jared thinks. But he’s already been far too obvious today, he’s getting dangerously close to giving himself away. So he rolls his eyes, hoping to inject his expression with a frustration that comes from disdain rather than worry.
“Fine. It’s your funeral,” he says, trying to keep his voice light, and he walks away.
Evan wouldn’t have been able to focus in his first period history class anyway, but the fact that he sent Jared several frantic texts during homeroom and Jared hasn’t even opened them isn’t helping at all. Just before his teacher walks in - Mrs Radcliffe has a firmly enforced zero tolerance policy on cell phones, and Evan knows that he won’t be able to cope with drawing any unnecessary attention to himself today - he checks his phone one last time.
What are we doing about the spanish work? You don’t have to do it all yourself that’s not fair I don’t mind asking for an extension
I just want to know for certain what’s going on
Still no response.
“Good morning, everyone!” Mrs Radcliffe’s faux-cheeriness isn’t remotely convincing. Evan can tell she’s in a bad mood, and his heart sinks. “Phones away now, please - that means you, Mr. Hansen.”
Evan can feel several pairs of eyes on him as he shoves his phone back into his pocket. So much for not drawing attention to himself.
The first few minutes of class go by in a blur. Evan’s mind is all over the place - he can’t check his phone for a response from Jared, but Jared probably hasn’t answered anyway, he’s probably mad at Evan for forgetting the work which is totally understandable, Evan’s furious with himself, and maybe he should be trying to do the Spanish work just in case Jared isn’t working on it and Mrs Linares won’t give them an extension, he could just pretend he’s taking notes (oh God he should probably be taking notes), and his head is still aching and the girl across from him is tapping her pen on her desk in a rhythm that he can’t quite place and it’s frustrating and distracting and he’s exhausted and-
And Mrs Radcliffe is standing right over him, glaring.
Evan can only stare helplessly back.
“I’m surprised that you’re even sitting here with us, because it seems like you might as well be standing in the hallway for how engaged you are today,” Mrs Radcliffe snaps. “Now. For the third and final time, can you tell the class about one of the electoral disputes that took place in 1876?”
The honest answer would be no, but Evan knows that’s not even close to being an option.
“Um…” Evan starts fiddling with the zipper of his hoodie as he tries desperately to think. He’s pretty certain that this was covered in the reading he should have done over the weekend when he was resting. The more he thinks about it, the more it seems that spending two days in bed did him more harm than good.
“Any time today, Evan,” says Mrs Radcliffe. She walks away to stand by the whiteboard again, but Evan still feels like she’s looming over him.
While Mrs Radcliffe’s back is turned, the girl next to Evan leans across and taps him on the arm.
“The thing with the tickets,” she hisses. “Some of the tickets had the wrong party’s symbol on them so-”
“I don’t seem to remember directing that question at you, Sabrina,” Mrs Radcliffe snaps. Sabrina shrugs at Evan - possibly apologetically, he thinks - and returns to tapping on her desk. “But yes, that was the cause of one of the disputes. In that case, Evan, can you tell me what happened in Oregon?”
Evan freezes. He dares to look back at Sabrina out of the corner of his eye, but she just shakes her head as if to say I’m not going to stick my neck out for you twice, don’t push it. Across the room, someone mutters something that Evan can’t quite make out and someone else laughs in response. It doesn’t take much thought to realize that they’re laughing at him. Evan can feel a lump rising in his throat.
At last, finally, he shakes his head. Mrs Radcliffe sighs.
“Right. So you weren’t paying attention in class and you didn’t do the homework?” she says. People are still whispering across the room. Evan blinks rapidly, trying hard to hold back tears even as his vision rapidly gets blurrier. “That’s really not good enough, Evan.”
Evan’s about to protest, admit that he doesn’t feel well even though he shouldn’t use it as an excuse or to get pity or anything like that, but he’s stopped in his tracks by someone muttering on the other side of the room again. This time, he can just about make out what they’re saying.
“This is just embarrassing, oh my God.”
Evan feels his chin start to quiver, and he realizes with horror that he can no longer stop the tears beginning to stream down his face.
