Chapter 1: Aaron
When Aaron Minyard met his twin brother when he was twelve years old, he was convinced they’d get along great. He wanted to find out if Andrew could hear his thoughts, if they would invent their own language. It only took one conversation with Andrew for Aaron to change his mind.
When Aaron stupidly said “You know what they say about twins,” Andrew had replied, “Yes. Same fingerprints. I could frame you for murder.”
It’s now four years later, they’re living together with their adopted mom, Betsy Dobson, and they still don’t get along.
It’s not like Aaron thought Andrew had an easy life before he met him. Hell, Aaron hadn’t had the best time of it himself with an abusive alcoholic birth mother, so he was sure Andrew was hiding a dark past. He just wished Andrew would talk to him about it.
Andrew doesn't really talk to people, though.
So, Aaron leaves him alone. They have their own rooms, their interactions are limited to family meals and the drive to and from school.
They don’t even have a lot of classes in common, with Andrew getting higher scores in Arts and Languages, and Aaron doing well in Maths and Science.
They have an understanding, and everything was fine the way it was.
Until Aaron made the mistake of opening up about feelings at the dinner table.
“Betsy,” Aaron starts, pushing around the crust of his pizza slice and not looking up from his plate. “Can I use the car on Saturday?”
“That depends, honey, what for?” Mom says, pointing at his plate for him to eat the crust too.
He stuffs half of it in his mouth and mumbles, “To take out a girl.”
Andrew immediately looks up and glares at him with eyebrows raised.
To be fair so does Betsy, but her eyebrows don’t go so impressively high. Andrew can be really expressive when he wants to be, which is basically never.
“Take out?” Betsy repeats. “As in date? As in that thing you’re not allowed to do?”
“You were serious about that?”
“You think I told you I didn’t want you to knock anybody up as a joke?”
“Betsy,” Aaron blushes. “I just wanna take her out, not, you know… have… intercourse… ”
“Nice try pretending you don’t use the word ‘sex’, buddy,” Betsy snorts. “No dating in high school, that was the deal. Your brother has no problem with that rule.”
“He’s fucking frigid!”
Betsy points at their half-full swear jar.
“That’s very rude, Aaron.”
“It’s true,” he dares to mutter, but Betsy’s glare tells him it wasn’t as quiet as he thought it was.
Andrew, who has been silent during this whole thing, is still staring at Aaron, eyebrows down and impassive again.
“He doesn’t even want to date anyone, though, he isn’t affected by it,” Aaron complains.
Betsy grins that special way she does when she’s had a terrible idea. “Alright, I’ll change the rule. You’re sixteen now, I hope you’re more responsible in your decision-making skills.”
Aaron doesn’t want to admit how high his hopes are getting.
“You can date,” Betsy says, and Aaron’s heart is beating double-time. “When Andrew does.”
The pizza slice in Aaron’s hand falls on his plate with a thunk.
Then, Andrew laughs, louder and happier than Aaron’s ever heard him. He grins at Aaron. “You’re fucked.”
Chapter 2: Neil
chapter 1 was tiny, so here you go, you deserve a treat
Neil remembers how old he was when traumatic things happened to him. He was six when his mom died, eight when his dad went to prison causing him to go live with his uncle and thirteen when he met Aaron Minyard.
“Stop telling people meeting me ruined your life,” Aaron whines when he sits down next to Neil, dropping his lunch bag on the table.
Neil, who had just been talking to Katelyn, the newest member of their lunch squad, laughs and ducks when Aaron’s fist comes near him.
“Do you want me to lie?”
“I want you to never speak again,” Aaron says around a bite of his sandwich.
Neil pulls a face. “That’s really impressive, especially in front of your new lady friend here.”
Aaron turns a remarkable shade of red, and Neil mentally pats himself on the back for a job well done.
Katelyn hides a grin behind her hand, and asks, “So how long have you two been friends then? After the dreadful first meeting?”
“We’ve been best friends for three years, five months and two days, isn’t that right, Aaron?”
“I hate you so fucking much, Josten.”
“Aww,” Neil says, clutching at his chest. “Anyway, any reason we’re having our lunch at the most remote lunch table this school has?”
Aaron turns even redder. Neil has to remember which shade to aim for next time.
“I don’t want Andrew to see us.”
Neil waits for any further explanation to come. When it doesn’t, he says, “He… He already knows you have friends, right Aaron? I’ve been to your house before.”
“Shut up, dickwad.”
“I’m serious,” Neil says, facing Katelyn now. “I have. I’ve met his mom and everything. For a while I thought he invented a twin brother, but it turns out he just dresses in black and doesn’t turn the fucking lights on when he moves around.”
Andrew’s also in a few of Neil’s classes, a silent looming presence at the back of the room. It’s like he hides away back there, but he can’t hide his snorts when the teacher fucks up or says something stupid. When Neil looks back to share a smirk with him, though, Andrew’s always looking away, like it didn’t even happen.
“Anyway,” Neil says, “Why is Andrew not allowed to see us? I have English Lit after lunch, so he’s going to be kind of hard to avoid.”
“It’s not you,” Aaron grumbles. “It’s Katelyn.”
Neil looks towards the Katelyn in question. “Huh?”
She doesn’t look as surprised as Neil feels at that statement, and she clarifies, “Aaron’s not allowed to date me.”
Neil laughs incredulously. “What the fuck?”
“That’s what I said!” Aaron exclaims.
“No, not that, you guys wanna date?”
Now both Aaron and Katelyn look at him like he’s stupid.
“Well, how long has that been happening?!”
Aaron squints in that way that calls Neil a fucking idiot. He’s seen that look a lot over the years.
“Why did you think I invited Katelyn to eat lunch with us the past couple weeks?”
“To be friends! Fuck, Aaron, I don’t think with my dick like you do!”
“I don’t either!” Aaron yells, his tone impressively high. “Fuck off!”
“Boys,” Katelyn says, ignoring their hysterics. “Can we get back to the issue at hand?”
“Right,” Neil says, sitting back down. He has no idea when he stood up. “You can’t date. Why can’t you date?”
“Well, I can date…” Aaron says, and Neil is so ready to punch his face in. “As soon as Andrew does.”
Neil hisses and pulls a face. “Oh, shit.”
“ Exactly ,” Aaron says. “So never.”
“We just need to find him someone to date,” Katelyn says, like that’s not ridiculous.
“It’s Andrew .”
“Yes, and? If he’s not ace or aro, he has to like people, right? There has to be someone.”
Aaron’s face scrunches up. ‘Which poor girl do you want to put through that?”
Neil chokes on his drink laughing. “Girl?”
“Yeah, why?” Aaron asks. “Andrew’s not gay.”
“Sure, and you didn’t have a crush on Kevin Day all of last year.”
“Shut your ass , Josten,” Aaron says, his ears turning red.
