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“How much longer are we stuck here?” Jared whines and looks at his watch, tapping his foot. 

 Evan quietly says, “I think another hour.”

 Jared groans, “Ugh I’m so bored ,” he walks faster going somewhere, Evan isn’t sure where, but somewhere. Evan trips over his feet to keep pace with Jared and accidentally bumps into him. Jared indignantly jumps away, “Dude, space.”

 “Sorry…”

They keep going, wherever it is they’re going. It is nearing sunset and the lights of the amusement park are beginning to flicker on in a colorful and brilliant way. Evan wipes the pooling sweat away from his forehead. Slowly, crowds of more and more people seem to be entering the park as the sun sinks lower with the closing of day. 

Now he’s much more aware of the sounds, the chatter, the screams, the lights, and the people than he was earlier. All of this kind of wants to make him crawl into a dark and quiet place like his room or the bathroom for a bit. His attraction to the park is slowly beginning to drip away like the melting ice cream Evan doesn’t really want to eat. 

Jared dashes away to the arcade and Evan tosses his cone in the trash before jogging after him. He knew that going to the amusement park would be a lot of walking but he didn’t expect to be chasing after Jared at every turn. 

Evan enters the arcade and it’s a little darker in the nice dim-lighted way. Lively electric sounds and music play all over the place. The floor is sticky with a mysterious substance and there are little pieces of raffle tickets all on the floor.

Evan finds Jared playing Pac-Man with a highly-focused look on his face. His new glasses reflect the screen and his brow is furrowed in concentration as he wiggles the joy-stick aggressively about. Evan brushes shoulders with Jared as he peeks at the screen and watches as Jared leads Pac-Man straight into an unfortunate head-on collision with a pink ghost.

 “Aw man, Evan! You gave me bad luck, dude,” Jared has color high on his cheeks probably from playing so hard. 

 Evan tugs on his shirt and looks down, “I’m sorry…”

 “Whatever, just don’t follow me anymore,” Jared turns on his heel and heads towards another brightly flashing game. There is a delighted yell and the sound of a high pitched bell, Evan turns to see a pair of friends hopping around a machine as a rope of tickets spew out of a game. Someone replaces Jared's place at the Pac Man game without a word and Evan moves away, unsure of where to go and what to do with himself. A sour taste sets in his mouth and he feels seconds away from being set a drift. 

He searches for Jared. He spots his brightly colored hawaiian shirt first and when Evan approaches Jared again Jared just rolls his eyes and doesn’t say anything. To Evan's growing sense of gloom, Jared ignores Evan’s presence and goes from arcade game to arcade game, not asking if he wants to be his Player Two, not even once. This is not exactly unexpected because Jared has informed him, very honestly, that Evan is not a good person to play video games with because he lacks competitiveness; however, Evan knows that that was coming from a person who does not like losing as he's seen Jared yell at a screen during the tournament modes of certain games. So, it's Evan. The problem is himself. Evan would likely not have seen Jared once during summer were it not for today.  

Throughout their time there at the amusement park, Jared has barely-concealed how much of an exercise of patience it has been to remotely even interact with Evan for a prolonged period of time in public. It wasn’t either of their idea to do this, it was a combined and ill-thought-out plan of both their mothers who thought they needed to spend more time outside of their homes and together. 

Even if the past hour and a half they’ve been there has been strained, the one thing they could both agree on is the fact that neither of them like the big roller coasters. But that also means there’s not much else for two 12 year olds to do in an amusement park. Thus, Evan watches Jared play different games, close to his side, and the sour taste in his mouth begins to subside with each sound of a coin rattling it's way into a machine.

He finally grows bored of watching Jared race in circles through an impossible mountain and decides to move away. 

Evan roams through the various games and watches people play games with guns or hop around on that dance game that seems like more exercise than actual fun.

He’s roaming when, seemingly, without realizing it, his feet lead him face-to-face with a mannequin of a regal blindfolded woman. A thick veil etched with stars cloaks her braided black hair. A sign rests atop it in faded gold lettering that simply reads: FORTUNA. Painted between the letters are little stars and planets, some of them dimly lit with LED lights. Her presence is an unusual sight amongst the other fixtures of the arcade and Evan finds himself reaching for a quarter as he stares at where her eyes should be. 

In chipped, old-timey letters above the coin slot, it reads: “Fate and Faith are One.” Evan slips the quarter through the slot and looks expectantly at her.

The lady doesn’t move for a second before the dark hand that rests atop the crystal ball, lifts slightly, and then proceeds to orbit over it. The lights dim in the box momentarily, letting the orb shine brightly and cast an unusual shadow on her face. The light catches her mouth in an enigmatic Mona Lisa smile that speaks of detachment and a little bit of something that Evan can’t place, as if she’s heard a sweet song.

Without much ceremony, the hand returns to the orb and it all stops as if nothing happened. Evan hears a rattle. 

A thin red paper slithers out of a slot of the machine and Evan catches it before it falls to the floor. The paper is soft like ribbon, and the writing, small and black, reads: “Your Essential Day: September 25th,” Evan flips it over and it says: “2:05 p.m.”

What does it mean? 

He squeaks when a hand falls on his shoulder. Jared laughs obnoxiously, “What are you doing all the way over here?” His eyes catch what’s in Evan’s hands, “Ooo what’s that?” He makes to grab it but Evan shoves it deep in his pocket, the paper feels important, he stutters “I d-don’t know. Something d-dumb." 

Jared gives him a bemused look.

Evan wearily smiles, “W-why don’t you try it?”

Jared spares the machine a glance and turns on his heel, “Nah, it’s just a creepy doll. Anyways, I’m bored again. Let’s get out of here.” 

They have a little under thirty minutes to kill so Jared leads them to the throwing games. Jared misses all of them and the gameskeeper offers Evan a turn, Evan aims the dart at a red balloon and flicks it---POP! Evan gives a small surprised laugh at what he did and also for the look of confusion on Jared’s face.

“No, no, no...that was a miracle. A disruption of space-time and everything I know to be true,” Jared pulls out a dollar bill, “Do it again. I need to see you fail so I feel comforted.”

Evan tries again, he aims, focuses on the targets, and pops two more. On the last three tries he wonders at how he did the first three and becomes too self-aware of how he's holding the dart and if his aim is true. He throws, and he misses.  

“I knew it,” Jared claps him on the back, “Tough luck, buddy,” and then he drags them to a ring toss which Jared proceeds to do so well in that he gets a prize. 

They are heading back to the main entrance where they are meant to be picked up, and all the while, Jared has been throwing the prize, a striped unicorn, in the air. Evan knows that Jared only did so well because he comes here often enough with his family to have had the practice. Regardless, Jared wears a smug smile.

“Can you believe it? I can’t believe it.” 

Evan nods, a small smile of relief on his face because they are going to go home and he’s tired. His feet ache and all he wants is to slip under his bedcovers and go into the warm happy place that is sleep. He feels eyes on him and turns to see Jared giving him a curious look. Evan reaches a hand up to his own face, wondering if he has something on him. Jared looks as if he’s thinking about something and then suddely he pushes the unicorn into Evan’s chest and blurts, “You have it.”

 Evan stops in his tracks, “What? Why?”

 “Don’t question it or I’ll take it back,” Jared starts speed walking towards the exit for nor discernable reason and says over his shoulder, "Jared giveth and Jared also taketh away.”

 Evan sighs and jogs after him, hugging the unicorn to his chest and all the while thinking of the curious red paper slip in his pocket. 

Chapter Text

5 years after Connor vanished.

“Wow Evan, you really know how to treat a girl right.”

“Huh?”

“Christ, what do I gotta do? Go under the table and give ya a blow job?” A person at the nearest table gives Evan a hard-side eye, he knits his eyebrows apologetically. Jared doesn’t catch that exchange and continues to say, “You’ve been staring at your pasta carbonara for the past 10 minutes. Honestly, it’s a little creepy. What’s on your mind?”

Evan’s face heats up and he plays with the cuffs of his dress shirt, “I—I just didn’t realize what day it is.”

“What do you mean?” Jared goes pale-faced and whips out his phone, before lowering it with a relieved groan, “Thank fuck, I thought it was our anniversary for a second. Which reminds me. You have to tell me why we’re in such a ritzy place for dinner now…” Jared scrapes the plate with his fork and Evan twitches, a smile grows on Jared’s face as he faux-suspiciously says, “You didn’t publish a secret book and hit bestsellers list again did you? Is it something you’re embarrassed about? Maybe a new, crappy 50 Shades of Gray, except gayer?”

“Well um,” suddenly the box in Evan’s pocket feels very heavy and like it’s burning a hole through his jacket. He’s almost sure it’s going to slip out and splash into his wine.

“What’s it called? 50 Shades of Trees? Oh my God, does it incorporate tree sex? Vine restraints?” Jared chokes on his laughter and Evan waits him out, his legs jittering around beneath the table, some part of him that’s not affected by the wildness of his head is impressed that the table doesn’t vibrate with his jumping knees--- it must be because these tables are fancy tables in a fancy restaurant with fancy people. Evan is not fancy. Nor is Jared for that matter. These kinds of things cross each other out. An elimination of unalike things. 

Even with his formal wear on, Evan can’t fool anyone. He's wearing a stiff button up shirt that is just this side of itchy and slacks that are a duller gray than many of the other patrons are sporting. Across from him, Jared sports something similar to Evan as he didn't bother changing out of his work clothes which consists of a blue shirt that brings out his eyes and a Pac-Man tie. He wonders if Jared also feels uncomfortable in what he's wearing? It doesn't look like it, he has his sleeves casually rolled up and his hair remains gelled in place (something Evan can not achieve because he runs his hands through his hair too often). Jared's glasses catch the light and he can see faint scratches and smudge marks, he suddenly wonders if Jared is ever uncomfortable in his own skin. 

A handsome couple floats by their table on their way to a dim-lighted and vacant booth. He curiously watches them settle down and then disapear behind their raised menus. 

The sensation that he’s entered a surreal dream is about to settle over him. It is as if the restaurant is not a restaurant at all but the glowing lights and immaculate people are all beautiful fishes in a grand aquarium. Evan feels fake, like someone threw a toy fish amongst a pool of luminescent jellyfish. He shouldn’t be in this place, it’s too nice for him.  

Jared stops sniggering and glances at him, “Dude, your face. Am I right?”

"What?" He completely forgot what they were talking about.

"Christ, you're really out of it."

“It’s—,” There’s so many things on his mind right now he feels like he’s going to explode. On top of that, all day, his heart has been heavy, and now it weighs on his tongue, it tastes like iron and old seawater...It weighs on him, even after all these years. 

“You’re not breaking up with me right?” Jared chuckles, “I mean, I think I’ll be fine as long as I can get this food to go.”

“What? No!” Evan sits up straighter, this time he actually does hit the table with his knee and the silverware travels an inch to the right. Evan drags a hand down his face and sighs, “Connor. I was thinking about Connor.”

“Oh.” Jared’s fork lowers slightly, hanging just below his chin. He pauses, “How long has it been again?”

“Five years.”

“They still don’t know what happened to him?”

“No.” Evan looks away.

“Poor fucker. I hope he’s sunbathing in Mexico or something.”

“Mexico?”

“I mean it’s better than picturing him dead and in a ditch isn’t it?” Jared lightly kicks his leg with a small smile. 

The image of Connor, pale and staring soullessly out of a gutter flashes in his head. He quickly rearranges that into Jared’s suggestion. In Mexico, and in the sun. Warm and smiling softly at the sound of the engines of the ocean. Evan likes that vision a lot better. Evan returns the smile slightly. He then remembers the small box in his pocket, a band of gold flashes in his mind's eye and he feels a swell of affection. 

“Jared—”

“Gentlemen, May I offer you the desert menu? Today’s specials are the chocolate creme brûlée and the chef’s special,” The tall waiter eyes Evan’s full plate, “Sir, shall I come back? Perhaps when you are finished?”

Jared stares imploringly at Evan through his Ray Bans and may as well be making grabby hands at the waiter. 

“N-no, I think I’ll just take this to go. We’ll see the desert menu, please.”

 

******

 

They walk through the streets of San Francisco, all of halfway across the nation from their hometown. They might as well be all the way in a different world.

It’s the kind of night where the fog has rolled in and chills the air just enough to tug on a jacket. They never have real summers or winters. There is never a need for winter jackets or the like. To Californians, a white winter is some magical experience only far-off people and places get to experience. They don’t know the kind of bitter and dark winter he and Jared had grown up with in the east. He can’t say he misses the snow, because when it snowed there were too many chances for something to go wrong like power outages, catching a cold, cars skidding on ice...Too many things. 

They talk mostly about work, the topic of Connor long gone even if he still lingers in Evan’s head, like a spectre in his peripheral vision. It seems Jared always has a lot more to say about what he’s doing, or atleast, Evan listens to what he has to say even if he doesn’t understand half of what he’s told. 

The instances when he and Jared are able to just share a simple conversation are rare. The fact that much of their conversation consists of work is chalked up to the fact that if they had more time they’d probably talk about something else.

Evan thinks it’s kind of like when they used to be students, all they would talk about then was school and classes. So here they are, work as the subject, although Jared doesn’t have the same patience for Evan’s own job, but he tries sometimes. Evan feels he should be more present because who knows when this may happen again? He should be engaging in the conversation but he can’t

Evan hugs his coat tighter around himself and, as a result, feels the slight press of the ring box against his side. It reminds him that he failed---again. Several months ago he had been so proud when he had been able to get Jared’s ring size. Figuring that information out without clueing him into what he was doing was about the most stressful experience Evan had ever experienced---and he’s a man whose life has been defined by Stress for 90% of his life, so the second he had found out he had almost shouted in delight. One moment he’d finally acquired the information, and then the next he was in the ring shop buying a golden band with the royalties he’d earned on his book. That was the only big purchase he’s ever made with that money. He still can’t wrap his head around how his book was actually successful, in fact, he can’t wrap his head around how he even wrote a book to begin with. 

He tries to tune in back to the conversation but he’s feeling a whole swirl of negative emotions and it makes his feet heavy with each step they get closer to their place because he can stop at any number of places along the way, get down on one knee and get it over with---granted a gritty city sidewalk wouldn’t be the most romantic but it would give Evan great peace of mind. 

They are turning the corner to their apartment building and Evan nearly shakes with the desire to just do it right where they are standing waiting for the pedestrian sign to flip at the crosswalk. It would be kind of a funny story, right? Later, he and Jared will be able to share the story of Evan’s impromptu proposal with their friends and families. Evan can just see it now, he would call his mom and tell her how it went, and then he'd call Zoe straight afterwards. No...maybe he’d wait until he could meet them in person so he could see their reactions. He then imagines that he’d bring it up during their wedding and it’d be the story that everyone has heard of by now but it’s just so silly and sweet, and it’s their proposal story for Christ’s sake.

His hand trembles as he reaches for the box and then Jared snickers, “---and Swiper-Sam hasn’t tried to swipe my sandwiches again. I’m a genius, right?” He throws a grin at Evan and then does a double take, “Dude, are you ok? You look like you’re gonna hurl.”

Evan rubs his forehead, he feels clammy, “I’m fine. Just tired.”

“Oooh-kay,” The crosswalk signal gives changes and they cross the street, “Jesus, do you think I should apologize to Sam? I mean if I grossed you out just talking about it then maybe---”

“You should apologize,” Evan wasn’t following the story at all and has no idea what Jared did but he knows him. He firmly nods and breathes in deep, feeling his heart begin to settle, “Definitely.”

 

******

 

They’re getting ready for bed. Evan discreetly slips the ring box in the hidden place he’s had it in for months now: in an empty shoebox--where Jared would never look, because he leaves his shoes all over the place. They’ve had conversations about that, but that’s another matter. He’s been working up the courage to propose to Jared for what feels like ages now but he can never get the words out. It never feels like the right time or place or mood---it never feels like the right anything.   

Evan pads through their flat to their bedroom and finds Jared already under the covers.

He kind of hopes Jared would ask why they went out for dinner but he doesn’t.

He whispers, “Good night,” and Jared snores in response.

Evan turns off the lamp and falls asleep.

 

******

 

He’s at the beach and it’s dark. A full moon hangs brightly atop the ocean’s horizon, it’s light falling onto the water like a silvery trail. Waves swell upwards in a slow arc before crashing without a sound. There is a lone figure standing waist deep in the water, they are tall and thin, too delicate for the waves that rush by them. Evan wants to step closer but he can’t, he wants to tell them that they’ll get carried away and disappear but he’s frozen. 

The words to warn them stay stubbornly in his mouth and the person slightly turns their head as if they hear what he cannot say. Evan sees the very tip of an eyelash and then a giant wave rises up and swallows them without a sound. 

Evan jolts awake, heart beating fast. He covers his face and wills the emptiness in his chest to subside. 

Connor.

Jared stays asleep beside him, his snoring an actual soothing sound that Evan clings to in the darkness. He begins to reach for him, he wants the comfort of a human touch, but something stays his hand. I don’t deserve that. 

Chapter Text

Why does he always seem to come home to an empty apartment? 

He’d like to ask someone that. He’d like to go up to a neighbor’s door and ask, “Hey, why am I alone when I get home?” 

This hypothetical neighbor would be the kind of person who lounges on those long dramatic couches with a wine glass in hand. They’d give him a long suffering sigh and say something like: “Being alone is normal, Evan. It’s not a bad thing, sometimes it’s nice to have a space for yourself.” They’d sound like his therapist, but that’s neither here nor there. 

And then he’d say: “Sure, but I’m tired of this. This has happened for too long.”

“Do something about it.”

“I’ve tried”

They’d fix him with a silent look that’d say: “That’s life.”

And deep in him he’d think: no, that’s not it. That’s not the life for me. 

Evan automatically switches the lights on and they emphasize the emptiness. He turns them down almost to the lowest setting where the lights of the city are brighter than the ones inside his own place and he lets the day fall away. 

Evan shrugs off his jacket and puts his briefcase away, somewhere he can’t see it and be enticed into doing some extra work. He has the feeling he might do that anyways but it doesn’t hurt to hide it from himself.

When he was younger he knew he didn’t like it. He didn’t like this, this knowledge that the people in his life, the people closest to him, appear in his life as often as strangers who share the same bus. 

You recognize their face, and it’s almost a comfort to see them sitting across from you, but you don’t know their name, you don’t know who they are, but their presence is distantly familiar.  

He doesn’t begrudge Heidi for her absence in much of his childhood. He understands that she was trying to make a living for the both of them and she had to make sacrifices to make ends meet. He also knows that that was due, highly in part, because of the flat-out absence of his father. He doesn’t blame her for it, but it doesn’t erase the memories he has of coming home and being alone with his own thoughts for company. 

It doesn’t erase those times he’d see money on the counter and not touch it because he didn’t want to call to order delivery. He had rather go hungry than stress that he’d drop the pizza box when it was handed to him or that he’d accidentally touch hands with the person and they’d be disgusted to feel the sweat on his fingers. Then there were the times he wouldn’t see his mom at all because she’d come home when he was asleep and then leave before he’d woken up. Moments when he really needed a hug and could only have the TV as a distraction to combat the way he felt like he was going to fall apart at any second and if he just paid attention to the questions that were asked in Who Wants to be a Millionaire then maybe he can get it together to start doing his homework. 

And now there’s Jared, his boyfriend. The cycle repeats itself. Maybe he’s being needy, maybe this is normal. But it sure doesn’t feel normal to feel as if his loved ones pass through his life like ghosts.

Nowadays, he’ll come home and see that the remote control is in a different place from where he left it---Yeah, Jared was here at some point during the day. I missed him because the grocery line was too long. Or he’d be getting up early in the morning for a meeting and Jared would still be sleeping because he had a later start, and Evan didn’t want to wake him up so he’d pull the blankets over him and brush a kiss onto his forehead before leaving.

Evan once left a sticky note on the fridge with a message, like what some couples do on TV, but he got embarrassed by how much empty space there was surrounding the little slip of pink paper, a little smiley face stared dutifully back at him and he snatched it off the fridge mere seconds after he placed it there. It looked positively ridiculous and he wasn’t sure why it felt like the stupidest thing he’s done in a long time, but it did. So, he crumpled up the paper and stuffed it in his pocket in case Jared somehow saw it in the trash bin and took the opportunity to poke fun at him. On that particular day, things got so chaotic at both of their jobs that they hadn’t spoken a word to each other in three days.

Sometimes it’s not like that though. Sometimes they’ll both be up at the same time in the morning and Evan will lean against the counter as Jared prepares the coffee because when Evan prepares the brew it tastes like “armpit” or “Dobby’s sock” or many of the other creative descriptors Jared feels a shining to. Or sometimes there’s a movie they both really want to see and they insist on setting aside time in their schedule to watch it together and then they actually have a nice night in each other’s company, a nice night that might lead to a little more.     

But those moments are rare. That’s why they are “sometimes.” 

These things, they add up. And Evan doesn’t know if what they accumulate to is sufficient enough to... 

His phone vibrates on the counter. He has a new message. 

It’s a text from Zoe.

-Hey

-Wanna come over sometime? Lana and i wanna watch a new movie 

A happy thrill goes through him and he goes to the couch to respond.

Of course :)

When?

 

******

 

December 31, 2017

ROCHESTER, New York. — A teenager was reported missing in the Rochester area Wednesday evening, authorities said.

The Rochester Police Department said Connor Murphy was last seen wearing black jeans and a black hoodie. The 17 year old was described as having medium, shoulder-length brown hair, and heterochromatic eyes (left eye is blue and right is brown). 

Anyone with information on whereabouts was asked to call Rochester police at...

 

******

 

5 months before Connor vanished.

Evan holds onto the branch of the tree and lets his legs swing without purchase. He feels the emptiness and all the height between the ground and his position high up in the tree. His heel kicks lightly against the trunk of the tree and it swings forward, he grits his teeth and holds tighter. 

Before he lets go he wants to memorize the feeling of clutching the branch, of what it feels like to grip something so tightly that his hands scream in exertion to hold him up. 

But he has to do this. He chose this tree, he chose this time, he didn’t really plan on the day but he knew he would feel when the time was right. And he did, he had been snacking on an apple outside his therapist’s office and then when he tossed the core away, he knew. And then his feet did not lead him to their door. They had turned him straight around and led him here. 

There’s the barest trace of apple in his mouth, he tastes it when his tongue swipes over his teeth as he struggles to keep his grip firm. Evan carefully blanks his thoughts, shutting them down like walking through a building and turning off the lights one by one. 

Of course, in time, his mom will be happy (probably within a short amount of time). Who wouldn’t be happy to be free? Unburdened? The one great impediment to a normal life is him. She won’t have a broken son anymore, Heidi Hansen can start over without him. Click. He flicks that thought off like a light switch. There goes that thought. Snapping into the dark. Get rid of it fast like a band aid so the pain is only brief. 

He continues. 

She will be free like he will be in a matter of seconds. His brain will turn off, everything will turn off and go quiet. Isn’t that as lovely as the buttery green leaf fluttering by his pinky? Click. 

His fingers slip a little and he wiggles them for better purchase. Honestly, it’s going to be great for everyone. Jared won’t have to tolerate him, he can make better and cooler friends who are new and not “family friends.” His dad, will not have to think about his son who has lived and grown far away from him. He will be able to look at his new children and be happy that they are normal---he won’t want to leave them like he left Evan. He won’t drive away from them in a red pick-up truck.  

Evan squeezes his eyes shut, it’s getting harder to hold on much longer. Zoe, bright and brilliant Zoe. Nothing will happen to her when he’s gone. She’ll probably frown momentarily at the news that a student from school has died, and then the moment will pass and she’ll smile the smile that Evan searched for everyday to make his day a little brighter. 

Click.

Are these really his last thoughts?

Evan peeks up at the sky, it’s a dreamy blue and he smiles.  

He falls.

It’s loud. His heart is loud. So loud that when he hits the floor he doesn’t hear anything but his pain. The pain is hot and bright and white and his heart stops. 

“What the fuck!?” 

His heart jumps into action and he gasps when his hand twitches. 

 

Wait

Who’s there? 

 

He blinks and dots flurry his vision as he stares up into a pale blurry face. The figure is dressed in black and has dark hair framing their face. He wonders if they are a spirit that has come to reap his soul. He hopes they do it soon, he hurts so much. Evan closes his eyes so that maybe they can know he is ready.

A high pitched trill rings in his ears, through it he can faintly hear what sounds like a voice. Maybe they are giving him instructions. Maybe if he listens hard enough he will be able to understand them. 

Evan hears a Thud beside him, and then he snaps his eyes open and the ringing noise snaps into cutting clarity, “Are you ok? Hansen, you---.” The figure---no, the spirit is kneeling beside him, except now he can see their face. With a swoosh of shock he realizes he recognizes that face and it’s so bizarre Evan squeezes his eyes shut because he can’t understand what he is seeing. This is all so strange. Why can’t it all stop? He enters a place that is all pain and it’s like being submerged in water except the water is pain and it lasts so long and then---

“Hansen!!”

Zoe Murphy’s older brother, Connor Murphy, stares down at him with wide mismatched eyes and says, “Hansen, stay with me. Don’t you dare fucking close your eyes again.” Evan notes that Connor’s hair catches the sunlight that slips through the leaves and shines a faint rusty red. Evan is glad he fell on a sunny day. It was beautiful to see the sky.

Evan blinks slowly and croaks, “Hurts.”

“I’m sure it fucking does. What happened? No, you know what? Where does it hurt?”

Evan squeezes his eyes closed at another wave of pain. It’s hard to get a reply out and it’s easier to let the part of his brain that wants to shut down take over. So he lets it do just that. 

“HANSEN.”

Evan begrudgingly squints at Connor and furrows his brow, he’s barely aware of what’s coming out of his mouth, “You’re still here?” 

Connor’s face twists up into bewilderment, “The fuck, man? I didn’t go anywhere?” 

“It got dark for 5 hours.”

“O dude,” Connor covers his face and mumbles something too low for Evan to hear, “I’m calling the paramedics.”

Evan jerks up to a sitting position and his arm screams in agony, “No! No! Don’t do that.”

“You might have a concussion!! I’m sure as hell calling an ambulance!”

Evan shakily starts to get up, “Don’t, the trip...Ugh...the trip is too expensive. Can’t afford it.” 

Connor sounds aggrieved, “You can’t—-” and then he helps Evan up, Evan flinches when his arm moves the wrong way, “Goddamnit, are you ok? No, that’s a stupid question because obviously you’re not—”

Evan sways on his feet, and steadies himself on Connor’s shoulder, “Thanks.”

“Fuck, ok. What are you doing?”

Evan wobbles away, his mind on getting out of the park and reducing the pain in his arm, “I'm going to walk.”

“To the hospital?” 

“Yeah.”

Connor sputters “Wait, what? Wait,” Connor suddenly blocks Evans way and holds his hand up, “How many hands am I holding up?”

“Hands?”

“Fingers! Shit, I’m just—-just answer the question,” Connor is frowning and runs a nervous hand through his hair. Evan is not concussed, but he entertains him anyway and focuses on the two fingers Connor holds up, “Two,” see? Not concussed, Evan shakily gives a thumbs up with his good hand, “I’m ok.”

Connor gives him a skeptical look and then seems to decide something, “I can drive you.”

The instinctive feeling to not be a bother rises up and he says, “That’s ok, you don’t have to.”

“What are you talking about? You can’t seriously walk over there.”

“I can—“ Evan sways and then a hand darts out to steady him. The world is not spinning but his brain is thoroughly disengaged and doing some serious somersaults, a faint ringing noise begins to creep up and he shakes his head to clear it away. 

Connor repeats, “Let me drive you.” 

Evan goes through a series of arguments that speed through his head too fast for him to keep up with, and then it’s as if he’s watching himself when he says, “Ok.” 

And then they are suddenly in a car. A car that faintly smells of weed, but Evan is no state to judge because he barely notices when Connor helps pull his seatbelt over him and when the car begins to move. 

As they drive, his arm relentlessly throbs and he gets dizzy each time his eyes fall on the unnatural bend of it that seems better suited for a funhouse mirror rather than real-life. His arm is bizarre, the situation is bizarre because he’s in Connor Murphy’s car of all people, but strangest and (most unfortunate of all) he messed up. 

He failed. Evan Hansen failed and managed to mess up dying. 

Not only is he still alive, but now he is alive and has a broken arm. A drop of water hits his hand and then he’s suddenly aware of the tears rushing down his cheeks. Evan sniffles loudly when his nose gets too plugged up with snot and he raises his good hand to wipe his wet face.

Connor notices, “Hansen?” Evan hears hesitation in his tone, “Does it really hurt? We’re almost there,” Evan can’t bring himself to look at him so he fixes his eyes outside, “Are you ok?”

Evan sucks in a breath and chokes on a sudden wave of anguish. He jerkily nods and holds back a quiver of his shoulders. He can’t have a breakdown here with Connor Murphy, someone he barely knows (really doesn’t know at all). Evan is going to disgust him and Connor will think he’s really weird and he’s going to regret helping him. Maybe he’ll tell him to get out of his car and walk the rest of the way because he’s being annoying. They’re a little closer to the hospital, he can walk the rest of the way if he has to.

Connor asks him the same question again and Evan can’t breathe.