“Okay, well, this isn’t really necessary, is it, Evan?” Mrs Radcliffe says, although she sounds flustered. Sabrina leans across the aisle again and places a single tissue on Evan’s desk, and he’s so taken aback by the sudden display of kindness that he doesn’t even really deserve that he can’t help but let out an audible sob. “Can you go and wait in the hall until you’ve calmed down, please?”
Evan doesn’t need to be asked twice. He gets up out of his seat as fast as he can, which turns out to be a mistake because he suddenly feels lightheaded again and he has to pause for a second just to be certain that he’s not going to faint, and stumbles out of the room, trying desperately to block out the chatter around him.
When he gets into the hall, he realizes that he left Sabrina’s tissue on the desk, and it just makes him feel worse because God, he already got her in trouble and now he looks ungrateful and she probably hates him and everyone in that room hates him and he wishes he could just get up and run away and never have to think about school or Sabrina or Mrs Radcliffe or the 1876 presidential election ever again.
Evan’s not sure how long he’s been sitting on the floor in the hallway when the door creaks open beside him and Mrs Radcliffe steps out. He hears a faint buzz of noise from the classroom, and he desperately hopes it’s just the sound of a class left to their own devices and he’s not the topic of their conversation. Maybe, hopefully, people have forgotten about him already.
And then Mrs Radcliffe is kneeling down on the floor in front of him. Evan sniffles, and busies himself with fiddling with the zipper on his hoodie again, not wanting to make eye contact.
“Evan?” He’s never heard her sound this kind before. “I’m sorry for upsetting you. But I’m sure you're aware, you’re expected to keep up to date on homework and pay attention in class. If you don’t seem to have any idea what’s going on then I’m sorry, but that’s just not acceptable.”
Evan nods, squeezing his eyes shut.
“Is there a reason you were so unprepared?”
Evan nods again. “I was sick over the weekend. I’m really sorry.”
Mrs Radcliffe sighs. “Right. No, I’m sorry. If this happens again, you know you can just tell me before class? Or, if you don’t get the chance then, you can just tell me when I call on you.”
“I will,” Evan lies.
“Are you feeling alright now? I mean, you’re not still sick?”
“I’m fine. Yeah, it was just. It was just over the weekend, I’m fine now, so.” Evan hopes he sounds more convincing to Mrs Radcliffe than he does to himself.
“Good.” Mrs Radcliffe stands up. “Are you ready to come back into class? There’s not much point in you doing the work I’ve just set everyone else, but if you catch up on the reading then you can finish the new work at home. Alright?”
Evan nods for the third time and slowly makes his way back into the classroom, where he sits and stares blankly at the textbook in front of him until the bell goes.
On his way to Geometry, his phone buzzes, and he almost drops it in his rush to finally answer a Facebook message from - not Jared.
Sabrina Patel: hi evan, sorry about everything in history just now, i hope you’re okay :)
Normally, Evan would be thrilled at somebody actually interacting with him, messaging him first, maybe even seeming to care about him. But he can’t ignore the fact that Spanish class is now only an hour away and he has no idea what the situation is with Jared or if he’ll have to ask for an extension or if he’ll have to go up in front of the whole class and make something up and so he just locks his phone again and puts it in his pocket and tries to ignore how tight his chest feels.
Midway through Geometry, he starts to wonder if Sabrina hates him for not answering her message right away, because she probably saw him with his phone out before History so she knows he uses his phone at school and he’s probably seen her message even though he deliberately just read the message preview so she wouldn’t get a read receipt. And then he begins to think that he shouldn’t even care, he’s not friends with Sabrina, she probably doesn’t want to be friends with him, she was just being nice, maybe she doesn’t even expect him to reply, he honestly has no idea what the etiquette is here, he’s just overthinking things again and he has to stop because overthinking in class is what got him into this mess in the first place.
Evan shakes his head, an actual physical effort to clear his thoughts that he instantly regrets because it sends pain and nausea shooting through his body. Then he stares at the worksheet in front of him, numbers and letters and shapes seeming to swim around the page, and he tries to work.
Fifteen minutes before the end of class, Evan’s teacher makes everyone give their worksheets to the person in front of them for grading. Even turning around so the girl behind him can hand over her paper makes Evan feel weirdly unsteady, and he almost misses the answer to the first question because he’s trying so hard to ground himself. The girl sitting behind Evan gets 75%. Evan fails.