“I mean, falling for your brother’s best friend, now that’s a cliché.”
“I will fucking end your life,” Aaron hisses. “It was one summer .”
“That’s not how I remember it.”
Katelyn, angel on earth, is ignoring everything they’re saying, and goes, “We could ask Kevin?”
Aaron scoffs. “Kevin’s not into guys.”
“You say those things so confidently,” Neil says, grinning.
Finding time to talk to Kevin when Andrew’s not around is difficult, made even harder by the fact that Aaron refuses to do it alone. He told Neil in no unclear terms that there was no way in hell he’d talk to Kevin by himself.
When he and Aaron finally do manage to corner Kevin, it doesn’t end well.
Kevin mostly scowls at them, and that’s before they even explain themselves.
“You want me to fake-date Andrew?”
Neil nods. Aaron is too nervous to talk or move.
“To be clear,” Kevin says. “You want me, Kevin Day, the high-scoring quarterback who is famously dating Thea Muldani, the captain of the football team to pretend to date my best friend who has notorious trust issues? Is that what you’re saying?”
An embarrassing sound comes out of Aaron’s mouth.
“When you put it like that,” Neil says. “I guess we’re not saying that, no.”
He turns to face Aaron, who still looks extremely mortified.
“Well, at least it’s not because he’s not gay!” Neil says, cheerily.
Aaron sends him a murderous glare.
“What? I’m not gay,” Kevin says. “I’m bi. I thought Andrew might have told you.”
Neil quickly realizes Aaron’s brain is not equipped to handle that information.
“Hey, uh, we gotta go, but is there any chance you could not tell Andrew about this?”
“You’re a bunch of weirdos,” Kevin says. “But fine, it’s not like I understand what the fuck is going on with you anyways. That being said, if you hurt Andrew, I will kick your fucking ass.”
“Understood,” Neil grins and grabs Aaron’s arm so they can walk away. “Breathe, big boy.”
“Oh, Aaron says. “I forgot how breathing worked.”
Neil slams his locker closed and startles when Aaron pops up from behind the door.
“Motherf-” Neil swears. “I told you not to do that!”
“But it’s so funny,” Aaron says, smiling. “Anyway, what’s got you so riled up, huh?”
“Your brother kept glaring at me during class,” Neil says. “You think Kevin told?”
Aaron pulls a face. “I doubt it? If he did, Andrew would have kicked the shit out of me already.”
“Maybe,” Neil says. “I don’t get the staring then…”
Katelyn joins them and pokes Aaron in the side, making him shriek. Neil likes her.
“Who’s staring at you?”
Katelyn hums. “Really?”
“Do you think…” She starts, looking at Aaron.
“What?” Aaron says, who turns to Neil.
“Huh?” Neil replies, searching Katelyn’s face for answers.
“What about you?” Katelyn asks, as if that clarifies anything.
“What about me?”
“You could date Andrew.”
Huh… Now there’s a thought.
“What?!” Aaron’s shriek echoes through the thankfully deserted hallway.
When Neil doesn’t object immediately, Aaron steps in.
Neil snorts and rolls his eyes. “Don’t try to label me. Also, stop assuming everyone’s straight, I’ve had enough of your hetero agenda.”
“I’m straight,” Aaron defends himself.
Neil raises an eyebrow, and Aaron corrects himself. “Straightish.”
“That’s more like it.”
“Hang on,” Aaron says, making frantic movements with his arms. “You’re not freaking out! You’re okay with this?”
Neil shrugs. “Eh.”
“You wanna date Andrew?”
He shrugs again. “There are worse things I can think of.”
There’s a sparkle in Katelyn’s eyes like she’s won already, and Neil suddenly realizes he should put up more of a struggle, maybe.
“Wait,” Aaron says, apparently still freaking out. “Does that mean you’re into me?”
“Ew, gross! You two are nothing alike.”
“Yeah, thanks, Captain Obvious.”
“Boys,” Katelyn says, so used to their antics by now you’d think she’s been around them for years. “Do we have a deal, Neil?”
“What’s in it for me?” Neil asks, before he gives in too easily.
Aaron scoffs, “You get to date a Minyard.”
“That’s fair,” Aaron says, scrunching his nose.
“What do you want, Josten?” Katelyn says, and if Neil didn’t know any better he’d describe her as vaguely threatening. “Money?”
“That’s not-” Neil starts, but quickly stops himself. It’s not like he can’t use a little extra money. Sure, Uncle Stuart’s loaded, but Neil gets barely anything for pocket money. Uncle Stuart wants him to learn the value of a dollar. Neil wants Uncle Stuart to stop bullying him.
Katelyn smiles. “Don’t you worry your pretty little head about that, Neil. I can get you money. You just deliver on your end. After all, Andrew has to be interested in dating you too.”
Aaron, who seemingly blanked out of the conversation when money got involved, laughs.
“Haha, good luck!”
“I’m doing this for you , remember?”
“Okay, well,” Neil says, not the faintest idea on how to get someone to date him. That’s a lot of confidence Aaron and Katelyn have in him considering he’s never gone out with anyone. “What does he like?”
“Dumbass, your brother, what’s his deal?”
Neil realizes what’s been distracting Aaron, because Katelyn and Aaron are suddenly standing a lot closer together. Fucking horny asshole.
“Aaron, get with the fucking program! What’s he into, what’s his type, is he emotionally available?”
“I mean, I think I know the answer to that last part already.”
Neil rolls his eyes so far back it hurts.
When Neil had asked Aaron what Andrew’s interests were, he did not expect to end up rifling through his brother’s underwear drawer.
Somehow, Neil had come to the conclusion, with the help of Katelyn --which still leaves Aaron completely baffled-- that the color of your underwear says something about you. Aaron refused to ask for more information and was subsequently forced into research.
That’s why he’s in his brother’s room, on a Tuesday night when his mom had gone to the grocery store and Andrew was studying at Kevin’s house, face-timing Neil while holding Andrew’s boxers.
Andrew’s cat who shall not be named is glaring at Aaron from his perch on his bed, but he seems too sleepy to actually harass him today.
“I don’t know what you want me to say, dude,” Aaron whisper-yells even though he’s 99% sure he’s home alone. “They’re all black. Every last one of them.”
“Oh my god,” Neil’s voice rings through the speakers. “He’s a slut.”
“Shut your fuck , Josten, God .”
“Black means he’s down to clown, Aaron, get with the program.”
Aaron hisses, “My brother is not ‘ down to clown ’, and don’t ever say those words again, you ass-”
“Oh please, all teenage boys are horny, don’t shit yourself into thinking your brother’s the exception.”
“I would like not to think about any horny teenage boys, thank you.”
“None?” Neil asks, and the little shit is smirking. “Not even the great Kev-”
Aaron hangs up the phone.