Evan doesn’t realize they’re parked at the side of the road until he hears the number “nine,” and then he inhales at the number “ten,” and exhales carefully until the name of the next number. Evan’s brain refocuses like a disturbed body of water stilling into neutrality once more. Crisp air from the car’s open windows that Connor must have opened at some point brush his cheek and cool his hot and tear-swollen eyes. “One,” Evan inhales when he looks at Connor, and he simply just looks at him. 

Connor wrings his hands and seems to be waiting for any sign that he should count again. Evan’s heart warms with gratitude for the concern that is clear as day that fill the eyes of a virtual stranger. Except, Connor is not really a stranger, they practically grew up together since elementary school but they were more like parallel lines that never strayed into each other's lives. Of course he knows of Connor Murphy, he just never knew who Connor Murphy was. So, he is a familiar stranger, and his strange familiarness is oddly comforting. 

“Did that help?” And his voice sounds so small, Evan reels in the face of the understandings he’s having of the boy beside him. For a handful of seconds, Evan had forgotten his broken arm and felt he actually saw Connor Murphy with such clarity that an edge of guilt bitters his observations somewhat. 

Evan takes a deep breath of air and coughs, “Yes,” but something in him is still raw and the tears won’t stop even if he wishes they would, he shudders and covers his face, “I’m suh-sorry, I’ll stop.”

“It-It’s ok,” Connor says awkwardly.

“I’m fine,” Evan tries to reassure him, “It’s just, they won’t s-stop,” he gestures at his face and a smile tugs at his face in some attempt to appear like Evan would be more put together if he were in any other situation. 

“Alright, I’m going to keep driving but---” he doesn’t finish that sentence, but Evan knows what he has left unsaid: they will stop if he has another attack.

Evan doesn’t look at him, “Ok, thank you. Sorry.” About this, about inconveniencing you, about probably ruining your day. Sorry about me. 

“You’re ok...And stop saying sorry.”

“Sorry.”

Connor sighs, “Dude .” 

“So---” Evan shuts his mouth. 

Connor glances at him and then rubs his forehead, he’s frowning slightly and then he turns to start the car again with an air of tiredness behind his movements, “Let’s get you to the hospital.”

 

******

 

 

Evan has a cast and it is decidedly blank.

At least he doesn’t have to look at his funhouse mirror of an arm anymore because it’s buried in plaster. 

Evan is released to leave and as he steps outside he finally brings himself to call his mom but he gets redirected to voicemail.

He says, “Hi mom, I uh---” he can’t say it, he can’t say what happened. He just wants her to see his arm and know so he won’t have to explain by speaking with his words, he rushes out, “Call me back when you have a chance. Or, I know you’re busy, you don’t have to call me back but something happened and---I’m fine, but something happened and I think I’d rather tell you in person. Again, I’m fine. Don’t worry. Uh--I’ll see you when you get home? Or whenever. Ok, love you, bye.” Evan hangs up before he can say anymore and covers his face because he didn’t mean to say that much and she’s probably going to worry even if he told her not to (that is, if she ever hears it). He considers maybe calling again and telling her “Hey, yeah, I was thinking, maybe I should tell you now...I broke my arm. OK, see you later. Bye!” But he hears the tinkling of car keys.

“Hey,” Evan turns around and sees Connor rise from a bench in the shade of the hospital, “You’re done?” Connor stuffs his hands in his pockets and approaches a thoroughly confused Evan where he stands on the sidewalk. 

“Yeah?” Evan thought Connor left after he dropped him off. He didn’t expect for Connor to wait for him. 

Why is he here?  

That question must be plain on Evan’s face because a flash of self-consciousness passes over Connor’s face as he raises his keys, “I thought you might need a ride...You know, back home or something?” He fidgets with a strand of his hair and then slowly lowers his keys when Evan doesn’t say anything, “Forget it, someone is probably picking you up or something. Don’t know why I---” He starts to turn away.

“No!” Connor jumps slightly, and Evan quickly goes to say, “Sorry, I mean, yes. Yes, I’d really appreciate a ride and thank you for even driving me here in the first place? That was very nice, I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t found me. I would have walked here and that would have been very sad and tiring and wow I’m glad that didn’t happen,” Connor still looks surprised, either by what Evan said or how fast he said it, but at least he’s not turning away anymore thinking Evan ungrateful, “Thank you again, honestly. I don’t know why I didn’t say anything at first, you just surprised me is all,” Evan chews on the inside of his mouth so he can. Stop. Talking. So. Much.

Connor is kind of frowning at him but in the kind of way someone looks at something they find confusing. He says, “I think those are the most words I’ve ever heard from you? Like, ever?”

Evan shrugs, “Probably. It’s just one of those days, you know?”

Connor’s eyes widen and then he laughs like Evan actually said something funny. Connor hangs his head and shakes it slowly, his hair swaying back and forth in the process and then he runs a hand through his brown hair as he lifts his face back up to give Evan a tired half-smile, “Oh, I know,” Evan catches the faintest color of blue on the edge of Connor’s jaw and then it vanishes behind his hair. 

Caught up in the wonder that he made someone laugh, Evan forgets about it because he made someone like Connor, who walks the halls with a perpetual blank slate of barely contained rage, laugh a reedy laugh that ended far too soon.

Evan is midway through a smile of his own when he belatedly realizes that Connor may mean him. That Evan is the one that has thrown Connor’s day all out of whack and that he’s the reason it’s just one of those days. Those days that are exceptionally bad and unusual for their badness. His face falls without his permission.

“Hey, I didn’t mean you. It’s just one of those days because---” Connor waves his hands and twists his face as if he’s searching for the words, and when he can’t seem to find them he deflates and says, “Because of something else, ok?” 

Evan nods, only having half-listened to that because he’s thinking of all the ways he’s been an annoyance and inconvenience up until now. Why didn’t the fall work? Why didn’t he climb high enough? He’s just so tired and his arm hurts and he wants to go home except he doesn’t..

“Listen…Why don’t we go get ice cream?" Connor made the offer as if he were speaking a foreign lanuage, slow and unsure, "I think we both need it and...It might help your arm?”

Evan blinks, that’s another turn of events, maybe even more surprising than his broken arm, “I don’t know…”

“I know of a good place. We’ll go there and then I’ll take you to your place right after. How does that sound?”

Evan fidgets with the hem of his shirt and shoots a glance up at Connor. Connor has his hands stuffed in his sweater and he’s staring down at his boots that he’s tipping very slightly back and forth on. 

A small part of him wants him to say ‘no,’ but he pictures going home right now and it seems like the worst thing he can do because he’s not ready to be left alone with his thoughts again...Not so soon.

So, he says, “Ok." 

“Cool, cool,” Connor looks surprised, and then he twists on his heels and pauses to glance back at Evan, “Let’s go.”

Evan follows.

During their drive, Connor’s fingers hesitate at the radio, “You mind?”

Evan is startled out of the blankness of his thoughts and tilts his head, “No?” 

“Good, I can’t stand the quiet,” he presses the button and an unfamiliar song starts midway through a lilting voice singing: 

“O Crystal Ball, Crystal Ball / Sing a song, tell me life is----.”

“Ugh, Zoe was last using the car,” Connor interrupts the song and the CD slides out despondently, “Here,” Connor hands Evan his phone, it’s connected to the car through an aux cord, “Pick something.” 

In theory, “pick something” is a simple request to make of someone, but this is Evan and “pick something” is too broad and gives him too much room to fail because what if he chooses a song Connor doesn’t like? This is his playlist though, so Connor wouldn’t have any songs he wouldn’t like. But, what if Evan chooses one that Connor doesn’t want to hear right now? Evan starts to sweat thinking he’s taking too long to pick one so he squeezes his eyes and presses down on the screen at random.

A new song starts with a guitar riff languidly filling the silence, "On a cold wet afternoon / in a room full of emptiness---" Connor immediately straightens up with a bright face, “Awesome pick, Hansen.” Evan is pleased and repeats his blind method until they reach their destination.

After the last song ends with “The candles blew and then dissapeared / The curtains flew and then he appeared” they pull up to a small place with a quirky sign that reads: A la mode.

Connor hops out of the car and tells Evan to wait out front on a bench while he gets everything. Evan shuffles to the bench and before he’s even taken in his surroundings, Connor steps out with the merry-jingle of a bell and hands Evan his cone of vanilla. 

They sit outside on a bench with the ice cream Connor paid for. Connor was right, the ice cream does help somewhat. It’s sweet and a welcome distraction from the throbbing pain of his arm and the events of earlier that day. 

They’re both quiet as they stare out at the passing cars that drive by. Only a few people pass by and sometimes the tinkle of the bell sounds when another customer enters the ice cream shop. Evan’s legs jump nervously and he steals glances at Connor who absentmindedly works on his ice cream. He wonders how they must look to the people who pass by.

Connor just looks like a regular tired teenager: slouching and dressed all in solid blacks and grays. He has on his typical kind of monochrome clothes, as if the colornessess of it all is meant to be intimidating, even his nails are painted in a smooth black. Somehow, even if the absence of color makes him look sickly, Evan can't imagine him wearing anything else. However, now that he looks closely, Connor looks exhausted. As Evan's mind begins to clear, he begins to notice that the ever-present bags under Connor's eyes seem much more pronounced. His hair is unbrushed and has a greasy sheen to it from being unwashed. 

And then there is Evan, with his dirty khakis and dirty blue polo from falling on the forest floor. His knees can't stay still and he must look like a different kind of mess, especially with his tear-streaked face and red, puffed-up eyes.

Just two teens, sitting on the furthest ends of the bench from each other, and silently eating their ice creams. They both slouch, as if both of them are trying to be smaller than they are. But aside from their physical appearance, a difference between them is the thousand yard stare Connor wears---the sort of glazed over eyes that suggest he's departed and gone somewhere far away.

Evan feels guilty that he’s so awkward and can’t think of anything to say that might bring him back, that might make him lift his head and say something. 

“Thank you,” Evan says, because it feels right and is the only thing he can think of to say.

Connor shrugs, and then he’s going back in motion, “Sure. Least I can do,” And Evan wants to correct him because Connor actually did a lot of things but then he awkwardly asks, “What happened anyways?” 

And it’s too soon. Literally too soon to have someone ask him that. Connor catches a drop of ice cream before it runs down to his fingers, unaware. But that’s not his fault, he doesn’t know. 

Evan pauses and pretends to be preoccupied with a section of his scoop. The ice cream feels sweet and cool in his mouth but the memory of what he was doing not all too long ago sours it completely. He carefully doesn’t meet Connor’s eyes and swallows past the block in his throat, “I fell. A branch broke.”

Connor makes a noise in sympathy, “Damn.” He believed him. Of course he believed him, he doesn’t have any reason not to. 

“Damn,” Evan repeats and scarfs down the rest of his ice cream cone, trying not to replay the memory of falling.

Later, when they are pulling up to Evan's house Connor asks, “Did it help?” When Evan doesn’t immediately pick up on what he means he clarifies, “The ice cream?”

“It did,” Evan says this even if he is still exhausted, still aching and still feeling like the Same Evan as before: shitty. The ice cream did help, somewhat. But he mostly feels that the simple experience of sitting down with someone after his “accident” is the thing that has helped the most. For what it's worth,  he wasn't alone for a little over an hour. And then, most importantly, someone found him and helped him after he fell and didn't---

He doesn’t finish that thought. 

Evan awkwardly rushes out his goodbye and when he stands by his open front door, he turns to see a pale hand briefly rise in farewell. Evan has a second to raise his own but by then Connor is gone. 

 

******

 

Evan blinks out of his memories at the sound of a notification. It is another text from Zoe. 

- How does Friday at 8 sound? 

Sounds great

-Awesome

-See you then!

See you :D

A crashing exhaustion sweeps over him and he sinks into the couch. Evan switches to Jared’s messages and hovers over the keyboard, unsure of what to type.

Where are you?

No, Jared’s probably working a late shift.

I’m home

He doesn’t send that either. He can hear the "Where are you?" after that sentence. 

Good night

That’s pointless.

Evan doesn’t send him anything like that. He just sends him a quick text about their new Friday plans with Zoe and Alana and leaves it at that. 

Outside the apartment window, Evan sees the clouds veil the crescent moon and then it’s all blank darkness in the night sky. The city is so bright it looks like all the stars live on Earth. Like space and the city have switched places, like the world is upside down. 

Evan wonders what the air is like, right now, in some place green and foresty. He heads off to bed, thoughts swinging like a pendulum between the past and some imagined far away place where he can see the stars and the land is softly asleep and at peace.

His thoughts swing the other way, a hand catches it, there is black nail-polish on their fingertips. He sleeps, and dreams of heterochromatic eyes. 

Chapter Text

5 years after Connor vanished.

Evan taps mindlessly at his keyboard. 

He doesn’t know what he wants to write about. 

His first book was a self-indulgent fantasy novel with a big emphasis on environmentalism. It was a way to release some of his so-called “climate change anxieties” into something productive. But now that he has written a story that he feels he’s already needed to tell, he has the sense that he wants to move onto something else. 

The invisible presence of an idea sits beside him day in and day out, it lays down beside him when he falls asleep, it brushes against him when he walks to his apartment door, and it tries whispering in his ear but he cannot hear it. He knows he wants to write something different but he’s not sure of what. There’s a story just out of reach that wants him to put his fingers to his keyboard and put pen to paper but he just can’t get it. 

In front of him, the TV displays the news anchor switching from the weather channel to the announcement of a missing person. It has the theatrical picture that they typically use for a missing person, the photo of police lights in mid flash and a band of yellow tape arcing across it. He turns the volume up. 

“---evening a young girl by the age of 7 was taken from in front of her house in San Bernardino. Footage from a neighbor’s surveillance camera show a dark red camry---.”

Evan listens all the way through so he can remember the details of the license plate and the little girl’s description Hispanic. Brown hair. Brown eyes. In case he somehow sees that car all the way here in San Francisco. The news flicks to another story about another BART strike and he shuts the TV off with the vague sense that the presence of the idea for his story has grown a little heavier. 

It’s grown a little heavier and has the shape of the memory of his lost friend. 

It’s not that he hasn’t been able to grasp what his new idea is, it’s that he doesn’t want to accept where his writing wants to take him. To whom his writing wants to take him.

Out of the corner of his eye his phone flashes and he sees he has a recent text from Jared: DUde.Where r u?

He curiously picks up the phone and responds, What?

I’m at Zoe and Alana’s!! Remember we planned this???

U forgot didn’t u?

Haha

You’re so gonna get it when u get here

“Shit” Evan dashes to the bedroom, checks over what he has on now: jeans and a t-shirt, he pulls on a flannel and dashes out the door, “Shit, shit, shit, shit…”

There is not much traffic on the way to Pacifica. It’s 30 minutes past 6 when he is on the road, and the drive over there turns into a blur as he rushes to Zoe and Alana’s. Zoe and Alana’s, ZoeandAlana’s, the words mesh together to make a singular name for their cozy and warm place 10-15 minutes away from the beach. 

The sun has set already and it’s dark on highway 1. On one side is the mountain, Devil Slide, which is a blur of rock as he speeds past, and on the other side is all the dark expanse of the Pacific.

It’s 7 when he guiltily pulls up to ZoeandAlana’s. 

It’s 7:01 when he knocks on the door and hears the running footsteps of Zoe as she opens the door. He apologizes and kicks himself for being so absentminded, usually he’s better about these things. He even had a notification on his phone but somehow it was set for the next day. 

“We were going to start without you,” She says with a playful tilt to her smile.

“You should’ve.”

“We were just snacking on popcorn and watching The Good Place. It’s ok.”

He rubs his forehead and internally curses himself, “Still—“

He hears Jared yell, “Zoooeee!! if he doesn’t come in in the next 2 seconds close the door on him! I’m starving!”

Zoe rolls her eyes, “Jared, don’t yell in the house!”

You’re yelling!!”

Zoe stomps away into the kitchen that is just off to the side, “‘Cause it’s my house!” Evan enters and closes the door gently behind him. Like tradition, he slips off his shoes and breathes in the aromas of whatever the two of them have cooked up recently.

He walks in on Alana using the spoon to twhack it against a bowl, “The two of you need to---” She spots Evan and smiles her clean crisp smile, “Welcome, Evan. Take a seat, we’ll start dinner now.” Evan catches Alana throw Zoe and Jared (mostly Jared) a look and then turns back to the large pot of soup. 

He ducks his head and tells Alana, “Sorry I’m so late, I totally forgot, I don’t know how because we literally made the plans together...But, I’m sorry. Can I help with something?” 

Alana says, “It’s quite alright. You’re here now and that’s what matters, take a seat,” Zoe goes softly behind her and wraps a careful hug around her waist, resting her head on her shoulder. Evan sees a soft smile alight on Alana’s face and she pauses before whispering something. 

Evan awkwardly pours himself a glass of water because he still feels the need to do something. He then settles down at the table when nothing else presents itself.

Jared plays a game on his phone and briefly looks up, “Don’t I get an apology?”

“No.”

“No? That’s it? Cruel man, I could’ve died,” Evan can see the light from the game reflected on Jared’s glasses, it looks like a colorful and fast game. 

“They know the drill: hand you a cookie and you’re ok.”

 “We literally did that five minutes before you arrived.” Zoe passes the bowls to Alana who then ladles the broth into them.

"It was chocolate," Jared finally puts his phone down when a bowl of soup is placed before him, “I am a simple man with simple needs.”

Within little time, they dig in. 

As they eat and share what’s going on with them, the kitchen feels like the safest and warmest place imaginable. The cabinets are the sort of mustard yellow that was popular in the 70s, and the wooden floors radiate a heaviness of holding many memories. 

Alana inherited this house from her grandmother (her other grandmother), she did not pass away but went to a rest home and wished for the house to not go unattended. Luckily, Alana was planning on studying at Stanford so these things tied together seamlessly. Nearly all of the furniture of the house is from her grandmother, and here and there are little things that are distinctly Alana and Zoe’s. 

Periodically, Evan will look outside the window but it’s too dark to see anything other than their reflections which show up faintly on the glass. If someone were standing outside, he wonders how they would look to them? Perhaps they would appear as just a group of ordinary, unfamiliar faces dining around a wooden table, breaking bread, and savouring each other’s company. 

After dinner, they settle down in the small living room. 

Evan listens as Alana shares much of the accomplishments she has led at a non-profit she volunteers for on the weekend and of the many assignments she has had during grad school. She sits up straight on the edge of the couch in a posture Evan could never hope to imitate. When Zoe settles beside her, she reaches her hands out to relax Alana’s shoulders and tenderly guide her into a more relaxed position. Alana smiles gratefully at Zoe and Evan is struck with how much of a different person she is from the memory of the girl he has from high school. 

He remembers being intimidated by the sheer force of ambition and drive she exhibited in high school. Even if some part of him was intimidated by her, he couldn’t help admiring and respecting the hard work she put into excelling. None of that ambition is gone, none of that fire is gone, but it’s moments like these, when he sees her in her house or with Zoe that he’s given a glimpse of a side of Alana he never thought existed: one that could be easy.

Evan listens as Zoe shares with them the latest happenings in university. As a music major, she is having an entirely different experience from the one that Evan had had as an environmental science major. Music fills her days and the composition of it is what she has found the most joy in. 

She unearths her guitar from behind the couch, he has the impression that it is often stored in the odds and ends of the house, just wherever she feels like stowing it away. Zoe settles the guitar on her lap and shares a couple of the songs she’s been practicing. The music bubbles up into the room and seems to slip into the walls that surround them---the melodies being stowed away for the memories of the home. After she finishes, she quietly strums the guitar in little melodies as their conversation chugs on and arrives to Evan. 

Alana says, "Jared was just informing us about a new book you may be working on. What is it about?”

Jared interrupts, “I already told you, Lana, 50 Shades of Gray but trees.”

She gives him a reproachful look, her glasses are spectacularly clean and frame her eyes in an elegant way, “I thought your last book came out in a wonderfully timely fashion due to the growing climate activism happening recently.”

Zoe nods, “It was really good, Ev,” he inadvertently gives her a look and she says, “O come on, are you still upset about that?”

“I wasn’t upset, I was---”

Zoe raises her eyebrows, he lamely says, “Surprised.”

Surprised,” She repeats.

“Yeah, surprised because the last thing I ever expected at that time was to get a letter in the mail about a book I was writing that I hadn’t sent to any publishing houses, nor had I any intention of doing so.”

Jared absently hums and checks his phone, “I think he almost died when he read that thing.” 

“Ok, I’m sorry for thinking the thing you’ve been working on for a long time was really good and had a chance at being published.”

“Don’t apologize, it’s fine,” he leans and catches her eye, hoping that she’ll know that he really appreciated what she did, there’s really no way he can repay her for that, “It’s fine, thank you.” 

They ask when they are going to read the next one and he tells them it’s highly unlikely he’ll make another.

He explains, “I can’t think of anything,” Plus, Evan doesn’t really want to get too into detail about his current Writer’s Block and the direction his new book may be going in, “Besides, I didn’t really want to keep writing and have that be my job. I want to go into research or something. You know, have my degree actually mean something.”

Alana has a considering look to her face, “That would make sense. Novelist careers very rarely take flight, no offense Evan. Writing books would likely not generate a steady income,” She smiles approvingly, “It’s very good of you to have considered this.”

Zoe looks like she can’t believe what Alana said, flabbergasted she sputters, “But...But…Are you sure? I thought you were a really good writer.” 

Everyone’s looking at him expectantly, waiting for an answer he doesn’t know how to give, and an answer he is unsure he even knows himself. He tries to change the subject, “What song is that you’re playing? I think I recognize the melody.”

Zoe looks down at her hands, as if just noticing she was strumming a guitar in her lap, “Oh, it’s—-“ she plucks the melody again and then nods, “It was from Question. A Moody Blues song. We just learned that one in my History of Modern Rock class.”

She starts playing a different song significantly louder and stronger, and she sings. She dons her subtle faraway smile that, for a second, whips him back in time to high school, “I lost my heart, I buried it too deep / Under the iron sea.”

Everyone falls silent and simply watches Zoe sing. Jared puts his phone down, Evan didn’t even notice he had it on, he catches the fastest sign of a received text and then nothing. 

Zoe tilts her face a certain way and his breath hitches when, for a second, the light strikes the bridge of her nose and line of her jaw in mirror-image of Connor. 

She suddenly slows the temp of the song and then strums it light and slow, “Oh, crystal ball, crystal ball, / Save us all, tell me life is beautiful,” Alana sighs and rests her head on her hand as she only has eyes for Zoe and her sweet lilting voice.

Evan tries looking for another moment where he might see something of Connor in Zoe’s manner—-but, he doesn’t. They clap and they urge her into doing another. She shifts and turns to Evan, “Come on, Evan. You sing too—-“

“Ha.ha. No.”

“I’ve heard you. You sing quietly under your breath in the car.”

“No, I don’t…”

“I know I‘ve heard you. I also remember someone telling me.” She finishes and then seems to realize what she said with a furrow in her brows.

Evan turns to Jared. And Jared looks up from his phone, “What? It wasn’t me. I’ve never heard you sing.”

“My brother. He told me.” Zoe says, her face going thin as an eggshell. Alana hums and tentatively reaches for Zoe, Zoe accepts her hand and squeezes it tight.

There’s an awkward silence.

Evan fidgets, “What song did you want to sing together?”

Zoe strums her guitar absent-mindedly, one single note weakly rises and then Zoe drags her guitar case towards her. She quietly puts it away and Evan feels like the worst. The frailty of her face carefully gets put away and she reaches for the remote, “What movie should we watch?”

 

********

 

A month after Connor vanished. 

He can’t believe he let Jared talk him into this. 

Heidi is home (of all days), so she is forced to bear witness to the nervous pacing and sweating taking place through every square centimeter of their place. He checks his phone, it’s 10 minutes past when Jared said he’d be here. Maybe he forgot to pick Evan up? Maybe he forgot that he talked Evan into going to the stupid, stupid, stupid party that Evan doesn’t even want to go to not after---

He just doesn’t want to go and if what happened a month ago hadn’t happened he’d still not want to go. 

When Evan makes his speedy round through his room he catches a look at himself in the mirror. God, he looks like a mess. He hasn’t been sleeping full nights for a while and when he does get sleep it’s for a handful of hours at a time. Dark bags are prominent beneath his eyes and his skin has the sallow look of not eating. He’s been going to his therapy sessions more frequently after Connor but he gets the feeling that his therapist knows that he is not saying everything. 

Heidi sits on the couch and flips through different TV channels, “Honey, you’re just going to Jared’s. Can you quit pacing? It’s making me tense.”

Evan forces himself to pause for a second, he takes a deep breath but it doesn’t work to calm him. He keeps pacing, “I’m sorry, I can’t.”

Heidi starts to look concerned, “What’s wrong? Are you ok?”

“No, nothing’s wrong!” Heidi’s eyebrows raise. Her mouth firms into a look of doubt.  

Evan says, “I’m just---” He jumps when he hears a car horn blare.

Heidi’s brow furrows, “Where did you say you two were going again?”

“Um…” Evan awkwardly fumbles for the door, he hears the car horn blare again, “Sorry, mom. I’ll text-you-gotta-go.”

When Evan slides in the car, Jared gives him a once over, “Did you change at all after school yesterday? That’s like the same exact outfit.”

Evan tells him he did, in fact, change, but it falls on deaf ears as Jared starts driving. 

Evan stares out the window as they leave the neighborhood. 

As they leave, the sun begins to set, and the area becomes flushed with shadows. Some houses still have their holiday lights on, and their brightness enhances the darkness of the unlit houses that are blank as ghosts. 

Suddenly, they arrive at the party. They park several houses down from the house they are supposed to go to and Evan spots someone vaguely familiar walk past. He sinks in his seat and curses Jared for bringing him here, “Can’t I just go home?”

No. It’ll blow my cover,” Jared’s checking himself in his driver’s mirror and swipes a hand through his gelled hair, patting it down gently, he doesn’t look at Evan as he says “Both our parents think we’re going out bowling or something, you have to come with. We already talked about this.”

“I know…” Evan thinks quickly, “Could you drop me off at a Starbucks or something? The library? I-I can wait for you there.”

“Dude, I’m not leaving till way past midnight. What will you do then? Walk home? We’re already like 40 minutes away from your place.”

“Yeah…But my mom can pick me up.”

“How would we explain why I didn’t just drive you back myself?”

Evan falls silent.

Jared finally looks at him with a pointed raise of his brows, “Exactly.”

The party is just as horrible as Evan imagined. 

There are people.

People Everywhere. People crowded in the living room, people lining the steps of the house, people moving and then disappearing behind other people. It smells like alcohol, something bitter and earthy, and of sweat and perfume. A deep base from some unidentifiable source of music rattles the house, and Evan doesn’t think he’s ever encountered a more uninviting place.

They barely take two steps inside when Jared rapidly turns around and says, “No, no, no, no. We’re not doing this tonight. You. Following me around like a lost duckling. Nuh-uh. Tonight, we don’t know each other,” he pauses and waves to someone before saying, “You’re gonna go that way, and I’m going over there. Comprende?”

“But—-“

“No buts! This is happening,” Jared runs over to someone he knows and then disappears. 

Evan awkwardly stands at the entrance of the place feeling like an astronaut who got detached from their space shuttle. He isn't sure what he was expecting from Jared, but he certainly wasn’t expecting to get abandoned so soon and so fast. Someone edges past him and enters the fray before him with hands thrown up. Someone shouts when they see them and they get swallowed by the crowd.

In vain, he quickly scans if he sees anyone recognizable but it’s like he walked straight into a nightmare.

It’s cold out but it’s a much better option than being inside. 

Evan makes his way to the backyard. Sitting against the wall, he takes a deep breath and peers up at the night sky. No one else is outside except for a handful of people who pass around a joint and eye him narrowly from their corner of the backyard. At least they’re quieter than what’s inside. 

The air has that frigid stillness that comes before rainfall. Evan didn’t bring a jacket for this sort of weather. He won’t be able to stay out here long but he’ll stick it out until his hands grow numb and it gets unbearable. 

He thinks a drop of water falls on his nose but he’s unsure if it was real. 

The house buzzes with music and the low hum of people’s voices---all of it, sounding like a wasps nest Evan stumbled upon. He saw it during a hike through a park he visited in the summer; an ugly dead-looking thing on the floor, an inch away from his foot, and within one heartbeat and the next, he was far far away. 

He told Connor about it. Connor had laughed and said that that’s why he’s only been camping for an hour and a half. 

For the briefest of seconds, a second that hurts just as fast and quick as a shot, Evan wonders what it would be like if Connor were with him at that moment. 

Someone laughs loudly and Evan jumps to his feet and rushes inside, away from his thoughts.

Someone throws him a look for his abrupt entrance inside the house and he quickly gets away.

Evan blindly moves forward and tries to keep his head low, careful not to bump into anybody in the dim lighting but sometimes people bump into him and he apologizes for them. Evan starts to wonder if he can ask Jared for his car keys, he could just wait in his car until he’s done. That could work. He could be on his phone and listen to soothing things, things that aren’t barks of laughter, burps and guffaws. 

He ends up at the table with all the drinks on it and quickly tosses one back. The alcohol, his first taste of alcohol, burns down his throat and he coughs furiously. Immediately, he thinks that that was a bad idea and dreads what that sole drink is going to do with his head. 

“What the Hell?” Jared is suddenly standing next to him and holds a solo cup himself, “Did I just see what I think I just saw?”