He checks his phone one more time before heading to Spanish. There’s not a single new message, from Jared or Sabrina or anyone else (although by this point he only really cares about hearing from Jared). When he goes to leave, the guy who graded his work is standing in the doorway with a couple of friends.
“Sorry. Excuse me, can I just-” Evan gestures helplessly through the cluster of people at the hallway in front of him.
The group parts without protest, but as Evan walks away he hears them burst out into uproarious laughter. He didn’t catch the punchline, but he’s pretty certain it had something to do with his grade. Or the pathetically nervous way in which he’d asked to get past them. Or how tired and totally out of it he must have looked during class. Maybe they’d even heard about him crying in History. Maybe they were laughing at all of that, and more, maybe Evan is going to be the punchline of every single joke today even before standing up in front of twenty people to give a Spanish presentation that might not actually even exist.
It terrifies Evan, but he knows that somehow, his day is about to get even worse.
Jared should probably be grateful that Evan is approximately as intimidating as an actual mouse, because anyone else in the position he’s about to put Evan in would probably murder him for it.
He gets to Spanish as quickly as he can, and thankfully Evan walks in a couple of minutes before the bell goes (Jared is less thankful that Evan looks like he could pass out at any second).
“Hey,” says Evan, practically collapsing into the seat next to Jared. “Did you, um, what’s going on with the-”
“I’m really sorry,” Jared blurts out. That’s a phrase that is not normally part of his vocabulary, but if anyone deserves to hear it from him, it’s Evan right about now. The poor guy instantly looks petrified, and Jared briefly wonders about the logistics of punching himself in the face. “I tried to get it done, seriously. I know you said not to worry about it, but, like.” But asking me not to worry about something related to you is like asking me to literally stop breathing?
“But?” Evan sounds almost like he’s talking to himself, more than prompting Jared.
“Well. I was trying to do it during homeroom but I was doing it all from scratch and I’d left my textbook in my locker, ergo, heavy reliance on Google Translate. Unfortunately, I think like, a cell phone killed Mr Morgan’s entire family or something because he got insanely pissed that I had my phone out during homeroom which, I mean, come on , it’s fucking homeroom , who gives a crap, and he confiscated it for the entire freaking day.” Jared pauses for a second, and then wishes he hadn’t because it means having to take in the look of abject horror on Evan’s face. “Anyway, I did try and get more done during my other classes earlier but having a textbook for completely the wrong class out on your desk is, apparently, really conspicuous and. Yeah.”
Evan seriously looks like he might burst into tears. Or pass out. Or vomit. Or a horrific combination of all three.
“So it’s not… we don’t have anything to present?” he says, his voice high and shaky.
“Nope,” Jared says, entirely too flippantly. He’d been trying to achieve a decent balance between honesty and not totally sending Evan into heart failure, and from the look on Evan’s face it looks like his execution was pretty much the verbal equivalent of attempting some sort of complex high dive and doing a fucking belly flop. “Hey. Don’t worry. We’ve probably still got like 30 seconds to ask Mrs Linares for an-”
“¡Buenos días!” says Mrs Linares, with the boundless enthusiasm of a woman who doesn’t realize she’s basically just delivered an actual death sentence. “I hope you’re all prepared for your presentations today. I know a couple of you managed to get requests for extensions in before the deadline, so-”
“Well, fuck,” Jared mutters. Apparently Evan, who now looks as if he’s actively trying to stop himself from throwing up, doesn’t appreciate the weak attempt at comedic timing. “Um. How much of the stuff we did on Friday can you remember?”
“A little,” Evan whispers weakly. “I’ll, uh. I’ll try and write it out. It probably won’t be very good, but it’s-”
“Better than nothing,” Jared finishes. “Yeah. I know.”