Somehow, he’s still holding the pair of black boxer briefs up in the air, so Aaron has a minor heart attack when a voice behind him asks, “Can I help you?”
There are still some brain cells left up there, apparently, because Aaron does not say ‘ Just browsing, thanks. ’
“What the fuck, Andrew, don’t just sneak up on me like that.”
Andrew just looks at him and Aaron finally drops the underwear back in the drawer.
“My porn stash is on my harddrive, weirdo, get your own. Besides, I didn’t figure you were into dudes. Besides Kevin.”
Aaron’s mouth drops open. “ This is how you come out to me? Also, who told you about Kevin?!”
“I didn’t know it was supposed to be a secret.” Andrew shrugs.
“This house is a fucking nightmare.”
“So, did you run out of underwear, or…?”
Oh. Oh. That is a very sensible explanation for what Aaron was doing. That’s why he should go along with it. By all means, do not invent a more complicated lie, Aaron.
“No, I uh… I’m looking for my lucky pair.”
Sweet lord. Aaron winces.
Of all the times Andrew’s face looks uncaring, this is the time Aaron appreciates it most. No judgment. None at all.
“What do they look like?”
Keep the lie as simple as possible, it’s a basic principle.
“Kind of… uh. Orange.”
“Orange,” Andrew repeats, and Aaron can detect a hint of judgment there.
“Yep,” Aaron nods and digs his hole deeper. “With white little paws on them.”
Now Andrew raises an eyebrow. “Really.”
For a few seconds, Aaron’s worried Andrew’s gonna call his bluff. It’s a standoff between him, Andrew, and Andrew’s cat from hell who is still fucking glaring at him.
“Alright,” Andrew shrugs. “Well, I haven’t seen them. And I’m assuming you haven’t found them in there either, right?”
Aaron shakes his head stupidly. He genuinely, genuinely can not believe he got away with that.
“What do you need them for?”
Oh fuck, it’s not over.
“I uh… have a test. Tomorrow.”
This is true, at least.
This was also true. Aaron might just learn from this experience.
“I can help,” Andrew offers uncharacteristically.
“Yeah, I took it last year. Get your books, stupid.”
Holy shit. Aaron trips over his own feet while running to his school bag.
Aaron aces his German test. Sure, if Andrew hadn’t helped him study the night before, he’d have done well, because Aaron is nothing if not a secret geek who aims for perfection in every class, but Andrew had volunteered.
They were bonding. It took four years, but they were finally bonding.
Aaron is so elated about his score (and the bonding from the night before), he decides to find Andrew and tell him about it.
He’s currently in wood-shop, a class so casual and free, it almost doesn’t sound real to Aaron, but the room is filled with the sound of drills, saws and other… wood shop...tools. Alright, so maybe Aaron doesn’t know what the fuck they do in here.
It’s not hard to find Andrew, his light hair making him stick out like a sore thumb in the dark room. It is a surprise to see Kevin there with him, though. He seems very out of place, then again, he does seem to be building a birdhouse of some sort.
“Andrew,” Aaron grins, holding his book out with the test on top of it.
Andrew doesn’t even look at the test. He hardly looks up at Aaron before saying, “No.”
“Leave,” Andrew says, voice so cold and unfeeling, it genuinely hurts Aaron like it hasn’t in years.
Andrew grabs a drill from the table, stands up, and drills a hole, right through Aaron’s test, right through his textbook. Andrew pulls it back out, sets it down without looking away from Aaron, and repeats, “Leave.”
Aaron hasn’t cried over Andrew’s treatment of him since he was thirteen, and he’s not about to start now. So he gets pissed instead.
“What the everliving fuck is your problem?”
Andrew’s nose curls up in annoyance, which only makes things worse.
“Seriously, what the fuck, fuckface?”
Aaron doesn’t realize all eyes in the room are trained on them until the teacher steps in between them.
“Detention, mister Minyard.”
“Which one?” Aaron sneers.
The teacher grins. “Why not both? You for swearing, and him for being a little shit. Besides, you’re each other’s ride, right? It just makes sense.”
Aaron hates them. He hates the teacher for being a dick, he hates Andrew for being crazy and cold, he hates Kevin for just watching it all happen, and he hates himself for having hope.
He certainly won’t feel bad about tricking Andrew into dating just so he can go out with Katelyn now. He doesn’t fucking care.
*pats aaron's head* there there
Chapter 4: Neil
Neil has never really been into the idea of dating. It didn’t matter what someone looked like, acted like, what gender they had. There isn’t a romantic bone in Neil’s body, and he just doesn’t really understand the idea of people spending the rest of their lives together without becoming bored with each other.
It’s hard to believe in love when your parents fought every day until one of them died. The fairytale idea of love ever after didn’t tend to stick after that. His uncle took him in, but he hasn’t dated anyone that Neil knew of either. Neil just assumed that’s how it was gonna be, and it didn’t bother him.
Except now he has to pretend like he knows what the fuck he’s doing. For all intents and purposes, he has to woo Andrew Minyard into dating him.
Google, as expected, didn’t really help. It was also super awkward having to type in ‘ how do i get a boy to date me ’, and Neil immediately cleared his search history afterward.
He asked Uncle Stuart, who was less than helpful. In fact, he just snorted so hard tea got up his nose, and if Neil was less insulted, he might have felt bad.
He isn’t planning on asking Aaron for help, because A) that shit’s awkward, B) it’s about his brother and C) God, it’s so fucking awkward .
Neil still doesn’t really know what he’s doing, but he’ll call it research for now.
Research consists of looking at Andrew.
It’s a bit hard to do considering Andrew sits at the back of every class, eats lunch outside of the cafeteria, and disappears to God knows where during free periods.
Sitting behind him is impossible, and sitting next to him would be too obvious, so Neil changes seats to at least sit in the same row as him. He can look to the side and be inconspicuous while leaning his head on his hand, elbow firmly planted on the tiny desk.
Objectively speaking, Andrew has a very nice side profile.
He has thick eyebrows, a short but slightly upturned nose, a deceptively full lower lip, and- Oh God, he’s looking his way.
Neil clears his throat and looks towards the front of the class again.
He takes down the notes he missed during his research, and he can feel a stare burning his cheek.
He bites his lip, but he won’t look. It’s not time for a confrontation yet, Neil’s not fucking ready.
When he feels it’s safe to look again, Andrew’s frowning into his textbook.
Their chemistry class is a game-changer for Neil’s research. The desks form little islands, and Neil can choose the perfect spot to stare at Andrew from. Sure, it means having to be more subtle, but luckily Kevin’s in this class too, and Neil’s sure he’ll keep Andrew busy with his incessant chatter.
Kevin doesn’t fucking speak. He does the work diligently, including the parts Andrew’s supposed to do, but who is instead kicking his feet up on the desk and grabbing a pack of cigarettes out of his bag.
