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i'm sick of all the small talk (if you're sick of pretending)

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Spring Break falls the week after the jazz band concert, which Jared views as both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, he gets a break from watching Zoe and Evan borderline canoodling in the cafeteria for a whole two weeks. Because they’re totally canoodling now. All the time. Even though Evan insists they are not Dating Officially Or Anything Like That. (Jared goes to tell him that he’s pretty sure holding hands under a cafeteria table means you’re dating officially, but then that would probably make holding hands in two different men’s rooms on two separate occasions equivalent to like, third base.) On the other hand, the Murphys are spending half the break skiing in Vermont at some fancy-ass resort so deep in the mountains that there’s no cell signal to speak of, which will officially make this coming week the longest Jared and Connor have gone without talking since their Fight back in the early days of their utterly unclassifiable friendship.

“So you’re just gonna let our Snapchat streak die like that?” Jared says all faux betrayed as they say their goodbyes by Connor’s locker on Friday afternoon. He feels not unlike a World War Two army wife wishing her husband a heartfelt farewell at some old timey British train station.

“I wish it didn’t have to be this way,” Connor says, and Jared feels very grateful that he’s matching him on the melodrama. It makes it a lot easier to hide how genuinely bummed he is about going a whole week without receiving a single blurry picture of Connor’s ceiling.

“Just promise me you won’t fall in love with any handsome strangers over karaoke?” Jared jokes.

Connor breaks character, expression faltering into a confused frown.

“Huh?”

“You know?” Jared says. “Like High School Musical?”

Connor keeps staring at him blankly.

“You haven’t seen High School Musical?” Jared says, perhaps more flabbergasted than he should be considering, well, literally everything about Connor’s personality.

“No?” Connor says, in a tone of voice that implies, quite fairly, that he thinks Jared is out of his goddamn mind. “I mean, Zoe was really into it in like, fourth grade, so I’ve heard some of the songs, but-”

“This is disgraceful!” Jared exclaims, loud enough that a trio of sophomores a few feet away start giggling. “I’m rectifying this immediately.”

“But I have to go to the airport,” Connor says very earnestly.

“Okay, well, not like, immediately immediately,” Jared replies. “But the minute you get home you are gonna text me and you are going to come over to my house, and we are gonna raid my parents’ liquor cabinet, and we are watching the entire trilogy. And maybe Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure too. For completionism’s sake.”

“I can’t wait,” Connor deadpans.

“Aw, cmon,” Jared says. He squeezes Connor’s arm before his own brain can tell him it’s a dumbshit terrible idea. “Don’t act like you’re not gonna be aching to spend time with your favorite math tutor after a whole week apart.”

Connor freezes, a tomato flush spreading across his cheeks. His face twitches into a quick flurry of expressions so small and incomplete, like he’s more glitching video game character than human, that Jared can’t keep hold of a single one long enough to interpret it.

“Airport,” Connor says curtly at long last. And he turns on his heel and walks.

Airport?!” Jared calls after him. “Is that how we say ‘goodbye’ now in Connor Speak?!”

“Yup.” Connor doesn’t look back as he disappears into the crowd as fast as his stupid noodle legs can carry him.

Jared stares after him, mutters “Fuck ” under his breath, and walks off in the opposite direction, wondering if anyone can hear his heart pounding away over the last-day-of-school chatter flooding the halls.


Passover begins that evening, carrying on what appears to be this week’s trend of things being both blessings and curses. Chill as his parents normally are about just about everything, faith shit included, they draw a hard line on Cell Phones At The Seder, which should theoretically be a relief because it prevents Jared from checking his notifications every five seconds for the entire evening, but in actuality it turns out to be just as anxiety inducing as the alternative because his brain fills up every idle second panicking about whether Connor will have said goodbye to him as in “see you later”, or said goodbye as in “go fuck yourself”, or, worst of all, not said a single thing.