Jared and Evan are the sixth pair to present, which isn’t ideal, but with Mrs Linares’ opening spiel and the amount of time she spends giving every other pair feedback it means that Evan has about half an hour to try and write something down for this presentation. Jared tries to focus on the other presentations - it’s not like he can help Evan without getting in trouble for talking during class - but he can’t stop himself from glancing across practically once a minute. Every time he looks back at Evan, Evan looks a little more sick, a little more stressed; he shrinks further down in his seat, his eyelids droop more and more as if he’s about to fall asleep, and the pace of his writing seems to get slower with every passing minute. By the time the third group are halfway through their presentation, Jared can’t take it any longer.
“Psst,” he hisses, leaning across the aisle and tapping Evan on the arm. When Evan turns his head to look back at him he looks like he’s staring through a fog, or trying to decipher the bottom row of a Snellen chart that also happens to be spinning around in circles. “Give me the script.”
“What?” Evan whispers blearily.
“I know I suck at Spanish, but I’m pretty certain I’m going to be more coherent than you in any language at the moment.” Jared’s mentally kicking himself. Even now, he still has to be an asshole? “Hand it over.”
As much as he might seem like a total pushover, Evan normally has a surprising stubborn streak, but now he passes his notepad across to Jared without protest.
“Evan and Jared?” Mrs Linares calls out, and Jared fixes his eyes on the desk in front of him just so he doesn’t have to see how Evan probably looks like he’s going to cry again. “I’d appreciate it if you two could show a little respect for your classmates rather than chatting and passing notes while they’re trying to present.”
Jared grimaces. “Sorry. We just realized that, uh, I’m speaking first in the presentation and Evan needed to give me a different bit of our script. We’re all good now.” The lie comes easily, and out of the corner of his eye Jared can actually see the tension leave Evan’s body.
Unfortunately, they’re not all good. Jared has to proofread what Evan’s written because even though Evan is normally far better at Spanish than him, he can see careless mistakes creeping in everywhere, and by the time he’s corrected as many of them as he knows how to, the fourth pair have finished presenting. There’s no fucking way Jared can produce an actual finished presentation within five minutes. Especially because, on top of looking like he’s actually on death’s door, Evan is now beginning to show the unmistakable signs of sheer terror in the face of imminent public speaking.
Jared is just nearing the end of a linguistically and factually dubious paragraph on the history of Spain’s participation in the Winter Olympics when Mrs Linares calls his and Evan’s names for the second time. Evan freezes in his seat, and for a second Jared wonders if they’re even going to get to the front of the class to present in the first place. And then Evan shakes his head, takes a deep breath, and propels himself out of his chair like he’s been sitting in an ejector seat, like he knows that if he doesn’t force himself to get up then he won’t get up at all. Jared tries very hard to ignore how Evan sways on the spot for a moment after standing up.
“Okay,” Jared whispers, as they make their way to the front of the classroom. “It’s only, like, half done. But if you read what’s on the script and then I make some shit up we’ll probably get away with it. You good?”
Evan nods, and Jared can’t quite believe how he can make even the smallest of gestures into a totally obvious, terrible lie.
Once they reach the front of the room, Jared passes the notepad back into Evan’s shaking hands. For a split second he makes eye contact with a very suspicious looking Mrs Linares, and Jared inwardly curses his failure to keep his fucking story straight.
There’s a few moments of silence punctuated only by the faint rustle of Evan reading through the script, and part of Jared wants to just start talking before the quiet actually suffocates them both but he knows that he can’t do anything to pressure Evan into speaking. Instead, he just watches cautiously as Evan looks up at the sea of faces in front of them.
For a moment, Evan pauses, eyes wide, taking in his audience, rolling his right ankle to one side over and over because both his hands are gripping the notepad too tight for him to let off his nervous energy in any other way. And then he looks back down at the page in front of him, eyebrows furrowed, and he blinks a couple of times and Jared can just tell that Evan’s far too sick and frazzled to make out a single word that’s written there, let alone actually say anything out loud. Someone coughs at the back of the room, and someone else shifts around restlessly in their seat, and Mrs Linares stares at Evan expectantly and with every passing moment Evan seems to shrink into himself a little more.
“Um,” Evan says at last, his voice high and thin and barely audible. He’s white as a fucking sheet. A couple more seconds pass. Evan opens his mouth as if he’s going to make a second attempt at speaking, but closes it again almost instantly, swallowing sharply.
Jared can’t take another second of this.
He steps sideways, closing the distance between himself and Evan.