How the hell did he even get them into the school? Sure, their chemistry teacher is an old, deaf fart who probably shouldn’t be teaching kids how to use dangerous chemicals, but this seems extremely risky.
Andrew doesn’t seem to care. He takes his feet back down, making Neil grin at how they were only up there for five seconds, probably just to annoy Kevin into acting.
He turns on the bunsen burner and leans forward to light his cigarette, and stares straight at Neil when he does.
Andrew turns the burner back off, sits back in his seat, and doesn’t blink as Kevin reaches over to grab the cigarette and snuff it out in the little sink. He doesn’t look away from Neil, and it’s gone on for too long for Neil to just look away either.
What should he do? Should he smile? No, that’s stupid. Wink? Even worse. Walk up to him and talk? Don’t be absolutely ridiculous.
Going by Andrew’s face, it’s not what he expected to happen. He scowls and turns in his seat, starts doodling on Kevin’s papers.
It’s a reaction. Neil will take it and run with it.
For the past year and a half, Andrew Minyard has had a crush on Neil Josten. It’s one of Andrew’s best-kept secrets because he doesn’t want to have a crush on him. He’s an idiot, a smartass, funny enough to almost get Andrew to laugh out loud and worst of all, best friends with his brother.
The only person he told about his crush is Bee.
He never expected to trust Bee as much as he does right now, but she made him a promise when he was twelve years old, and she’s kept it. The day the paperwork went through and Andrew had that stability, that promise of a home and a safe family, Bee had spoken to him alone.
“I promise to take care of you, no matter what happened, happens, or will happen. No matter what, Andrew,” Betsy stressed, holding his hands in hers, the most he would let anyone touch him. “But you have to promise to tell me about those things. I won’t judge, I won’t even talk if you don’t want me to. But I need to know. That’s all I ask.”
So he did. And she kept her word.
The things he felt comfortable sharing eventually were shared, and she did what she could to patch up his wounds.
He told her about the scars, but not the reason for them, and she did her best to hide her emotions and gave him the armbands a day later. He told her he was gay, and she asked him if she could hug him. She could not, and she accepted that. He told her he was scared to love anyone, and she created the no-dating rule with that in mind, to create a sense of calm and lack of pressure, and an excuse for why he wasn’t interested in anyone, if needed.
And so, he told her about Neil.
He didn’t want her advice or opinion, he just pulled a face, announced it, and left the room. He needed to say it and hoped that would make it easier for it to go away.
It did not go away.
Neil Josten has been staring at him lately. It’s extremely suspicious.
It’s not like Neil doesn’t know who Andrew is, he’s been to their house, he’s stayed over for dinner. One time he slept over, which meant that Andrew saw his tousled morning hair and ran back to his room to scream into his pillow.
Neil has never seemed to care much about Andrew before, so it’s weird to have his attention now.
He probably could ask Aaron about it, but they haven’t really spoken since the drill-incident. Andrew had dug up his textbook from last year and dropped it onto Aaron’s bed in apology, but Aaron is apparently just as good at being a stubborn ass as Andrew is.
It’s almost five when Andrew leaves the school grounds, having lost sight of the time working on an essay. He checks his phone and sees some missed messages from Aaron:
[15:43] doppelgänger: u have five minutes
[15:48] doppelgänger: bus is at four past the hour, don’t forget, stupid
It’s weird to see how much Aaron still cares given how Andrew treats him sometimes. He won’t thank him for it, won’t even mention it, but it means something.
Right now it means he can thankfully catch his bus without waiting close to an hour for the next one. That in turn means he’s confronted with Neil Josten at the bus stop.
Andrew has a split second where he considers hiding and waiting for the next bus, but that would mean getting home around seven, missing dinner, and having to work all night to finish his studying. It would mean he can’t work in his studio tonight, and he needs that stress relief. It also means an hour less of cuddling Sir Fat Cat McCatterson, and that’s the clincher, really.
He stands next to Neil and ignores him, hoping Neil can read the fucking room.
Neil is an illiterate idiot.
“Hey,” he says, voice a little raspy and tired.
Andrew clenches his jaw tight. His tired voice is not sexy. It just isn’t.
His lack of response doesn’t deter Neil.
“You stay late studying too? I never see you around at this hour.”
Does that mean Neil does this a lot? Wait, no, he doesn’t care.
Neil shrugs like this isn’t awkward. Andrew looks away, at anywhere that isn’t Neil’s face or those piercing eyes that have been the bane of Andrew’s existence for years now.
Then he sees it, the perfect shot of the sun coming through the trees and reflecting on the water of a puddle nearby.
He shrugs his worn backpack off and throws it at Neil.
He doesn’t check to see if Neil catches his bag, he just takes out his phone and crouches down, trying to get the framing right as he takes a few pictures. Pretty soon the sun moves on, and Andrew checks his photos on his phone.
They’re not amazing, but for a split moment decision, they’re not bad either. He prefers shooting people, but he wants to learn and expand his horizons with his photography. Also, he hates people.
He walks back to the bus stop just as he notices the bus coming around the corner, and he signals for Neil to give his bag back.
Neil just stares at him.
“Josten. Bag.” Andrew says, and he realizes they’re the first words he’s spoken to Neil in months, probably.
Neil huffs out a laugh, hands over the bag, and whistles. “You’re a photographer.”
Andrew scowls. “I take pictures.”
“You take good pictures,” Neil says.
“Fuck off, you didn’t even see them,” Andrew rejects the...compliment?
“Can I?” Neil asks, reaching his hand out when they get on the bus.
“No, fuck off,” Andrew says, his ears turning slightly red, he can feel it. “Don’t sit next to me.”
Andrew makes his way over to the back of the bus and watches Neil stop in the middle, staring at him as he sits down. He smirks again, and Andrew ruffles through his bag for his earphones, determined to stare out the window until he’s at his stop.
Sir Fat Cat McCatterson seems happily surprised he’s home early, even going so far as to share a toothy grin while curling his tail around Andrew’s ankle.
It’s all Andrew needs to feel at home. He sits down on the ground to let him walk all over him for a bit, pushing his face in his armpit and accepting Andrew’s forehead smooches.
He got Sir Fat Cat when he was thirteen. Bee suggested he get a therapy pet; a warm, calming presence that he could be himself around, someone safe. Aaron’s apparent disdain for pets made it that Andrew had free choice, and seeing Sir Fat Cat at the shelter lying on his throne, unbothered by the new presence in the room, Andrew knew he had found the perfect cat.
When they brought him home, Aaron asked what he was going to call “it”, and, as Andrew felt was his duty, he picked the dumbest name possible just to annoy Aaron.
“Sir Fat Cat McCatterson,” Andrew said, watching Aaron’s jaw drop with every added word.
If Aaron would insist on calling his cat “it”, Andrew would simply say “He has a name,” and watch the rage unfold on his brother’s face.