It also means his grandparents are staying over for the whole week, which is cool enough because they’re nice people, even if they both seemed to have missed out on the Kleinman sense of humor gene, but also they are crazy riding the high of one of Jared’s cousins having gotten engaged last month so they corner him in the living room while his parents are doing Seder prep and start asking him if he has any special girls in his life. Jared sits there cross-legged on the couch, one hand gripping onto a cushion beside him and occasionally honest-to-God stroking it like it’s actually Connor’s hand, and makes up some surprisingly fluent bullshit about how actually junior year is waaaay busier than you’d expect so dating is like, super low on his priority list right now. This satisfies them, at least, and they move onto the much safer topic of his college plans with exceptional ease.

For the rest of the evening, the conversation stays relatively on-topic to the festivities, save for Jared and his dad’s annual deliberately overblown debate about whether or not Spaghetti technically counts as the youngest person at the table, which, like it does every year, ends with his grandma snapping that she doesn’t remember seeing a comedy skit listed on the Haggadah. It’s late by the time Jared finally crawls into bed, exhausted from the day and aching for five minutes where he can just fuck around and chill out and not have to be all polite for extended family. His phone lies discarded on the pillow from when he’d changed into nicer clothes for the Seder, and when he drowsily moves it to his nightstand the screen lights up with all the notifications he’s missed since sundown.

Okay. There’s like, three notifications. Heidi Hansen has sent him a picture message over Facebook, which knowing her is probably some well-intentioned but deeply corny Passover-themed graphic forwarded from a friend of a friend of a friend. Without even checking Jared can guarantee that she’s also sent him a long, apologetic, liberally emoji-seasoned message about how she and Evan will for sure join them next year. They never do, because Heidi will get called into work and Evan will freak out and bail at the thought of solo extended social interaction with perfectly nice adults that he’s known since he was a literal toddler, but the sentiment is nice anyway. The next notification looks like something to do with his camp friends’ latest drama, which Jared is for sure not going to get into at this obscene hour after four cups of wine.

The last notification, several hours old by now, is a text from Connor.

Jared’s heart catches in his throat.

Sometimes interacting with Connor makes him feel like Evan has hopped into his brain and started piloting it, the way it has him jumping to the most absurd anxiety-fuelled conclusions in ways he’d never do under normal, non-hopelessly-homosexual circumstances. There’s no other way to describe the way his mind is running away with him right now, screaming at him that Connor’s so mad at him for squeezing his arm earlier that he sent him a friendship breakup text at the freaking airport, that he forked out for insanely expensive wifi at the resort just to say “don’t ever contact me again”. A part of Jared even, for literally no apparent reason, catastrophizes that Connor has died in a plane crash or tragic Friday evening ski lift disaster and Cynthia has taken his phone to share the news with all five of his contacts.

He takes a deep breath, tells himself to get a fucking grip, and opens his messages.

There are two texts. Short enough to assuage all Jared’s fears before he’s even read them. Short enough to burn themselves into his brain and whisper him to sleep like a sweet, tuneless lullaby repeating over and over and over.

boarding now

i’m really going to miss you this week


The texts are still replaying themselves in Jared’s head when he drives to the Murphys’ house to pick up Connor a whole, embarrassing, ten days later. They haven’t really spoken since then other than to confirm that their High School Musical marathon was, indeed, still going ahead (Jared could almost hear the disdain dripping off Connor’s “if you insist” even over text), and Jesus freaking Christ Jared wants to jerk the steering wheel and force himself off the road as cosmic punishment every time his heart flutters at the thought of seeing Connor again after - get this, folks, he thinks to himself like he’s encouraging the laugh track in the total farce he calls a life - just over a week apart.

He’s never been all the way up to Connor’s front door before, let alone inside his insane rich kid approximately-three-tiers-below-a-McMansion abode, but when he knocks on the door Cynthia ushers him inside like he’s the third long-lost Murphy sibling before he even gets a chance to protest.

“I think Connor’s still getting ready, Jared, honey,” she says as she guides him over to an immaculately clean couch in what Jared would normally call a living room but from the vibe of this house he’s like, absolutely confident it’s got to have some way fancier real-estate terminology behind it. He sits himself down awkwardly and imagines how absolutely fucked-up the tasteful gray-blue cushions would get if Spaghetti got her claws on them for five minutes.