“Give me the script,” he whispers for the second time, far too gently considering he’s standing in front of twenty of his peers.
It’s like Evan doesn’t even hear him. He’s staring out toward the back of the room again, eyes weirdly glazed over, his lips pressed tightly together. Jared moves to take the script from Evan’s hands, shooting a desperate glance in Mrs Linares’ direction as he goes.
Just as Jared’s hand hovers over the notepad, Evan lurches forward haphazardly, clamping one hand over his mouth so quickly that he drops the script entirely, and, with a noise that sounds like it’s halfway between a retch and a sob, he sprints out of the room.
There’s a couple of moments of stunned silence after the door slams behind Evan. Jared is totally frozen, staring wide-eyed at the space where Evan was just standing even as the quiet of the room gives way to excited chattering.
“Alright, alright, everyone settle down,” says Mrs Linares, finally getting up out of her seat (for a second Jared is fucking furious with her, for not intervening earlier when surely she, surely everyone could see how much Evan was suffering). “Okay. I think you should go and sit down, Jared. Do you-”
“Can I go and find him?” Jared blurts out, and he doesn’t even realize what he’s said until a sudden hush falls over the room again. Mrs Linares stares back at him. “He’s… he wasn’t feeling well. I’ll find him and, uh, take him to the nurse… or… whatever.”
He trails off, realizing just how affectionate and concerned he’s being in front of his entire Spanish class. Maybe he just sounds like a good friend. Who knows. But the line between being a good friend and being too close is a fucking gossamer thread, and he’s spent far too long curating a façade of snide indifference to know how to navigate that particular perilous tightrope walk.
Thankfully, Mrs Linares jumps in before anyone else can react.
“Yes, of course, Jared,” she says, sounding weirdly exhausted, like she absolutely did not prepare for the possibility of one of her students sprinting off after pretty much reenacting a freaking brain aneurysm in lieu of a presentation. “Look, if he needs to go to the nurse, that’s fine. Just come back at the end of class and we can talk about making up this presentation another time.”
Jared just nods, hoping that his “thank you” doesn’t sound too relieved, too urgent, and he leaves the room as quickly as he can without breaking into a run.
He knows Evan can’t have gone too far - the poor guy’s probably just stumbled into the nearest bathroom. And yet Jared’s heart is beating out of his chest as he makes his way down the hall, simultaneously desperate to get to Evan and terrified of the state he’ll find him in.
He bursts through the door of the first bathroom he gets to, and is instantly met with an all too familiar sound of combined retching and sobbing that hits him like a punch in the gut.
“Evan?” No response. “It’s me. Uh. It’s Jared.”
Evan appears to start crying harder at this, and it takes every ounce of willpower Jared possesses not to burst into tears himself as he tentatively walks over to the only locked stall.
“Can I come in?” Jared asks, and he almost knocks before cringing at how out of place and ridiculous he sounds, like he’s waiting outside Evan’s house or something.
There’s a couple more seconds of sobbing, followed by a shaky “Yeah” (Jared suspects that Evan just nodded a few times before realizing that there was no way Jared would be able to see him). And then, a slight shuffling noise, and the quiet click of the door unlocking.
Evan’s kneeling on the floor, pale and trembling and looking like he’s about to faint, and Jared feels his heart shatter.
“Hey,” Jared says, his voice still far too soft, and before he can stop himself he’s kneeling beside Evan, even though the stall isn’t nearly wide enough for both of them and when he rests one hand on Evan’s back it feels a little too much like a hug. He’s not sure if he’s imagining things when Evan leans into the touch.
“I’m so sorry,” Evan murmurs, his voice thick. “I ruined everything.”
“No. Holy shit, no.” Jared says, and God he wants to keep a safe distance, keep being just harsh enough that Evan won’t suspect anything, but he doesn’t have the heart to risk hurting Evan any more right now. “This isn’t your fault, okay? You can’t help being sick-”
Right on cue, Evan leans forward and throws up. Jared scrambles back involuntarily - he’s always had a thing about vomit, and the fact that it’s coming from a boy he loves and desperately wants to comfort doesn’t change that - and grimaces as he reaches for a clump of toilet paper and presses it into one of Evan’s clammy hands.