He takes his microwaved dinner over to his desk, tutting at Sir Fat Cat to follow him if he wants to.
He starts a FaceTime call with Kevin while uploading his pictures to his laptop to fiddle around in Photoshop later, and it’s just a few seconds before Kevin picks up with a scowl.
“It’s not healthy to eat after eight,” he says.
“It’s seven fifty-five,” Andrew replies with his mouth full. “Eat shit, Day.”
“Not at this time of night.”
Andrew flips him off. You know, in a friendly way.
“How come you’re so late?” Kevin asks, tapping away on his keyboard, letting Andrew know he’s doing homework too.
“Stayed at school, finished half my History paper.” Andrew sighs through his nose and rakes his fingers through his hair before deciding to spit it out. “Ran into Josten.”
Kevin looks up at the camera. “Oh?”
Kevin knows Andrew wouldn’t just bring it up. He lets the silence linger, waits for Andrew to tell him what he wants to say.
“He’s been looking at me lately,” he settles for.
“Oh,” Kevin says again. “In what way?”
Andrew shrugs. “Just looking. It’s weird.”
Then, completely out of the blue, Kevin says, “Because of your crush, you mean?”
Andrew freezes. He’s looking straight at Kevin’s face, who seems surprised at his own words, who looks like he’s getting ready to talk more about this, and Andrew can’t handle that, he won’t do it.
“Goodnight, Kevin,” Andrew says and closes his laptop with a smack. Shoves it under his bed for good measure. Homework can wait, he’s a week ahead anyways.
He ignores Kevin’s texts, he ignores his call. He just can’t deal with him right now.
His phone dings with the sound of a notification, and Andrew is ready to dismiss it before he sees it’s from Instagram.
Andrew’s late-night decision to stalk Neil’s Instagram was a bad idea. For one thing, he stayed up way too late and woke up grumpy.
For another, he is now even more attracted to Josten’s dumb pretty face, because that asswipe’s whole account consists of judging other people’s shoes and adding far too witty captions.
He slouches his way to the kitchen to grab some cereal, walking past Aaron who’s playing videogames. Once he’s fixed himself a bowl, he drops himself on the couch and watches Aaron play.
He doesn’t say anything, and neither does Aaron since he knows Andrew has the worst moods in the morning. After sufficient time has passed and the sugar from his cereal has entered his bloodstream, Andrew pushes his toe into Aaron’s side.
Aaron throws him the other controller and starts a new game.
They’ve been playing in silence for a while, and Andrew doesn’t look away from the screen when he says, “I’m sorry.”
Aaron nearly twists his neck. “Huh?”
“For your book,” Andrew continues, still playing the game, refusing to look Aaron in the eyes.
Aaron looks at him for a few seconds. “Yeah, I found the one you left me.”
“Why’d you do it?” Aaron asks, and Andrew knew this had hurt Aaron more than their usual fights.
He shrugs again. “We don’t talk. At school.”
Andrew can feel Aaron’s judging stare again. His character has died on screen, but Aaron doesn’t seem to care.
“We could,” Aaron says.
“Why?” Andrew asks, and he’s not even sure why he’s fighting this so hard.
“Cause we’re brothers,” Aaron says. “Why not?”
Andrew doesn’t have an answer for that. Not one he can put into words anyways.
“I’m sorry,” he says again, hoping that’s enough for now.
Aaron boots up another game.
the instas are real, so feel free to check those out! i'll try to update them well
Chapter 6: Neil
It had taken Neil a long ass time to find Andrew’s Instagram account, and he had no intention of hiding his interest once he did.
It was full of artistic shots, portraits of people from their school or their town, self-portraits (Neil definitely wasn’t going to call them selfies), nature, things Neil couldn’t describe.
He knew liking every single picture would be overkill, but he went through them all and felt like he got to know a small piece of Andrew in the process.
He wondered how Andrew saw the world, and how Andrew might see him.
It’s lunchtime and Andrew isn’t hidden away somewhere, and it’s embarrassing how fast Neil notices him sitting alone on top of a table in the large squad.
He can’t see Aaron, which means he’s probably in the more hidden section with Katelyn, so Neil decides to walk over and sit on the bench next to Andrew’s feet.
“Hi,” he says and looks up, then almost gets blinded by the sun. Ah, nevermind, it’s just Andrew’s sunny disposition.
“The fuck,” he says.
“You stalking me or something?”
Neil swallows his “ Yes, thanks for noticing ” and stares at Andrew’s painted nails instead. “Those are cool.”
“Gee, thanks,” Andrew says sarcastically. “I’ve always wanted to be part of the cool gang.”
Neil rolls his eyes. “Take the fucking compliment.”
“Don’t tell me what to do.”
“Do you have it with you? Can you do my nails?”
Andrew scoffs and pulls his legs on the table, then crosses them underneath him. “Fuck off.”
“I’m serious,” Neil says.
“People don’t just walk around with bottles of nail polish, Josten, fucking get your own.”
“If I buy some,” Neil says, aware of how much he’s pushing this subject, “Will you do my nails?”
“Why is this so important to you?” Andrew asks, exasperated.
“I just wanna hang out,” Neil says plainly.
Andrew scowls. “Why? Aren’t you usually glued to Aaron’s side?”
“Aren’t you to Kevin’s? Where is he anyway?”
Apparently, that was the wrong thing to say.
“Get fucked, Josten,” Andrew jumps off the table and walks off.
Neil only briefly checks him out before realizing that was a weird thing to do after being blown off.
He buys nail polish. Neil has no clue if it’s a good brand, or if he paid too much for it, but it’s black, and he enjoys the look on Andrew’s face when he fishes it out of his bag.
Once again, they’re out on the squad, Andrew having taken over a table by himself, and this time Neil doesn’t make the mistake of asking him about Kevin. He hasn’t asked Aaron if he knew anything about it yet, determined to just try hanging out with Andrew for now.
Andrew stares at the bottle.
“What’s wrong?” Neil asks. “Did I get the wrong one?”
“No, it’s fine,” Andrew says, and his usual scowl is replaced by a surprised look. “I just didn’t think… You were serious.”
“Of course,” Neil says and wiggles his fingers. “Will you?”
This seemed like a good idea before Neil realizes it means Andrew will be touching him. Specifically his hands. With his own hands. And it’s a lot more intimate than Neil imagined it would be.
“Sit still, demon,” Andrew tuts, and Neil can see the tip of his tongue peeking out of his mouth as he works on his nails.
He finishes one hand and looks up, straight at Neil who’s been staring at Andrew’s face, and not his nails.
A frown appears between Andrew’s eyebrows. “What?”
“Nothing,” Neil says, and looks down at the painted nails, feeling extremely caught in the act.
Andrew paints the other hand and closes the bottle. “Don’t smudge them, idiot.”
“Wait, that’s it? It’s done?”