After five minutes of twiddling his thumbs and debating whether or not to take a chance on the lumpy oatmeal and raisin cookies Cynthia has placed on the coffee table for him (“They’re vegan and totally gluten-free,” she’d told him very proudly), Jared finally hears the unmistakeable thump of Connor’s combat boots coming down the stairs, followed by Cynthia’s faint voice going “Connor, sweetie, what have we said about shoes in the house?”

Jared straightens up without even thinking about it, as if Connor Murphy is the kind of guy to give a flying shit about his posture.

Then his legs straighten up too, also of their own accord, and he’s standing up and then he’s walking, jogging, outright fucking running towards Connor and throwing his arms around him in a tight hug.

Connor stiffens for a second before letting his arms snake around Jared’s back, and Jared breathes him in, feels the soft fabric of that goddamn sunflower shirt he’s wearing again, feels Connor’s hair tickling his cheek, breathes in his weird unique scent, a mixture of weed and walking past a Lush store that shouldn’t be pleasant at all but really, really is. Maybe Jared just likes it so much because it’s so deeply, unmistakably Connor in all its confusing, multi-layered, paradoxical glory.

“I missed you too, dude,” Jared whispers into Connor’s shoulder before Connor has even had a chance to say anything. Then, in case he’s getting too suspiciously sappy, he adds, “By day four I was starting to teach Spaghetti algebra just to feel something.”

Connor laughs out loud. “She’s probably better at it than me.”

“Well, I wouldn’t count on that seeing as she is a literal fucking cat, bro.”

Connor pulls out of the hug. Blessing-and-curse, part three.

“Can we get going?” he says. He rolls his eyes. “I’ve needed a break from my family since, like, two minutes after we left for the airport.”

“How was it?” Jared says once they’re inside the car. He was smart enough to delay the conversation until then.

“I hate skiing so muuuuch,” Connor whines, sliding down in the passenger seat with a melodramatic groan. “And I hate the Harrises.”

Jared doesn’t really know the Harrises that well at all. The twins, Lyndsey and Alyssa, are seniors who are each on, like, five different sports teams, and their younger brother is still in middle school, so none of them are exactly on his regular social radar and they don’t exactly sound like Connor’s first choice of ski trip buddies either. But apparently their dad is a partner in the same law firm as Connor’s dad so they’ve been family friends of the Murphys for years. But in a shallow rich person “let us be Spring Break skiing companions” type of way, rather than the way more casual and actually enjoyable thing Jared has going on with Evan and his mom.

“I mean, Lyndsey’s fine,” Connor adds. “She hates skiing too, so we hung out a bunch. It wasn’t so bad. But oh my fucking God, after two days I wanted her brother to Fortnite dance himself off the edge of a fucking cliff.”

Jared cackles. “Sounds like you had a blast.”

“I am positively thrilled for High School Musical in comparison,” Connor says flatly.

Naturally, when they get back to Jared’s place it turns out that Connor is far more excited to see Spaghetti, who actively relinquishes her favorite spot on the couch in order to come trotting over chirping at him over and over like she wants to hear all the ski trip gossip too.

“How’s it going?” Connor coos, scooping her up into his arms like she’s a little baby. Spaghetti purrs contentedly and Connor responds with “That’s so great to hear! I’m happy you’re doing good!”

Hearing Connor freaking Murphy babytalk the esteemed Spaghetti R2-D2 Kleinman really never gets any easier, as it turns out.

“I got drinks, if you’re interested,” Jared says, ducking into the kitchen in order to give his heart a time out. “Or well, by that I mean my dad will let us have some of the cider in the fridge because he’s gotten into like, being a Cool Dad who lets his kid drink provided it’s in the house so he can periodically check that I’m not actually snorting coke off of Spaghetti’s back or whatever.”

“Oh. Sure,” Connor says. He sounds slightly hesitant.

“You don’t have to,” Jared says. “This isn’t some health class public service announcement about peer pressure or whatever. No wrong answers, dude.”