“I don’t know. Did you, Jared? Should I do it again and demonstrate slower?” His words are sharp, even to Evan’s ears but his neck feels very tight and hot. 

Jared raises his eyebrows, shock flaring in his eyes for a second before vanishing, he smirks, “Dude, do whatever. I don’t care.”

“Fine.”

Fine.”

Jared seems to see someone he knows over Evan’s shoulder and waves, “Look, I don’t know what’s with you but, right now, we’re strangers again,” He vanishes amongst the crowd of people.

A light flickers and pops! There are sequels and laughter by the source of it but Evan’s attention is soon diverted to something else. Because that’s when he sees it. 

Sees her. 

It’s Zoe Murphy and she’s stumbling up the stairs with some guy he’s never seen before. 

Honestly, Evan doesn’t know very many people but, regardless, the guy looks like he’s having significantly less trouble going up the stairs. 

Before he even realizes what he’s doing he follows. He crams his way past a group of people huddled around some sort of drinking tube and tries not to lose sight of Zoe and the stranger through the thick blobs of people. 

He maneuvers around the people who stare at the blown light fixture on the stairwell and once he makes his way upstairs he has a brief moment of panic---he can’t see them anywhere in the hall. The lights are dim and there are pairs of people who barely give him a side eye as they are more busy making out with their partners. 

He sees a door gently click shut at the end of the hall and approaches it. Evan quickly turns the handle and stumbles in. 

An unfamiliar voice sputters, “What the fuck? Who the fuck are you?”

Zoe and the random guy stand inches apart and while the guy looks considerably less than pleased to see Evan standing there, Zoe just looks more shocked and confused if anything. 

“I was um--uh?” Evan starts to sweat. 

“Listen man, can you just leave? We were right in the middle of something,” He gestures at the two of them in the dark. 

Evan fumbles for the light and flicks it on and the guy hisses, “Bro, what are you doing?” He’s wearing basketball shorts paired with a shirt depicting a mountain---now, this guy doesn’t look like he changed his clothes since yesterday.

In a weird way, it’s truly an odd contrast to Zoe’s simple black dress but Evan shouldn’t be thinking about all this now.

He needs to think fast. He says the first thing he can think of, “You’re shirt! It says it’s Glacier Park but that mountain is in Yosemite. It’s called Half Dome, Oh man, whoever made that shirt really didn’t know what they were talking about. That’s a shame because it looks like a nice shirt. Good color.”

“Are you high? What the fuck are you talking about?” The guy looks far too red in the face, he’s getting frustrated. 

Evan needs to do something else...He feigns surprise at seeing Zoe, “Ummm Zoe? Zoe, right?”

Zoe nods and then stills as if confused, “Yeah? How do you know my name?”

“Someone is looking for you. Yeah, someone is looking for you and you need to go down,” She doesn’t move, “Right now. Like, right now, right now.”

Zoe steps away from the guy, “But who---?” And then her face rapidly pales and turns a shade of green, “Hmmph, I think I’m gonna be sick…” She dashes out the door. 

“Ugh, what a buzz kill” The guy stomps past Evan and shoves him, “Thanks a lot, asshat.”

Evan jumps out into the hall and sees harried looking person leaving the bathroom with sounds of someone throwing up behind them. 

Zoe convuls over the toilet and Evan nervously pulls her hair back. She grips the toilet bowl tightly, her arms trembling. She retches and it’s one of, if not the most horrible sounds he’s heard because, intermingled with the retching, she sobs. His heart twists painfully for her.

Finally, it stops. Zoe groans and keeps her head down, breathing heavily and shaking terribly. 

“Are---are you ok?”

Zoe doesn’t respond.

“Do you want water?”

She still doesn’t say anything except for a dry cough. Despite not wanting to leave her alone he runs down the stairs and dashes into the kitchen at the fastest speed he has ever run. 

When he returns the door has been shut. He tries the handle. It won’t budge.

Zoe croaks from inside, “Go away!” 

“It’s me, the guy from earlier? I came back, I brought water.”

A pause. The door cracks open the slightest bit and he blinks down at a single watery-red eye that stares up at him. He brings the cup up and the door slowly opens more fully. 

They end up sitting across from each other on the floor of the bathroom, their legs lying parallel to each other. The bathroom is small and bright and blue with little decals of sea shells lining the walls. 

Zoe accepts the glass of water and takes little sips of it, “Someone tried to get in earlier.” The words are broken and dry, her hair hangs limply down her face. 

“Oh…” Evan is not sure what to do. 

“Who are you?” 

Her gaze is too strong, Evan looks down at nothing and says, “Evan, Evan Hansen.”

They lapse into silence, only broken up by the sound of footsteps outside the bathroom and the occasional turn of the handle and knock. 

“I’m Zoe, as if you don’t already know,” She presses a finger to her scalp and squeezes her eyes shut, “Who was trying to find me anyway?”

“No one,” Evan admits.

“Then why---?”

He tells her how he saw her going up with someone significantly more inebriated and older and he wanted to make sure she was ok.

She crosses her arms, “I would’ve been fine.”

“How old are you? You’re not---you shouldn’t be here...”

Zoe sputters, “Half the people out there shouldn’t be here!”

“I guess, I’m sorry.” Maybe he really is in the wrong? Was it right for him to do that? She seems really upset. Evan helplessly looks at her and decides that maybe it would be best if he left. He begins to get up but Zoe quickly reaches for him and abortively stops. 

Zoe places her glass down and covers her face, “Christ, I don’t know what I’m doing. Fuck.”

They enter another bout of silence that weighs heavily where Zoe hides behind her hands. If Evan could see the weight on Zoe’s shoulders, it would come off as streaks of silent lightning. “Are you---?”

“I’m not.” The words are strained and brittle, “I’m not ok,” And then it’s like the floodgate words opened and she spills out, “My brother disappeared. He’s gone,” Her breath hitches and she starts crying.

“I’m sorry…”

“Don’t say sorry, it’s not your fault,” Evan flinches, “This--this is the first time I’ve cried since he’s left. I’m in the goddamn bathroom at some stranger’s party after I threw up because anything was better than being at home.”

“I’m sorry…”

Zoe sob-laughs and scrubs her eyes with her fists, “You say sorry a lot, you know that?”

“Sorry…”

Zoe smiles painfully and then sighs a deep sigh, “I really don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t even know why I came here. I just thought it’d be a good distraction but honestly it’s been very sucky.”

“To be honest, the party is kind of sucky,” Evan says with sympathy.

She nods furiously, “The music is half-way decent but the beer tastes a lot more like gasoline than I thought, it’s pretty nasty.”

Evan remembers the taste of that beer burning down his throat, not a good memory.

Zoe takes a sip of water. He notices that her black dress has thick lacing of flowers by the collar, they are almost invisible. Her cheeks have streaks of black from her mascara falling with her tears, and with a start, he also notes her fingernails are painted black. That observation kind of wants to make him cry. 

“Someone—actually, more than a couple of people have asked me about Connor. They don’t seem to understand that I don’t know anything. It’s been like this even outside of the party, they’ll talk about him as if he’s some kind of mystery they heard about on TV,” Zoe picks at the paint on the sink, and distractedly says, “I can’t seem to go anywhere without hearing about him. He’s gone, but not really.”

A weighty pause settles between them with only the scratching of her fingers on the wood, she blinks, “I don’t know why I told you all that. I’m sorry.”

Evan’s heart races and he decides to tell her, it’s like he’s staring at himself from above, “I knew---know your brother.”

Zoe seems surprised for a second and then obviously comes to a conclusion, “Yeah, everyone did. What did he do to you?”

“No, he didn’t do anything to me. We were...friends.”

“Friends?”

He nods. 

“Since when? How come I never saw you?”

“Since the summer. He never wanted me to go to your house.”

“Hmm,” Zoe stays silent and stares at the same spot between their shoes, “He’s probably why you knew my name, right? I can’t imagine what he told you about me. Or if he said anything at all.”

“No, he did! He actually said a—a lot of nice things about you!”

Zoe shakes her head, “you don’t have to say that just because—“

“But he did!” Evan hikes his shoulders up to his ears and impulsively tugs at his fingers, “Sorry, um, he told me how you---you play guitar and you play it really well! And that you ice skate, and can identify a lot of constellations, and that you draw stars on the cuffs of your jeans,” he refuses to look Zoe in the eye in fear of the expression she may be wearing, “He said that you are very strong, the strongest person he knows and that your smile can brighten anything.” 

“He...He said that?”

Evan can’t believe he just did that. His heart races at the sheer amount of half-truths he made just then and wishes he could take some back. Wishes he could grab the words that he spew out and lie between their feet, wishes he could eat them all up so that that look on Zoe’s face would disappear.

Someone bumps into the door at Evan’s back and he jumps, “Yes,” Keep it simple, don’t say anything else. He wants to make her feel better. 

“When? Why?”

“I don’t know when. Just sometimes he’d just share those things.”

In all those times Evan imagined talking to Zoe, he thought he would feel a lot happier than he does right now.

He can't look away from her this time. She's staring at him like he's a lifeline, like he's something better than he really is, “I didn’t think he... noticed? Or even cared…”

“Well, he did. He does,” he corrects himself. Connor may still be alive. He is still alive, has to be.

“I guess he did.”

Evan awkwardly stays quiet as Zoe slowly rises to her feet. She turns the faucet and splashes water on her face. They grab a towel from inside the cupboard beneath the sink and she burrows her face in it and sighs. When she pulls the towel down she looks older and has a durable edge to her jaw that wasn't there before. 

Zoe is halfway out the door when she doesn’t quite look back at him but quietly asks, “Did he say anything else?’

"Um," What should he say?

She turns and raises her hand plactaingly with a sad smile, "It's ok, you don't have to---"

Without hesitation he says, “He loved you.”

Zoe hitches her breath and in a slightly higher-pitched voice says, “Well, thanks, Evan. See you around,” She leaves before he can say anything.

 

********

 

5 years after.

A noise wakes him up. 

It’s a noise he can’t identify easily in the dark but he feels no urge to fall back into slumber. 

He slides out of the guest bed. Jared sleeps quietly with a soft snore here and there. He doesn’t wake up when Evan cracks the door to the guest room open and silently makes his way to the kitchen. 

He’s surprised when he enters the dark kitchen to see Zoe leaning against the counter with her phone in hand. 

“Couldn’t sleep?”

“I just woke up.”

Zoe reaches behind her for a mug and sips it, “I couldn’t. It happens sometimes,” She shrugs and tiredly puts her phone away and switches the light above the stove on. It casts a dim light into the kitchen and makes the space appear even smaller. 

“I’ve been having more dreams of him.”

Evan doesn’t need her to clarify of whom. 

“The dreams...They’re so strange. Sometimes I’ll dream of weird moments where it’s like I see him doing something, something ordinary and normal, like make a cup of coffee or drawing at a desk somewhere...He’s alive in those and then I’ll forget he’s gone. Those are worse than the dreams where I see him dead somewhere. But they feel so right.”

“Which ones?”

“The ones where he’s alive.”

“Is-is that what’s strange?”

“Yes,” Zoe admits.

“I’ve had to go see my therapist again because I felt myself spiraling. I was starting to feel a little better now and then all of a sudden these dreams started happening and it’s driving me crazy. You know, the other day I saw these drawings this artist was putting up on Instagram and I thought they looked so much like his,” Zoe scrolls through her phone rapidly and then lifts it up to Evan’s face. 

He takes the phone and scrolls down the artist’s work. There are broad, bold strokes of pencil and pen drawings. All of them of faces intermixed with drawings of cityscapes and ordinary objects. 

He tries to say, “It looks similar,” but it comes out flat.

Zoe deflates ever so slightly and accepts her phone back, “Silly, right? Sometimes I wish I’d get a call and that they’d tell me they found his body. At least then we’d finally know what happened to him,” Zoe stares blankly out the window, unaware of the grief Evan felt at the thought of that. 

“Anyways, what’s happening with you and Jared?”

Evan unintentionally flinches, “What? Me and Jared? Nothing. Nothing is happening. Nothing is wrong.”

"I didn't mean anything bad by that...Sorry, maybe I shouldn’t have asked that,” Zoe apologetically winces. 

“No, you’re fine. It’s just---” Evan leans against the counter and covers his face as he tells her of his plans to propose. He doesn’t look at her once but when he’s finished she has a look of careful neutrality. Almost too careful, “What is it?”

“Nothing.”

He doesn’t believe it.

She gives in, “Look, I don’t want to step in where I shouldn’t but..Have you really thought about it? Is this something you really want to do?”

“Why wouldn’t it be? And I have thought of this, thoroughly. So much so, that it’s one of the things that keeps me up at night.”

“Okay, hear me out, I just have to ask ‘cause I’m your friend: are you sure this is something Jared would want?”

“Yes...I think so, that’s better than thinking ‘no,’ right? Because I do think so, I think he would…” He trails off and belatedly realizes his heart is beating fast, “Say yes, that is.”

Zoe can either be smiling approvingly or sadly at him, Evan dearly hopes its the former. She pats him on the shoulder, “Okay, Evan. Maybe sit on it, try and bring it up to Jared at some point? I know Lana has dropped the idea a couple times and we’ve discussed it…”

“Wait, really!? That’s wonderful!”

“Yeah,” Zoe smiles a sweet private smile into her mug, “We’ll see. For now, let’s talk about something else. Maybe you can give me some spoilers for your next book? I promise I won’t tell anyone.”

“You know I can’t do that. It’s nowhere near written.”

“Oh, sure.”

They talk and talk and talk. It feels like they haven’t done so in so long. Zoe is telling him about a classroom scandal when she glances out the window and does a double take, “Look Ev, a sunrise.”

Indeed, there is a sunrise. Or at least the beginnings of one at the ocean’s horizon. The sky lightens ever so slightly into a dusty blue and then grows softer as the shining red disk begins to rise. They silently stare at it until the sun fully emerges and rests atop the horizon, still making the sky blush in its wake. 

Zoe stretches and yawns, “How about we go get at least one hour of sleep?”

Evan yawns as well and says, “Sure, at least then I’ll have had 4 hours of sleep instead of 3.”

“Heh, nevermind,” Zoe looks fondly up at Alana’s emergence, “Babe, what are you doing up?”

Alana sleepily shuffles into the living room where he and Zoe were sitting, “You weren’t there.”

“Well I’m going back now.”

“Ok,” Alana shuffles away.

“She’s not a morning person, contrary to what some people may believe.”

Alana reemerges, “Also, g’morning Evan,” She yawns, “Ok, I’ll be---” And she’s gone again.

He and Zoe exchange amused glances and then get up.

 

********

 

Evan wakes up to the sound and smells of something cooking and an empty bed. 

He follows his nose to the kitchen and sees Jared sitting at the table nursing a glass of OJ. Alana and Zoe are working the kitchen again, like a unit. They throw him a good morning and then focus on the menagerie of things they have getting heated up and sizzling.

“Dude, you look like a fucking wreck. Did you fight your sleep paralysis demon last night?”

“Didn’t sleep,” Evan collapses in the chair next to him. He twitches because he wants to help and feels weird just sitting there, “You don’t want help?”

“Nope!” / “No, thank you.” They say at the same time. 

Breakfast is mostly a quiet affair until Alana happens to ask: “Any big plans?”

And then it’s no longer a calm moment for Evan when Jared obliviously sips loudly from his coffee and simply states, “Europe.” 

Evan chokes on his toast. 

Zoe asks, “Europe?”

“Hell yeah, I wanna go sometime in the summer for like a month,” Jared eagerly accepts a piece of bacon Alana offers him. Unaware to Evan incredulously staring at him

Zoe eyes the both of them, “You are both going, right?”

Evan finally speaks, “No, I mean, yes? I don’t know...This is the first time you’ve mentioned it…” That last bit he says more quietly and Jared sends him an unreadable glance that quickly turns to nonchalance. 

“Really? I thought I told you. I guess I’ve been meaning to for so long I thought I had.”

“Ok. We’ll um talk about this later.”

“Fine by me.”

Zoe coughs and then Alana begins describing what she will have to do that day at her nonprofit but Evan stops listening.

 

********

 

Before returning to their apartment Evan makes a detour to the beach. He takes an hour long drive down south, picks up a banana at a gas station, and then rests on a quiet beach. The waves are steel and rise and fall heavily, like metal. It’s winter and the weather is frigid. Only two other people are out there with Evan and they all mind their own business. 

Evan slips off his shoes and socks and lets a wave rush up his ankles. COLD! 

The ocean water came from Alaska, bringing it’s frost. When he thinks of Alaska he thinks of thick, dense pine trees. They are a deep deep green, almost black, and the snow that flurries about them looks weak in comparison. But the snow falls and falls and falls and builds and builds and builds: rising, until the ground is white and the trees accept the blankness of snow. But the trees still look dark, like they are deep and unknowable. Makes him wonder what hides in there.

And then he remembers part of the ocean water swelling up his calfs also comes up from the deep ocean. 

Cold.

 

********

 

It’s early evening when Evan returns home. He’s actually pretty hungry and eats more than a granola bar for once. He also brings out a bottle of red wine he had stowed away for a special occasion (as people do in TV) and he pops it for a room full of nobody. 

It’s when he’s on his second glass of wine and staring out the window that he notices a tiny red slip of paper set innocently on the window sill. 

 

Chapter Text

5 years after Connor vanished.

Essential Day.

He stopped believing in this little red scrap of paper when years and years passed and the day never once gave him any sense that it was of particular essentialness. 

It used to raise his anxieties, thinking about the days leading up to his Essential Day. He’d wonder if it was the sort of day he’d have to go buy 5 lotto tickets, or stay in the house, or watch out for falling pianos. If it’s an essential day couldn’t it mean that it could be negative? What if he had to be careful that day, September 25th? What if it was essential for his health or for the well-being of a stranger? And just how important is this day? Could it be that he’d be outside and help an old lady cross the street and if he hadn’t done that she would’ve died? What is it? 

Did it already pass without him realizing?

He doesn’t know and he hasn’t cared for a long time. Or at least, he’s tried telling himself he doesn’t care. 

Evan stares out the window, wine glass in hand and presses his empty hand against the window. Staring at it, and pressing and pressing, at once feeling the strength and the delicacy of the glass. If the glass weren’t there he’d be flying out that window and shooting to the ground. He doesn’t press too hard, though. Just enough to imagine.

He picks up the familiar little rectangle and twirls it between his fingers. Somehow, through all these years, this thing hasn’t gotten a little dented or soft around the edges. 

His preoccupation with the paper is not so much that none of the days that have passed have not seemed essential enough. It’s that, there are many days that have felt essential. 

Such as the day he met Connor. If it were up to Evan he would’ve thought that that would have been his Essential day. Privately, in his heart of hearts, it is an Essential Day. 

Who’s to say he can’t have more than one? So, there’s one. 

And then there’s that day. Even if it hurts, God does it hurt, it’s an essential day.

In a way, the day he got this paper was an essential day…

Evan lays down on the couch, meaning to watch a movie on the TV but he slips into a nap.

 

******

 

5 months before Connor vanished.

Through a thick plume of smoke, Connor simply says, “Hansen,” and takes another drag of his cigarette. The butt of it flares a bright orange as he breathes it in. His shoulders fall with his next smoky exhale which he directs away from Evan. 

It’s the night after Evan fell and he’s been outside, walking in his pajamas, because he had a nightmare so terrible he sat up gasping for breath and stumbling out of bed with the need to get more air. He had slipped on his sweater, pulled on his shoes, grabbed the keys to the house and ran outside like something awful was hot on his heels. 

“Want one?” Connor flips the top of the pack of cigarettes open, offering them to Evan. 

Evan shakes his head,  “No, thank you.”

“Thought so,” Connor says, but not in a bad way, just in a way that someone might confirm the weather. 

Evan still can’t shake away the feeling he was trying to get away from. There was something about falling that jolted him awake. He doesn’t remember much else. Just falling. 

However, the unusualness of encountering Connor on this bridge kind of takes precedence over his restless thoughts. 

Evan wonders if he should edge away and leave Connor alone. Maybe Connor comes here to unwind? 

Evan is certainly getting that air about the hunched over boy. Connor looks loose next to him in his grey and black attire. Maybe it’s because of the cigarettes? Maybe he’s burning away whatever makes him feel heavy by blowing it away in plumes of smoke. 

Evan has the idea that Connor would spend whole night just sitting there on the bridge, staring out at the oily black river quietly passing beneath them. But then, Connor interrupts Evan’s thoughts “How’s the arm?”

“Still broken,” Evan grimaces down at it, “But less painful when I move it this way,” Evan slowly raises it to the side and sucks in a breath at the pain that thunders down his broken arm. He quickly returns it down into the position it was in before and the pain numbs away.

“Really?” Connor raises his brows, half-amused but mostly in sympathy.

“Not really,” Evan admits with a small awkward laugh. 

He vaguely considers joining Connor on the bridge’s ledge. The night is gentle with a thin summer coolness and it would be nice to sit beside Connor on the ledge. Maybe kick his legs out as well and watch the snail-crawl passage of the stars. 

But then he pictures himself making a scene to get up there with a busted arm and solidly denies that thought. 

Connor takes one last drag of his cigarette and then snuffs it out. He sighs and the smoke rises into the night sky, a dusty sort of gray before disappearing as fast it materialized.  

“Do you come here often?”

Connor cocks his head to the side, “Hansen, was that a pick up line?” he chews on his smile, obviously trying not to laugh.

Evan blinks and thinks back on what he just asked and then blushes furiously, “Wah—nooo, no it wasn’t. I mean I didn't mean it to be. That-wasn’t-my-intention-unless—.”

“Hey, it’s fine, I know that wasn’t it,” Connor chuckles, thin shoulders shaking gently, “And to answer your question, nope. First time at this particular spot,” Behind them, a car passes by, and they both stare at it until it disappears around a bend in the road.

“So, what are you doing out here?” Connor’s eyes catch the light from above them, one eye a light blue pool, and the other an earthy brown. Evan wonders what the odds are for someone to have such eyes. It’s like nature couldn’t decide what color eyes to give Connor so it gave him both. 

Evan leans against the ledge, tearing his eyes away from Connor’s, “I needed air.” He pretends to absent-mindedly flick a pebble off the bridge, “As if I didn’t get enough of it yesterday.” 

Evan hears Connor make a quick intake of air and he looks at him.

Connor’s face is twisted up in surprise, “Wow, I don’t know if I should laugh or...That’s actually pretty fucking sad, dude.”

“You’re welcome to laugh, it’s really not that sad.”

“Falling out of a tree isn’t sad?”

Evan doesn’t say anything.

Another car passes behind them, Evan listens to the sound of it passing as Connor watches it go. They hang in a silence that is not quite pure as the sound of unseen traffic continues somewhere in the distance. The crickets chirp.

Evan considers his quiet companion. He says, “Thank you for helping me yesterday.”

Connor shrugs, “Sure.” 

“So, what are you doing here?”

Connor looks at him from the corner of his eye, “Getting air too,” He kicks his leg out again and leaves it suspended in front of him, his other leg joins it and before they go crashing back down. Connor’s eyes fall on Evan’s cast, “Can I sign your cast?”

“Oh, um, sure,” Evan checks his pockets but his Sharpie is probably in his other sweater, “I don’t have a marker.”

Connor checks his pockets and comes up empty, “Crap, got nothing,” Connor suddenly spots something past Evan’s shoulder and points, “Hey, look! A shooting star.”

When Evan looked it was gone. His eyes jumped from each visible star to the other but to no avail. The night sky stared blankly back at him.

Evan meets eyes rounded in an almost child-like surprise. “Did you see?” Connor barely masks his surprise.

Evan is about to say he didn’t but decides against it for some reason, “Yeah! I did.” He feels a smile tug at his mouth because of the wonder evident on Connor’s expression. 

Connor almost glows as he tilts his head back and looks up at the sky, searching for another.   

Evan gives another cursory look at the sky but he’s more caught up in seeing Connor this way, he’s never seen him so present before, “Did you---did you make a wish?”

Connor freezes, “No, I didn’t see the point.” He looks down at the river, a gravity of weight pulling down at his brows, darkening his face, “What I want is impossible.” He reaches for his pack and lights another cigarette. A pause. “Did you?”

“No,” Evan answers honestly, caught off guard by Connor’s sudden change. 

“Yours is impossible too?”

“No,” Connor doesn’t quite look at him but he tilts his head as if to show he’s interested in hearing Evan. Without someone looking at him, it’s easier to speak. He looks at the trees way off in the distance and says, “It’s just that there’s too much that I want. How can I choose?”

“What like a car or a new phone or something?”

“I guess.”

Connor’s done with speaking because they stay out there for a long time, without either of them saying a word. Evan doesn’t know how long they inhabit a bubble of silence but it’s nice. Connor stays perched on his spot on the bridge and Evan leans against the banister, listening to the sounds of the water moving beneath them ever so faintly. 

Evan hears the sound of a dog barking and in that moment, it occurs to him that he should probably be heading home. Heidi should be getting off her night shift soon. It’s not like she checks his room to see if he’s there, but she’d definitely hear the sound of him coming in at 1 a.m.

“I-I should go.”

“Need a ride?” 

“I’m fine, thanks. It’s not far.”

Connor leans back on his hands and nods, “I think I’m going to stay here for a while longer.”

Evan gets a queasy feeling about that and has the insane image of Connor jumping off when Evan’s gone. He throws that idea off him, he’s probably projecting his own suicidal thoughts on Connor---but, it’s still a little scary, 

Connor must mistake Evan’s sudden reluctance to leave for weariness of walking through the dark, “Listen, what’s your number? You can text me when you get home? Or I could drive you.”

“It’s really not far at all, I'll walk." He pulls out his phone and recieves Connor's number.  

That night when Evan gets home he texts Connor:

Hi it’s Evan

I’m home thanks

Evan chews on his lip with this next one: U can text me when you get home too

It takes a while for Connor to respond but he sends Evan:

Ok

I’m home

 

******

 

Within the days that follow, neither of them hear from the other. Evan doesn’t know what he would send Connor. Just ‘hi?’ and that’s it? What would he say after? I’m watching cartoons and eating cereal at 1 p.m.? No, he can’t do that. He doesn’t do that with Jared, his best---no, his family friend---but then again, he and Jared don’t text much if at all. Except for those times when Jared accidentally texts him instead of his other friends. 

The following months up until school seem bleak. He can’t go back to his position as Jr. Park Ranger and there’s not much else for him to do besides scholarship essays. He’s so bored, there's only so many scholarship essays one can work on before a gag-reflex builds up at the thought of doing another. It’s only been three days since he broke his arm and he’s not looking forward to all the days after. 

It’s hot out, but Evan wants to walk outside. So, he does.

He ends up at a gasoline store, farther than the one he usually goes to because once he started walking he couldn’t stop. Evan enters the place and looks through much of the same products the one by his home has. The gas store, like most gas stores, is cool and dim with a white light that buzzes in and out of order. He stands by the wall of chips, all of them packaged in small colorful plastic bags, Evan is about to reach for the Lays when someone steps beside him.

It’s Connor. He’s wearing much of the same thing as the last couple times he saw him: a black jeans jacket with splashes of what looks like gray dust, and a black v-neck with similarly dark jeans. This is the first time Evan has seen the other boy in the daylight when Evan is not in a significant amount of pain. It looks like he hasn’t washed his hair again, because it hangs oily off his head, framing his thin face.

In this dim and stuffy gas store, Evan has the crazy idea that Connor never left that bridge. He can still smell cigarette smoke off him, as if all that smoke he breathed out into the air followed him from that night. Connor tightly asks, “What are you doing here?” 

“Um...I don’t know,” Evan nervously grabs a bag of chips and then stuffs it back into the shelf. He can’t look at Connor, his eyes flit everywhere but at him.

Connor asks the same question, except there’s something edging his words, “What are you doing here?”

Evan neck prickles, he’s confused, “I don’t know? I---”

“We keep meeting, it’s weird…” Connor’s eyes are narrowed and pinning Evan down. 

Evan is at a loss for words. 

Connor suddenly moves and paces in the narrow aisle, “My parents didn’t put you up to this? To like, follow me around or something creepy? Because if they did, that’s fucked up man.”

“No, what? They didn’t! No one made me go out and, what? Follow you? No,” Evan brings his voice down when an employee opens the staff door behind him and steps out, awkwardly moving between him and Connor, “I wouldn’t do that, it’s just a co-coincidence that we keep meeting.”

Connor doesn’t look convinced, “Then why are you in this store so far from your house? I know where you live, dude. There’s at least three gas stations not even five minutes from your house!”

Evan’s heart is beating fast and he’s starting to feel a little dizzy and a lot hotter, “I swear, I haven’t been following you! I just walked over here because I was bored.”

Connor paces again and to Evan’s despair, his eyes look dazed, “How much did they pay you to say that? Because---” But Evan doesn’t hear what he says because he slides to the floor, trying to catch his breath. 

Evan’s not sure how long it takes until he can breath again but through his swimming eyes, he can see Connor there, pale-faced and mid-sentence in counting for Evan. 

They’re both crouched in the back of the gas store, flanked by bags of chips and candy. There’s a slight buzzing noise from the refrigerators that line the back wall of the store. 

Connor quietly says, “You weren’t lying.” 

Evan rubs his eyes and slowly nods, head throbbing.

“God,” Connor squeezes his fingers tightly between the bridge of his nose and hangs his head, “I’m the worst…”

“It’s ok…” Evan croaks.

