Jared sat under the covers for hours once his throat finally gave out from screaming. He was both surprised and a little bit offended that the police hadn’t shown up as a result of him sounding like a prize winning horror movie murder victim (that old hag Mrs. Dornsby next door never did like him though, so maybe she was too busy celebrating at the thought of his murder).
He stared blankly at the wall, curled into a ball under the sheets as he let the obnoxious sounds of his alarm blare out until it finally stopped, leaving him with the sound of panicked, shallow breathing and teary sniffles that totally weren’t coming from him. He was just being haunted by a crying ghost, obviously.
His phone started to buzz a little after second period (Biology with Mr. Lewis, he barely did any studying and yet got perfect grades in it, having already taken the test tended to give an advantage, he supposed). When he’d glanced at the screen, he saw Evan’s name briefly flash across the screen, a message asking where he was, if he was alright.
Jared, in his own defense, tried to respond but his hands shook too much to type a coherent message. He ended up sending a string of emojis that, in his mind, painted a clear picture that he was not alright and probably having a panic attack. In anyone else’s mind, it probably just looked like absolute jack shit, which, fair enough.
He couldn’t do this again.
He just couldn’t.
Whatever sick, twisted dream he was having stopped being fun the first time he woke up back here. He was tired of this, he wanted to wake up, wherever the hell he would wake up. Maybe it would be back in the dorm with one of his roommates (can he even call them that now when technically they’ve never met?) or maybe it would be in a hospital bed after some stupid over dramatic accident cliche; he didn’t care.
He just wanted to wake up.
He’d dug his short, bitten nails into his arms, scratching and pinching for a while in the hopes of waking himself up and the only thing stopping him from screaming again when it didn’t work was the fact that his throat gave out immediately, sending him into a wheezing, painful coughing fit.
He wasn’t sure when he started rocking, a fidget he’d had ever since he was a kid and overstimulated or upset, but he was as he quietly mumbled to himself at a pitch and volume his throat finally allowed.
“This is fine, it’s fine, it’s fine. It was just a dream, just another stupid fucking dream. You’re awake now, Kleinman, it’s fine. You’re gonna get the fuck up, and go to school and not have an absolute meltdown over reliving the same goddamn year again-Jesus fucking Christ-!”
Jared threw the covers off of him, the once comforting warmth and weight becoming suffocating as his breathing quicken again and his vision went blurry with tears.
Maybe it was an overreaction but, quite frankly, he didn’t really give a shit at that point, his mind spiraling into thoughts of being trapped like this forever, never waking up and being doomed to relieve what was arguably the worst year of his life (originally at least, and HA-he could say that and genuinely mean originally and if that didn’t send him deeper into a panic-).
When he finally came back to himself he was dizzy and lightheaded, his throat burned even more and he stumbled as he pulled himself to his feet. He got dressed on autopilot, shrugging on a loose, plain yellow t-shirt, an old hoodie and an pair of jeans, not having the energy or will to wear his usual obnoxiously bright and painful to look at Hawaiian t-shirts. His phone proudly displayed 11:47 when he’d glanced at it in the bathroom, and he rolled his eyes tiredly at the thought of missing out on the perfect attendance award again.
He looked like a mess, face red and splotchy from totally nonexistent crying and the totally even less existent panic attack. He’d splashed some water onto his face in a lame attempt to help and lazily ran a hand through his hair instead of bothering to brush it.
Jared made his way out of that empty house slowly, grabbing his keys and starting his car in a daze, just present enough to not get into a car crash and die. He drove to school because, honestly, he was just desperate for some kind of normalcy right now. And as tempting as it was to stay home sick; which he felt he VERY MUCH deserved after his whole meltdown, he knew that staying home when he was too upset to distract himself would lead to an even worse mental state. He parked haphazardly in the same spot he had the past two dreams (he refused to call them years, that’d make them a little too real for him to handle right now) and nodded along absentmindedly when the office secretary scolded him for being so late, taking the tardy slip and wandering out of the office in the same daze he dressed himself in earlier.
He’d missed the first half of classes by a nautical fucking mile, time wise, but he also felt like going to the cafeteria and even smelling the disgusting excuse for pasta they’d have today (just like the last two first days) would make him vomit.
Jared opted to skip lunch today, not feeling hungry anyway. He did shoot Evan a text, saying he was at school finally, making an excuse of sleeping in and not setting his alarm to explain his lateness, not that the kid would likely have the guts to question him on it seriously anyway.