“I don’t really drink,” says Connor, which Jared finds slightly surprising considering the guy actively comes to school baked like, three times a week, but by now he reckons there’s probably some totally legit explanation that Connor will literally never give to him and that’s his prerogative. “But you can if you want. I won’t laugh at you if you start acting like a dumbass.”

“Why, that is very charitable of you, Connor-”

“Mostly because you already act like a dumbass when you’re sober, so.” Connor offers him a coy grin and a little shrug of the shoulders.

“I hate you so much,” Jared says. But he knows it isn’t true, and so does Connor, apparently, judging by the way he just keeps beaming back at him.

They order pizza in advance of the movie marathon - or rather, Jared orders a Vegetarian Hell Pizza and Connor very politely declines in favor of getting feta bread instead - and settle down on the couch, Spaghetti wriggling her way inbetween them like the world’s cutest cockblock. Connor then mocks Jared for a solid five minutes because he owns the entire trilogy on DVD - “These are cinematic greats, Connor!” Jared whines defensively, “This is my own personal Criterion Collection!” - before they finally get around to starting the first film. 

(“Not movie, film,” Jared insists. “Show some respect, if you please.”)

Unsurprisingly, High School Musical does not really turn out to be Connor’s jam. He visibly mentally taps out somewhere around the audition scene, focusing instead on feeding scraps of feta bread to a very grateful Spaghetti. Initially Jared tries to redirect his attention to the film with a little affectionate mockery and exaggerated shows of offense, but then he figures that really, making Connor watch High School Musical isn’t the point here. It was never really the point. Just a dumb ruse to get Connor into his house without the excuse of tutoring so that Jared could sit a little too close to him on the couch and watch him scratch Spaghetti’s chin with hearts in his eyes. Netflix and Chill with precisely zero chill of any definition.

So he keeps the movie on like it’s a disguise, periodically offering enough dumbass commentary to make it very clear that he is capable of looking at something other than Connor.

“If you were in this scene what would your, like, thing be?” he pipes up halfway through ‘Stick to the Status Quo.’

“My thing would be staying as far away from this cafeteria as possible,” Connor says with what looks like a touch of actual horror on his face.

“Nah, I think you’d be like,” Jared gestures like he’s setting the scene. “You’d be on like, this table full of goths-”

“Jared, for the last fucking time I’m not a goth -”

“This table full of emos .” Connor doesn’t protest this time. “And you’d be like, wait, wait guys I’ve gotta tell you something. I’m fluent in French.”

“I’m really not fluent,” Connor says bashfully.

“And you’d just start going like…” Jared trails off for a moment as he realizes that literally the only French he knows is that song from Ratatouille.

He gives it a brave shot before realizing he does not, in fact, know the song from Ratatouille.

Connor cackles loud enough to scare Spaghetti away.

“That isn’t French!” he wheezes. “That wasn’t fucking anything!”

Jared can only assume that Connor means to slap the couch in his mirth rather than what he actually ends up doing. Which is placing his hand right on Jared’s upper thigh.

Connor’s hand stays there for a few seconds before he splutters loudly and snatches it away like he just touched a hot stove. Jared, meanwhile, reaches for the pizza box and hurriedly places it on his lap in what he desperately hopes is a dignity-preserving position.

“I--” Connor stammers, and from the corner of his eye Jared realizes that Connor is staring right at him.

He knows it’s an awful idea, but he turns to meet Connor’s gaze.

Connor is bright red, face flickering through microexpressions just like on the last day of school, and God, Jared hopes the connection between the two incidents is what he thinks it is rather than Connor being, like, horrendously repulsed by the thought of physical contact with him. His mouth keeps opening and closing like a goldfish, and Jared’s pretty sure he’s doing the same thing, Jesus Christ they must look like a pair of freaking idiots right now, and Connor’s hand twitches like he maybe wants to move it back to Jared’s thigh (wishful thinking, that’s gotta be wishful fucking thinking) and his mouth forms a whisper - “Jared, I… ” - and maybe Jared’s imagining things but he thinks Connor is leaning closer, shit, shit shit shit he is leaning closer, and Jared’s mouth is dry and his heart is racing and his brain isn’t producing anything coherent right now, his thoughts are just lights and static and butterflies and Connor and-

“I really need to take a shit,” Jared announces.