“No, it’s not,” Connor’s chin works, “I made you---” he waves his hand, unable to speak. He cautiously asks, “Are you ok now?”

“Yeah,” Evan tries to get up himself but Connor gets up and helps him up. 

They both silently shuffle out of there. Connor with his eyes on the ground and Evan feeling disorientated. They step outside and the sun is warm and feels good on his face, Evan closes his eyes and takes in another breath. When he opens his eyes, Connor is already a couple of feet away.

Evan asks without thinking, “Where are you going?”

“I think it’s best if I just go now.”

“Didn’t you---Didn’t you say you wanted to sign my cast?” 

Connor slightly turns, not enough to face Evan, “I don’t think you’d want my name on it.”

“But I do?”

Connor doesn’t say anything and reluctantly goes back to Evan and accepts the sharpie he has outstretched in his hand. 

Evan checks his pockets and pulls it out. Right sweater this time. Connor accepts the Sharpie and tugs Evan’s arm just a little too high. Evan makes a small noise. Connor winces and then lets Evan lower it to a more comfortable height. 

Evan’s never had a cast signed before so when Connor uses a lot more elbow than Evan would think is necessary to sign his name, he doesn’t initially think anything of it. 

And then he looks at it, “Wow.”

Connor’s name is written in big blocky letters all along the front of the cast, so that now when Evan hugs his arm in front of him, CONNOR shows up. Evan catches a glimpse of it on the reflection of the gas station window and so does the cashier, he catches the cashier raising their eyebrows and Evan quickly looks away, flushing slightly, “Thanks.”

Connor gives him a slight smile, “Sure. Bye, Hansen.” And then he leaves without another word.

 

******

 

A week later, Evan wakes up before the sun rises. He was asleep one moment, and then he was awake the next. Nothing special about it, just a simple blink and you'll miss it transition from unconsciousness to consciousness. 

He takes his meds, brushes his teeth, and shuffles into the living room to lay on the couch and watch TV with the sound muted because Heidi’s room is right on the other side of the TV. He doesn’t even bother coming up with dialogue or to try and come up with a story, he just stares at the people in the sitcom as they go about their sitcom way. A house, another house, the mall, the park, and then the house from the beginning. 

Evan catches the sounds of Heidi getting up for the morning. A thud here, a pat there, soft footsteps and then a fan of light as she opens the door and steps out. 

She stands in the pool of light from her room, wearing her things to go to work. She smiles curiously at him, brows furrowed, as she brushes her hair back with her fingers into a high ponytail, “Evan, what are you doing there?” 

“Hey mom,” He doesn’t get up, it’s kind of peaceful laying on his back, hands on his stomach, “I’m just resting.”

Heidi quickly finishes tying her hair back and checks her bag that hangs off her shoulder, “Wouldn’t you want to do that in bed?”

“Not really.”

“Why not?” 

“I don’t know, this show is kind of good.”

Heidi pauses and studies him with her usual concern, she walks over to him and leans against the side of the couch with her hip, “Really? What show is it?”

“I don’t know.” 

“Hmm,” She runs a hand through his hair absentmindedly and then asks, “Are you ok, honey?”

“Yeah, I’m ok,” Evan begins to sit up but Heidi gently pushes him down.

He can hear the gentle smile in her voice, “If you’re comfortable here, just stay here a while longer. I’m not asking you to move. It’s just unusual to see you at this hour, not that I’m complaining, I haven’t seen you all week!” 

“Yeah…”

“I think I'm going to come home at around 6:30. Why don’t you go to the library and pick up a movie for us to watch?” 

Evan tries to hide his sigh, he knows it’s probably not going to work. His mom always makes plans like these and they have always been stopped one way. He doesn’t mind too much at this point because he always expects it, but Heidi always walks around with a guilty shroud whenever it turns out she was wrong. Evan musters a smile, “What movie should I pick up?”

“Your pick, I’ll bring the popcorn and candy,” Heidi does a small hop and blocks the TV as she stands with her hands on her hips, wearing a big grin that even the darkness of the room can’t hide, “You still like Red Vines, right?”

“I do, thanks,” looking at his mom’s excited face, he can’t help it if some sparks of hope start blinking awake.

She dashes off to the kitchen and there’s the slam of a kitchen cabinet as she probably grabbed a Clif bar.

“I’m going to leave a 20 on the table,” She points at him, “I want you to get something with that. Food, specifically.”

He hears her shuffling with her jacket and the tinkle of keys. Before she leaves she bends down and presses a kiss to his forehead, “I promise, sweetie.”

Later that day, Evan heads to the library, unsure of what movie he should pick. Heidi usually likes Rom-Coms, he likes watching them with her, but she’s the one who usually knows which one to get. Evan muses over the movies, looking at all the titles and feeling lost. He’s about to pull his phone out to look up a list of recommended rom-coms when he hears a voice that's becoming slowly familiar. 

“Insane, how? How do we keep doing this?” Connor, perplexed, tilts his head and looks at Evan as if he's not sure he's seeing what he's seeing. 

Evan does the mental math, “Well, this time it’s been a week since we’ve run into each other.”

“Still, it’s weird,” Connor lightly kicks the bookshelf of DVDs, “Anyways, what are you doing?”

“Not following you,” and then Evan bites the inside of his cheek, hard. More words start spewing out in hopes of covering up the last few, “I mean, I’m looking for a movie. My mom wants to have a movie night so she asked me to come here and pick one. Do you happen to know any good rom-coms? I was just about to look up a list of them on my phone.”

Connor appears to ignore the ‘not following you’ comment in favor of saying, “Can’t really help you there, I’m more of a sci-fi and horror kinda guy.”

Evan pretends to be preoccupied by the array of movies before him as he wildly thinks about what to do or say next because Connor is still standing next to him as if he still wants to talk. Evan blindly reaches for a movie with a name that sounds like the title of a rom-com he’s heard of before. It’s Notting Hill. Evan flips it over to read the back.

Connor leans in and raises his eyebrows, “That’s a Christmas movie...And it’s summer, right now.”

Evan flushes, “That’s ok, I’m Jewish,” and more quietly, “Culturally, that is. So, it doesn’t really matter to me,” He wonders if that was lame. Why did I say that? He itches to go to the check-out line, “Are--are you going to get a movie?”

Connor’s very slight smile falls, he tugs on his ear, there is a black stud on it, “I would, if I had someplace to watch it.”

“Oh,” Evan doesn’t really understand what that means but he won’t pry. Instead, he thinks about how his mom will not be home until 8, and she will likely not even come at all until midnight. So, he asks him, “Do--do you want to watch one at my house?”

Connor blinks in surprise, “Sure?”

They end up picking three movies. One sci-fi, one horror, and one animated movie. 

As they drive, Evan guides Connor through the familiar streets until they pull up to his home. The grass is yellow and dry because of the summer heat. The street is otherwise quiet, except for two children on bicycles whose barks of laughter fade down the street as they zip past. 

Evan hasn’t invited someone new to his home in a long time. Jared hasn’t been by for awhile, because when they met, they would usually go to the Kleinman home. As he shakily turns the key and feels Connor’s expectant presence behind him, it dawns on him that the last time someone came over to hang out with him (that wasn’t Jared) was a kid he briefly made friends with in fourth grade. 

Evan slowly opens the door, steps inside, and glances at Connor to see his reaction. He knows his and Heidi’s place is very small and a little messy. He casts a calculating eye over it all, trying to pretend to see it through a stranger’s eyes and he feels a little bit of embarrassment pool in his stomach as he catches his sweater carelessly thrown over the couch, a Cliff bar wrapper on their small dinner table, and other small things strewn innocently about but glaringly obvious when looked at closely.

Connor’s expression is blank. 

Evan doesn’t know if that’s good or bad. 

Connor doesn’t move past the mantle, his eyes sweep through the house before landing on Evan. He points at his boots, “Should I take these off?”

“Um, sure? If you want to?”

Connor is already untying his shoes, leaning his back against the wall and then settling them neatly by the door. Evan never does that, but he copies Connor quickly. 

Evan sets the first movie they decided to watch ( Interstellar ) up in the old DVD player he and Heidi have had since forever. Connor settles on the couch and stiffly sits there, looking unsure of what to do with his limbs. As Evan sits on the other side of the couch, Connor hugs his arms to himself and says, “I like your house.”

“Oh, thank you,” The movie trailers start playing very quietly, there are little noises of explosions and of other movie things. He can’t help wondering why Connor said that but he doesn’t offer an explanation. 

Evan offers him water but Connor shakes his head and leans very carefully into the couch as the movie begins to play. Evan turns the volume up as the movie opens with someone speaking. 

Periodically Evan would look over at Connor and find him looking hyper-engrossed in the movie. He would hear him him muttering things under his breath and at one point Connor even turned to Evan and breathed out the word, “ Incredible,” with his hand on his forehead from shock. It was much the same with The Silence of the Lambs, except Connor ended up hugging his knees to his chest and did not move for the entirety of the film. 

As the end credits roll, Evan jumps when he hears a rumbling noise. He blinks when he realizes that is sounded like a stomach rumbling. 

Evan slowly looks at Connor, “Was that---was that you?”

Connor’s cheeks tinge pink and he looks away, “No, it was a car outside.” 

The light of the slowly approaching sunset, floods through the kitchen window in a golden summer light and Evan looks at the time. He realizes it’s around dinner time for most people. Sometimes Evan skips meals during the day, so he often forgets that other people eat too. Evan feels guilty for forgetting, “Are you hungry?”

Connor scoffs, “I’m fine.”

“Well, alright,” Evan goes to the kitchen and picks up the twenty dollar bill Heidi left for him, “I’m kind of hungry, but---” he notices Connor look curiously at him as he slowly reapproaches the couch. Evan scratches his head and feels embarrassed to ask him this next bit, “Could-you-maybe-call-for-me?”

“Did you ask me to call for you?”

Evan nods, his ears going warm. 

“Okay,” Connor lifts his hand for Evan’s phone.

They ordered a cheese pizza from Domino’s. When it arrived they moved to the small kitchen table by the window for a bit of a break from the couch. 

The pizza box sits between them, the cheese a pillow speckled with golden spots and the crust of the pizza sturdy and crunchy. The smell of it wafts up to Evan’s nose, making him realize that he was actually maybe a little hungry after all. 

So, Evan ate one and his head started feeling a certain clearness that he didn’t know wasn’t there before. 

“Thank you for calling them.” Evan then admits, “I don’t really like talking on the phone.”

“It’s ok,” Connor carefully picks up a slice of pizza, a string of cheese follows it and he has to stretch his arm way out until it breaks, he quietly says, “I used to do the same for my sister.”

Evan can’t mask his surprise, he asks, “She doesn’t like to call people?”

“She didn’t used to, now she can. That was when she was younger.” There’s a bit of a long pause. Connor stares out the window with an expression carved in deep thought. His unfocused gaze as still as an untouched pool of water. 

Evan fishes for something to call Connor back from wherever he went, “ In-interstellar was really interesting...” 

When Connor returns to the present, it’s almost like a tangible experience. Connor may be the one lost in some thought or memory, but Evan is the one who feels frozen in time until he comes back. Connor bites into his pizza like nothing happened, “I loved it.”

That piques Evan’s interest. Connor doesn’t seem like the type of person to say they love something. At least, not out loud. “Why is that?”

Connor shrugs, “Space.” He glances up at Evan and seems to realize he could say more, “I’ve always liked space, it’s fucking amazing.” He looks up at the sky through the window, a star or two are beginning to twinkle into sight as the sun sets, “It’s nice to think there’s something other than this out there.”

“Do you mean aliens?”

“That,” Connor nods and rests his head on his hand, “And also alternate universes.”

“Do you believe in those?”

“I like to think they exist. Wouldn’t you?” Connor folds his pizza and takes another bite. 

“Yeah…” Evan thinks about another universe where he isn’t broken, has a functioning family, and has friends. And then he pictures one where he’s dead. He’s not sure which of those Evans he wishes were him. 

He wonders what Connor imagines about the alternate versions of himself. What are the things he would want to be different?

Connor pokes through his thoughts, “Do you think we are meant to stay here? Or are we meant to leave Earth someday?”

Evan actually feels a sensation of pure dread at the thought of abandoning the planet, “Earth is irreplaceable.”

Connor leans both arms on the table and leans slightly closer, “Why?” As the sky darkens, his blue eye deepens in color like an icy Neptune. Evan swallows and fixes the collar of his polo. 

They spiral into a conversation that bounces as easily between them as a tennis match. They both have differing opinions, but that’s what makes the discussion burn as long as it does. 

“Even if we do make a sustainable Earth. I just can’t see us staying here.” Connor stretches his hand out, fingers splaying like a star, “Billions of stars, billions of planets…And in all of that, we would just stay?”

“Maybe,” Evan smiles tiredly, “It’s our home, isn’t it?”

“I don’t know, I guess?” Connor smiles crookedly and slides down his seat.

They jump at a loud noise. Both of them whip their heads to look out the window and it’s just a neighbor from across the street getting out of their car. Evan looks at Connor, heart racing because he is still a little spooked from The Silence of the Lambs. Connor has his eyebrows raised and a big smile on his face, “Maybe you should turn on the lights?”

It’s dark in the house because the sun had just set. They had both been so involved in their conversation that Evan didn’t want to get up to turn on the light. He nods, “Good idea.” While he’s up he checks his phone, it’s 7 p.m. and he hasn’t received a call or text from Heidi. Something probably happened at work. 

Connor awkwardly stands up, “Um, should I go?”

“You don’t have to. Do you need to go?”

“Not exactly. It’s just that I’ve been here for a long time, like 6 hours. And didn’t you say your mom was coming?”

“Oh, yeah. I don’t--I don’t think she’s coming,” Evan checks his phone one last time, nothing. He scratches the back of his head, “You can stay if you want.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, if you want.”

“You--you aren’t tired of me?” he smiled weakly at the end, like it was meant to be a joke but it fell flat.  

“No,” looks down and away, “Are you tired of me?’

“No, of course not.”

Evan quickly looks up at that with a surprised smile. Connor is looking down at his socked feet, rocking back and forth. 

“Okay, cool.”

“Cool.”

They watch the last movie they borrowed from the library. Connor makes himself more comfortable on the couch, with one foot tucked under his other knee and one arm stretched over the top of the couch. 

Mid-way through Spiderman: Into the Spider-verse, there is the faint sound of keys rattling at the door. Evan jumps to his feet when he realizes that it’s Heidi coming home. 

“I’m home!” Heidi steps into the house, “What, you’re already starting a movie without---? Oh, hello.” Heidi holds a small bag with what must be the candy and popcorn she promised to get earlier this morning. Her cheeks are flushed as if she was in a rush and her hair is still tied up from work. She looks between Evan and Connor, expression going through a series of mental gymnastics before just outright glowing, “Are you a friend of Evan’s? I’m Heidi, his mom.”

Connor suddenly paled and Evan berates himself for not checking his phone again, because now there’s a text from fifteen minutes ago stating she was actually coming home. Connor gives a little wave, “Hi Mrs. Hansen, I’m Connor.”

Heidi grins, “It’s nice to meet you Connor. Sorry I’m such a mess right now, I just got off work.” With a bounce to her step she settles the bags on the kitchen table, “What movie are you two watching? I brought candy and popcorn. Would you like some?”

Evan looks at Connor but he just shrugs helplessly. 

“I-I think we’re fine now. Thank you, mom.”

“Ok, if you say so. I’ll just leave those there for you guys,” She places her hands on her hips and smiles widely at the two of them. Her eyes drinking in the scene of her son watching a movie with a new friend. That moment barely lasts a second before she’s moving again, heading off to her room, “I’m going to just go change. You guys just enjoy the rest of the movie ok?” And then she’s gone. 

Evan awkwardly laughs, “Um…Sorry about that,” his ears are absolutely hot from embarrassment, “Usually my mom doesn’t come home on time. Sorry.”

Connor fidgets on the couch and sits up straight, hugging his threadbare sweater around him tighter, “It’s ok, it’s just your mom. I should really be leaving now.”

“Really?” Evan hopes he didn’t sound too disappointed.

“Yeah,” Connor edges off the couch and stands, hands swinging back and forth. He sits on the floor where he left his boots and shoves them on. Evan follows him to the door, playing with the knuckles of his hands and unsure of what to say. 

Connor steps outside and then turns, fixing him with a warm gaze, “Thanks for having me over...I had a good time.”

Evan's heart harshly thumps, "M-me too." 

Connor does a weak mock salute, and with his long lanky legs, strides to his car and drives away.

Evan stands there for a bit, Connor’s car long gone out of sight, and ruminates about the last couple of hours. He feels a little tired, but not in a bad way. More like the kind of tired he would experience after climbing a tree, long and carefully, and then ending up somewhere at the top. A little winded, a little spark of accomplishment buzzing through his system, a little content as he stares past the tops of other trees and up at the sky. 

He doesn’t jump when Heidi places her hand lightly on his shoulder. She leans past him and looks outside, “You’re friend just left? I heard it get a little quiet out here.”

“Yeah.”

“Aw, that’s a shame.” She furrows her brows and studies his face, “He didn’t leave because of me did he?”

“No,” Evan vigorously shakes his head, “He said he had to go.” 

“Well, alright.” She smiles softly and rubs his back. It doesn't seem she believes him fully.

“Besides, he was here for a long time anyway.”

“Was he now?”

“Yeah.”

“Was it fun?”

“It was...”

“That’s good. He seemed nice.”

“He is.”

 

******

 

Present day.

Evan stares out the window, red slip of paper in his fist. He stares at the tree outside his window, it’s tall and spiraling. Perfect for climbing. Almost like that tree he let go of so many years ago. 

He presses his hand against the window and considers opening it when he hears a voice. 

“Where am I?”

Evan freezes. 

There’s another hand beside his. A long-fingered hand, like a pianist’s. It presses against the window beside Evan’s own. 

Evan sucks in a breath. 

Connor is standing right beside him, silently. 

The light shining through the window is so soft, and so thin on Connor’s face. It’s like there isn’t any light at all. Connor looks blankly around and asks Evan again, “Where am I?”

Evan chokes, “My home.”

Connor blinks and his eyebrows dip. There are gears turning in Connor’s head, they sound like branches breaking. He leans closer into Evan’s space, eyes boring into Evan’s own, “Who are you?”

“I’m-I’m Evan?” He didn’t mean for it to sound like a question. “Your friend.”

Connor tastes the word, “My friend…” And then his face goes sour. “Oh, it’s you.” 

Evan takes a step back. Connor pokes him hard on the chest, “I know about that idea you have.”

“What---?”

A bird crashes into the window. Evan jumps at the sound it makes. 

“Don’t you dare fucking do it. You didn’t see in time.”

“I know I didn’t and I’m sorry.”

“You didn’t see,” Connor punches the window and the house splinters like glass. 

 

5 years after Connor vanished.

 

Evan snaps awake. From above, Jared stares down at him with a frown on his face.  Evan feels a weight on his shoulder and then it’s gone. It was Jared’s hand. 

“You’re crying.” 

Evan shakily touches his face and realizes it’s wet with tears. He breathes in deeply and accidentally swallows a lot of snot in the process. Jared cringes and goes to grab a napkin for Evan which he accepts and blows his nose. 

“Bad dream, huh?” 

Evan slowly sits up and his head turns throbs like a bruise. The room is kinda spinny for a second but then it settles down into a haze. 

“Yeah,” Evan looks around in confusion. Outside, it’s dark. But the lights inside their place are on in full force. Evan forgot how many lights they actually have because he never turns on more than one at a time.  

He wonders what time it is. 

“It’s midnight, dude,” Jared looks at the bottle of wine Evan had opened and sniffs it, “I almost didn’t see you here except I heard sniffling and saw your pitiful self crying in your sleep. What were you doing?”

“I don’t know,” Evan stares down at his hands. He sniffles again. Eyes going dry with no more tears because he's gone empty inside. 

“Ok, come on. Let's go to sleep.” Jared sighs as if put-upon when Evan doesn’t move, “Come on, up you get,” Jared tries lifting Evan up by the arms, he can’t. He wheezes, “You need to help me out, man.” 

Evan robotically gets up.

They get ready for bed and as they are slipping under the covers, Jared tentatively asks right as Evan is drifting away, “What were you dreaming about?”

Evan wants to pretend he didn’t hear him but feels badly for it. After a long pause where he thinks that even Jared fell asleep he says, “I don’t remember.”

It's quiet for so long, Evan thinks that Jared may have actually fallen asleep but then Jared quietly says, “Okay.” Evan hears the sound of him turning around to face the other way. Jared tugs the blankets tighter around himself, “For all we know you could’ve been crying over someone throwing compost in the recycling bin, you and your great, dumb, bleeding-heart. Go to sleep and let the Earth go to Hell.”

“I hope you don’t mean that…”

“Of course I don’t, dummy. Go to sleep.”

Chapter Text

5 Months before Connor vanished.

Before meeting Connor, Evan’s summer days were usually spent puttering around the house, doing scholarships, and looking at college applications. Those days were predictive and boring. He would go through them slowly and by the end of them it would be like they never happened. A bitter taste in his mouth would linger and remind him that he wasted a day in his sad life by doing nothing that truly makes him happy. He would often find himself sitting on the ground as a tiredness that comes from more than just the effort of doing work washed over him.

However, Evan’s days have started feeling less repetitive and slow because, more frequently, he has days where he actually feels like a teenager. Of course, Evan knows he is literally a teenager. But sometimes he gets the impression he is missing out on things. There are things he can’t do due to many reasons, many of them being resources, and the biggest of them, his mental health. Making friends has never been the easiest thing for him to do. It’s hard enough keeping a friend who only continues their association due to a sense of familial obligation.

There is no one, with the (possible) exception of his mom, who would care if he just vanished one day. Sometimes Evan wishes it were as easy as that. Disappearing, vanishing, getting erased---he wishes there were a way to do that instead of killing himself. Dying would mean someone would eventually find his body. He wouldn’t want anyone to find his body all dead and decomposing.

What if they found him years---no, decades---after he died? Someone might stumble upon his bones half-buried in the dark dirt, and then they’d bring in his bones to do a DNA analysis to find out who he was, and then they’d notify his closest relatives but then by then his mom would be old or dead. Maybe they’d let his step-siblings know what happened but they never knew him so they wouldn’t care. No one would care. So, it would be better if no one found him.

But then again, he would want to be found. He has this deep-rooted desire to be found. He wants someone to find him because then it would mean that he actually mattered.

Why can’t this whole dying thing be easier?

Gone, gone, gone. That’s what he wants to be.

He’s never fit in anywhere, and he likely never will. Evan inhabits a space all of his own, outside of where everyone (who isn’t like him---who isn’t broken) is. The space is small and cramped. When he gets anxious, the walls shrink and fall in on him. There are little windows in this space where he can look out at everyone else and wonder what it’s like to be ordinary, free, and under the sun.

Under the sun, you are seen. The shadows are noticeable but you can’t distinguish anything out from under them. Evan doesn’t think he’s even in the shadows. It’s like he’s in the air. Insubstantial and unseen.

Before Connor, the days passed slowly as water drops from a leaky faucet and each day seemed to build on top of the other, growing heavier and heavier with the knowledge that things would never change. That Evan would never change.

 

But now he has a friend. And that’s a change.

A good change.

Whenever Connor comes over, the days fly by and for the first time, Evan experiences a wish for a day to never end.

Connor is a constant source of curiosity, Evan can’t get enough out of observing the wheels and gears that make Connor tick. Except, Connor is not like a clock because while a clock can be relied on to move predictably, Connor cannot. He’s unpredictable as the sky. There may be clouds in the sky and they may look heavy, slow, and permanent, but eventually, five or twenty minutes later, they will have moved and changed like the shake of a kaleidoscope. There’s also the possibility they would have vanished entirely. His moods come in like the clouds, seemingly materializing out of nowhere but there are forces working inside the inner ecosystem that is Connor Murphy that are too big to be seen. The clouds come and go, but that is to be expected; the sky would not be the sky without it’s clouds.

Connor is quickly becoming a familiar presence in his life. The unpredictableness of his character is something Evan picked up on rather quickly. But, in all honesty, he doesn’t mind too much because being with Connor Murphy is like watching the sky. It’s unreasonable to expect the sky to remain eternally blue. Sometimes there are torn up pieces of clouds that litter the uneasy sky in desperate bids to appear smaller. Or there may be a stormy sky that demands it be respected. Sometimes there’s the quiet fog, blanketing the sky in tranquility. And then, sometimes, rays of light dart forth and bounce off the clouds, illuminating those brilliant giants. 

Evan doesn’t think of himself as much of anything. He’s like fallen food, he’s like a forgotten combination for a lock, like a sock in a puddle, like a sweater caught on a zipper, like a fallen pill. He’s a series of small unfortunate things. These things are all small and can inconvenience someone momentarily. But if they all happen within one day---that day would be considered a “bad day.” Too much of Evan can cause someone to have a bad day. It’s what drove his dad away, it’s why his mom is hardly home and wants him to be fixed, it’s why Jared would rather be with anyone else but him. When he’s not around, they have good days.

That’s it. He’s the personification of a bad day.

The only inconsistency in this is Connor. Connor doesn’t seem to mind Evan too much. Evan doesn’t want to be too presumptuous and assume that Connor actually enjoys his company. That would be too good to be true.

However, the only thing Evan knows for sure is that he very much enjoys being with Connor. He only hopes that Connor’s toleration of him doesn’t wear out too soon. He doesn’t know what he’d do if he found himself alone once again.

Probably climb another tree.

********

One day, during the last week of July, Evan sends Connor a text asking if he wants to hang out.

A couple hours later he receives a text.

Connor: No.

It’s like a baseball of dread shatters something inside him. He wonders if he did anything wrong. Is Connor upset at him? The text message didn’t sound good. Evan paces his room. How can a text message sound good? It can't literally sound like anything. Connor just said "no." No, as in he can't. But he didn't exactly say "no, I can't" did he?

Evan chews on his fingernails. Maybe Connor will send a follow up text. Evan shouldn’t ask what’s wrong in case there’s nothing wrong. But maybe he should. Maybe he did something that really upset Connor.

But they were talking yesterday!

Evan sits on the floor of his room, thoughts spiraling. He feels slightly dizzy from pacing in a circle.

Connor doesn’t send him anything for the next four days.

Within those four days, Evan has restless nights with the one thought running through his head: he messes everything up. One way or another, Evan messes everything up. Always.

On the last day of July, Evan wakes up and groggily stumbles to his phone charging on his floor. He flips it over and immediately drops it. Connor texted him back.

Connor:
I’m an asshole.
I literally have no explanation for what happened. All I can say is that I was tired.

Evan sighs and sits on the floor, cradling his phone in his hands and checking for cracks. For a couple of minutes, he thinks about what to say. Evan stumbles to his bed and lays down.

Evan:
It’s ok.

He chews on his lip.

I get tired too
Are you feeling better now?

Connor:
Yeah
Is it ok if I come over today?

Evan:
yeah

Connor arrives a couple of hours later, looking a little like he just rolled out of bed. He doesn’t step inside which immediately sets Evan ill at ease. He avoids Evan’s searching eyes and gloomily frowns down at his black boots.

Evan hesitates. “Hi, Connor…”

Connor slowly shakes his head and then covers his face with his hand. He mutters, “This is going to sound so incredibly goddam stupid.”

Evan grips the door tightly, “Wha-what is?” A horrible thought twists his stomach: Connor doesn’t want to be friends anymore. Evan holds his breath.

Connor pinches the bridge of his nose and squeezes his eyes shut, “I think we should…”

Evan blurts, “You-don’t-want-to-be-friends-anymore?” Evan squeezes his own eyes shut and grips the door even tighter, “It’s ok. I understand why you wouldn’t want to be friends with me anymore. But if there’s anything I did wrong I would like to know so that I can apologize and tell you that I didn’t mean it and that I’m sorry.”

“What? No…” Evan hesitates and then looks at Connor. His hand has fallen away and he looks alarmed. “I-I, no, that’s not what I want at all. You didn’t do anything wrong. If anything, it was me.”

“Oh.” Evan loosens his grip on the door and sighs in relief.

Connor regards him, “Is that what you want? To not be friends?”

Evan chokes, “No! I just thought that that’s what you’d want.”

“Why would I want that?” Connor crosses his arms, genuinely looking baffled.

Evan, himself, is a little stumped, “I don’t know.” There’s a lot of reasons why Connor wouldn’t want to be his friend, Evan himself being the biggest of them all. Except, given Connor’s perplexed expression, Connor doesn’t seem to realize that.

“Well, it’s not.” Connor mumbles something unintelligible.

“What’s that?”

“You’re my only friend, and I think that I’m your only friend too.” Connor flusters and plays with the rings on his fingers, “I’m not saying it to be mean. It’s true, isn’t it? We’re both not the most popular kids in school. I mean, no one goes out of their way to talk to us, like ever. I’m invisible. You’re invisible. We’re both invisible, except people hate me. I don’t think they hate you, though. You’re like, impossible to hate.”

Evan, stunned, lets go of the door and lets his hand swing listlessly to his side. He doesn’t know what to say.

“Christ, fuck, look, when I came over today I wasn’t expecting to be this honest. Hell, you can tell me to fuck off. That’s ok, I get it. All I can say to explain myself is that I wasn’t feeling well, you know,” he points to his head, “Up here…” He scowls and drops his hand, “God, that sounds lame but it’s true.”