“Yeah,” Andrew nods and shoves the bottle over. “You bought a good brand, it only needs one coat.”
Neil scrambles for a conversation topic. “Did you eat?”
“Yes, mom .” Andrew rolls his eyes.
Okay, second attempt.
“I like your pictures.”
Andrew raises an eyebrow. “Yeah, and?”
Neil shrugs. “How long have you been into photography?”
When Andrew doesn’t reply, Neil insists, “Come on, don’t look at me like that, I’m serious! Talk to me.”
A deep sigh is followed by, “Fine. But if you get bored, that’s on you.”
“I won’t,” Neil promises, and he knows it’s true. Andrew could probably talk about whatever he wanted, and Neil would be interested.
“I have an eidetic memory,” Andrew explains. “A photographic memory. So when I see something, it stays with me, exactly the way I saw it, right?”
Neil nods and rests his head on his hand, careful not to smudge his nails, settling in while facing Andrew.
“It has good sides and bad sides, obviously. I can remember beautiful, interesting things, but I also can’t unsee the bad things that happened around me. It bothered me that I had to explain stuff to someone who couldn’t see what I saw in my head.
One day I told Bee I saw a rainbow on the way back from school, and I wished she could have seen it as well, and she told me to take a picture for her next time. So I did. I started taking pictures of everything I saw that I wanted her to see; and then I took pictures of things I thought were pretty, or interesting, and I started posting them online.
People seemed to really like the way I did that, so I looked into other cameras, old school photography, developing my own films, all that shit.”
Neil gasps. “You do that? You have your own developing studio?”
This time the blush is unmistakable as Andrew nods and shrugs.
“So that’s what you wanna do for a living?”
He shrugs again. “I mean, maybe. I’m gonna go to college and get a degree because job security would be fucking funky, but after that, I don’t know…”
Neil nods and smiles, happy in the face of Andrew’s passion.
“That’s so fucking cool, Andrew.”
Andrew’s weird look makes Neil realize he hasn’t really said his name before. It adds to the intimacy, here in the middle of everybody else but stuck on their own little island.
Andrew clears his throat. “What about you?”
“Ah, I don’t know… Maybe something with languages? I mean, I should probably take advantage of the fact that I know and speak five of them.”
“You fucking what,” Andrew says.
Okay, Neil is well aware that isn’t normal for someone his age. He doesn’t really go around bragging about the fact that his parents were in such a dysfunctional marriage they traveled around the world to avoid being alone in a house together, leaving Neil to not go to school but learn from his surroundings.
After what happened to his mom, his father paid even less attention to him, dropping him in the care of the nanny who provided another language to add to the list. By the time his father went to prison and uncle Stuart took him in, Neil was fluent in four languages. He was eight.
“I’m a man of the world,” Neil winked.
Andrew snorts. “And yet you ended up in Palmetto with the rest of us. Lucky you.”
“There are definite benefits to being here,” Neil says, not breaking eye contact for one second, making sure the message is clear.
Andrew inhales deep enough Neil can hear it, and then he grabs his stuff. Neil would object again, but the school bell rings, indicating it’s time for next period.
Lucky for Neil, he shares the class with Andrew, and he quickly runs after him.
There’s a party at Knox’s house on Friday, and Aaron wants to go. He wants to go with Katelyn. And that meant that Neil needed to haul ass and fucking do something, Aaron had kindly reminded him.
It was tough to find the right moment to finally indicate to Andrew what his intentions were. Neil was glad to see whatever had gone on between Andrew and Kevin was fixed, but that also meant the lunch meetups had stopped. He meant to join Andrew again but found him instead at a table with Kevin, Thea, and a white-haired girl he thought was called Renee.
Andrew had seen him walk past that day. Neil thought he saw him nod in greeting, but with Andrew, you never knew.
So, with a face-to-face meeting out of the question, Neil ends up sending Andrew a message on Instagram. He thought about asking Aaron for Andrew’s number, but in truth, he wants to involve Aaron as little as possible, not just for fear of Andrew getting suspicious.
The perfect opportunity appears when Andrew uploads a new photo of himself, backlit, and half-shrouded in smoke.
It looks beautiful, and so Neil decides to tell him so.
[8:49 P.M.] @neiljos10: that’s a gorgeous picture
[9:13 P.M.] @minandrew_: thanks.
[9:14 P.M.] @neiljos10: you’re so talented 😱
[9:17 P.M.] @minandrew_: ...thanks.
[9:18 P.M.] @neiljos10: hey what r u doing this friday
[9:20 P.M.] @minandrew_: preferably nothing
[9:20 P.M.] @minandrew_: why
[9:21 P.M.] @neiljos10: wanna go to knox’s party?
[9:21 P.M.] @neiljos10: with me?
[9:36 P.M.] @minandrew_: why
[9:37 P.M.] @neiljos10: idk man why do u think people go out together
[9:39 P.M.] @minandrew_: go out… like what, a date or something?
[9:40 P.M.] @neiljos10: ideally
[9:45 P.M.] @minandrew_: stop fucking around
[9:46 P.M.] @neiljos10: i’m serious
[9:46 P.M.] @neiljos10: you can say no
[9:46 P.M.] @neiljos10: but i wanted to ask
[9:59 P.M.] @minandrew_: you’re actually serious?
[9:59 P.M.] @neiljos10: 100%
[10:51 P.M.] @minandrew_: i’ll think about it
Chapter 7: Andrew
sorry it's been so long! i've been dealing with a bunch of medical issues and then also got really self-conscious about this fic i guess? but i'm doing better, i decided on a chapter count and i'm gonna work my butt off to bring this story to its beautifully awkward end (not yet though, we're not even halfway there yet)
Andrew waits two days before making up his mind. It’s two days of studying Neil at school while pretending he doesn’t care one bit, and it works ninety percent of the time. Neil catches him looking twice.
On Thursday, before he makes his way to the dinner table, he sends Neil a message.
[6:47 P.M.] @minandrew_: yes.
The message is read within seconds, and Andrew locks his phone, then leaves it in his room for good measure.
It was Aaron’s turn to set the table, so he just takes a seat and tucks in. He eats two spoonfuls before he can’t anymore.
“I’m going out tomorrow,” he says, facing Bee head-on.
“Okay, honey,” Bee says. “A sleepover at Kevin’s?”
“No,” Andrew replies. “On a date.”
Aaron chokes on his soda. Bee drops her fork before reaching over and slapping Aaron’s back to help him regain his breath.
When Aaron stops coughing his lungs out, Bee turns to him. “Are you… Are you sure?”
Andrew shrugs, knowing full-well it doesn’t work on Bee. “It’s just one date.”
“Well, give me more details, where are y’all going, who is it, how long do I have to get a background check on them?”
Andrew turns red against his own will. “There’s a party at Jeremy Knox’ house tomorrow night. Please relax.”