He gets up and power walks to the bathroom, where he begins to seriously consider running away to join the circus.

I really need to take a shit?!” he repeats under his breath as he paces around the room. “What the fuck. What the fuck.”

He sits down on the toilet seat, pulls up his texts with Evan, and begins to type.

Dude I just fucked up so badly.

He deletes it. He can’t confess that shit to Evan. It’s a fuck-up of Evan-esque proportions, for sure, so the poor guy would probably relate… except no. He wouldn’t. Because he and Zoe are practically boyfriend and girlfriend, Jesus, they’ve probably already properly kissed by now judging by the way they’re glued to each other’s freaking hips all the time at school. And Evan probably didn’t even blurt out some lie about needing to poop at any point. How did Jared become worse at this than him?

He opens Facebook Messenger instead and pulls up the groupchat with his camp friends.

Lmao guys I just did the dumbest th

Backspace, backspace, backspace.

Nope.

There’s no way to share this with them - with anyone - without making himself a laughing stock in a way that’s foreign and downright terrifying to him.

He opens his texts with Connor. When they’re literally two rooms away from each other. What a fucking coward.

Hey I’m sorry about running off

Backspace.

Sorry for panicking I swear I did actually want to kiss yo

BACKSPACE.

Can we forget that happened just now?

His finger hovers over the send button.

It’d be nice, for sure, to forget running off like an idiot. To forget what it felt like to have Connor’s big brown eyes boring into him like he was reading his thoughts. To forget the tingling heat of Connor’s hand on his thigh and how much he desperately wanted to keep it there. To go back to laughing over Disney Channel Original Movies and bad Franglais and the way Spaghetti clambers onto the back of the couch and taps you on the shoulder when she wants to steal your food.

But he doesn’t want to forget, not really. He doesn’t think his brain will let him as long as he lives. He can already feel his mind bundling the memory up all safe and precious, like an oyster shell around a pearl, hidden and protected and eternally his.

He thinks back to the look on Connor’s face, the shaky breaths escaping him close enough that Jared could feel the heat of it on his own face, and a small, hopeful part of him thinks that maybe, just maybe, Connor doesn’t want to forget either.

He takes a deep breath.

Backspace.


By the time Jared finally regains enough composure to return to the living room, Gabriella is halfway through ‘When There Was Me and You’, and Connor has folded into himself on the couch, knees tucked up to his chest and empty feta bread box discarded beside him.

“Are you okay?” Jared says. He settles down on the couch again, making sure to keep a safe distance. “Sorry. Vegetarian Hell Pizza does obscene things to my intestines.”

Connor lets out a tiny, mirthless chuckle. His eyes are glued to the screen for the first time all evening.

“Hey.” Jared gently nudges him with one elbow. “Are you good?”

Connor nods abruptly. “I’m fine.”

He blinks rapidly, eyes still fixed on the television.

“Dude.” Jared isn’t used to sounding so gentle. “You don’t have to lie to me, okay?”

Connor shuts his eyes and inhales, and suddenly Jared wants to take it back. Please lie to me, he thinks. Please give me some thread of a reason to pretend you don’t hate me right now.

“It’s really dumb,” Connor says, shaking his head. He fidgets with the spinner ring on his middle finger.

“I’m sure it’s not?” If Jared’s voice gets any smaller he’ll be whispering.

Connor laughs again. “It really is. Just-” he gestures at the screen. “It’s so, so dumb, and I can’t believe I’m having shitty relatable emotions about fucking High School Musical, of all things, and you have my permission to laugh at me about it as much as you want for the rest of your life, but. I don’t know. This shit with Troy talking shit about Gabriella because he’s scared of what his friends are gonna think, and her hearing and getting the wrong idea and - fuck. It just reminds me of-”

“Us,” Jared finishes, remembering that afternoon back in January.