“I understand,” Evan nods. He does understand. He may not know how Connor was feeling but Evan knows well enough what it’s like for himself. Connor’s shoulders loosen up a bit in relief. Evan then asks, “So, we’re f-friends?”

Connor blushes slightly, “If you want.”

“Yeah,” Evan’s cheeks heat up, “I do.”

“Cool.”

“Cool.”

They share a slow, cautious smile between them.

Evan nods behind him, “So, are you coming in or---?”

His eyes quickly light up and then he quickly nods, steps inside, and unlaces his boots, “How long do you think we were standing there?”

“Long enough for a family of mosquitos to come in.”

Later in the day, the house started to heat up as if the sun was just next door lounging in his neighbor’s yard.

The boys both agreed that the floor was the coolest place to go. Evan opened the window for some air but they have yet to feel a single breeze. Connor refused to take off his sweater, he said it’s so old and thin he doesn’t even wear it for warmth. He likes it just for the comfort of having it on.

Laying on Evan’s living room floor, they place Connor’s phone between them and play songs that they take turns choosing. The floor is hard, but it's cool, he imagines it’s what it must be like to float on one's back in the pool. He’s never been able to float in the pool, he’d get too nervous because it seemed like such a delicate balance that could too easily be broken. Perhaps he’d move in a way he wasn’t supposed to and then water would slip up his face and up his nose and his feet would be back on the pool’s floor. He’d fail at something so many others would be able to do with such ease.

The room is shadowed blue like water and there’s no noise except for the music he and Connor play; however, the music might as well not even be there. On the floor, Evan feels comfortable---there is no other way to describe it. He’s comfortable. Comfort is too often an alien sensation for him, but he doesn’t think he has ever felt so present as he does now, when he’s staring at the ceiling, and it’s just him and Connor, alone on Evan’s living room floor.

Songs float up into the blueness of the room, like millions of invisible bubbles. He can’t hear anything from outside, no cars and no bicycle bells. It’s easy to imagine there’s no one else in the world except him and Connor and the music.

Evan fans himself with his good hand. His other arm is still in a cast and it’s dreadful, sweaty, and uncomfortable. Connor’s song ends and he picks up his phone, “You’re turn.”

Evan dazedly peers up at the ceiling, a memory surfaces from earlier that day, “Wait. What were you going to say earlier?”

Connor chews on his lip and narrows his eyes in thought. A second passes, and with a groan he covers his face again, “Oh, yeah. I remember.”

Evan raises his eyebrows, “What is it?”

“It’s stupid…”

“I’m really c-curious now. What is it?” Evan doesn’t know if it’s a good or bad thing. But Evan is starting to learn how to read Connor and it doesn’t seem like what he’s going to say is going to be bad. “I’m sure it’s not s-stupid.”

There’s a long beat of silence. Connor peeks a brown eye from between his fingers, “We should come up with a code word” He presses his fists against his eyes, “for when either of us needs a rest day or something. I know it’s stupid, you can tell me it’s stupid.”

“Huh.” Evan runs his hand over his cast and thinks about it for a second. Connor didn’t talk to him for a couple of days because he wasn’t feeling well. Evan was worried about him during that time and wondered what happened. Sometimes Evan doesn’t feel well either and would like a mental health day. But that’s mostly during school. He supposes he may need the same thing from Connor at some point in their friendship as well. Evan gives a small thumbs up, “Okay.”

Connor smiles, surprised and pleased, “You want to do it?”

“Yep. So,” Evan scratches his head, “What should it be?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t think that far.”

They both sat in silence for a bit. Thinking. They started throwing ideas in the air like Hawaii, narwhal, fuck, macaroni, ravioli, chef-boyardee (they were getting hungry, ok?) and Ursa major.

And then they settled on Bonsai.

“Bonsai?”

“Bonsai.” Connor shrugged a shoulder as best he could laying down on the floor. He passes Evan his phone, “Pick a song. I liked the last one you played.”

********

A couple of days later, Bonsai was put into motion for the first time. Except, not in the way Evan expected.

Evan thought that when Evan needed a bonsai day. Connor wouldn’t come over. Or, that if Connor needed a bonsai day. They wouldn’t text each other.

He thought that that was how it was going to go. However, given they didn’t really set any specific rules for bonsai except for coming up with the name and its purpose...It should really come as no surprise to Evan that this happened.

Connor arrived at 3 p.m. with a preoccupied set to his stiff shoulders. He had a bag hanging off his shoulder which he was gripping tightly.

Evan said, “Hi.”

Connor quietly said, “Bonsai.”

“Um,” Evan furrowed his brows and stammered, “Do you want to come in?” Connor immediately came in and threw himself on the couch. Crossing his arms and hanging his head down low, expression hidden behind a curtain of hair.

Evan had slowly closed the door and wondered what to do. He didn’t think Bonsai would apply for when they are physically present with each other.

Should he say anything? Evan didn’t think so. But it felt weird so he quietly asked, “Are you ok?”

Stony silence greeted him.

Connor kept his boots on. He never does that.

So, Evan quietly grabbed his earbuds, joined Connor on the couch and listened to nature sounds. He spared a concerned glance at Connor who still hadn’t moved and he closed his eyes.

They stayed that way for an hour.

Evan woke up from an uneasy nap to see that Connor finally moved.

That’s where they are now.

Connor silently sits on the other side of the couch, he has his sketchbook propped on his knees and blankly stares at the black cover.

It’s the first time Evan has seen it ever. Connor has mentioned several times that he draws and that he doesn’t like to show it to others. Evan spares a brief flash of curiosity and wonders about what is in that closed book.

Connor is staring blankly at his closed sketchbook. It’s unsettling and some part of him feels his heart break for him. Connor’s so far away, his silence is a deep blue. Solid, like shadows deep in the crevice of a canyon.

Evan thinks to try and see if he smells anything on him. He discreetly sniffs the air. There’s nothing.

Connor has been getting more comfortable in Evan’s home. Every time he’s been over, they haven’t had a repeat of the first night where Heidi came. Every time, it’s just been the two of them.

When Evan is not feeling well, he prefers to be in a place that he feels most comfortable and safe in. Which is to say, his room with the door shut and shade drawn. Evan cautiously thinks that maybe Connor came here because Evan’s home is that kind of place for him? Somewhere...Safe?

Evan shakes his head. That can’t be. Evan’s inflating his own importance. Wouldn’t Connor’s own home be where he finds calmness?

But what if it isn’t?

Connor hasn’t shared much about his own home and about his family. There have been some offhand comments about his sister and his mom but not much else. Now that he thinks about it, Connor hasn’t invited him to his house either.

Evan fidgets. There’s no use speculating about things that are probably nothing. Over-thinking things is his specialty. He just needs to wait until Connor is ready to share what (if anything) is wrong.

He desperately wants to say something to break the silence but they have their rule. Bonsai is the request for space.

Evan makes himself grab his laptop to work on a couple of scholarship essays he’s almost done with. It’s ok if they continue in silence until Connor has to leave…It’s completely ok. Evan will deal with it. He can deal with it.

It’s what his best friend wants.

Evan freezes as he’s opening his laptop.

Best friend.

Did I really just think of Connor as my best friend?

Blanking every other thought out, Evan carefully holds that one above all else. He opens up an empty word document and begins writing a letter that his therapist assigned for him to write.

Dear Evan Hansen,

Today is July 20th. You just thought of Connor Murphy as your best friend.

It’s true isn’t it?

Right now, he’s sitting right across from you. Today, he called a bonsai while you’re with him. That wasn’t one of the rules but you’ll do it anyway because he’s your best friend.

I don’t remember the last time I had one. I used to think of Jared as my best friend but that was only because he was my only friend.

What makes a best friend? Is it someone you enjoy spending time with? Because I do like spending time with Connor. Sometimes I feel there is never enough time. But when I’m with him I feel like there is all the time in the universe. I am only reminded about the limitations of time when he is gone.

What else makes a best friend? I don’t know. This whole best friend thing is something new.

All I know is that I’m a little happier now…

For your sake, and my own, I hope this happiness last for a long long time.

Sincerely,
Your most best, and dearest friend,
Me

P.S. I hope today’s bonsai ends soon

Evan closes that document, vowing to never look at it again. He’ll make a different letter for his therapist later. Two hours pass and within that time Connor started drawing softly. The soft scratch of paper on pencil are loud amidst the silence of the house.

Evan feels some encouragement from that. He can’t see what Connor is drawing because he has his sketchbook facing away from Evan.

The time reaches 7p.m. and Evan feels a little light headed. While Connor has been sitting silently beside him in his own world. Evan’s stomach has been tying itself into knots over what caused him to act like this.

He shuts down his laptop and puts it away. He grabs one of his mom’s Clif bars and chews on it quietly, trying not to make it obvious that he’s trying to get a read on Connor’s state.

He throws away the wrapper and then startles when Connor suddenly croaks, “Do you want me to call for pizza?”

It felt like a ghost suddenly made their presence known. He’s partially looking over at Evan, most of him facing away and towards the TV that’s turned off. He’s staying still, waiting for Evan to say something. Evan slowly nods and hands Connor his phone.

Connor’s voice is really dry as he speaks to the person over the phone. He hands Evan his phone and in a whispery voice asks, “Water?”

Evan quickly hands Connor water and then goes to get some more when he finishes his first glass within a second. His throat works as he takes big gulps of water, Adam’s apple bobbing wildly.

Connor clears his throat and coughs. “Thanks.” His voice sounds a little better now.

Evan just nods. Realizing that Connor has probably been dehydrated all this time and that Evan could have at least tried to offer him water without breaking the bonsai rule.

Evan cautiously asks, “Is bonsai over?”

“Yeah.” Connor dips his head, eyelashes pressing starkly against his clear skin, “I’m fine now.”

Evan chews on his lip, “Do-you-maybe-want-to-talk-about-it?”

“Not really,” Connor glances at him. “Not now, at least.”

Evan opens his mouth and then closes it, he badly wants to know what happened but Connor has his head down and his shoulders look as stiff as brittle bark. If Evan pushes, he'll break. But Connor wouldn't break down crying, Evan senses that he'd snap into anger. He’s waiting for Evan to pry. He’s avoiding eye contact and probably mentally preparing himself to either unwillingly share or push him away. Evan visualizes shelfing his concern, pushing it in a box for later. “Okay.” Connor quietly exhales and gives Evan a silently thankful look. Evan tries not to frown.

The rest of the night continues on as usual.

They are sitting on the floor in front of the TV.

Some show is on but Evan is not really paying attention.

Connor doesn’t tell him what happened.

But before going to sleep he receives a text.

Connor:

Thank you for the bonsai
it helped

 

********

They’re in Connor’s car.

Evan hasn’t been in Connor’s car since the accident.

He’s not sure where they’re going but it doesn’t really matter. The windows are half-way open and cool air floods them on either side. The wind bats Connor’s ponytail around and Evan can barely hear the sound of the radio over the whirring wind flooding the car.

Connor had come over to Evan’s place and didn’t step inside. He stood outside with a threadbare sweater---his usual clothing---except this time he had his hair up. His face looked more open and boyish without his long hair hanging around his face, veiling his cheekbones and jaw. Truly, Connor has nice hair, it’s all full, and soft-looking, and looks like it’s nice to run fingers through. However, with it tied back, Evan could see that Connor has a handsome face too. Evan was struck by how much he could see his eyes this way. Light striked his brown and blue orbs and made them gleam brightly. The full weight of his gaze made Evan want to hide behind the door.

Cheeks burning Evan tried to casually lean against the doorframe. He immediately felt like he looked like a loser, so he wobbled back into a standing position and awkwardly crossed his arms. He stuttered, “W-what’s up? I wasn’t d-doing m-much just now. Just---” He trailed away, he really hadn’t been doing anything at all. He had just been aimlessly scrolling through his phone. Evan fell silent.

Connor adjusted the strap to his messenger bag and asked, “Do you want to do something today?”

Evan peered past Connor, it looked hot out, “Like what?”

“I don’t know…” Connor looked down at his boots. “Actually, I do. I want to show you something.”

Evan deliberated about getting a jacket. He didn’t know how long they were going to be out for. He grabbed one even if stepping outside felt like walking into a wall of heat.

And then, they left.

The sunlight is bright and golden and Evan feels like they could drive forever.

Eventually, Connor does stop.

“We’re here.”

They step out of the car. Outside, the air is buzzing with warmth. Connor leads Evan to a trail that is surrounded by dry old trees, aged by the sun and their solitude. Evan realizes this was an apple orchard due to the barely noticeable rows the trees are set in. Long dry grass sways between the trees and a breeze sweeps past the two boys that smells faintly deep and earthy and maybe a little like apple.

“This used to be an apple orchard.” Connor confirmed Evan’s thoughts. “Most of the trees have died, I think. But there are some that are still alive.”

It’s hard to believe this place used to be filled with life, the silence of the trees speak of years of solitude and abandonment. The trees that are alive have grown wildly and without inhibition, while those that have died lean at angles and bear no leaves.

“How long has this place been abandoned?”

Connor shrugs and joins Evan by one of the living trees, it has no apples on it. There are only yellow-green leaves that gleam a dull green in the summer light. He leans against the trunk and looks up at the branches, “I don’t know. My family and I stopped visiting this place a long time ago before it closed. They could’ve closed a month after we stopped. Or a year later. I have no idea.” He reaches up and grabs a random thin branch. It easily breaks and snaps sharply. Connor twirls the stick around in his fingers, it spins so fast that it jumps out of his hand and disappears into the long grass at their sides. “I came back here very recently to check it out and found it like this.”

“Oh,” Evan immediately imagines the trees filled with fat red apples hanging above two children running through the shorn emerald grass. He pictures them dashing between healthy trees that rattle their leaves gently above them, sending broken light onto the floor for the children to stomp on as they dash through. They play some game only the two of them know the rules of and of which the trees can only bear warm witness to. Evan hears laughter, shouts and giggles---sounds of joy. One of the kids has short brown hair (like he remembers Connor used to have in elementary school) and smiles freely as a smaller child with golden hair tries in vain to keep up with her older brother. She’s frowning in frustration and grinning in turn, not realizing that her older brother is not running as fast as he truly can. Following not far behind the kids are the fuzzy shapes of two adults. Evan pictures them holding hands and smiling at their children.

The scene in his imagination only lasts two seconds. But, it is enough to have his heart rise and then quickly fall in sympathy. This place must look very different from how Connor remembers. That must be sad for him to see. “I’m sorry.”

Connor breaks another stick, he shrugs, “Don’t be. I don’t exactly have fond memories of this place.” He’s frowning and breaking the stick into little pieces, watching them fall into the grass.

“It--it just seemed like an important place to you or something.”

Connor snaps, “Well, it’s not.”

Evan knows better than to ask Then why did you bring me here?

Evan runs a hand over the tall grass. Unsure if this is going to help any he asks, “Do you know what they used to call apples in the colonial times?”

Connor shakes his head.

“Melt-in-mouths or winter bananas.”

Connor snorts, “Winter bananas?” A thin trickle of sweat beads down his forehead, gleaming like a crystal. He swipes it away with the back of his hand, he grins, “Apples look nowhere near like bananas. Actually, I think no other fruit quite has that phallic-look to it.”

“Right,” Evan covers his mouth as he giggles. He wipes his own forehead, thinking he might be sweating too. “I don’t know why they called it that exactly... I think it was because they thought apples tasted a little like bananas back then.”

Connor hums. He absentmindedly grabs another branch, “Got any more tree facts?”

Evan says with a hit of enthusiasm, “Actually I do.” Evan thinks about other facts he knows, they roll through his head like a spinning wheel. But then they stop. He lowers his head, suddenly feeling self-conscious. Connor has heard Evan talk about trees ever since they started being friends. Now that they are literally surrounded by trees, he probably doesn’t want to hear more about them. That would be too much, wouldn’t it?

Connor raises a brow, “And? Are you going to share?” His has a crooked smile which invites Evan to continue.

“Did you know trees can talk to each other? Have I already told you this? I’m sorry if I already have.”

“That’s fucking insane. How do they? And no, Evan, you haven’t.”

So he tells him.

They explore the abandoned apple orchard for a bit and then stumble upon a trail. A faded and broken plank has the words MEADOW scratched onto a wooden plank. The sign points down the trail. The pathway is barely visible with all the natural growth encroaching on it.

“Do you want to go?”

“Let’s go.”

They make their way down the trail. The smell of decomposing apples fades behind them as they climb up a slight hill and through densely growing trees. Connor will occasionally pick up random leaves and ask Evan if he can identify them. Evan can do some but not all. He warns Connor to watch out for poison oak and Connor stops picking up leaves.

Suddenly the trees are not so thick as they enter the meadow. The meadow is rich with golden waves of grass. The tops of them roll like waves in the slight summer breeze that descends from the clear blue sky to hug the world. Evan stretches his head back and gasps at the sky that stretches onwards and upwards for forever, not a single cloud in sight.

It’s quiet here.

Evan and Connor take in the meadow for a handful of minutes. Catching their breath from their little hike and grabbing their water bottles from inside Connor’s messenger bag.

Connor squints his eyes and then points, “I think that’s a deer.”

Evan shades his eyes with his good hand, “I see it.” The deer is the same color as the grass, if not, a deeper shade of honey. It doesn’t see them and makes its way through the middle of the meadow. Slowly, edging towards the other half of the woods and then disappearing.

Evan is half-way impressed, “How come you always spot these things?” He’s remembering the shooting star on the bridge.

“I don’t know. I guess I don't really look for these kinds of things.”

“I don’t either.”

“Don’t know what to tell you there, Ev.” Evan warms at the nickname and the meadow suddenly becomes ten times brighter, like real gold. “Let’s sit down for a bit, yeah? How about under that tree?”

Up on a small hill, Evan and Connor plop under a wide-crowned oak tree. The trunk is thick and stocky, the branches of it low-hanging and brushing just the tops of their heads when they sit. The grass is cool under the shade, almost damp, and the two of them sit side by side, the trunk propping up their backs.

They don’t really talk about much. Just about random things like music, movies, and books they like. Connor keeps asking Evan about tree facts. If Evan didn’t know better he’d say it’s because Connor likes to see him get excited. He only suspects this because he’ll be in the middle of wildly using his good hand as he speaks and then he’ll look over at Connor and stumble on his words. An open expression of attentiveness would lift the corners of Connor's mouth and slightly crinkle his eyes in an expression that could only be fond. It makes it terribly difficult to meet his eyes sometimes. 

However, eventually, conversation drips away as they settle into silence.

Connor pulls out his sketchbook and quietly sketches the branches up above them. Evan only guesses that that’s what he’s doing because he can’t actually see what’s he’s drawing since he’s laying on the ground with Connor’s bag under his head. Evan didn’t want to use his bag like that but he insisted.

Connor keeps glancing upwards and then drawing with quick sharp strokes of the pencil.

Evan closes his eyes for a bit. He listens to the scratch of the pencil and the very very soft sound of the nature that surrounds them. He plays with the texture of his cast, running his fingers lightly over it. Connor’s name is still the only thing on it. The big blocky letters have kind of grown on him, it distracts him from remembering that no one else’s name is on it.

Heidi offered to sign it. But she’s his mom.

He’s going to get the cast taken off very soon.

Evan stares up at the branches of the tree. He remembers falling and all he feels is a little queasy from the memory of it. Besides that, it’s rather peaceful.

Connor suddenly speaks up, “Can I draw you?”

Evan sits up, the question not quite registering in his head. Evan understood Connor wanted to draw. But he wants to draw him? Evan? What?

Connor quickly says, “It’s ok if you don’t want me to.”

Evan plays with his knuckles, pulling them self-consciously. “I don’t know...”

Connor bends over his sketchbook again, moving on. “Alright, I won’t.”

A minute passes. Evan tugs at a knuckle too harshly and winces, “Okay, fine.”

Connor looks skeptical. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah, but are you sure?” Evan resists the urge to rub his cheeks and hide his face in his knees. He gestures at abortively at himself, “I’m all---” Gross. Weird-looking. Ugly. He wants to ask You wants to draw me? Why? “I’m all me…”

Connor tilts his head and looks at Evan like he doesn’t understand him, “Yes, you are you. And I want to draw you, if that’s ok?” He looks at him like he’s trying to decide what to start drawing. Evan’s round eyes? His dorky nose? His many, many freckles?

Evan looks away, suddenly thinking about what he sees everyday in the mirror. He doesn’t like what he sees. And now, Connor wants to draw that? Evan feels sweat bead on his forehead, he wipes it away self-consciously. He wants to say no but, in a weird way, he doesn’t. Connor told him a while ago that he doesn’t like to show his drawings to other people...And Evan’s curious about Connor’s drawings, so if this is how he’s going to see them then…

“You can do it. I just---” Evan leans against the tree, he hunches over, and then leans against the tree again. He kicks his legs out but then brings them back in. “I don’t know what to do?”

Connor starts sharpening a pencil. He looks excited. “You don’t have to do anything. Just stay still.” He leans one shoulder against the tree and faces Evan, sketchbook and pencil in his lap. The paper is blank and clean. It looks oddly expectant.

“I don’t think I can do that. Have you ever seen me stay still?”

Connor drums his pencil against his sketchbook, thinking. He drops his pencil and then checks his bag; carefully, he pulls out a thin book and hands it to Evan, “You can read this while I draw you.”

It’s a small book titled The Little Prince.

Evan laughs incredulously and not a bit nervously, “Do you have everything in your bag?”

“It’s possible.” Connor smiles, eyes crinkling at the corners sweetly, “I just get bored easily.”

Evan relaxes slightly and smiles down at the book, “I don’t think I’ve read this.” The edges of the book are dented and soft from use.

Connor nods at it, “It’s good.” He discreetly picks up his pencil again.

Evan flips the book open and finds that there are illustrations inside. He goes to the beginning and starts reading, shoving that little nervous voice in his head to the back for a little bit. This is Connor, he trusts Connor.

Evan sinks into the book. It’s unusual and insightful in ways he had never considered. He takes care to turn each yellow page gently because they’re stiff and delicate from age. The sound of the pencil scratching away at paper fades away. It’s nice just to sit there and read a book in a moment that feels far away from the passage of time.

Evan is half-way through the book when he hears “I finished.”

Evan finishes the page he is on and builds up the courage to look at Connor’s drawing. He slowly closes the book and then looks at Connor.

Connor hugs his sketchbook to his chest, “Do you want to see?”

Evan nods, heart beating fast.

Connor looks down at his sketchbook, he blinks down at it, eyes darting around the page for a second before he whips it around so that Evan can see it too.

The first drawing is rather crudely done. The lines of the drawing are quick and numerous, thin like spiderwebs, all of them molding together in a loose interconnectedness to form Evan’s upper half. Evan’s good hand, which holds the book, is well-defined, like a brick on the paper. Shadows mostly make up Evan’s face, his features are not well-defined, sort of like the singular line that represents the tree at his back.

Evan likes it a lot. Connor tells him there’s another.

The second drawing is more carefully done. The lines are delicate and few. The book is hardly there, just four strokes of a pencil. His features are clearer this time, thick eyebrows tilted slightly upwards as he read. There are the tiny details of his eyelashes swept downwards as he's bent over the book. Evan can see his freckles, his slight double chin, and the barest traces of a smile he hadn’t realized he had had.

Evan studies the drawing closer, tilting it a bit more in the sun, away from the shade so that he might see it more clearly. He whispers, “Wow.”

Does Evan really look like that? He doesn’t look much like anything. He’s just reading a book in the drawing and Evan can’t find anything within himself to critique himself for. Connor drew him just existing as he is. It’s painfully ordinary and real. Connor might as well have taken a picture of Evan. But, Evan doesn’t think that a picture could capture half as well the feeling of tranquility radiating off the drawing.

Evan keeps staring at the drawing; heart beating like a soft drum.

“What do you think?”

Evan pulls his eyes away and looks at Connor, “It’s wow.”

Connor smiles crookedly, amusement dancing in his eyes, “It’s wow?”

Evan flushes, “They’re both so good. You’re very good at drawing. Thank you for showing me them and for drawing me. I never thought I’d ever see a drawing of myself and wow they’re very good. “

Connor laughs and gingerly accepts the sketchbook back, “Do you want to have them?”

“No, they’re yours.”

“It’s you in the drawings, though.”

“I guess but---”

Connor begins to tug on one of the drawings, his mind made up.

“No!” Evan flails his good arm out and catches Connor’s hand right as he was about to rip one of the drawings out of the sketchbook. Connor’s hand stills. His hand is warm. It isn’t soft---but it isn't dry either.

For some reason, Evan always thought his hand would be cold.

He let’s go of it after it becomes clear that Connor isn’t going to tear the paper any more. Connor closes his sketchbook and briefly touches the hand Evan grabbed. Evan wonders if he grabbed him too hard, he hopes not.

Connor clears his throat, “We should get going. The sun is going to set soon.”

Evan and Connor stretch as they stand. Connor packs away his things. The sun begins to dip into the horizon, gentle like a feather. As it sinks, it fans fire-like light over the meadow, washing everything in golden caramel.

Evan takes a picture of the field. He then takes a picture of Connor while he’s not looking, bent down stuffing his book in his bag. Connor looks up and then makes a face, scrunching up his eyebrows and sticking his tongue out. Evan snaps a photo of that too.

They take one last look at the meadow, “I like it here.”

“Me too.”

They stand there in silence until Connor lightly pokes Evan, “Tag.”

“Wuh-what?!”

Connor dashes down the hill and into the meadow. “You’re it, doofus!”

Evan jerks into action and runs after Connor; a wild thrill coursing through him. He’s running so hard down the hill, his knees threaten to topple him over. He can barely see Connor due to the sunlight hanging low and heavy in his eyes, the tall grass whips past him, brushing his arms as he runs.

Connor is too fast. “You’re too fast!” He yells.

Connor yells something but he can’t understand, probably because Connor was laughing more than actually using words.

Evan squints his eyes against the light and reaches out a hand. He tries to poke Connor’s shoulder but Connor jumps away with a grin. Evan runs harder and tries again. He swipes his hand right in between Connor’s shoulder blades. “TAG!”

Connor gasps.

Evan stumbles away with an, “Oh no.”

He runs blindly away, the sunlight still in his eyes. He looks behind him and finds Connor sprinting after him with a near manic look on his face. Evan chokes on a laugh and tries to pick up the pace but he’s getting tired. He can hear Connor getting closer.

Evan trips on a random rock jutting out of the ground, he catches himself for a second, and then Connor crashes right into him. Evan hits the floor and gets the wind knocked out of him as Connor lands right on top of him. “OOF!”

“Ow, my ribs dude.” Connor lifts himself himself to his hands and puts his knees on either side of Evan. Cheeks flushed and hair wild from all the running they did. He grins brightly down at Evan and pokes him smugly on the chest, “Tag.”

Evan breathes in deep, catching his breath “You got me.” Connor’s grin only widens. His hair sways slightly, close enough to almost tickle Evan’s cheeks. Evan’s heart won’t stop racing, he wonders if he ran too hard. Maybe Evan has a heart condition he just unknowingly triggered? It leaps into his throat and makes his stomach flutter each time Connor blinks his long lashes down at him.

Evan twitches. He needs to get up. But he can’t get up because Connor has Evan bracketed beneath him. Thinking fast, Evan reaches and quickly taps Connor on his waist, “Tag! No tag backs.”

Connor’s eyebrows shoot up. He sputters, “What?! No fair!”

“What are you going to do about it?”

Somehow, Connor’s eyebrows go higher.

Evan chokes and his face heats up. The sky blushes a rosy pink above them, a gentle breeze teases Connor’s hair and briefly covers his face, but then the breeze slips away. Connor’s eyes are round and pin Evan to the ground, making him feel weak and energized all at once. There’s electricity zipping up and down and around Evan, swirling in the air and sucking the air out of his lungs. For a second, Evan actually feels the ends of Connor’s hair touch his cheeks. For a second, Connor gets closer.

But then it’s all stripped away as Connor rolls away and jumps to his feet. It’s cold where Connor used to be. “Is your arm ok?”

“Yep.” Evan dazedly nods, and hugs his cast to himself, “It’s fine. I’m actually getting my cast off soon. Did I already tell you that? I’m sorry.”

Connor doesn’t meet Evan’s eyes. “You already told me and it’s fine.” They start shuffling away, and back up the hill they were resting at to pick up Connor’s fallen bag.

They make their way back through the trail they came from, it slowly grows darker as the sun sets. They walk faster than the pace they originally had when they walked through there several hours earlier.

The sky is speckled with starlight by the time they reach Connor’s car.

They crane their necks and spin around, trying to catch a look at all of it. Connor spins around the longest, and the slowest.

Evan leans against the car, tilting his face skyward. He tries to make sense of the scattered stars, “Do you recognize any of them?”

Connor snorts, “Fuck no. There’s too many.”

***

4 months before Connor vanished. August.

Evan got his cast off.

It’s the early evening and he and Heidi are in their small bathroom with water loudly pouring out of the sink’s faucet. Evan instinctively pokes at an itchy spot on his recently released arm, but Heidi gently bats his hand away and replaces it with a warm wet towel.

“Don’t scratch.”