“Does that-” Aaron clears his throat, which had gone squeaky after the whole choking thing. “Does that mean I can go too?”
Andrew whips his head over to his brother. Something is itching at the back of his mind.
Aaron refuses to look at him.
Something is going on.
It takes a while to find an outfit that doesn’t scream ‘I’ve spent the entire day working on this’, Andrew adamant about conserving his ‘edgy cool but not trying hard’ style. He tries so hard , though.
He settles for a tastefully distressed jumper over black jeans and stays in his room until he’s sure Aaron’s already left.
Neil messaged him earlier to let him know he’d pick him up at eight-thirty, so it’s eight twenty-eight when Andrew makes his way to the living room.
Bee is making a decent effort at being subtle, but her iPad is upside down and she isn’t even wearing her glasses.
It reminds Andrew to clean his own glasses, deciding against contacts for the entire night after wearing them at school all day.
When the doorbell rings, Bee doesn’t say a word, but she comes and kisses his forehead before he heads out. She noticed his nerves, of course, but she also knew that acknowledging them would only make them worse.
He takes a deep breath, makes sure his feelings aren’t written on his face, and opens the door.
Neil’s the kind of guy who probably puts zero effort in his outfits and still ends up looking fucking great.
“Hey,” Neil says with a smile, giving him a less than subtle once-over.
Andrew nods. Give him a break okay, there’s a frog, or a rock or something in his throat.
“Ready to go?” Neil asks, pointing at the car behind him. It looks safe, and new, and not like Neil’s.
“Who’d you rob?”
Neil snorts, and Andrew feels proud, like an idiot. “My uncle told me to take the car if you must know. Told me to act like a gentleman and all that shit too. Luckily I got out before he tried to give me the sex talk. Again.”
Andrew decides to just let that topic slide as Neil opens the door for him. Fucking gentleman .
Andrew didn’t need to add ‘responsible driver’ to the list of things he liked about Neil, the list was too long already.
Neil doesn’t take his eyes off the road as he says, “You look nice.”
Andrew thanks the darkness around them for hiding what’s sure to be a blush, and tsks. “Keep it in your pants, Josten.”
“Always,” Neil says without pause, confusing Andrew.
Knox’ house isn’t that far, so it doesn’t take long for Neil to park somewhere sensible, far enough away no one would puke on his uncle’s car. They make their way over to the house, their silence slowly being replaced by awful pop music coming out of speakers in every room, even the one where the tv is on and people are playing Mario Kart.
Neil guides him towards the kitchen, and Andrew realizes he’s probably been here before. Hell, he has no idea how often these parties happen, he’s never had an interest in them before, but knowing Neil’s been here makes him think about things he doesn’t want to think about. Namely Neil, potentially drunk, possibly kissing someone. He’s not stupid enough to think Neil’s been celibate his whole life, but he doesn’t need to be faced with that reality head-on.
“You want a drink?” Neil shouts near his ear, and Andrew notes how he doesn’t touch him.
Andrew takes a look at what’s available, decides against the big bowl filled with a toxic orange looking concoction, and asks for a beer. Neil grabs two cans and they start looking for a place to sit.
They find a calm spot on a swing set in the backyard, far enough away from the people doing keg stands so they can still hear each other speak, not too far for the silence to become awkward.
“So,” Andrew decides to just ask. “You come to these things often?”
Neil shrugs. “Not often, no. Aaron doesn’t really come to these things and my friend group isn’t that massive for me to just show up here and hang out with people I never talk to.”
“But you’ve been here before,” Andrew insists.
“Yeah,” Neil says. I know Knox.”
There’s a small jealous fire burning in Andrew’s gut. Knox is a good-looking guy, Andrew can admit that much. There isn’t a single person in their year who wasn’t attracted to him at some point.
Andrew kicks off from the ground a bit to gently swing. He takes a sip of his beer and pretends to like it.
He doesn’t know what people are meant to do on dates. They probably don’t spend the time being jealous of their dates’ previous relationships.
“Aren’t he and Moreau-” Andrew says when he remembers seeing the two of them together at school.
“Yeah,” Neil grins. “You have no idea how long that took, though. Those two were circling around each other for months.”
“So you and Knox…”
“Yeah?” Neil looks confused, and Andrew feels embarrassed. Then he feels stupid for being embarrassed. He turns away and drinks some more, regretting it instantly.
“ Oh ,” Neil says and Andrew doesn’t need to look at him to hear the pleased smile there. “When I said I knew him, I didn’t mean biblically .”
“Yes, alright, thank you, Josten. Not like I give a shit.”
Neil turns to sit sideways on the swing and nudges Andrew’s leg. “Not that I give a shit,” he starts, clearly mocking Andrew. “But how about you?”
Andrew snorts to hide his angry blush. “I don’t know Knox biblically either.”
He downs his drink and winces, shakes the urge to spit it back out. He feels dizzy and holds on tight to the chains on the swing.
“Fuck, that’s disgusting.”
He shuffles around to find a better position and almost slips off the seat before Neil stills the chains, again not touching him.
“Hey, careful,” he says. “Let’s lie down for a minute, huh?”
It’s a stupid idea, but it’s not Andrew’s turn with the brain cell tonight, so he nods and does his best to make his way over to a nice patch of grass.
When he lies down, the world is spinning, but the clouds and the night’s sky look steady, so he focuses on them.
“Andrew Minyard is a lightweight, huh? Who knew?”
Andrew would slap him if he didn’t suspect it’d worsen the nausea. “I did, fuckhead.”
“Why didn’t you tell me? I could have gotten you water.”
“I can handle one beer.”
“I’m thinking you can’t.”
“Shut the fuck up, Josten.”
Neil lies down next to him, and Andrew can almost feel the heat coming off his body. He’s extremely aware of how close, yet how far he is. He wonders what he’d be able to see if he turned his head.
His cheeks turn red when he feels Neil’s stare instead, and he closes his eyes.
There’s something about being in the dark, closing your eyes that makes you more honest. More raw, more daring.
“Why did you ask me out?”
He refuses to open his eyes. It helps with the dizziness.
“Why wouldn’t I?” Neil asks.
“Why now then?”
There’s a pause, and yet Andrew will not look at Neil’s expression.
“Why not now?”
Andrew sighs. “That’s not an answer.”
“I like you, Andrew,” Neil says, and Andrew suppresses the reaction that’s stuck in his throat. “I want to get to know you better. Is that so strange?”
“It’s unexpected,” Andrew says. “You’ve known me for years.”
“Nah,” Neil interrupts. “I’ve known Aaron for years. You’re nothing alike.”
Andrew doesn’t reply to that.
“Do you want me to leave you alone?” Neil asks. “If it makes you uncomfortable, I’ll back off, no hard feelings.”
Andrew doesn’t want him to back off. He also doesn’t want to admit that to Neil, though.