It seems like a lifetime ago. He sure feels like a totally different person. It came so easily to him back then, denouncing Connor like he was just another faceless roadblock on his path to just getting through high school without being clocked and emerging on the other side safe and sound. It almost makes him feel sick to think about it. It wasn’t that he didn’t feel bad before. He’d seen Connor cry before then. He knew, objectively, that he was a human person with emotions, and a deeply sensitive and easily wounded one to boot. But that was different from having laughed with him, and held him, and watched him hold Spaghetti, and listened to him talk all shyly about his favorite books like they’re harboring all of his best-kept secrets. He didn’t know Connor back then.

Maybe he doesn’t even know Connor now. The guy’s a Russian nesting doll of mysteries. But he loves him now, and that’s all he really needs to know to be sure that that if he had to sit there in that Chemistry lab and listen to Adam and Maddie confront him today, he wouldn’t be able to say shit against Connor Murphy.

He looks at Connor, simultaneously hoping and dreading that he’s managing to communicate any of that with his eyes.

“Yeah. Us,” Connor quietly repeats.

For a second, neither of them speak. The song draws to a close.

“You know,” Jared says in a last-ditch attempt to lighten the mood. “I sure wish you’d just wandered off for a heartfelt musical number in the hallway instead of cursing me out and shoving me.”

The corners of Connor’s mouth twitch upwards in the faintest hint of a smile.

“I wish that too,” he says, and he reaches for Jared’s hand again.

When Jared interlaces their fingers it feels like coming home.

Other than a brief exchange when Troy turns up on Gabriella’s balcony (“Okay, but like, what would you have done if this was how I’d apologized to you?” “Pushed you.”) they finish the movie in silence, never letting go of each other’s hands. Near the start of ‘Breaking Free’ Connor rests his head on Jared’s shoulder, and Jared hurriedly returns the pizza box to its post.

They stay like that for the rest of the film.

“Okay,” Jared says as the credits roll, stretching with his free arm. “So next up we do have the undisputed best installment of the trilogy, according to yours truly. If you need a bathroom break speak now or forever hold your-”

Connor doesn’t say a word.

“Dude,” Jared says, and does a stupid little wiggle in an attempt to displace him. “Hey. I know I’m comfortable but at least get off me for one second, I’ve gotta change the DVDs over.”

Connor lets out a deep, unmistakably sleepy sigh.

Shit. Shit, shit, shit.

Jared freezes. As if this evening couldn’t be more of an ordeal, Connor is asleep on him. His crush is asleep on his shoulder and his heart is pounding so hard he’s scared it’ll wake him up. He carefully fishes his phone out of his pocket with his free hand and debates whether or not to text Evan.

Nope. Absolutely not.

Instead he holds out his phone and takes a selfie, Connor just about visible in the corner (he looks so peaceful when he sleeps, brow totally unfurrowed for once). Then he deletes it, because he feels like a creeper. Then he takes another one, because maybe it’s not really creepy if he’s not actually going to send it to anyone and he just wants to keep it in his camera roll and look at it when he’s feeling down.

Then he deletes it again, because nope, that’s arguably even creepier.

Torn between the pressure not to disturb Connor and the desire to do something other than freak out and take contestably stalkerish selfies for however long it takes him to wake up, Jared watches High School Musical again in its entirety, not daring to move a muscle except to surreptitiously grab another bottle from the four pack of cider he’d moved onto the coffee table while they were waiting for their pizza to arrive. He doesn’t really drink all that often, so his tolerance is embarrassingly low and he can feel the almost sickly beverage turning his brain into cotton candy in real time, and he knows that’s a bad thing when he absentmindedly slips an arm around Connor’s waist and pulls him closer, but by then he’s slightly too tipsy to care.

As the cast break into ‘We’re All In This Together’ for a second time Connor makes a small, sleepy noise and sits upright.

“Shit,” he mutters, rubbing his eyes and suppressing a yawn. “Did I miss the rest of the...?”