He wandered the hallways, barely acknowledging the small gaggle of students that duck in and out of classrooms and bathrooms as they waited for their own lunch periods to start. He’d stopped in front of an old art classroom, now currently unused and apparently empty, if the lack of lights inside was to be trusted.
Jared sighed a bit before moving towards the door, not questioning it when it clicked and opened easily despite the fact that it likely should have been locked. He shut the door behind him a bit too quickly, leaning against it and sinking to the floor, exhausted. His earlier...episode had evidently taken it out of him and he’d still not really recovered from it. He curled up slightly, folding his arms and resting them on his knees as he hid his face in his hoodie sleeves, hoping to be able to relax and breathe for just a sec-
“What the fuck are you doing in here, Kleinman.”
Jared jolted in surprise at the voice, slamming his head into the wooden door behind him and hissing at the throbbing pain that followed.
He looked up, freezing a bit as he saw dead-but-not-really-dead Connor goddamn Murphy sitting on the teacher’s desk, glaring down at him suspicious and hostile. The older Murphy hopped off the desk and stalked his way towards where Jared sat, metaphorical hackles raised and ready to fight if need be.
But goddamnit, Jared was just so tired…
“Look Connor. Literally any other time I’d be willing to rattle the fuckin’ bones with you all day long but right now I just can’t. Can we take a raincheck on the whole hating each other thing (Jared winced as he said this, as he’d gotten used to their frenemyship last time and found it pretty nice) for like. A few hours? Please? I’ll insult you when I don’t feel like driving my car into a light pole, ‘kay?”
When Jared received silence in response to his statement, he gathered all his remaining energy to look up at the taller boy, finding a mix of surprise, confusion, and (of course) suspicion on Connor’s face.
“..What the fuck is wrong with you?”
“Honestly? That’s such a loaded question right now that if I answered it, I think I’d throw up. And I gotta tell you, Murphy, I don’t look sexy when I vomit.”
Connor rolled his eyes in response but Jared saw him relax ever so slightly from his standard, on-guard and hostile posture. He stuffed his hands into the pocket of his hoodie, looking down at Jared with an expression that wasn’t quite concern but wasn’t really contempt either, so Jared counted it as a win because he really needed any and all wins right now.
“You act like you look sexy ever.”
“Ok, rude, I’m already down man, what do you wanna kick me in the balls next?”
“I’m being abused. This is assault and you’ll be hearing from my fucking lawyer, Karen (sue him, he thought the Karen memes were funny and he wasn’t gonna wait till the year was almost over to be able to use them goddamnit).”
Connor rolled his eyes again, lips twitching in a way that Jared recognized from last time as a sign he was trying his hardest to stay straight faced in response to his bullshit.
(And wasn’t that a weird thought? That Jared was able to recognize a small quirk like that in someone who used to probably dream of beating the shit out of him. That Jared was falling so easily back into the relationship that they’d had despite it not really existing and the way that fact made something in Jared’s chest hurt.)
Jared found himself loosening slightly from his tightly curled position against the door as well, relaxing into something that would probably still fuck up his back but not as severely. He was smiling, faintly but still and he found he didn’t feel like absolutely shit anymore, happy for the distraction and familiar banter.
Connor looked him up and down briefly, as if assessing him before he sunk to the floor as well, crossing his legs as he leaned against a nearby desk. He raised a dark, thin eyebrow as he reached up to twirl a piece of dark, messy hair absentmindedly.
“So what the fuck are you here for? Because I’ll be completely honest, I didn’t think you were able of feeling emotions that aren’t ‘smug bitch’ and ‘nosy asshole’.”
“I’ll have you know I can also feel ‘mild delight at pictures of small frogs’.”
“Oh come on, Murphy. You can’t fucking tell me you haven’t looked at a picture of a tiny frog on a lily pad and just felt at peace. Like you cannot tell me you haven’t wished you were a tiny frog on a lilypad, just fucking vibing and absolutely fucking stupid.”
“Well you’ve got the stupid part down-“
“Oh fuck off.”
A barely repressed laugh forced its way out of Connor’s mouth, his expression relaxed for just a second before he seemed to remember where he was and who he was talking to. Jared’s smile dimmed as well, seeing how guarded the other’s expression became again.
They sat in silence for a bit, avoiding the other’s gaze like it was the plague before Jared broke the silence.
“So. Why are you here?”