“Sorry,” Evan whimpers again, and even though the smell of puke makes Jared want to get as far away as possible he finds himself shuffling back towards Evan and placing one arm around his shoulder. Too close. Far too close.
“It’s okay.” Jared leaves it at that. He doesn’t trust himself to say anything else right now.
They sit there in silence for a minute or two before Evan speaks again.
“I want to go home.” He sounds drowsy, voice barely above a whisper, and Jared wants nothing more than to pull him closer and hold him tight, murmuring words of comfort until Evan stops crying.
“Okay. Come on,” he says instead, reaching up to flush the toilet. “Are you good to get up?”
Without warning, Evan turns and loops his arms round Jared’s neck, letting himself be pulled upright. His legs buckle as he stands, just enough for Jared to panic and pull Evan into a close, stabilising embrace. Jared lingers like that for a second too long, even when Evan takes a deep breath and pulls himself up enough to stand unsupported.
“Can I… we should go,” Evan says, and Jared rips his arms away, staring at the ground to hide how red in the face he must be.
Evan is still slow and shaky as he makes his way to the nurse’s office, and Jared follows a couple of paces behind, ready to reach out and catch him if need be. When they get there, Evan doesn’t need to say a word for the nurse to leap out of her seat and usher him over to the bed at the back of the room. Jared watches helplessly as she helps Evan lie down. He doesn’t even realize that his breaths are getting increasingly shaky until the nurse rushes back over and places a comforting hand on his back.
“Hey, there’s no need to cry,” she says, and fuck, Jared wasn’t even really crying until he heard that but now tears are streaming down his face. “Your friend’s going to be fine. It’s probably just a bad case of flu, okay? Come on, let’s get you sitting down.”
Jared feels so stupid , sitting there with a box of tissues and cup of water while Evan’s lying on the other side of the room actually sick, actually hurting. The nurse calls Evan’s mom - it takes a couple of attempts to get through to her, and Jared almost starts properly sobbing when he looks across at how distraught and hopeless Evan looks. He’s about to make good on his offer to get his mom to take Evan home when he finally hears the nurse’s relieved “Oh, hello, Mrs Hansen.”
Evan smiles faintly at no one in particular, and Jared wishes he could rush back over to him and hug him again.
The one advantage of his fatally embarrassing quasi-breakdown is that the nurse lets Jared stay in the office until Heidi comes to pick Evan up. She half jogs in, looking as harried as ever, and immediately rushes to Evan’s side, running one hand through his hair as she whispers apologies and reassurances. It suddenly feels like they’re the only two people in the room, and Jared is half tempted to wipe his eyes one last time and slip out without even bothering to say goodbye to Evan. But then Heidi whispers something to Evan, and Evan nods shakily, and she helps him off the bed.
As they walk towards the door, Heidi turns and smiles at Jared.
“Thanks for helping Evan out,” she says. “He’s really lucky to have a friend like you.”
“Yeah,” says Jared, his voice still slightly choked. “Anytime.”
He means it.
Evan feels like he’s drifting in and out of consciousness for the next several hours after getting to the nurse’s office. Maybe he is. People and places come and go like he’s watching himself through a highlight reel. He gets helped into a bed. Someone’s crying (Jared is crying). There are several phone calls. His mom runs in. His mom holds him. They leave. His mom has to pull over when they’re halfway home so that Evan can lean out of the passenger side door to throw up again. Then they’re home, and Evan is stumbling up the stairs, and he crawls into bed.
And then he wakes up to the sound of his mom knocking on his bedroom door. The light shining through his window tells him it’s late in the afternoon.
“Hey,” his mom says. “How are you feeling?”
Evan shrugs. He doesn’t feel terrible now, but he has a strong feeling that if he tried to get up his legs would give way almost instantly.
“I’ve got you a glass of water,” she continues, placing the cup on his nightstand. “If you need anything else, just let me know, okay?”
Evan nods wearily.
“Also, um. Jared’s downstairs. If you’re not feeling up to chatting then I can tell him to go, he just said he had some work to drop off for you and-”
“Jared’s here?” Evan can’t help enthusiasm from creeping into his voice. Apparently, that’s all the answer his mom needs.