“Twice,” Jared says, rapidly snatching his arm away. Two hours without talking to Connor - not to mention the now-empty bottles of Angry Orchard perched on the arm of the couch - have him feeling a little more like himself.

“Shit,” Connor says again. “Sorry.”

“It’s alright,” Jared says. “High School Musical has truly extraordinary rewatch value. Spaghetti and I had a wonderful time.”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

There’s a moment of silence. Connor glances shyly at Jared out of the corner of his eye, as if looking for approval, before getting up.

“I should probably get going,” he says apologetically, tidying up the space around him. “Guess I’m still tired from skiing. Sorry I wasn’t more fun tonight.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Jared says, and then, before he can stop himself, he adds, “I mean… you could stay over? If you want? My parents won’t mind.”

Connor pauses and purses his lips.

“We could even finish the whole trilogy?” Jared says with a smirk, nudging him again. “And Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure?”

“I....” Connor begins. He shakes his head. “I wish I could. Seriously. But I’m on, like, third and final warning with my dad right now because I missed curfew a couple times while we were away so - I just really don’t want to invite any more bullshit from him than I have to.”

The way his voice shakes, posture tense like his body is trying to choose between crying or kicking something, lets Jared know that this isn’t just an excuse.

“I’m sorry,” Jared says.

“Me too,” Connor responds. He sighs. “I’m gonna, uh. I’m gonna text my mom again. Have her drive me home. It sort of worked last time as far as not pissing him off more than I had to.”

“Oh. That’s chill. I’m uh... I had some beverages while you were asleep anyway.” He pronounces beverages the French way for dramatic effect, prompting Connor to roll his eyes.

“Please don’t start speaking French again,” he says. “I can only take so much.”

Jared is not remotely sure how to take that.

Connor texts his mom and gets ready to leave almost silently. He clears up the pizza boxes and Jared’s cider bottles - Jared tries not to think about how his mom is for sure going to gush in the morning abotu what a nice considerate guest Connor is - and moves towards the door slowly, almost with a hint of regret. Jared veers between helping him and keeping a distance like it’s some kind of strange, awkward dance. Like he wants Connor to know that they’re still cool but he’s scared that if they get too close Connor’s hand will end up on his thigh again and there they’ll go again, all breathlessness and heat and scrambling for excuses.

After about twenty minutes of metaphorically and literally dancing around each other, Connor’s phone buzzes and he crouches by the door to put his shoes back on.

“My mom’s here,” he says, lacing up his boots. Jared notices he ties them using the bunny ears method, which is simultaneously adorable and something he has absolutely zero justification for noticing or for being endeared by.

“So this is how we must part,” Jared says, reverting to dramatics in the hope that it will somehow conceal how much his heart is racing. Something about this goodbye feels different, charged somehow, like they’re parting on a comma and Jared desperately needs to turn it into a period.

“That is so,” Connor says with an exaggeratedly forlorn shake of the head. It’s a shame he said no to the school play that one time, really. “Until we meet again.”

“Don’t forget to write,” Jared says, reaching out with one arm as Connor fumbles to unlock the door.

Connor doesn’t respond except to chuckle. The comma feels, now, like a semi-colon at best.

“Hey,” Jared blurts out before he can stop himself, emboldened and cider-soaked. “Don’t I get a kiss goodnight?”

Connor draws back and Jared can almost see his breath catching in his throat.

He turns to look at Jared, expression flickering into a frown as he tries to figure out whether or not that was a joke. Jared almost hopes he comes to the wrong conclusion.

“No--” Connor stammers, his face reddening. Then he blinks, shakes his head. “I mean - you’re such an idiot. I mean--”

The moment lingers in the air between them, like specks of dust floating on a sunbeam.

Jared doesn’t breathe. He feels like this moment could disperse at any moment. Like smoke slipping through his hands.

“Goodnight, Jared,” Connor says at last, meeting his gaze with an unreadable expression.

He steps out of the door at an angle, keeping his eyes on Jared until the last possible moment.

Then the door shuts, and Jared is alone.