Evan mumbles he’ll try and shivers at the feeling of having soap being gently scrubbed onto his dry arm. The skin looks significantly paler and weaker in comparison to his other arm. He feels very strange looking at it, it’s good to have his arm back but it looks alien.

Heidi gently rinses his arm under the faucet and then pats it dry with another towel. She smiles gently at his arm and says, “This reminds me of when you were a baby.”

“Really?”

“Yep!” Heidi giggles, “You used to have this toy boat you loved to play with during bath time. You called it ‘Tub’ and would reach out your little hands all sweetly and say tub like toob.” She’s glowing from the memories she’s recalling.

Evan doesn’t look at his mom because his eyes are getting a little misty, “Oh, I don’t remember that.”

Heidi sighs, “You were too little.” She raises his hand and kisses the back of it. “All better now.”

Evan gently touches his warm and soft arm, “Thanks, mom.” A happy little light flutters around his ribcage, it glows a bright strawberry pink and flutters through the good memories of his childhood.

********

Connor has taken to bringing his sketchbook to Evan’s house every time he visits. Stashed away in Evan’s previously mostly empty desk are an assortment of some of Connor’s art supplies. There are markers, coloring pencils, sketching pencils and a set of three sharpeners. Evan doesn’t really mind. It’s kind of nice opening up his desk drawers and seeing stuff actually in them.

While Connor draws at Evan’s desk, Evan usually sits on his bed and works on applying for scholarships or writes little broken chunks of stories. Sometimes he likes to draw too, mostly nature scenes. But he doesn’t do them while Connor is around out of embarrassment because his drawings are a little boring.

It’s late at night and Connor has his phone plugged onto his charger while it softly plays Billie Eilish’s Everything I ever wanted. Evan knows who that singer is now because of him. Connor has Evan’s chair swiveled towards Evan and mouths the words to the song silently. He has his head tipped back on the back of the chair and stares up at the ceiling.

Evan is carefully doing the small exercises for his arm that his doctor prescribed and feels a little pleased that it’s starting to move a little better.

Connor suddenly sings softly, “And it feels like yesterday was a year ago.” He keeps going through the lines, uncaring that Evan is there as well. The song is slow and solemn, floating around the room like clouds in a dream.

Evan joins him, quieter than Connor’s singing, “I had a dream, I got everything I wanted.”

Connor hears him. He lifts his head and smiles at Evan, surprised.

“But when I wake up, I see you with me.”

Connor turns up the music and starts swiveling himself around on Evan’s desk chair. Evan gets up and twists Connor around, helping him spin, Connor laughs and sings louder. Evan raises his voice as well, getting a little warm from keeping Connor spinning. Connor’s face is a blur, but on each turn he’ll see bright eyes land on him before slipping away on another turn. Evan’s cheeks hurt from smiling so much.

The song ends and Connor laughs, “Stop, stop.” He stumbles out of the chair on shaky legs, “Fuck, I’m dizzy. It’s your turn now.” Another song starts to play, Connor pumps a fist up in the air, “Dude, you have to spin around now. It’s Nobody.”

Evan throws himself in the chair, “Okay, but not too fast.” He looks up at Connor. His cheeks are rosy and his hair looks like it got fluffier from all that spinning.

“Got it.” Connor reaches his hands out and Evan’s room blurs into lines of colors.

They happily throw the lyrics into the air, “Nobody, nobody, nobody---.” Evan feels the thud of Connor’s hands as he catches Evan’s chair and continues spinning it, a little slower than Evan did. Evan closes his eyes and grips the handle to his chair, “Give me one last movie kiss---” and then it suddenly all stops.

Connor’s phone vibrates with the sound of someone calling him.

Evan is facing away from Connor and he turns to try and see him because Connor isn’t picking up the phone. Connor stares at it ringing on the floor and doesn’t move. He has a peculiar look on his face.

“Are--are you going to get that?” Evan is a little breathless from the spinning.

Connor glances at him, and then picks up his phone. After another long beat where it’s approaching the time where the call would end, Connor swipes to answer it and steps out of the room.

Evan stays in the chair and waits, heart beginning to calm down rapidly.

It’s quiet and then Evan can suddenly hear Connor but he can’t understand what he’s saying (or yelling). Evan doesn’t know what to do. He’s not sure how long Connor stays out there but then Evan can’t hear Connor’s voice.

A minute passes and then five more. Evan starts to wonder if Connor left without saying anything but then the door clicks open and Connor steps back into Evan’s room as white as a ghost. Evan gets up, “Connor?”

Connor moves slowly, as if in water, and quietly sits on Evan’s bed. He curls his hands into tight fists and glares down at his knees. It’s like iron storm clouds swept into the room.

Evan stomach twists in worry, “Are you ok?”

“No.” The word floats in the air, in zero-gravity.

Evan is surprised at the blunt honesty and doesn’t know what to do with it. He softly settles down next to Connor, making sure to give him enough space. He searches for words and remembers what his mom usually says, “Is--is there anything I can do to help?”

Connor stands up and paces around Evan’s small room. Due to the space it’s more like he spins around in circles. He’s deep in thought, riding on the wings of a hurricane, going deeper into its eye. He stops and searches for Evan, as if lost.

Evan abortively reaches for him, “What’s wrong?”

“Can I sleepover tonight?” Connor is naturally a very tall individual, and he’s standing in front of Evan while he’s sitting on his bed. By all means he should be towering over him; but, at this moment Connor looks small.

Evan quickly nods, “Of course.”

Connor significantly relaxes, “Thank you.”

“Do you--do you want tea?” Heidi keeps some tea in the cabinets. Neither of them ever drinks them but she likes to have them there just in case. She says its good for seeking calm. Evan thinks that she keeps them there for him. He’s not a tea drinker, though.

Connor blinks and tilts his head at Evan, looking at him like he did in the moments before he drew him. “No, Ev, I don’t want tea.”

“Okay.” Evan plays with the sleeves of his sweater. “So, um, I think I might have something you can borrow.” Evan rifles through his drawers searching for something Connor could wear. Evan doesn’t have much, so it only takes a couple of seconds before he pulls out a pair of sweats and a random t-shirt he thinks would work.

Connor accepts them and disappears into the bathroom, re-emerging with Evan’s shirt that loosely hangs off him. It’s bigger on him and it’s size is especially evident on his shoulders. The sweats stop at just above his pale ankles. Connor kept his mis-matched socks on. The whole get-up is strangely endearing.

He joins Evan on his bed and they watch YouTube videos on Evan’s laptop. Slowly, they slide more and more down Evan’s bed until they’re both laying down, side-by-side, a pillow propped on top of their stomachs so that laptop may be slightly elevated. They just let YouTube go on autoplay and zip through a series of YouTube videos they hardly pay attention to.

Connor seems like normal again, he’s a comforting presence beside Evan. Evan likes the feeling of Connor’s warm arm next to his, he likes how the laptop subtly moves up and down with their breaths, and he likes how he can turn his head and see Connor relaxing just beside him.

Evan feels so soft and warm, he thinks he’s very much on the edge of just falling asleep. However, Connor suddenly asks, “Do you ever think about running away?”

Evan furrows his brows and lets his head fall to face Connor, “What? With you?”

“No, I mean. I don’t know.” Connor tears his gaze away from the laptop screen, there’s a video of someone vlogging their trip in some place far-away. It looks like Amsterdam or something, Evan isn’t sure.

“I guess I meant to ask, do you ever feel like it? Like you want to?”

“I guess, I don’t know. It seems kind of scary. So, I guess not.” Evan’s hand moves by itself and brushes Connor’s because they’re so close together. Connor freezes barely perceptively, or maybe doesn’t at all. “What about you?”

Connor sighs and then looks away, fixing his gaze up at the ceiling, “Same as you.”

In the video, the vlogger mounts a bicycle and shakily attaches their Go-Pro to it. Within seconds, they are suddenly in motion and start zipping through the streets of whichever city they are in. Evan’s computer suddenly flashes the low-battery notification.

Connor mutters, “You should turn it off.”

Evan does so and the room slips into darkness. They linger in a soft quietness that moves like waves lapping at a beach upon Evan’s consciousness. He’s starting to slip into sleep when Connor starts to move. He hears him sit up.

Evan yawns, “Where are you going?”

“I--” Connor’s voice is loud in the room, he brings it down to a whisper, “I thought I’d sleep on the couch.”

“Why?”

“You don’t want to share your bed, do you?”

“I’m ok with it. Here.” Evan scoots himself as back as he can, he presses his back against the wall to make space. “More space.”

“I might kick you and stuff.”

Evan grumbles, “And I might hit you. We’ll be even.” He’s getting tired and just wants to sleep. Why won’t Connor just listen to him? “Stop being stoopid and lay down.”

Connor doesn’t move for a minute and Evan is about to say something else when Connor carefully settles down beside him. He whispers one last time, “Are you sure?”

Evan sighs and sleepily smacks him somewhere on his shoulder area, “Yeah. Go sleep.”

“You mean over---?”

“Nooo.”

“Ok,” There’s a smile in his voice, “You’re funny like this, you know?”

Evan falls asleep with a small, small, smile.

Chapter Text

5 years after Connor Vanished. 

“Thanks for having me over.” Evan takes a small sip of the tea Zoe brewed for him. She dashed a bit of honey in it and said it was some kind of red tea. He was never much of a tea drinker until Zoe and Alana went through a phase where they liked to host small tea parties. Actually, it wasn’t much of a phase, because they still host them on occasion. The tea smells earthy and deep, there’s also a hint of spice. “Are you sure Alana won’t mind?”

“Don’t worry about it, she’s away on some sort of thing for the honor’s club she’s in.” Zoe settles on the couch on the other side of Evan and blows on her tea, “Plus, I already told her what happened.”

Evan grimaces, covering his face, “You did?”

Zoe scratches her cheek lightly, actually looking a little abashed, “Sorry, it just came up. Would it help if I told you that I didn’t tell her everything?”

“Kind of. But you don’t even know everything.”

“True…”

“It’s ok,” He sighs. An edge of bitterness creeps into his voice without his permission, “You two tell each other everything. It’s expected...It’s just a little embarrassing is all.”

“Having a fight is not embarassing.” 

He dips his head, “It is when you’re kicked out of the house for it.”

She jerks in her seat, as if shocked, “He kicked you out?!”

“No,” Evan pinches the bridge of his nose, “I left.” His fingers feel feverish due to holding onto the hot mug of tea.

“Oh Evan, what happened?” Her eyes are wide in sympathy. She’s wearing a big comfy sweater and plaid pajama pants. When he looks at her he doesn’t see Connor. All he sees is Zoe. A swell of gratitude rises inside him to have a friend like her with him right now. 

Evan takes a drink of his tea even if it burns and tells her. 

He tells her about how earlier in the day he had a conversation with a co-worker at his job who passively-aggressively asked if he planned on continuing in the job because he’s an author now. He was bothered by that and wondered where they had gotten that idea from. After that, he had a harrowing conversation with his agent where they asked him about the progress of a book he hasn’t even started writing. He lied and said it was going well. He needs to come clean soon. But when? Why is he doing this to himself? They expect to see a draft next week. 

And then when he got home. He and Jared finally talked about Europe. A month after Evan found out about Jared’s tentative plans...

They just sat down with their Chinese take-out when Evan blurted out, “So, Europe? What’s with that? When did you say you wanted to go again?”

Jared froze, “Europe. Right.” He methodologically served himself rice, chicken and noodles out of each canister. “I don’t know...It was just a thing I was thinking about. Nothing serious.”

“It-it kind of sounded like it was serious. I mean, if you want to go. We can--we can go?” 

“Let’s talk about this later.”

“It’s been---” Evan steadied his voice,“It’s been a month since you mentioned this. I think we should talk about it now.” He tried to sound supportive, but a slight tremor in his voice betrayed his hesitancy to truly broach the topic. 

“Now’s not the time. I think 'The Good Place' is about to start.” Jared gave a forced smile, “Let’s move to the TV?” 

Evan snapped,“When is it ever the time?” His fork clattered onto the floor, he didn’t check to see where it landed.

Jared’s thin smile completely dropped. 

“What does that mean?”

“I don’t know,” Evan wanted to drop it---he really did. But he wanted to talk about it more. Something was nagging at his neck. 

“No, you don’t get to say ‘I don’t know.’ What did that mean?”

Evan scrambled to fix the energy crackling darkly in the room, “I don’t know why I said that. Besides, we were talking about Europe.”

“God. Europe! Europe. It was nothing, just something you say in passing like ‘damn, I wish I could go Hawaii right now. And I also wish that my boyfriend would learn that not everything has to be serious! Can’t you just drop it?”

“Jared, please. I just want to plan ahead if this is something you want to do.”

“Fine.” Jared pushed his food away and glared at it. A long, long silence settled in. Evan waited with bated breath for Jared to say something. He was not prepared for the following words: “I wanted to go in the summer...Alone.”

“Alone?” Evan felt his stomach drop, “Why?”

Jared refused to meet his eyes, “I wanted---I don’t know. I would have told you, eventually.”  

Evan blustered through his growing sense of hurt, he said, “What does eventually mean to you? Next year? The day before you wanted to leave?”

“Why does it matter?” Jared rolled his eyes, “You know about it now, don’t you?”

Evan gripped the table because if he let go, the world would go spinning. He wasn’t even sure if he was brokenhearted or angry. Maybe both. “Yeah, I know now. What I don’t understand is why you told Alana and Zoe before me?” 

Jared reeled back in his seat, anger beginning to heat his face, “I didn’t tell them first! You were literally right there.” 

Evan hid behind his hands for a second. Evan wanted to stop. He wanted to stop what was happening because it felt like all his frustration was bursting out of him like a broken dam. All of his messy feelings rushing onto the floor and filling up the room with the things that were better sealed away. He pried his hands away from his face and---in an old, yet familiar way---clutched them onto the hem of his shirt. Through gritted teeth he said, “That’s not the point.” 

He flashed back to that painfully awkward moment at the breakfast table. The shame from that moment reanimated within him. It crawled out of the deep recesses of his memory and pierced him with a thorny blade of bitterness. He leaned forward and said, “I was embarrassed when they looked over at me and were like ‘did you know about this?’ and I was like ‘no, no I didn’t know’ and then they were like ‘how could you not know?’ and I was like ‘I don’t know!’”

Jared wrinkled his nose, “Don’t bullshit me, they didn’t ask you all that.”

He said, with something bordering on hysteria,“They did. In their heads!”

Jared scoffed. “Like that’s possible. What are you, telepathic?”

He cried, “It hurt me!” The words darted out of him wildly, desperate to make themselves known. 

“Reading their minds hurt you?”

“You--You---” The chair made an awful screeching noise as Evan stood. 

Jared’s eyes widened, “Where are you going?”

The world blurred, and the hurt stirred within him restlessly. Evan blinked past tears and stumbled to the door. “I’m leaving. I need air.” He heard Jared say something but he didn’t stop to turn back. Evan fumbled for his jacket, slammed the door behind him and blindly made his way to his car. 

Zoe’s eyes are wide in shock, “Wow.” 

Evan gives a tired laugh and shakes his head, “Yeah, wow.” He rubs his eyes and presses his knuckles into them until he sees stars. 

“I’m sorry.” Her kind eyes act like a balm to the parts of him that still ache. 

He helplessly shrugs, “It’s not your fault.” 

Zoe frowns and taps a long nail at her mug. It goes tap. tap. tap. A bright sound, unlike her dark blue nail polish. She asks in a meditative way, “Why do you think he didn’t tell you ‘till now?”

“I don’t know,” He miserably swirls his tea around, “I think it could be because we hardly see each other nowadays. We’re both really busy. I guess he didn’t have the chance to until now...Or until that day we were having breakfast here.”

A couple of minutes pass in silence. In Alana and Zoe’s living room he feels all the thorns of the day melt away into the past. Each sip of tea warmly rolls onto the biggest bruise of them all: his tight, tight chest. His heart still thrashes inside, like it’s a sickened creature, wheezing as the poison courses through. But, the longer Evan rests on Zoe’s couch the more it quiets and settles down. He focuses on the warmth of the mug in his hands and senses his heart finally close its eyes, sigh, and listen to bird song. 

Eventually Zoe turns on the TV and the comfortable silence continues until Zoe quietly asks, “Would you even want to go on the trip?” She carefully keeps her gaze on the TV but he catches her glance at him, “I thought planes made you nervous.”

“They do make me nervous,” He mirrors her and blankly stares at the screen as Indiana Jones carefully slips a bag of rocks with the golden totem. Evan tilts his head to the side, “There’s medicine for that kind of thing, you know?” In the back of his mind he thinks about how he’d go about getting a prescription for that. A brief flash of glee brightens Indiana Jones’s sweaty tan face but then it falls right as the bag of rocks sinks into the booby-trap.

In a straight and measured tone, Zoe says, “You two would be spending a lot of time together…”

His heart twitches out of its quiet rest. The bird song has passed and it’s time for it to rise up and move on. He sinks away from the movie and everything else, swimming towards the hazy beginnings of a good thought. In a contemplating manner he says, “I think that would actually be kind of good, though. Spending time like that? I think it would be good for us.” The pictures in his head suddenly sharpen and turn crisp. They show him someplace warm and sunny, like Spain or France. He can see rolling green hills and a river twinkling by, like a lady’s sparkling scarf. He pictures him and Jared, happy to be where they are, spending time together again after spending so much of it apart at home. Memories of what it was like before they had each other would resurface and they’d stick to each other because it’s better than being alone. Evan sits up, an idea arriving to his mind’s eye in a perfectly wrapped gift-basket, as if some diety placed it there for him to pick up. Excited, he turns to Zoe and says, “It’d be the perfect time to propose!” 

Zoe nearly drops her mug, she sputters, “Wait, what? Propose? You still want to do that after tonight?” 

He does not hear her. He’s lost in his fantasy. He pictures himself kneeling on the dewy green grass and opening his ring box. The sunlight would dance on the ring, like a ray of light shot it down into his fingers---the moment wouldn’t possibly be able to be more perfect. 

“Evan?”

Zoe’s concerned and incredulous face suddenly comes into focus and Evan is brought back into reality. The pictures of some far off, sunny place fade away; leaving him with the knowledge of what must be done. “I know what I need to do.” The sudden, intense desire to do something courses through him, launching him to his feet.

He says, “I need to go back. I need to apologize.” He wants to race back home and convince Jared that going on the trip would really really be a good idea. That he doesn’t care anymore that he kept it from him in the first place. That that’s ok. Everything’s ok. 

In a rush he downs his cup of tea, places it on the table and then bolts for his jacket. Zoe hurriedly says, “Evan, wait! What are you doing?” She’s looking at him like he’s gone insane.

Evan forces himself to pause and take a breath, “I can’t wait, Zoe. I’m sorry. I need to do this now.” He apologetically slips on his jacket and checks his pocket for his keys. 

They aren’t there.

He checks his other pocket.

They aren’t there either. 

He spots them on the kitchen table but before he can go get them, Zoe runs and snatches them up. She hides them behind her back and firmly says, “No, Evan. You’re not doing this. I’m making an executive decision here and I really think you need to really think about this.”

Evan stretches his hand out, “Zoe, I need my keys. I need to go. This isn’t funny.” He can already feel the time slipping away. He’s spent far too long here and the longer he stays the less he has a chance at fixing everything. 

Zoe steps back and shakes her head, “No offense, but that is like the worst idea.” The words sting. A small voice inside of him suggests in a little whisper: maybe she’s right. But the bigger part of him that’s crushed by a giant hourglass screams over it in painful urgency. 

Evan paces in the entry-way of the house, his heart is beating briskly, as if it's torn itself away from his body and has started running towards his apartment and the mess he left of it. The fear that if he leaves everything left unfixed for too long seizes him with thoughts that it may already be too late and that he’ll go home to nothing. In a quiet whisper, he says, “Please, my keys.” His vision blurs, it may or may not be because of the tears beginning to well up into his eyes. It’s all too easy for them to rise up again, it wasn’t too long ago when they were tapped into after all. Maybe two hours? He checks the time. It's ten-thirty now. He staggers and briefly leans against the wall, the knowledge of the time does nothing to sate his growing panic. Again, he says, “My keys.”

Zoe straightens her back and she stiffly says, as if it’s hard to get the words out, “No.”

He steps towards Zoe and clasps his hands in front of his chest. “Please, I need to fix this.” Evan is very close to falling on his knees in desperation. 

Zoe glances into his eyes and wearily looks away. Her lips thin and she squeezes her eyes shut, “This is a bad idea.”

A brief flare of hope fires inside Evan. He can tell she’s close to giving in. He tries to contain his eagerness and levelly says, “It’s not. Trust me.” 

Zoe opens her eyes and looks at him with great sadness. Defeatedly, and with a slightly shaking hand, she gives him his keys. Evan nearly cries right then and there. Zoe glares at him, “Damn you and your fucking puppy-dog eyes.” Her voice breaks at the end of that and she rubs her eyes. 

Evan clutches his keys tight, the teeth of them digging into his hands but he’s so relieved to have them back. He gives Zoe a tight hug, “Thank you! You won’t regret this!” He flings the door open and turns to give her one last grin. His smile slightly falls when he sees her dejected expression staring back at him. She silently crosses her arms and watches him as he leaves. 

Evan thinks he heard her quietly say, “What if I already do?” But it could’ve been the crackle of the leaves under his shoes as he stepped into his car. 

********

4 months before Connor vanished.

There’s an ocean and a bridge. Evan stands at the edge of a cliff, and a beautiful bridge made of tree vines and thick blooming flowers shoots off and connects to a giant violet cloud. Beneath him is a silent ocean, it roils and froths like a wild dragon a thousand feet down. Evan steps onto the bridge. A flower pops right beneath his toes and unfurls into a bright red firework. The bridge wobbles. His heart jumps. Someone grabs his hand and gently says Everything is going to be ok. He looks up and---

There’s a ray of light directly hitting his eyes. Evan squeezes his eyes shut and squishes his face into his pillow while pulling his other pillow closer and breathing in deep. His bed is warm and perfect. Evan tightens his arm around his pillow and exhales a content breath, fluttering his eyes open and squinting against the light that awoke him. He wonders what he was dreaming about, something about a flower and a bridge? There was someone with him. He's right in the middle of internally grumbling about his interrupted dream when he freezes. 

I don’t have another pillow.

Like an anvil dropping out of the sky, Evan is hit with an appalling realization: he's cuddling Connor. Whatever sleepiness he had felt gets absolutely vaporized as his heart starts racing a million miles per second. He's suddenly hyper-aware of the way his head, ever so slightly, dips and lifts with Connor's breath. The odd drumming he was vaguely registering in the back of his head is actually Connor's heartbeat. The soft weight tucked under Evan's arm and hand is actually Connor's torso and not a mysterious second pillow. There's also the fact that he's one hundred percent positive he feels a cool pool of drool on Connor’s chest. 

Evan screams inside.

He would let go but the mortification of holding onto Connor like a teddy bear has paralyzed his limbs. Would Connor notice if Evan suddenly stopped breathing? Is he even awake? Through a delirious fever, he thinks that if Connor is still asleep Evan can gently disentangle them and then escape. Connor wouldn't need to know anything. His half-formed plan is dashed to pieces when Connor mumbles, “G’morning.” 

Evan hurls himself away from Connor so fast and strong that he smacks his head on the wall---hard. He groans and rubs the angrily throbbing spot on the back of his head. 

Through the brief flash of pain, he hears Connor say, “Holy shit, Evan! Are you ok?” 

Evan covers his face and exclaims, “I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to--to--hug you like that!” His head is spiraling in a bright green whirlpool of humiliation. He’s dangerously close to leaping over Connor and crawling under his bed. Maybe if he crawls far enough he’ll find a trapdoor that he can slip into and time travel and pull Past Evan away from snuggling Past Connor in his sleep. 

In a sleep-muddled voice, Connor says, “It’s ok, Evan.” 

Evan can’t look at him. He must be looking with disgust at the spot on his shirt where Evan had drooled on it. 

Connor is never going to come back. 

“Hey, look at me.” Evan waits a second and then he wearily pulls his hands away. Connor has himself propped on his elbow. His hair hangs down all tangled. He looks impossibly soft in the morning. “It’s fine.” His eyes twinkle slightly, crinkling into a light smile.

Evan keeps himself pressed against the wall, making sure there’s as much space as he can make between them. He mumbles, “If you say so.” 

Connor plops back down and rests his hands on his chest with a soft, content smile playing at the edges of his mouth. There’s at best, a hand-width of space between them because Evan’s bed is damnably small. He doesn’t think he’s ever been so close to Connor that, if he wanted to, he could count the number of faint freckles that dot his pale cheeks. Evan tries to look away but there's not much else he can look at since he still has himself pressed against the wall. Connor looks distinctly undisturbed about what happened and yet Evan has to move. The wall is doing wicked things to his back so Evan quickly crawls out of his blankets, stands, and shuffles his way to the edge of the bed. He quickly balances on the bed frame and then hops off, successfully landing with both feet on the ground. He looks back at Connor who, to his surprise, has one hand pressed over his mouth.   

Evan furrows his brows, “What?”

Connor finally laughs, pressing his face into Evan’s pillow.

Evan cocks his head to the side, genuinely curious, “Connor, what is it?” He checks himself, making sure he didn’t sleep walk and take his clothes off in the middle of the night or something. 

“Dude,” Connor lifts his face just enough to speak and says in broken words, “I-I could’ve moved if you told me you had to get up b-but you just suddenly started walking on your bed.”  He rubs his eyes and then grins, “You looked so serious too.”

Evan sheepishly chuckles and thinks he must have looked pretty ridiculous---but it made Connor laugh so that’s alright.

While he stands there he realizes that it’s a curious sight seeing someone in his bed---in fact, it's almost disconcerting. Evan is so used to seeing his bed empty and waiting expectantly for its sole occupant at the end of the day (which would be himself). But now Connor is in it, with his brown hair pooling around Evan’s maroon pillow and the blanket pulled up to his waist. The sun (which actually seems a bit too high) seems to cast a spotlight on Connor’s smiling face and Evan remembers just how close they were. In a fleeting thought, as brief as a water drop, imagines what the two of them must have looked like. A small wave of heat pools all over him as he imagines what it would have been like if Connor were hugging him back. He thinks that their hearts must have been beating in tandem at one point. 

Connor gives him a curious look, and briefly touches his face, “Is there something on my face?”

Evan snaps out of his thoughts and stammers, “No! No, just your face is on your face. Don't worry, It’s all good. You are all good,” Evan gives a shaky thumbs up. Was that even coherent? What am I saying? What is wrong with me?

Connor slowly says,“Okaaay. Good. I’m glad my face is on my face…” 

“Sorry.”

Connor raises his brows in amusement, “What?”

Is it possible for the Earth to cave in? Can it make an Evan shaped hole and take him away from the embarrassment of staring at Connor for too long? It certainly feels like his inner organs have jumped off a plane. And look, there’s his heart! Free-falling without a parachute. What an idiot. 

He squeaks, “I---” Evan excuses himself to go to the bathroom. While he runs he sink, he gives himself a minute to feel absolute devastating mortification about the position he found himself in a couple minutes ago. Through the rush of embarrassment, he thinks about how it was actually kind of nice. Connor’s warm chest was firm and soft in a way a pillow could never be. Being close to his friend like that had provided a simple physical closeness that Evan hadn’t realized he needed. He smelled like Evan’s own clothes; however, there was something else---like clean soap underneath all that. Just, simple clean soap. A little sweet and a little clear, almost like what he imagines a cloud would smell like. He wants to be near him again so he can smell what that other scent he picked up on was. It smelled a little earthy and deep, like pine. Or maybe sage. 

He's starting to think that he wouldn't mind cuddling Connor again.

In a fit of self-admonishment, Evan lightly hits his head against the door and curses under his breath. He stashes those thoughts away, vowing to never remember them again. He can't be thinking of his friend---no, his best friend---that way. It's wrong and a betrayal of Connor's trust in him. Fortified with these thoughts, Evan splashes his face one last time and wipes it dry with a towel. He glares and wags a finger at himself in the mirror. Remember, don't do that again.

When Evan returns to his room, he’s a little disappointed to find Connor already redressed in his clothes from yesterday. His hair is still unbrushed and blooms around his face like dark plumes of a feather. Connor carefully finishes folding up Evan’s shirt and gently places it on the unmade bed, “Um. Thanks for letting me use these.”  

“Of course,” Evan scratches his head and doesn’t make eye contact. It’s probably better that Connor got ready. In the early morning sunlight it would have felt weird to lay back down in bed with Connor. It would’ve been too intimate. Maybe even more than snuggling him as tightly as he had been. The air in the room is a little awkward. Evan rushes through things he can do. A million ideas laser beam into his head. One of them shines brighter. He blurts, “Toothbrush!”

Connor blinks, “Toothbrush?”

Evan fidgets with his hands, “You need one.”

Connor gives a small shrug, “I guess I do.” He stretches his arms upwards and gives a big yawn. 

Evan takes that opportunity to leave. He declares “I’ll go check if I have one” and goes to rummage through their bathroom cabinet. He starts to get frustrated when he can’t find one. Muttering about how he could have sworn they had an extra. 

Evan jumps when Connor quietly comes up to him and says, “If you can’t find one I’ll just use my finger. I should probably be getting home anyway so I can do it there…” Connor shrugs and then crooks a smile, “Unless my breath is that awful right now.” He huffs a breath into his hand and checks it. Raising his brows as if impressed and disgusted. 