“I’ll tell him he can come right up,” she says, smiling warmly.
And then she’s gone, and a minute or so later Jared’s standing awkwardly in the doorway.
“Hey, dude. Nice to see you’re still alive and kicking.” His tone is light, just as sardonic and casual and Jared as ever, but something seems different to Evan. Like he’s rewatching a magic trick after being told how it works. Like he can see the crying boy in the nurse’s office hiding behind a well-worn mask.
He thinks better of bringing that up.
“Yeah, just about,” Evan responds with a weak smile. “Um. Mom said you were bringing me work?”
Jared falters for a second. Evan can’t help but recognize the face of someone who’s been caught in a lie. “Oh, yeah. Well, more accurately, I was reporting back that there wasn’t any work. I mean, you missed out on some truly scintillating analysis of The Great Gatsby from our English class, but, like, Sparknotes exists for a reason. Also, we got an extension on our presentation. We’re doing it next Monday now, but you’ve got to promise not to puke again.”
“I’ll try.” Evan pauses. “You didn’t have to tell me any of that in person.”
He’s shocked at his own boldness. So is Jared, apparently, judging by the way his eyes widen and fix themselves firmly on the floor.
“I guess,” he says, after what seems like five minutes. “I just wanted to check you were alright. You weren’t exactly doing too hot the last time I saw you.”
“Oh.” Evan can’t tell if he’s disappointed or not by that answer. “Thanks.”
More silence. Jared keeps staring at the floor, biting his lip.
“Well,” Jared says, at last. He raises his eyebrows, gives Evan a smile that should be dazzling but it doesn’t reach his eyes. “I’d better get going. You might not have any work but I’ve got a chemistry quiz tomorrow and it’s not going to study for itself, so.”
Jared turns to go, looking weirdly crestfallen, and Evan realizes he can’t leave the conversation there.
“Really, though, thanks for, um-” Evan’s train of thought screeches to a halt as Jared turns to look at him. He can almost see the cracks in the mask. “Thanks for coming after me. When, um. Earlier, you know. It really, um.” There’s something weirdly hopeful in Jared’s eyes, and Evan can’t tell if it’s just wishful thinking on his part. “It really meant a lot.”
Jared smiles again, and this time his eyes light up, warm and soft and grateful .
“Anytime,” he says, and there’s that gentle voice he’d been using earlier, when he’d knelt beside Evan in the bathroom, holding him, reassuring him, making him feel like everything was going to be okay.
Evan’s never felt so deeply in love.
It emboldens him.
“Hey, uh.” Jared, who had just heading out of the room again, stops in his tracks. “If you’ve got your stuff with you, you could always stay here, study here? With me - I mean, I won’t be studying, but, um. It’s kind of boring, just lying here, and I mean, I might just end up falling asleep but.” Deep breath. “I’d kind of like not to, um, be alone?”
Jared doesn’t respond.
“Sorry, that sounded weird, I just meant that, like-”
“No, it’s cool.” Jared looks confused, sounds almost winded, like someone’s knocked all the air right out of him. And then, like somebody’s flipped a switch in his brain, the mask goes back on. “Maybe if you’re feeling less braindead than earlier you can quiz me.”
Evan rolls his eyes. “I couldn’t help that.”
Jared smirks, as if to say Of course you couldn’t, but I’m still going to mock you for it anyway, and heads downstairs. He returns a few minutes later with his backpack and, to Evan’s surprise, pulls up a chair next to the bed.
“You can use my desk,” Evan says. “I know it’s kind of messy but, you can just clear off some of the stuff, I don’t, it’s not a problem.”
Jared just sits down in the chair. “Well, then you wouldn’t be able to see my textbook to quiz me, so that would be pretty pointless.”
Jared rests his feet on the edge of the bedframe, balancing the textbook on his knees, and starts reading in silence. Evan just lies there, ostensibly looking at the ceiling, but he can’t stop watching Jared out of the corner of his eye. He hopes Jared doesn’t notice the way Evan’s studying every one of his little quirks - the way he scrunches his nose up every so often to stop his glasses slipping down his face, or the way he tilts his head from side to side as he reads, or how, every so often, presumably when he comes across something that doesn’t quite make sense, he mouths what look like curse words.