Connor narrowed his eyes, looking at him from the corner of his eye. “You won’t answer that question but you expect me to?”
Jared merely grinned a bit and raised his eyebrows suggestively. “Show me yours and I’ll show you mine.”
The joke only somewhat landed, causing Connor’s lips to twitch slightly as he rolled his eyes again.
A beat of silence between them again, with a slightly better atmosphere this time before the silence was broken by the taller boy.
“...People are assholes. Zoe’s a fucking bitch and I needed to get away for a hot second before I threw someone through a fucking window.”
“Getting suspended for defenestration on the first day isn’t very cash money, Murphy.”
Connor blinked at him, turning towards him fully with a confused expression on his face. “What the fuck was that word?”
“What, cash money? Connor, please, for the love of god tell me you know what that is-“
“Not that, you dumbass!” He glared at Jared, and it probably would’ve been a lot more intimidating if there was any genuine heat in it. “The fucking… Deferation one.”
“That’s the bitch.”
“Oh. It’s just. Throwing someone out a window.”
“Why the fuck do you know that?”
“Look, finding obscure and extremely specific words is like crack to me and I never get a chance to use them in conversations so I have to take what I can get, ok?”
Connor stared at him silently for a few seconds before the briefest flash of a smile crossed his face before he schooled his expression, shaking his head slightly. “You’re fucking weird, Kleinman.”
“Tell me about it.”
“I said why I’m here. Why the fuck are you here.”
“..Would it be enough if I said I’m just having a really...really bad day?”
Jared sighed, leaning his head down onto his arms again, trying to mentally prepare himself for the explanation* (*lie) he’d have to make to explain what the fuck is up with him because he didn’t want to burn the bridge he’d just started forming before it was even finished. He should’ve known that wouldn’t fly, it’s such a shitty excuse; why did he think-
“Yeah. Works for me, if it works for you.”
Jared blinked, his brain stopping for a second as he processed the words as he looked up at Connor in disbelief.
“...You’re not gonna question that? Like at all?”
Connor merely raised an eyebrow in response. “Do you want me to force you to talk about it?”
Jared winced at the idea, resting his chin on his arms again at the thought. The action alone seems enough of a response for Connor as he shrugged and turned away.
“‘S what I thought. ..I get not wanting to talk about shit. It’s whatever.”
Jared opened his mouth as if to respond but he let it close almost instantly. He...genuinely wasn’t expecting this kind of response, he was completely expecting to be basically interrogated and having to lie as much as possible to get the other off his case. But the way Connor so easily backed off was..nice.
They sat in relative silence after that, a comfortable one, until the bell rang. They both stood up, looking a bit lost as to what to do next. Jared resorted to fidgeting with the strings of his hoodie as they both listened to the sounds of students rushing to lunch and classes. He felt Connor’s gaze on him and looked up to meet the other’s eyes. They looked at each other quietly, as if reevaluating who they were.
Jared found himself staring in a way that felt. Odd. Different. His attention was caught by the dark green color of Connor’s eyes (he’d never really acknowledged that they were green before), the darkness of the bags under his eyes and how his hair fell naturally in front of his face. How, if he looked close enough, he could see the faintest smattering of freckles across the bridge of Connor’s nose.
“Huh?” Jared snapped out of his daze, feeling oddly exposed as his attention span finally focused on something important.
Connor raised an eyebrow, hand on the doorknob as he prepared to leave. “I said…” He huffed quietly, looking away to focus instead on the chipped black polish on his nails. “...I’ll see you around.”
And with that, he pushed the door open, wading into the sea of students that lay just outside; leaving Jared alone in the room.
Jared wandered into his classroom (History) just before the late bell rang, causing his teacher (Ms. Heren) to narrow her eyes at him as he made his way to his seat next to Evan, which was, of course, open.
The anxious teen next to him looked him over, concerned as he obviously noticed the off aura around him. He waited until Ms. Heren was distracted before whispering to Jared.
“Jared..? Did you, um, I mean. Are you, y-y’know, ok? I-I mean you never showed up this morning a-and you didn’t respond to my texts until lunch and I just-“
Jared cut the other off, shaking his head slightly. “I’m fine, Evan. Just. Had a really rough night. It’s fine. I’m fine.”
It felt more like he was reassuring himself than Evan.
Evan looked at him as thought he didn’t entirely believe him but let it drop easily enough, switching the subject to asking how Jared’s summer was.