“No, It’s not bad at all. It’s not like I’m right in your face or something.” Evan pauses, “Wait, that made it sound like it is bad---which it’s not...It’s not bad. I’ll stop talking.” Evan pinches the bridge of his nose and hangs his head. It’s too early in the morning to be like this. Exasperated with himself, he asks, “What time is it right now anyway?”

Connor doesn’t even check his phone, “Eleven.”

Evan gasps, “Eleven??” 

Connor nonchalantly leans against the bathroom doorframe, “Eleven a.m. In case you were wondering.”

Evan throws down whatever he was holding, “Oh my God. I can’t believe it.” He squeezes past Connor and rushes out of the bathroom and cries, “I have an appointment with Dr. Sherman in thirty minutes!!”

With slight alarm, he hears Connor ask, “Is that your therapist?”

"Yes.” Evan stumbles into his room and almost trips on nothing. 

“Oh fuck.”

“Yeah, fuck. ” Evan furiously nods his head, and grabs a clean shirt and pants from his dresser. He changes right there on the spot, throwing on a green polo and hopping into his khakis. As he’s slipping on his socks, he looks up and catches Connor standing at his door. His cheeks are a rosy pink as he fixedly stares up at the ceiling like the plastic stars have the answers to secrets of the universe. Evan winces and accidentally tangles his fingers in his shoelaces, “Sorry, I’m in a rush. I need to catch the bus like right now. ” 

Connor cautiously looks at him, as if unsure if it's ok to do so. When he sees Evan has fully-dressed he says, “I can give you a ride?” 

“You can?” Evan dashes past him, he grabs his wallet and checks if he has cash, “Your parents aren’t waiting for you?”

“They aren’t even in town. Let’s go,” Connor spins his keys around his finger and starts stepping towards the door. 

Evan checks the time. By now he’s most definitely missed the bus. If he doesn’t go to Dr. Sherman’s appointment they’ll still charge his mom for the time he missed. His mom will think he deliberately skipped again and get very upset. Her anger would be warranted because they don’t have that kind of money to just throw away like that. 

Evan reluctantly accepts Connor’s offer. 

When they are in the car he tells him, “I’m sorry for having you drive me everywhere...”

Connor waves a hand and simply says, “You’re not making me do this. I offered.”

Evan chews on his lip and quietly asks, “But what about gas?”

“Seriously, don’t worry about it. It’s not like we’re driving to Miami or something.” Connor presses the button for the radio. Meaning, it's the end of the discussion.

The drive is relatively shorter than the route the bus usually takes so Evan ends up with a little over five minutes to before his therapy session. Connor pulls his car up in front of Dr. Sherman’s office, it’s in a squat building by a small residential park. Evan tells Connor his therapy session will be about fifty minutes and that if he wants to leave, Evan can take the bus back home. Connor just ushers him inside the building and says he’ll be at the library around the corner. 

When Evan’s session is over he feels a little out of sorts, as if all the parts that make up Evan were taken out of their boxes and then scrambled into different places. He usually never plans on divulging too much during his sessions with Dr. Sherman, but this morning had set him off-kilter and made him less prepared to evade most of her questions. Of course, he didn’t bring up Connor and what happened that morning, of course. But, he talked about other things that he usually tries to avoid. Like his dad---that was weird. He hasn’t thought about him in a while and yet he came up out of nowhere. 

When he finds Connor at the library a little bit of normalcy rushes in and soothes his head. 

They decide to walk the streets for a bit, passing small stores and peering into shop windows they find interesting. Eventually, they enter a deli and order sandwiches to take to the park. Once they are given their food, they find a nice park table and settle beneath the shade of a tall evergreen.

While having lunch, Connor introduces Evan to a game where they make up stories for the people that pass by their table. At first, the stories were meant to be within the realm of reason, but then the stories slowly unwinded into the borderline fantastical. Once the game dies, they sit in an agreeable silence in which Connor takes out markers and draws little patterns on his hands and wrists. For the better part of an hour, Evan rests his head on his hands and watches as Connor fills up the spaces between his knuckles and up his thin fingers. “You’re ambidextrous?”

Connor chews on his lip in concentration as he adds a couple of thin lines to his pinky, “Yep.” With a flourish he drags a straight line down the center of each hand and studies them with a pleased expression. He suddenly says, “I can do your hands too?” He flips them around, so Evan can see both sides of the spider web-like designs. There are thin and thick lines running through his hands and reaching out onto his wrists slightly. Some of them are stripes and some of them are waves or circles. Honestly, it looks a little cool. 

He kind of wouldn’t mind if Connor drew on his hands. He asks, “Um what kind of markers are they?” He wonders if they’re easily washable or if they have any toxins he should be aware of. 

Connor plays around with one marker, spinning it through his fingers, “I can tell you they sure aren’t Sharpies. These are regular markers.” He passes one to Evan so he can look at it and then shuffles through his bag. He pulls out a different, slightly longer marker, “This is a henna pen.” He tugs at his ear and looks down, suddenly slightly self-conscious, “I draw on my arms sometimes using them. They just last a little longer.” He pushes his sleeves up a little, as far as they’ll go. Evan catches a glimpse of interconnected lines and swirls and maybe even some birds but then Connor pulls his sleeves down. Eyes downcast. 

Evan blinks at him, he’s never seen Connor without long-sleeved shirts. He never thought that beneath sleeves, Connors arms had works of art on them. 

When Evan doesn't say anything, Connor caps and uncaps the marker quickly, “So, no?” Evan can tell he’s buzzing with creative energy. He wants to draw more, and Evan’s hands may be the next canvas. Something about that thought makes his stomach flutter like a bird's wing. 

Evan places his hands on the table, he clears his throat, “Why not? Go ahead.” 

A quick grin jumps on Connor's face. Unexpectedly, he stands up, coming around the side and settling down beside Evan. He hooks one leg over the table bench and scoots forward, henna pen ready in hand. Evan uncertainly moves his left hand closer to Connor and rests it between them, no longer stretching it across the table. Connor eyes his hand, as if seeing patterns and illustrations that are invisible to everyone else but him. He taps his pen against the table and then asks him what he would like but Evan just shrugs and says nothing too big. With that, Connor leans against the table and bends his head over Evan's hand to start drawing.

For a brief, brief moment, a flash of hesitancy passes over Connors face before he delicately presses his marker onto Evan's skin. Evan is briefly shocked by the cool touch of the pen. For the first couple of minutes, he can't see what Connor is doing but the pen moves in an almost diamond-like shape very briefly before jumping to another spot just below his wrist. Once Connor has gone above the line of his wrist and entered the back of his hand with the same pattern, Evan realizes that Connor has been drawing a band of leaves trailing their way up to his fingers. 

When Connor draws, he always keeps his face low to the paper, even if it means he has to hunch over at an angle that must strain his neck. Drawing on Evan's hand is no different. Along with the brush of the pen, Evan can feel the soft brush of Connor's breaths on his hand. It's very slight. Such a small sensation that Evan may even be imagining it. But he's almost sure he can feel it because the summer air is so still. They don't talk while Connor draws. That's another thing that remains the same. Evan doesn't know where to look or what to do while Connor draws on his hand so he settles for staring at Connor's progress and then glancing at the people passing by. 

Sooner than expected, Evan watches as Connor finishes his band of leaves just below the nail of Evan's ring finger. 

Connor caps his pen and nods to himself. 

Evan lifts his hand and lifts it up so it catches the sunlight. 

The ink is an earthy brown and Evan marvels at seeing something so pretty grace his hand. Evan leans his head in slightly closer to look at his hand. The leaves look like little butterfly wings. He smiles to himself. 

Connor fiddles with the marker, "Is it small enough? I did the best I could."

Evan pulls his eyes away from his hand and says, "It's perfect. I--I like it a lot, actually." 

Connor gives him a small, pleased smile, "Cool."

Connor drags his sketchbook from the other side of the table and resumes drawing. Evan rests his hand on his arm and they fall back into a comfortable silence. Evan may or may not have dozed off for a bit because when he next opens his eyes the sun is slightly lower than when he had last looked at it. Connor still sits beside him but his sketchbook is closed and his markers and pencils are stashed away in his bulging pencil case. He has his hands clasped in front of him and resting on the table---an unusual sight---he has the kind of look of someone who had been staring off into the horizon, deep in thought. Connor glances at him and sees that Evan is awake. He looks away. 

“Can I ask you something?”

Evan tenses. That question is a land-mine. It can literally mean anything. Evan slowly lifts his head, “What is it?”

“When we go back to school, can we--” Evan notices his hands grip each other tighter. Connor dips his head and runs his hands through his hair, clutching the strands briefly before letting go. He doesn't look at Evan when he says, “I don’t know how to ask this without it sounding bad.”

Evan shakily says, “No offense, it already sounds kind of bad…” He’s fighting some serious fight or flight instincts right now. His leg is jumping up and down like crazy and he's starting to get a stomach ache. "Did I do something wrong? Please tell me if I did." Evan's breaths are starting to come in quick, "I know I can ramble and say a lot of things but most of things are meaningless and---"

Connor blurts, “I need us to pretend we don’t know each other at school.” 

For a second Evan can’t speak. Something is hurting inside him, it stumbles around in pain as if its been shot. He knew this friendship was too good to be true. He knew that one day Connor wouldn’t want to be friends anymore. With far more ease than Evan would have expected due to the brick currently lodged in his throat, he asks, “Why?” Tears threaten to well up in his eyes, he’s doing very little to stop them from spilling over.  

Connor “Haven't you ever wondered why I haven’t invited you to my house?”

Evan shakes his head. What does that have to do with anything? Is it because Evan is too embarrassing to bring to his home? 

Connor’s suddenly flares up and he says, “Whatever you’re thinking right now I want you to forget it because it’s not you. The problem is not you.” He fiercely holds eye-contact with Evan until Evan realizes that Connor wants him to confirm he understands. He whispers, “Okay.”

With that, Connor looks away and says, “It’s because of my family.” His jaw works and he clenches his fists, “If we’re seen together at school, my sister will see us and then she’ll tell my parents. I really don’t want that.” A faint tinge of apology colors his next words, “Listen, if they were different I would want them to know you. But they aren’t and---it’s complicated. I just want these two worlds separated, do you understand?” 

Evan sits in silence. He thinks about what Connor just said and for some reason it makes him think of Jared. Family friends. Why do both of his only friends want to pretend to not be associated with him? There must be some sort of reason.

Is this all some sort of cosmic joke? 

Connor stresses, “Again, it’s not because of you.”

Evan tries to discreetly rub his stinging eyes. His voice slightly quavers when he asks, “What if I say no? Could we still be friends?”

Connor doesn’t say anything. 

That’s all the answer Evan needed.

Something breaks inside him, it dully snaps in half and forlornly clutters to the ground. Evan looks away, “I need to think about it.”

Connor gets up and fumbles for a cigarette, Dejection shadows his eyes. He leans against a tree and smokes it there. Evan rests his head on his arms and stares at the people passing by and thinks. 

 

********

 

For the first time as a Senior, Evan steps into school. 

Somehow, it always comes as a surprise to see the sheer number of students buzzing around the halls. Students crowd the halls running up to friends they haven’t seen in a long time, regrouping around certain lockers, or simply aimlessly walking around until classes start. 

Evan sincerely dislikes it all. 

He tries to make himself small and unnoticeable as he makes his way to his locker. Along the way, Alana Beck bumps into him and asks him about his summer. Except, she doesn’t really give him a chance to say much before she solemnly tells him her grandma died by slipping in the bathtub. He tries to tell her he’s sorry to hear that but she walks away sadly. 

Evan manages to make it to his locker and shakily opens it. He feels his phone buzz in his pocket. It must be Connor. Evan pulls it out and checks. 

Connor: r u at school already?

Evan is about to respond when someone loudly declares, “No need to text me. I’m here.” Jared cockily stands there, arms crossed and wearing his perpetually self-amused expression. 

“Oh, hey Jared.” He discreetly tries to look past Jared for any sight of Connor but fails. 

Jared steps closer and looks around the hall himself, “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you thought I was someone else. But I do know better because you don’t know anyone else.” Jared’s eyes drop to Evan’s arm, “Hey, what’s up with your arm?” He lifts both of Evan’s arms up by the wrists and looks at them closely, he giggles incredulously, “This one is a whole-ass shade paler than your other arm. What on Earth were you doing this summer?”

Evan flushes in embarrassment and hugs his arms to himself, “I---I actually broke my arm. I fell out of a tree.”

He raises his eyebrows, “You fell? What, are you secretly an acorn?”

“Well, you see. I was Jr. Park Ranger at Ellison Park so, I guess you can say I’m somewhat of a tree expert now.” Evan glances at Jared and he does not look impressed. He’s just looking at him with that glazed look that says he’s seconds away from mentally checking out. Evan stutters, “A-anyways, I was at the park and I climbed a tree but something happened and I fell.” He looks down at his shoes, “That’s how I broke it.”

Jared shakes his head, “Wow, I don’t know why I’m even surprised. You can’t bust your arm doing something original? Like you couldn’t have tried being the first person to ever break their arm while jacking off?” 

Evan jolts and hugs his arm to himself, “What?! It’s not like I went outside that day and decided I would break my arm.”

Jared shakes his head long-sufferingly,“Whatever dude, if you ever want to grievously injure yourself again, come to me and I’ll give you fresh, cool, ideas. It’s what I’m here for,” he pats Evan on the shoulder and pushes up his glasses. “So anyway, enough about that---” He changes the subject to himself and about his time at Jewish Camp. 

Evan checks the time while Jared chatters about this girl he nearly went to third base with. Class is about to start soon and he hasn’t seen Connor anywhere. He hasn’t gotten any new messages, a quick glance at his notifications could tell him that. “She was like, wanna come back with---” Evan startles slightly when Jared suddenly points at something behind him, “Oh shit, get a look at this dude.”

Evan turns to see Connor walking through the hall, head down and swiftly walking through the path that students automatically make for him. The path is barely noticeable---but it’s there. It’s there in the way students blankly step aside for the tall boy. There’s a negative magnetic attraction happening there. Everyone glances off Connor, moving around him like little fishes might avoid a shark. Evan notices these things he’s never noticed before but it pays no credence to the wave of joy that strikes him from seeing his friend. 

Evan only just stops himself from waving at him, he needs to remember what they agreed about the other day. 

Jared cups his hands over his mouth and yells, “Hey, Murphy! Diggin’ the new hair cut. Very school-shooter chic!”

Evan freezes.

Connor catches sight of them and barely-perceptible hurt crosses his expression before it fires into anger. His long legs hurtle him towards them. The magnetic negativity works again, people move for him, except there’s energy sizzling in each pair of eyes that flit towards the potential oncoming scene. 

Evan rounds on Jared and hisses, “Why did you say that?”

Jared has enough time to scowl irritably at Evan before Connor angrily rounds on him, “What did you say to me?”

Surprised, Jared backs up, “Woah man, it’s just a joke.” 

Connor flatly says, “Yeah, you’re right. I’m laughing can’t you tell?” There’s a dead beat of silence where Connor just darkly glowers at Jared. 

Uncomfortable, Jared fidgets on the spot, face paling. He takes a slight step behind Evan and sharply says, “You need to learn how to take a joke.” 

Connor’s eyes narrow, “Try and be funnier, then.”

Jared ignores Connor and weakly turns to Evan, “You thought it was funny, right?” His eyes probe Evan’s, beseechingly asking him to agree.

Evan silently shakes his head.

A wounded expression briefly flashes through Jared’s face before he glares at Evan, perhaps even more upset at Evan than at Connor. Jared shoves past Connor, “Out of my way, freak!” He disappears amongst the crowd. 

The sizzling energy in the hall dissipates as Evan catches the people surrounding them losing interest.

Connor grips the strap of his messenger tightly and tears his gaze away from where Jared disappeared. He looks tense, like he’s ready for someone else to shout something cruel about him. Evan doesn’t know what to do but Connor quietly says, “Thank you.” He quickly turns on his heel and disappears as well, leaving Evan alone at his locker. 

Later that day, Evan sits at the computer lab. He has to write a letter to himself as an assignment from his therapist. 

 

Dear Evan Hansen,

Today

 

“Hey.” Evan lifts his head from his computer screen and is surprised to see Connor apprehensively standing there. Evan didn’t even hear the door open or anything. 

“Hey.”

Connor slides into the computer lab chair and rocks side to side, “What’re you doing?” He throws his bag on the floor. 

Evan considers closing the document but Connor leans in to look at Evan’s screen, “What’s this? Is this a letter to yourself?”

“Basically.” Embarrassed, Evan says, “It’s this thing I have to do for my therapist...I’m, like, supposed to write about the things I want to happen during the day or whatever...”

Connor tiredly leans back on his chair, pushing it as far back as it'll go. Evan takes a moment to study his friend. His movements are slow and Evan senses a slight cloud hangs over him. These kinds of clouds make it harder for smiles to spark on Connor's face. With a slight frown Connor says, “My therapist never made me do things like that.” He keeps rocking side to side in his chair, looking somewhere above Evan's shoulder. 

Evan says, “You’re lucky.”

Connor shakes his head, “Not really, she enabled my mom with her crazy ideas about yoga retreats and spa days. I had to draw the line at the healing crystals.”

Evan raises his eyebrows at that, “Now I don’t know who’s the lucky one.”

Connor snorts, and takes a spin in his seat, “We both need therapy for our fucked up parts. I’d say neither one of us are."

Evan sighs, “Fair enough.” Evan considers closing the document and restarting his letter to his therapist another day, but then he gets an idea. While Connor rests his head in his arms, Evan works on something else. 

 

Dear Evan Hansen 

Dear Connor Murphy, 

 

Today kind of sucked. I'm sorry about Jared. He can be an ass. I hope the rest of your day went by fine. I saw we share English together so that's cool. You were sitting all the way in the back---which is totally fine! The back of the class is cool. I would've joined you except I like sitting closer to the front so I can hear everything. You might think that that's kind of lame because it's not like it helps my grades in anyway but it's a habit. Can't teach a dog new tricks. 

Anyways, at least we're in the same row by the windows. That kind of counts for something. 

Can you believe we made it through the first day of senior year? Another one hundred and something days to go! I think when I get home I’m going to lay down and do nothing. 

I miss summer already. 

 

Sincerely,

Evan Hansen

 

Evan pauses. He reads it over and is suddenly struck with the overwhelming urge to delete all traces of this letter because it's incredibly stupid. Connor wouldn't want this. Why on Earth would he want Evan's ramblings written down in the form of a letter? Evan is about to delete it all when Connor turns his head on his arms and blinks up at him. His eyes silently fall on Evan's computer screen and he curiously lifts his head up and, once again, leans in closer to Evan's screen. His eyes dart around, reading the letter quietly. 

Too late to delete it now. Evan may as well just go catch a greyhound bus to nowhere, change his name and start over in someplace called Failureville, You-Suck. 

Connor rests his head on his arms again and says, “I miss summer too.” Connor doesn't look upset or weirded out by Evan's letter. In fact, he looks a little more present. Like the clouds have receded somewhat. He asks him, “Are you still tired?”

Evan fidgets with his hands and tries to joke, “In some ways, I think I always am.” It falls flat. 

“Mood.”

There’s not much to be said after that. Evan goes to close out the tab when Connor says, "Wait." He sits up, "Can I print it?"

Evan points at the document, almost in disbelief, “You want this? It’s---"

Connor gently moves Evan's hand from the mouse and clicks 'print.'

The printer starts briskly making its drumming noise in the corner of the room. Connor stands beside it until the paper jumps out onto the tray. In a mix of incredulity and pleasure, Evan watches as Connor picks it up and carefully stows it away in a pocket of his messenger bag. He swings the strap of it over his head, getting ready to leave. Connor pauses by the door. Hand resting on the door knob. He abruptly says, “You know, I appreciate it. This whole keeping our friendship under wraps thing.”

Evan nods and bends to pick up his backpack. “W-we can still hangout outside of school, right?” They already talked about this but Evan felt the need to ask again. 

“Of course, I mean,” With a hint of uncertainty, Connor asks, “If you still want to?”

“Yeah, I do.” Evan tugs on the strings of his backpack, making them tighter without really meaning to, “What about you?”

Connor quirks a brow, “I haven’t changed my mind within the last twenty minutes if that’s what you’re asking.” He smiles. It's the first smile he's seen on him today. 

Evan chuckles in relief, “Okay.” 

Connor pulls out his phone and rolls his eyes, “I need to go now. Zoe will leave without me if I don’t.” Connor pushes the handle down. Evan goes to follow him but then Connor says, “Maybe wait a couple minutes after I leave to come out.” He looks down and away, hiding behind his hair. 

Evan takes a couple steps back and sits down, “Right, sorry.” He rubs the back of his neck in embarrassment. He was about to step outside next to Connor. He gives a little wave, shoulder hunching up by his ears, “Alright. See you tomorrow?” He phrases it like a question when he didn’t really mean to.

Connor lifts his head and gives him one last, grateful smile, “See you.” He disappears behind the door.

 

Chapter Text

4 months before Connor vanished. 

Finding a table is the hardest part. 

Sometimes when he looks for a table he gets the impression that whoever designed this building deliberately made it so that there would be just a few tables less than what was actually needed to seat every student.There’s so many people and he doesn’t want to look at any of their faces because they might make eye contact and that’s weird. What do you do after that? Smile? If he randomly smiled at someone they’d think he was a creep. Or worse, they might try and start a conversation. 

Eventually, Evan does find a spot way in the back of the cafeteria. He glances at the people sitting there but they don’t even seem to notice that he’s there. Evan tears a small piece of his grilled cheese and chews on it, trying to ignore the dry taste of toast that sticks too much to the roof of his mouth. 

There are hardly any windows in the cafeteria, most of all the light comes from the rows upon rows of ceiling lights. They beam overhead, strong and distant. Evan thinks that it’s a shame the school doesn't just collapse one of the walls to make an all-window wall. The view outside would be very nice. There are all these trees outside this side of the school. Even if the view would have been only of the street outside, that would have been better than no windows at all. 

He pulls out his phone and scrolls through Tumblr. He follows a lot of nature blogs and sees a bunch of posts of people hiking in beautiful trails he will likely never be able to go to.

Suddenly, he gets a text.

Connor: I’m out in my car. Wanna come over?

Evan: YES

Evan blushes. He didn’t mean to type that all in caps. He’s about to apologize when he gets another text. 

Connor: Golly I don’t think I’ve ever been so flattered

Evan groans and slaps a hand to his forehead. The girl sitting next to him looks at him. Evan gives a nervous chuckle and she blankly looks back down at her phone. Evan curses himself. He can never sit next to this girl with the purple hair ever again. Evan quickly moves and grabs his things, slinging his backpack over his shoulder. He holds tight to his tray of food and speed-walks out of the cafeteria. 

Outside, Evan spots Connor’s gray car instantly. He checks to see if there are any cars coming and runs up to it. He tries the handle. It’s open. Evan leans down and gives Connor a little wave, “Hi.”

“Hey.” Connor sits in the driver’s seat. He has a grilled cheese as well, and most of it is finished by the look of the missing other half. He’s relaxed in his seat has an arm thrown around his seat. A small smile rests on his face and he looks happy to see Evan. He reaches out a hand, “Pass me your tray. I’ll hold it so you can throw your backpack in the back.”

Evan does so. He places his backpack next to Connor’s messenger bag that looks like it was thrown into the back seat. Evan wonders how the pins on his bag stay on if he always throws his bag around like that. When Evan slips into the car he automatically reaches for the seatbelt, pulls it over himself and locks it. Connor silently passes Evan back his food. Evan rips another piece of his sandwich and pops it in his mouth. He looks at Connor and notices he has a smile twitching on his lips. This smile is different than the other because Connor is clearly amused about something---Evan can tell due to the way his nose is starting to scrunch up. It’s clear Connor is holding back a laugh. 

Evan slowly asks, “What is it?”

Connor snorts, a big smile takes over, nose finally scrunching up and everything, “Your seatbelt…” 

Evan looks down at it. He doesn’t get it. 

Connor finishes his sandwich and rests his head against the top of his seat. He says, almost fondly, “You buckled yourself in even if we’re not going anywhere.”

“Oh,” Evan scratches his warm cheek, “I’m sorry. I didn’t even notice.” Evan scrambles to unbuckle it when Connor stops his hand. 

“Leave it on if you want," he says. "I just pointed it out because it was cute.”

Evan quickly nods and bites off a big piece of his sandwich. 

He’s suddenly very aware of that little spot on the base of his index finger. When Connor touched it, it had felt like a ray of light bloomed right on the spot. It still tingles a little in warmth, as if a thin sun beam, thick with heat, is directly honing in on that particular spot.

But then the words sink in.

It was cute. 

Evan blinks rapidly. Cute. 

He stuffs more of his sandwich into his mouth. Cute. Cute. Cute. 

Me?

He accidentally breathes in and chokes. Connor swiftly pats him hard on the back and Evan is able to successfully swallow his food. Connor hands him his water bottle and Evan gratefully accepts it, he drinks deeply out of it. Connor asks with concern, “Are you ok?”

“Yeah.” Evan croaks. He can’t meet Connor’s eyes for a while. 

They are able to talk for a couple more minutes before they hear the bell signalling the end of lunch. 

As Evan grabs his backpack, Connor stays in the car. Evan curiously asks, “Aren’t you coming?”

Connor shrugs, “You know, we could ditch, right?”

Evan squints his eyes, “Have you met me? Do I look like I’d ditch?” Evan gestures at his clothes, as if that would explain anything. But Evan has often been told (by Jared) that he looks like a goody-goody that stepped straight off a catalogue for Catholic school uniforms (he's Jewish---both of them are). 

“You got me there,” Connor laughs. “Okay, we won’t.”

“So, you’re coming too?” They share the class coming up. It’s an English class. Evan secretly hopes that Connor will come with him. Even if they sit a couple seats away from each other at least Evan will know he's there in the same row, in the same class, listening to the same lecture. In fact, this class is one of the only classes besides AP Environmental Science that he actually looks forward to.

Connor wearily says, “Yeah…” Evan tries not to show how pleased he is to hear that. Connor gloomily gathers his things, “I’ll skip after this class.” He drags his feet as he walks across the parking lot towards the entrance of the school. Evan remembers not to follow him. 

As he watches him go, he calls, “Maybe I’ll join you. Wait up for me.”

Connor whips his head around, “Are you serious?”

Evan crooks a smile, “What do you think?”

Connor huffs, a strand of hair leaps up into the air, “You tease.” He flaps a hand at Evan and says, “One day you’ll change your mind. Just you wait.” 

 

********

 

Since that first day of school, Evan and Jared haven’t spoken once. Honestly, this is nothing very new. Evan is used to not talking to Jared for days at a time at school because Jared has other friends he likes to be with. 

But, it’s been a week. There’s never been a week long bout of silence between them at school. 

Evan thinks that Jared is still upset at him about the first day of school and that’s why he’s chosen to sit as far away from Evan as possible. Internally, Evan rolls his eyes at his behavior; but, there’s a deeper ache somewhere inside him that hurts when he thinks about it. Even if Jared has never been the perfect friend, he is still Evan’s friend. No matter what he says about “family friends” not meaning the same thing as real friendship. 

There's also the fact that, at school, Evan only knows two people. It hurts to have one of those two people be upset at him. 

During lunch, Evan tightly twists a napkin around in his hands and trips over his words as he tells Connor about his predicament. He describes how during math, which he and Jared share, they had to be paired up into partners. 

Jared knows that he hates it when they have to do that, so usually Jared will offer to partner up with him, albeit somewhat reluctantly. Evan could always rely on that. However, during class earlier that day, he left Evan to the dust as he had paired up with someone else, briefly glancing at Evan, but looking at him as if he weren’t there. 

He finishes telling his story with a series of questions that spew out of him like a geyser, “What do you think I should do? Should I apologize? I don’t know what I did. I think it was because of what I did during the first day of school, when he asked if I thought what he said was funny and I said no. Seriously, I don’t know what to do. I don’t like this.” His heart begins to race in his chest, making him want to slide out of Connor’s car and sit on the curb. Maybe go for a brisk walk around the school, maybe go home and hide beneath his blankets, maybe go up to Jared and ask him what’s wrong. 

When Evan looks up at Connor, he is stunned to see that Connor’s mouth is set in a grim line. Connor angrily says, “He’s a dick and I think you should say bon voyage to that asshole. Take this as a blessing and don’t do anything about it.”

Evan blurts, “If I do that then that’ll mean I won’t have anyone else!” 

Hurt flashes on Connor’s face and, realizing what he said, Evan gasps and says, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that.” Connor’s face has gone carefully blank. Evan tries to explain, “I don’t---I don’t have very many p-people in my life. Besides you, I only have Jared and my mom. That’s it. But I don’t really count my mom because she’s my mom, you know?" He chuckles nervously and hurriedly continues to say, "So, it’s just you and Jared. Even if he can be an ass...I can’t simply cut him entirely away from my life. If he’s gone, and if you were to go away...I don’t know what I’d do.”

Evan imagines never speaking to Jared again and never finding out why it happened in the first place. That would be awful. They’ve known each other for so long, Jared has always been one of the only constants in his life. Even if they aren’t as close as they used to be, he’s always been a part of his life someway or another. 