By the time Evan’s eyes start drifting shut, Jared still hasn’t said anything more about quizzing him.
When Evan wakes up, Jared is holding his hand.
He’s certain he’s imagining things at first. There’s no reason for Jared to be holding his hand. Maybe this is some weird dream-within-a-dream kind of situation, where Evan will blink and suddenly he’ll wake up again and Jared won’t be holding his hand, Jared isn’t even there, Jared left hours ago without even saying goodbye. That makes far more sense.
Evan blinks, and Jared is still holding his hand.
Their fingers aren’t intertwined - it’s more like Jared is resting his own hand on top of Evan’s, his thumb nestled in the crook between Evan’s own thumb and index finger. Something about it feels weirdly casual, familiar even, like Jared wasn’t even thinking about putting his hand there, like it was just something that was natural and right . At least, Evan hopes that’s how it felt to Jared. Because even though his heart is beating out of his chest at the mere thought of it, Evan can’t help but feel like Jared’s hand was made to hold his. Like they’re the last two missing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, finally slotted together.
Evan hardly dares to move, afraid that if Jared notices he’s awake he’ll snatch his hand away and the spell will be broken. The mask will go back up. Instead, he turns his head just enough to let his eyes trace the line from Jared’s hand all the way up his arm, up to his shoulders, his neck, his head lolling to one side, his slightly parted mouth and closed eyes.
Jared’s asleep. They were both asleep. Holding hands.
Evan smiles to himself, feeling giddy and faint even though he’s lying down, a sensation that he can’t totally attribute to his illness.
And then Jared makes a small noise as if he’s stirring, and Evan snaps his eyes shut. Seconds later, he feels Jared’s hand move away.
“Evan? You awake?” Jared sounds drowsy, that same refreshing gentleness creeping back into his voice.
Evan lets his eyes drift back open in what he hopes is a convincing act of waking up from a deep sleep.
“Yeah,” he says. He tries not to let his voice carry too much of its usual nervous energy when he adds, “I mean, I am now.”
“Cool. It’s, uh.” A pause as Jared pulls his phone out of his pocket and checks the time. “Shit. I’ve got to go.”
“Oh.” Evan hopes he doesn’t sound too disappointed. “No, that’s fine. I wasn’t, like, expecting you to. Stay over or whatever.” I wasn’t even expecting you to be here when I woke up , he mentally adds.
“Yeah, no. I can sleep in this lumpy chair for, like, an hour, but all night might actually put my freaking back out.” Jared gets up, stretching, and goes to start putting his stuff back in his backpack.
“How are you feeling now, anyway?” he adds, almost like it’s an afterthought. Or like he’s trying to make it sound like an afterthought.
“Not great,” Evan replies. “I mean. I think I just need to rest.”
“No shit. You passed out in like, thirty seconds earlier,” Jared chuckles. “So, take it I won’t be seeing you at school tomorrow?”
Jared slings his backpack over his shoulders, and for a second he stands there, rocking back on his heels a little, fists clenched around the straps of his bag. He seems deep in thought.
“If we do get homework from the classes I have with you,” he says at last, sounding simultaneously overly casual and weirdly measured. “I can come over and drop it off for you? Like, for real, this time.”
“Yeah, that’s, that would be great.” Evan nods vigorously, pushing himself up on his elbows, and then quickly regrets the move and lies back down before he keels over.
“And, uh,” Jared bites his lip, and his grip on his backpack tightens. “If you don’t have anyone to get your work from your other classes, I can always. I can pick that up for you as well. If you want.”
Evan frowns. It’s a display of generosity, going far out of his way to help, that he wouldn’t normally expect from Jared. “Are you sure?”
Jared just nods. “Yeah, of course,” he says breezily. “That’s what friends are for.”
And then, with a cheery “See you tomorrow!”, he’s out of the door.
Evan stares at the spot where Jared was standing for what could be seconds or minutes or hours, clenching and unclenching a hand that now feels strangely light and hollow without Jared holding it, the word friends still hanging in the air.
His head still feels heavy, but when he closes his eyes, Evan can almost envision his heart taking off and soaring around the room.