Jared dodged the question, not quite caring to recounting the story of camp again and instead made a point to look at Evan’s cast, responding instead with a request to sign it.
Evan blinked, pleasantly surprised but confused all the same. “..Jared a-are you sure you’re okay?”
“I said I’m fine, Acorn. I just.” Jared took a breath as he focused on what he wanted to say to dispel as much suspicion as possible. “Look I know I’ve been. An asshole. Mostly in general but also to you specifically. I didn’t… I didn’t want us to end this year being family friends again. You’re like. The only friend I have and I haven’t been treating you like that. I’m..I’m sorry, Ev.”
It was a somewhat rehashed version of the apology he’d given to Evan last time, recycled though still genuine. He did like having Evan as a friend and still wanted to repair their relationship (for the third time).
Evan blinked, clearly not expecting such a genuinely emotional response from Jared of all people.
“Are you two quite finished back there or should I postpone the discussion so your conversation can continue?” The sharp, high pitched voice of Ms. Heren cut off Evan before he could go any further, causing him to flush red and stammer as he panicked at having the teacher’s attention on him so suddenly.
“Yeah, I mean, if you could that’d be sick. A real epic gamer move, Ms. H.”
“Mr. Kleinman, I’d hate to send you to the office on the first day. You will address me with respect and you will not talk in my classroom. Is that clear, young man?”
Jared huffed quietly, leaning against his hand as he propped his arm up on the desk, flashing an ok sign with his free hand. “Crystal, ma’am.”
She glared at them before returning to the syllabus, talking louder in order to gain back attention.
Jared didn’t care to focus, having already listened to his lecture three times. Instead his focus was on Evan, still red and clearly upset from being called out. Jared frowned, feeling a little guilty. He discretely pulled out his phone and sent the other a text.
‘piza at ur place after schiol???’
Jared watched as Evan jolted slightly from feeling his phone buzz in his pocket, watching the teacher as he slowly pulled it out and read the message, ignoring the typos that resulted from trying to type without being noticed. His eyes widened a bit as he turned towards Jared, who only smiled at him, eyes flickering down at the phone to reference the question again.
Evan smiled slightly in response, nodding a bit as he turned back to face the front of the classroom with the smile remaining on his face.
School continued as normal, the rest of Jared’s classes passed by in a blur, not caring to focus on anything being said. He caught Connor a few times in the hallway and the two had waved or nodded in acknowledgement before continuing on their way.
Later in the library, Jared repeated his actions from the last loop, guarding the printer and slipping the letter silently into Evan’s bag before taking control of the conversation to save both Connor and Evan from the combined force of awkward apologies and Evan’s...general awkward and anxious nature.
Jared watched as Connor made to leave before calling out, throwing impulse control to the wind as he asked the taller teen a question.
“Wanna hang out with me and Ev? We were gonna get pizza, watch some movies.”
Both Evan and Connor froze, turning to face him with expressions of confusion (Connor) and poorly hidden fear/disbelief (Evan).
“Do you wanna hang? You don’t have to but like yknow. Figured I’d offer.” He said, politely ignoring Evan’s frantic whispers of ‘Jared what are you D O I N G’ behind him as he waited for Connor’s reply.
The taller teen looked him up and down again before slowly shaking his head, mumbling an excuse along the lines of homework and parents. Jared nodded.
“Aw man. Maybe another time then?”
“...Maybe..” And with that, Connor quickly left the library and Jared watched him flee through the glass windows and felt vaguely upset.
“What wAS THAT?!”
Ah. Right. Evan.
Jared gave some half hearted explanation as he attempted to calm the other down, laying a steady hand on Evan’s shoulder.
“I just. Wanted to try something different.”
Wanted to try harder to end this.
“Yknow, make a new friend or. Whatever.”
Do it better, fix whatever was causing this.
“Can’t blame me for trying, right?”
Can’t blame him for trying his best to figure out what was causing this year to repeat.
The year continues.
He and Evan grow close again. This time he helps Evan grow closer to Zoe, purely to make Evan happy. He and Zoe get together after a while, the relationship polite but not as. Romance filled as Jared expected. More like close friends than lovers.
They break up halfway through the year and Evan calls him in tears, not over the breakup but because he doesn’t think he’s straight because he felt wrong whenever he and Zoe kissed and wasn’t sure if he ever actually loved her. And Jared laughs internally because, damn, the gays really do travel in packs. He comforts the other over the phone and comes over with shitty movies and a confession that he and Evan are in the same boat to show there’s nothing to fear. They watch movies till 4 am and fall asleep pressed close to each other like when they were kids.