Evan’s life is not very full. He’s a little planet in a big dark universe with, at best, three stars to keep him company. He chews on his lip, “Besides, he’s my oldest friend…”  Evan accidentally tears the napkin in half. He grips both pieces in each hand. His hands are shaking, he stuffs them under his legs to still them. 

Connor still looks a little wounded by what Evan said but he says, “Just because you’ve known someone for a long time doesn’t mean that you’re obligated to stay with them. And, honestly, nor are they obligated to stay with you.”

“It’s never felt like an obligation---" He says quietly, "Not to me at least.”

“That’s because you’re a good person.”

Evan turns to meet Connor's eyes incredulously, “Me?”

Connor sits up and says with conviction, “Why the Hell would you waste your time on someone like me if you weren’t?” 

Evan is nearly struck speechless to hear Connor say that. Bewildered, he stammers, “B-but you don’t waste my time?”

“That’s exactly what I mean," Connor says seriously and his eyes bore into Evan's, as if seeing right through him. "You’re good. You’re nice.”

Evan pulls his hands out from beneath his legs and fiddles with his fingers. He sincerely tells Connor, “I think you’re nice too.” He feels flattered but also like it's a little undeserved. He doesn't really know what he's done to make Connor think that way of him.

Connor just laughs as if Evan said something funny. 

Evan looks at him again, feeling a little hurt himself, “Why are you laughing? I mean it.”

“It’s nothing.” Connor runs a hand through his hair with a small, pained smile. Minutes stretch where neither of them say anything, Connor stares out his window, facing away from Evan. 

Abruptly, Connor breaks the silence, he doesn’t quite look at Evan as he says. “I guess you should try and talk to him. If it really matters to you that much.” Connor frowns and glances at him, “I’ll only say this once more. I still think you’d be better off without him. But that’s just my opinion.” 

“Thank you, Connor.” Evan gives him a glowing look, he can feel it glimmering inside him like light in a fountain.

Connor scratches his slightly pink cheek and looks away, “No problem.”

 

********

 

“So, did you do it?”

Evan takes a deep breath and says, “No.”

“Why not?!” Connor winces as he hits his knees on the steering wheel, “Crap--.” When Evan looks at him ashamed, Connor changes his expression from a look of shock to careful-calmness. He lightly asks, "Why?"

Evan bursts with all the thoughts that were running through his head that day, “I wasn’t sure if I should text Jared and ask him what’s wrong or if I should do it in person. If I texted him that would’ve been easier but it would’ve seemed like I didn’t actually care. And then, if I asked him in person...I probably would not have been able to get the words out even if I planned exactly what I wanted to say.” He sinks into Connor’s passenger seat and sullenly takes a bite out of his apple. “So, I messed up today.”

Connor rubs his forehead and runs a hand through his hair. There’s a furrow in his brow as he thinks.

Evan absent-mindedly stares at his apple and says, “We made eye-contact today. It looked like he wanted to ask me something.”

Connor opens his mouth to say something and then furrows his brows. He wordlessly takes a sip out of his water bottle and then screws the cap back on. Deep in thought. 

He twists the apple in his hand and glumly takes another bite of it, “I know I messed up today but I’ll do it tomorrow. Maybe I’ll actually just text him tonight…”

“Do you---”

They both freeze when they hear a knock. A shadow falls over Connor's side of the car.  Evan’s eyes widen to see who it is. Connor twists around, a scowl unfolding on his face, “Is it the Dean? Because eating outside is act---Holy fucking shit.” Connor indignantly rolls down his window and snaps, “What are you doing here?”

Jared completely ignores Connor as he and Evan make eye contact. His blue eyes go wide behind his glasses, “Evan?!”

“Jared?” 

“What are you doing here?” They both ask at the same time. Jared glares and then points at him through the window, “I asked you first. So you better give a good explanation as to why you’re in this psycho-path’s car!” 

“First of all, that’s rude. Second of all---hey, fuck you!” Connor snarls, “You’re in no place to talk. You’ve been ignoring Evan all week.”

Caught off guard, Jared asks, “How do you know that?” Then he quickly says,  “And no I haven’t! Shut up.”

Evan mumbles, “You kind of have…Like in math class yesterday you paired off with someone else,” Connor points to Evan as if to prove a point. 

Shrinking, Jared sputters, "Well, you see--" And then his face goes red, “You know what? I don’t need this right now.” He quickly walks away without another word.

Connor and Evan look at each other in shock. Evan reaches for the door and says, “I should---I should follow him.” Evan doesn’t wait for an answer and stumbles after Jared. “Wait Jared!” He stops him on the sidewalk, a couple of feet away from Connor’s car. “Wait. Why h-have you been ignoring me?” 

Jared huffs and reluctantly turns to face him, “What? I haven’t been ignoring you. If I were ignoring you why would I have come out here looking for you?”

“I don’t know. Why did you?”

Jared throws his hands in the air in frustration, “I don’t know. I haven’t seen you at lunch except for when you get food. After that you just go off somewhere.”

Evan is thoroughly confused, “Why would it matter, though? It’s not like you sit with me…”

“Yeah, I guess it doesn’t really matter because I just found you having a sandwich inside the resident Freak’s car. I don’t know what you’re doing Evan but I’ve decided I don’t care. If Murphy’s your drug dealer then good for you. I always thought you could benefit from a hit of weed.”

Evan balls his fists, “He’s not my drug dealer! D-don’t call him that.” 

Jared glares at something behind Evan. Evan turns to see Connor leaning against his car, semi-facing away from them and smoking as if he doesn’t know what happening a couple feet away from him. He spots Evan looking at him and does a peace sign. If he and Jared weren’t arguing Evan would actually find that pretty funny but he doesn’t laugh. Jared’s annoyance intensifies. He sharply asks, “What is he then?”

“He’s my---he’s my,” Evan trails away, he can’t call Connor his friend because Connor asked him to pretend they weren’t friends at school. But now that Jared’s found them together, there really is no helping it, “He’s my friend.”

Jared scoffs, “You’re friend? Excuse me if it’s easier for me to believe that that ” he points to Connor, “is your drug dealer.” Subsequently, Connor casually flips a middle finger, the ring on his finger catches the light in a contemptuous manner. He cocks an eyebrow challengingly. Jared narrows his eyes and returns the gesture. 

Quickly losing patience, Evan raises his voice, “Stop calling him that.” 

“You’re right, that’s offensive. Does he prefer to go by con man or lawless criminal?”

Connor loudly says, “Ev, ask him if he prefers to go by jackass or fuck-face? Those two names are non-negotiable.”

Completely bewildered, Jared sputters, “Did he just call you Ev? You have nicknames for each other?” Apparently, what Connor just said went completely over Jared’s head. Evan could almost see it graze his hair and sail over the school. He’s staring at Evan like a third eye just blinked open on Evan’s forehead. 

Evan fiddles with his backpack strings, “Well---” What is happening to this conversation?

Connor slides onto the hood of his car and leans back against the windshield, “Ev, tell the Clown-man it’s none of his fucking business.”

Jared clasps his hands together, “Evan, for the love of God, tell him to go away. I think I can feel my lungs shriveling as I speak.” He coughs as a breeze brushes by, carrying some of Connor’s cigarette smoke towards them. 

Evan pinches the bridge of his nose and begs for patience, “Please, stop. I forgot what we were even talking about.”

“We were discussing the outrageous claim, boarding on insanity, that you made about you and Mesothelioma being friends.”

Irritated, Evan says, “It’s true,” He takes a step towards Jared, a bit of anger coloring his words bright red, “His name is Connor and he’s not a freak or a drug dealer. He’s my friend and it’s not outrageous or insane or anything else you want to call it. So, stop it.” 

Jared squints at Evan and frowns, “Fine." He looks away and then grudgingly asks, "Anything else you want to clear up today?” 

Evan takes a step back, scratches his head and quietly admits, “I need you to keep it a secret.”

“Excuse me, what in the fuck did I just hear? You want me to keep it secret?

“Yeah…”

“Why?” Jared’s eyes widen in shock, “Holy shit,” he grabs Evan by the shoulders, “It’s all clear to me now. Connor is not your drug dealer.” He lowers his voice, “He’s your secret boyfriend. Now, I understand.” He sends a Cheshire cat grin in Connor’s direction, “Not to worry, I’ll keep your secret gay love---” Without thinking, Evan silences him with his hand. 

“We’re not that. Definitely not that.”

Jared grimaces and pulls Evan’s hand away, he tells Evan in a chiding voice, “There’s nothing wrong with the love one man shares for another…”

Evan blushes and hopes to everything holy that Connor didn't catch that exchange. He shrills, “Connor is just my friend! How many times do I need to say we’re friends?! We’re friends, got that!? And--and I need you to keep it a secret.”

Jared laughs and shakes his head, “Oh, I missed riling you up. Is that why you were all like ‘that wasn’t funny Jared’ when really that thing that I said about his haircut was?”

A thought occurs to Evan, “Is that why you’ve been ignoring me?”

“Again, haven’t been ignoring you,” Jared pushes his glasses up, some of his usual composure coming back again, “But yeah, I was a little upset after that. And to be honest, I’m also upset you thought you could successfully keep a secret from me. You’re terrible at lying my dude. I was totally able to suss out something was up.”

Evan sighs, “Okay, I’m bad at lying. So, are you going to keep the secret for us?”

“What I don’t understand is why it has to be secret? Is this some sort of weird kink? I bet it was your idea, you kinky bastard.”

“It’s not a kink thing! And---” Evan knows the next thing he’s going to say is going to sound incriminating, “Honestly, I don’t know.”

Jared crows, “You’re totally lying right now! It’s absolutely a kink thing!”

“I’m not lying!! I swear I really don’t know!”

Jared slowly shakes his head, “This is incredible.” Mirth sparkles in his eyes, “I’m going to tell everyone I know. Especially your mom." He splays his hands out, "Everyone, dude.”

Evan gasps, “You wouldn’t!” Jared may be pulling his leg but Evan can never be sure. If it's something that would bring Jared a lot of amusement, Evan knows that his friend would be willing to do anything to crack a good laugh. Even if it's at the expense of others. 

Jared cackles, “Of course not," Evan's shoulders fall in relief. Jared waves a hand around, "No one would even care. It’d be like that time my uncle announced he was getting married...You know, the one who has had four wives?”

“This is important to me, Jared. Please, promise me you won’t.” 

“Fine.” Jared glances at Connor and then looks at Evan like he's looking at someone new. “As long as you’re happy.” 

Evan just smiles and turns to look at Connor. Connor turns his head from looking up at the sky, he returns the grin Evan sends him. It falls when he looks at Jared, but not in a bad way. It's more curious if anything. Maybe even with a hint of thanks. 

Jared suddenly says, “You know that promise means nothing if we don’t do---” he raises a pinky and wiggles it.

Evan accepts it with his own pinky. 

“It’s a promise.”

 

********

 

 

Early during the fourth week of Senior year, Evan wakes up before the sun rises with a bad, bad feeling in each thump of his heart. There’s something bad creeping under his skin, it buzzes like a dormant wasps nest.

He stays under his blanket for as long as he can, letting the warm air cycle through his lungs and soothe him. No alien air for him, just the air that he builds up in his bed. It’s the air from sleep; therefore, it’s good and safe air. 

He would try and stay home but he knows that the anxiety of what he might miss at school would overcome any comfort he’d find at home. 

He needs to go.

He needs to go but he needs space. He can't talk to Connor. He just can't. 

Evan knows that it's one of those days where all his words are frozen under the surface of his speech. Someone might talk to him and he'll think the words in his head but won't want to actually say them in their entirety. Hell, he can even see exactly what he'd say in his mind's eye, like a script for him to read off of, but his brain will tell him it's too many words and it's nicer to stay quiet. 

Not saying much is just like staying under the blanket. It's safe and warm and quiet because he doesn't have to bring himself to be a person and interact with anybody. 

It's very rare when he gets like this. But he knows it's better to just wait it out. Eventually it'll pass. It might take a couple hours or the whole day. But it'll pass. 

Evan rolls in his bed and pulls out his phone. He texts Connor: I need a bonsai today. 

A couple minutes later he gets: Got it.

The day turned out to be pretty lonely for Evan. The lunch period felt way too long and his loneliness was put much more in the highlight than usual. In so brief a moment of time, he had grown accustomed to meeting Connor for lunch in his little car that he'd forgotten what it was like to be alone. He'd been so caught up with swapping food, listening to music and talking with his friend that he'd forgotten that it wasn't always like that. 

Now, it’s either sit at the table with the purple haired girl he vowed to never sit next to again or go to the bathroom and have his lunch there. Neither of those choices seem too appealing. 

If he could, he would occupy the edges of the world. Slip unnoticed into a little corner, curl up into a ball and sleep for a long long time. Of course that's impossible.

He’ll take his chances with the bathroom. 

Mercifully, the day ends fast and Evan heads to swap out his things from his locker. When he opens it, a paper note flutters out like a white moth and he catches it before it falls to his feet. 

It’s a paper folded up into a neat little square. It’s blank on both sides, but Evan can see the faint traces of what looks like writing from the inside. He unfolds it. 

Inside the paper is a drawing of a bonsai tree. Evan can tell it’s a bonsai--mainly because it's potted---and also because of its snakelike trunk. The branches that stem off it appear like little arms that balance platters of clouds. The strokes of the pencil are long and dark. They look like they were built one after the other, building upwards and upwards until unfurling almost naturally. Incredulous, Evan quietly laughs at the paper in his hands and looks around for Connor in vain. He catches no sight of the tall boy anywhere. 

At the very corner of the paper, written small and lightly in pencil:

 

Evan,

 

Drew a bonsai, felt right to put a haiku with it. I can't write them for shit, so I looked some up and found this one. 

 

"The light of a candle

          is transferred to another 

    candle---

          spring twilight."

 

-Yosa Buson

 

Mr. S took my phone right after I copied this down. 

Anyways, R.I.P. to my history notes. 

 

-Connor

 

When Evan gets home he folds the letter back up and near-reverently puts it in the shoebox he keeps his red fortune slip in. He places the lid over the box and stows it away under his bed. 

Before Evan does his homework, he grabs a paper and pen and drafts a letter to Connor. He doesn’t really want to write about his day because that was rather boring and depressing. Of course he can’t write that he missed Connor. That’d be too much. 

Instead, he writes about what he wishes they could do.

 

Dear Connor Murphy,

 

I don’t know what to write. I can’t really draw either. Unless, that is, you would like me to sketch out some of my favorite leaves (which is something I can totally do for you) but I doubt you would want that. 

Anyways. 

I’ll tell you about what I would like to be doing right now:

  • I’d like to not have homework
  • I’d like to not have college applications/ scholarship essays to do (cross out)

Ok this is getting kind of boring

  • I’d like to see the rain right now
  • I’d like to hear it and daydream while laying on my bed in the dark
  • I’d like to be on a hike right now. High on a mountain top and overlooking a valley.
  • I’d like to climb a tree again without thinking of falling
  • I’d like to pet a dog (i get nervous. I don’t think I’ve ever done it)
  • I wish it were summer again. We should go back to the apple orchard sometime?

 

Sincerely,

Evan Hansen

 

The following day, Evan finds Connor’s locker. He finds it and instantly gets nervous about putting his note inside it while everyone is in the hall. There’s so many people. They’ll see him put a note inside Connor Murphy’s locker. That is insane. Evan is insane. What is he thinking? Do people even put letters in people's lockers? Have they ever actually done that? Don’t people who have crushes on someone do that like in the movies? Will people think he has a crush on Connor? Because he doesn’t. He soooo doesn’t. He doesn’t have any feelings besides friendship for Connor. Of course, there would be nothing wrong with having a crush on Connor because he’s really nice, smart, talented, artistic, and really good looking...But, that’s besides the point because he doesn’t have a crush on Connor Murphy. 

He has a crush on Zoe Murphy, right? Right.

Except he hasn’t really thought of her since the start of summer vacation….When he started hanging out with Connor…

Evan shoves those thoughts away and turns in a quick circle, thinking fast. The school bell for the end of break is about to end and people are already starting to trickle to their classes. He has, at best two minutes. If he’s going to put the letter in Connor’s locker he has to do it now. Right now. 

He inches towards Connor’s locker, staring at the numbers… 09-25

This is so weird. Evan didn’t draw Connor something super cool like he did for Evan. For Christ’s sake, Evan made a bullet point list of things he’d like to do when Connor quoted a cool friggen' haiku!

His letter is totally lame! Evan is so embarassing! Connor would probably throw away Evan’s letter and never talk to him again because he’s so boring. 

But is Connor expecting for Evan to give him something in return? Would he be upset if he didn’t get a letter back? Evan winces down at the paper, he has been folding it over and over again, nearly tearing it, and he hasn’t even noticed till now. 

A minute left a minute left a minute left.

He really has got to go!!

Evan finally smooths his letter back into something that would fit the locker’s hole. He stares at his letter, inching it closer to the locker. And then he runs away to his class, vowing to put it in there during their next break. 

 He doesn’t do it during their next break. 

He fantasizes very deeply about doing it during English while Connor isn’t looking. He thinks very hard about passing by Connor’s desk where he has his head bent on his arms and just very slyly slipping it in between his crossed arms. Maybe slipping it into Connor’s opened messenger bag on the floor? Is that a thing he could do? Connor sits way in the back of the class. Maybe Evan could “Accidentally” drop his pencil. Maybe it would roll so far back that he’d have to go back to where Connor sit and while he’s getting his pencil slip him his letter. 

No. No none of that will work. 

An idea pops into his head. He hasn’t been paying any attention to his teacher's lecture this whole time, so he shoots his arm up. His teacher, Mr. Jackson looks surprised to see him do so. In an almost wondering voice he calls on Evan and expectantly looks at him.

Evan blurts, “Bathroom?”

Mr. Jackson’s face falls in dissapointment and he waves dismissively at the door. Evan runs out of there, refusing to turn around and look at Connor. He runs over to Connor’s locker and stuffs his letter in there without preamble. 

He ducks back into class, feeling apprehensive and a little bit of excitement. 

 

And then, somehow, it became a thing. 

 

********

 

Evan and Connor would write each other letters whenever they felt like it. Which was, surprisingly, far more often than Evan expected. 

Sometimes Connor will just write Evan a quote or two that he liked from whatever he was reading at the time. Often times those quotes will be accompanied by doodles that represent what he copied and sometimes the drawings don't correlate at all. In fact, sometimes there’s no quote at all. Just a drawing of whatever he felt like drawing that day to give to Evan. It could’ve been a swing set, or an alien abduction, or a caricature of one of their teachers. Really, anything. Connor can draw anything. 

Evan did his best to give Connor letters as well. He found it easier to write lists of whatever he thought he wanted to talk about. He’d put down a list of things he’d want to do, a list of interesting facts he finds online, a list of the things he notices around him at the moment he writes it. 

It was fun exchanging letters because Evan's shoebox would look a little fuller with each letter he'd stow away. 

 

********

 

Dear Evan Hansen, 

I think you might like Robert Frost.

 

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep, 

But I have promises to keep

And miles to go before i sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.”

 

You’ve probably already heard of this one, but maybe you haven’t read the whole thing. I won’t write the whole thing out. But I’ll give you my copy of a book of his poems when I come by tomorrow. 

 

Sincerely,

Connor

 

**

 

Dear Connor Murphy,

Did you know there are rainbow eucalyptus trees?

They are in Hawaii. Absolutely beautiful and colorful. I had never heard of them till now. The trunk periodically sheds and the fresh strips of bark that show up are bright green. As the bark ages, they turn into different colors like blue, orange, and purple.

Can you imagine? I ended up looking at a ton of pictures of them and they all didn’t look real. 

By the way, I finished reading the book of poems, are you sure you don’t want it back? I liked it a lot. You were right. I think what made it better was finding your notes in the margins. I noticed that you circled certain words and highlighted different sentences but there wouldn't be explanation as to why. I assume it’s because you liked it but I’ll ask you about it tomorrow. 

Thank you,

Evan H.

P.S. The drawing you made in your last letter was incredible. I don’t know how you do it.

 

**

 

Dear Evan,

 

Those rainbow trees sound like they were made specifically for the gays. I’ve never been much of a tree hugger but I’ll go visit them one day and give one a hug. 

I like Wallace Stevens, let me know if you do too. I’ll lend you my copy of his books. 

 

 

“The summer night is like a perfection of thought

The house was quiet because it had to be”

-The House Was Quiet and The World Was Calm

 

 

XII

“The river is moving.   

The blackbird must be flying.”

-Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

 

Let me know. 

C   

 

**

 

Connor,

I was going to ask you in person but maybe I’ll ask you here. If you don’t want to answer we can pretend I never asked. Are you gay? If you are, it’s totally okay. 

I was actually going to tell you in person at some point but I guess I'll do it here. I’m bi.

Anyways, if you are gay, maybe we can go visit those trees together? Of course if you aren’t, we can still visit them. The trees aren’t straight-phobic. 

Thank you for sharing those poems with me too. My favorite part of them is, of course, your drawings. 

-Evan

 

**

 

Evan,

Yes, I’m gay. 

Check out this poem:

Tender Buttons- Gertrude Stein

It’s weird but i like it. 

 

**

 

September

 

Dear Connor Murphy,

You’ve seen my room before. But you haven’t seen it as a list. Maybe this is boring, I’m sorry if it is. It’s just, my lamp is giving me a funny look. 

  • My lamp is octagonal. I don’t think I’ve seen one with eight sides. Usually it’s four I think, like a box. But this has eight angles. Eight like an octopus. It’s weird. I just noticed that. It giving me a funny look because i keep thinking of octopuses. I don’t particularly like them. Actually, I don’t really like anything in the ocean. I like the beach. I don’t really like the ocean. 
  • Enough of the stupid lamp. 
  • My comforter is maroon but not really. It’s not like a strong red, nor is it pale. It’s sun bleached. I think it’s like that cause it’s old. It’s like gum you see on the side-walk. I know I’m not describing my bed too nicely but it’s the best place in the world. 
  • I have stars on my ceiling. You’ve seen them. We’ve made constellation names for them. I think my favorite is the Keanu Reeves one. Even though it looks nothing like him, it has his energy, right?
  • I have a couple of your drawings on my wall. My mom has asked about them. She says you’re very good at drawing. I like them a lot.
  • I have your gray sweater here. I’d bring it to you at school but you told me to wait till you come by again. I really don’t mind giving it to you during lunch but whatever. (I really don’t mind. It’s sounds like I do but I don’t.)

Next time you come over tell me what you think of the octopus lamp.

Since I've never seen your room can you maybe describe to me what it's like? It's ok if you don't want to. It was just a silly thought. 

Sincerely,

Me

 

**

 

Dear Evan Hansen,

The lamp is not a lamp. Stop bullying it. 

Also, sure.

  • I have a lamp too except it's round. You should get a round one too, mine doesn't remind me of anything except for maybe an eye. It's one of those lamps you can wiggle around because of its stem or whatever. I use it for reading in bed and for drawing. It's nice to be able to move it around. (Damn it Evan now I can't stop thinking it looks like an eye.)
  • My comforter is a deep navy. It's old as well but still retains its color. The color is peaceful I think. 
  • I don't have my drawings on my walls. I keep them in one of those accordion-like folders with many pockets. I've had it since middle school. It's bulging with papers and there are stickers on the front of it. There are so many layers of stickers on the front of this thing, you could date it by looking at each individual strata of stickers. 
  • I don't have a fucking door --- no, I will not elaborate. 
  • My sweater is on the floor. I don't know why I felt the need to mention that but I did. 

Yep, that's my room. Hope you enjoyed the tour. 

Sincerely, 

Me

 

**

 

Connor Murphy,

I’ll fight you.

I can’t believe you wrote “Ceci n’est pas une lampe” on my lamp. The audacity. 

Sincerely,

Me

 

**

 

Dear Evan Hansen,

Hostile much? It’s so early in the morning.

Sincerely, 

Me

 

**

Connor,

It’s 12.

While I was asleep you graffitied my lamp. My octopus lamp. 

-me

 

**

Evan,

I did. So?

-C

 

**

 

C,

Every time I turn on the thing the words will shine on my wall reminding me that it’s not a lamp.

E

 

**

E,

That’s kind of the idea.

-C

 

**

C,

Whatever. I like the drawing you made. A lamp octopus is actually a cool idea. It’s like a jelly fish but smarter. 

E

 

**

E

Thanks. This is the last post it note. 

I want the record to show that on this day, a blessed Saturday at 12:06 p.m. August 19. Evan Hansen gave Connor Murphy a dirty look.

*on the back of the post-it note*

I did NOT . He did. It was scary. Connor was very frightened. Connor’s face is scary. Evan is terrified each time he looks at it. Let’s name the octopus lamp Jeffery. I like the name jerold but ok

 

**

 

Evan,

Don’t take this weird but Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” reminds me of you. (the one with the blue background not the yellow).

-C

 

***

 

Connor,

Wow, thanks. I think that’s actually the nicest thing anyone has ever told me. 

I couldn’t choose one so I made a small list. I don’t think I’ve ever looked at as much art as I did while looking for these. 

 

  • NightHawks - Edward Hopper
  • The Art of Conversation - Rene Magritte
  • La Victoire - Magritte

 

- Evan

 

**

 

Evan,

Did you pick those two Magritte paintings because of Jeffery? 

Thank you, by the way...

-Connor

 

**

Connor,

Fuck! No, I didn’t even notice!

-E

 

**

 

November

 

Dear Connor Murphy,

 

Are we still going to write these? It’s been a month and I guess we kind of forgot about our letters because of the stress of college apps. 

It’s easier to tell you this here, which is why I’m writing this in the first place---I’m nervous. 

You’re probably thinking: Evan, nervous? like that’s new. But, I am. 

You know how much work I’m putting into these scholarships so that I can afford to go to college. I spend so much time working on these essays that are supposed to convince people to give me money and sometimes I think they’re actually good but then I think...Why would they give me anything in the first place? Would it be because I like science? I have a single-parent mom? I’m depressed and have anxiety? What can I offer besides my shaky hands and inability to give presentations? God, that sounds so whiny. 

It’s hard. And it’s scary. I’m sure you’re really going through it too, even if you won’t tell me what’s been weighing on your mind recently. Because, I can tell there’s something. 

I’m a little worried, to be honest. I don’t think I’ve seen you draw anything recently. 

I don’t know why I decided to write this, maybe I’ll tear it up instead of give it to you. 

 

Sincerely, 

Evan Hansen

 

**

 

December

 

Evan,

Goodbye. 

 

********

 

5 years after Connor Vanished.

 

Now that Evan’s outside their door, he thinks that this may have been a bad idea after all. He repeatedly runs his hands through his hair and picks at his nails. 

He begins his pacing outside their apartment door. The light above him flickers in and out. It’s very quiet in the hall as most everyone is asleep. He can faintly hear the sound of TV somewhere but he’s not sure where it’s coming from. There’s also the sound of cars as they pass by, the sound of the city never goes to sleep.

He must spend ten minutes out in the hall, debating the merits of going inside or sleeping in a motel---because he can’t possibly return to Zoe’s place after that fuss he kicked up about returning home. Evan is leaning more towards sleeping in his car when his door suddenly opens. 

Jared stands there, with a carefully neutral expression. He looks Evan up and down, “You look like shit.”

He blurts out, “I’m sorry.” The words leap out of his mouth and land on the floor between them. Evan breathlessly waits to see if Jared picks them up. 

Jared furrows his brows at him as he pushes his glasses up. He wordlessly steps back inside their apartment and leaves the door open although Evan does not step inside. Jared uneasily settles on the couch and then notices where Evan is, he says, “Are you a vampire? Do you need a formal invitation inside?”

Evan huffs a small smile and feels his shoulders relax a little. This is normal. I was worried about nothing. Everything is ok. He quietly settles beside Jared and realizes, in the blue light of the TV, that those TV noises were actually coming from in here. 

They settle in silence but it’s not exactly pleasant. Evan can almost see all the washed up debris from their fight strewn all over the room. There’s a palpable distance between them. It’s cold and it’s desolate like no man’s land. Evan grabs the blanket tossed over the back of the couch and covers himself with it. He hides his nose and mouth under the top of the blanket and breathes in the warm air. 

There’s some sitcom on the TV but Evan barely pays attention to it. Instead, he muddles into thoughts about when he should bring up the topic of Europe again. 

But it turns out he doesn’t have to do it at all because Jared, unprompted, says, “I’ve been thinking about what we---” He pauses, “Talked about” both of them know they weren’t simply talking but both of them choose to ignore it. He continues, “And I think we should go?”

Evan sits up and stares at him, “What?”

Jared looks away and waves his hand around, “I mean, if you even want to go? I know you don’t like planes so it probably wouldn’t even work. Also, it was a stupid idea in the first place so there’s that…” Jared trails away. 

Evan stares at him and stares at him, he can't believe it. Before Jared can change his mind, Evan quickly says, “I really want us to go."

Jared looks at him and raises his eyebrows, “You do?”

Evan nods, a smile full of joy blooming on his face, “Of course.”

A smile tugs at Jared’s face and he scratches behind his ear, “Okay.” 

In a swell of emotion Evan scoots toward Jared and hugs him, “Thank you.” 

There’s a brief handful of seconds where it’s just Evan hugging Jared. He wonders if it was too soon to do this but then he feels Jared sigh. His hand hovers over Evans’s back before lightly resting on his shoulder-blade---accepting the hug. The distance is gone.