Jared works hard to try and befriend Connor further. They exchange numbers and it becomes a bit between them to change each other’s contact names to something rude or jokingly insulting. He invites him to hang out both just with him and with Evan in tow. He accepts sometimes when it’s just Jared, never when with Evan. He grew pretty distant and almost bitter during the period of time when Evan and Zoe were dating and didn’t really get comfortable around Evan again after that.
The few times they do hang out, it’s casual and surprisingly lighthearted. Their banter is still sharp and quick witted but there’s no venom in their words. Jared gets the privilege and bragging rights that follow from making Connor Murphy laugh more than once (or at all, really).
Connor acts weird as time goes on, getting more distant and angry despite Jared’s best attempts to..help? Comfort him? He wasn’t sure what to really call it.
One day, he’d laid a hand on Connor’s shoulder and quietly asked if he was ok, genuine concern spilling into his voice and expression as he stared into red eyes that clearly hadn’t seen sleep in far too long. Time stands still for a second before Connor’s almost delicate expression morphs into something hurting and angry as he shoves Jared away, knocking him to the floor as he yells about something along the lines of not being a freak and being fine.
He doesn’t give Jared a chance to talk to him again as he runs away. He doesn’t give Jared a chance to talk to him again when he blocks his number after he stops showing up to school.
Doesn’t give Jared a chance to talk to him again after he kills himself.
Jared finds himself being comforted by Evan during the memorial speech, wondering absentmindedly when he started crying. Wondering if his tears are because his friend (friend?) is dead or because he knows what this likely means. He leans towards Evan, soaking up comfort like a sponge when he can’t figure out an answer.
He gets suspended a few days later for yelling at a girl selling Connor merchandise and flipping the fold up plastic table she was sitting at. The sight of the buttons and lanyards making him sick and furious and he has to rush to the bathrooms afterwards to vomit. Evan follows after him, rubbing his back in the stall in an attempt to comfort him.
“It’s not f-fair..they weren’t his fucking friends, they don’t get to just-! Profit off of him like that, it’s fucking sick.” He says, sniffling and gagging from the taste of vomit and from the tears he finds are spilling down his face. He thinks back to the past version of himself who sold buttons and feels angry all over again, the fury being expressed through tears.
Evan doesn’t know what he means when he starts desperately mumbling under his breath about waking up and not wanting to do this again, he just pulls the shorter teen close and hugs him, trying his best to help his friend.
The year passes by slowly but all too fast at the same time. He doesn’t apply for college right away, claiming to be thinking about taking a year and ‘getting some work experience’ when Heidi and Evan ask. In truth, it’s because he doesn’t think there’ll be a college semester to attend.
He gets a summer job at a grocery store after graduation, just a cashier earning minimum wage that he spends on whatever he fancies to buy himself some serotonin. He spends his days working and his nights more and more often at Evan’s house. Heidi gets used to the sight of him and Evan leaning against each other on the couch with Netflix asking if their still watching when she comes home from her late shifts.
Towards the end of summer when college classes would have started, Jared gets nervous. He can feel it. A clock, inside his head, ticking down. He wakes up Evan one night in tears, begging him to turn off the clock in the living room because he can’t take the sound.
He does, because Evan is a sweetheart like that and easily drops the line of questioning when Jared only cries louder in response.
Then the day comes. Jared can feel it.
He calls in sick to work. He spends the day at Evan’s house, watching movies and playing video games and doing anything and everything they can think of. That’s where he finds himself at 11:58, shaking enough that Evan turns away from Jared’s switch where the sounds of Pokémon quietly play from to look at him in concern.
“Jared? ..You okay?”
Jared is silent, staring at the clock as it turns to 11:59 and he feels tears sting at his eyes as he takes a shaky breath. Turning towards his best friend, he lets them fall down his cheek, shaking even more as he feels the seconds ticking down like a second heartbeat, thudding in his chest. His heart constricts in his chest at the sight of Evan’s concerned expression, it hurts to think about how in just a few moments, this will a be gone again.
“Wh-Jared? What’s going on, are you okay?”
“I just wanna wake up, Ev.”
Jared wakes up in his bed at home, to the sounds of his phone’s alarm. He turns it off, quietly taking note of the reminder of ‘first day of senioritis boi’.
He lays in bed, silently staring up at the ceiling.
And Jared cries.