Neil seems to understand the message in his silence anyways, and changes the subject.
Andrew isn’t paying a lot of attention, just listens as Neil tells stories, enjoying the sound of his voice right next to him. If Neil hoped for any participation from Andrew, he’s a good sport about not mentioning it.
Andrew is close to falling asleep when Neil nudges him gently.
“I’m gonna get a refill,” he says. “You good to stay here a while, or should I get someone?”
Andrew sits up with great effort. “I’m good,” he says before yawning. “I’ll just check my phone, I promise not to pass out.”
“As long as you promise,” Neil laughs. “I’ll be right back, okay?”
Andrew shoos him off and opens his phone, scrolling through Instagram as he yawns again.
He stops when he sees the pictures Aaron posted not even half an hour ago.
It’s a collection of him and some people from his class, and then there’s one picture of him and a familiar girl. Andrew’s sure he’s seen her before, hanging around Aaron at some point.
He’s got his arm around her waist and she’s looking up at him with a disgustingly sweet look on her face.
She’s interested in him, that much is clear. Aaron seems to be too, which would make this a date.
Aaron’s not allowed to date.
Not unless Andrew was.
And… Neil just so happened to ask him out a few weeks after the rule changed.
It’s too big of a coincidence, especially since Neil is Aaron’s best fucking friend.
Andrew’s pissed he didn’t see it sooner. He’s pissed he trusted Neil to actually be interested in him, and he’s pissed Neil now has something over him. So does his brother. Jesus fuck, Andrew feels murderous. He’s hurt. He needs to get out of here.
He leaves the swingset and the fucking silent backyard behind him as he walks back in, careful not to cross paths with Neil. He finds Kevin in the corner of the kitchen with Thea and some other people from the team.
Kevin is instantly on high alert when he spots him.
“Andrew? What’s wrong?”
He hates being vulnerable like this, in front of other people, but all he cares about right now is leaving.
“Can you drive me home?”
Kevin doesn’t need any further explanation. He kisses Thea, says a quick goodbye to his friends, and follows Andrew outside.
When he steps into the car, he gets a message.
[11:26 P.M.] @neiljos10: where r u?
He hesitates before answering. Ghosting Neil now would be a clear sign, but it’s also something he can’t recover from. He needs to sleep on this situation, think things through before deciding how he’ll react.
[11:29 P.M.] @minandrew_: emergency w my cat, had to go home
[11:30 P.M.] @neiljos10: oh… i hope everything’s okay! see u at school?
Andrew locks his phone, ignores Kevin’s worried look and rests his head against the window as they drive off.
Chapter 8: Neil
Neil knows Andrew didn’t say anything about texting more this weekend, but that doesn’t stop him from waiting for a message anyways.
Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t arrive, and the first time he gets to speak to Andrew since his sudden departure at the party is during class.
When a discussion starts at the front of the class, Neil leans over and says “Hey.”
Andrew glares at him, but that’s not really out of character for him, so Neil grins. “Everything okay?”
He shrugs and doodles something on his paper that definitely doesn’t look like class notes. “Sure. Why?”
Neil is confused. “With your cat?”
“Oh,” Andrew says, then pauses. “Yeah, we went to the vet and he’s fine. Dramatic asshole.”
“Okay,” Neil says, but it feels like Andrew’s not saying something. Maybe he’s just more forthcoming when he’s tipsy? “That’s good.”
The commotion upfront has stopped and Andrew points. “Gonna pay attention now.”
“Okay,” Neil repeats, feeling very dismissed. Did he do something wrong on Friday? He only had one drink before Andrew left, he’s sure he behaved himself. They even cleared up the Jeremy thing.
He caves and texts Aaron.
: did anything happen w andrew this weekend?
Aaronald : ?
Aaronald : don’t think so? he locked himself in his room w his little pet monster but that’s standard
Aaronald : why?
Neilio : he’s acting strange
Aaronald : it’s andrew
Neilio : v helpful
Aaronald : ur welc
Neilio : u know im doing u a favor rite?
Aaronald : ur getting paid, dumbass
As ridiculous as that sounds, it hurts to be faced with the facts like that. After the date on Friday, Neil had gotten a deposit from Katelyn, or more likely from her parents, and Neil put it in his savings account immediately.
: when’s the next date?
Neilio : i gotta get him to talk to me again first
Aaronald : alright fine
Aaronald : do something with cats
Aaronald : anything with cats
Aaronald : Andrew is a big slut for anything cat-related
Neilio : I could have thought of that
Aaronald : But Ya Didn’t
Aaronald : lemme know when I can take Katelyn out (: i gotta work up the courage to ask her
Neilio : what if i tell katelyn and she surprises u instead
Aaronald : i’ll kill u dead
Neilio : D:
Andrew doesn’t respond to his messages on Instagram, but he also hasn’t been online since last Friday, so Neil figures he’s just busy.
He waits for the perfect opportunity at school, which just happens to be after chemistry class. He once again takes advantage of the opportunity to look at Andrew, only pausing when he absolutely has to pay attention to the teacher. Andrew looks less scowly than before, but Kevin makes up for it with some angry stares thrown his way. Neil’s not really sure what he did to upset Kevin, but he also doesn’t really care, so he ignores him.
After class, Neil races to shove his things in his bag and makes it over to Andrew’s desk before he leaves.
“You have a minute?” he asks, unable to work out Andrew’s current mood.
Andrew says, “I have one minute, yes.”
Kevin waits right next to him, and Neil shifts uncomfortably. “Really?”
Andrew sighs and turns to Kevin. “Go.”
“You sure?” And seriously , Neil doesn’t know what he did to piss Kevin off.
“Sure,” Andrew says, then turns back to Neil as Kevin walks out as slow as humanly possible.
“Right,” Neil says, his face shifting to a coy grin. “You wanna go out this weekend?”
Andrew blinks. Blinks again. Neil replays the sentence in his head to make sure it couldn’t be misinterpreted, as Andrew still isn’t speaking.
“Okay,” Andrew eventually says, after more than Neil’s allocated minute has passed.
“Wait, really?” Neil needs to make sure, because he’d almost come to terms with the rejection already. “Can I pick you up on Saturday?”
“No,” Andrew says, giving Neil serious whiplash. “Tell me where to meet you, I’ll take my bike.”
“Oh, sure. You know where the cat café is?”
Andrew is doing the blinking thing again.
“Yes,” Andrew says, his voice uncharacteristically squeaky. He clears his throat. “Yeah, I know where it is.”
“Can we meet up there at three?”
Andrew nods. It seems like that’s all he’ll get out of him, so Neil grins. “Awesome. I’ll see you around this week, though!”
He doesn’t reply, but Neil doesn’t mind. He’s already excited for Saturday, eager to spend some time with Andrew without anyone they know around. He takes off with a spring in his step.
When he joins Aaron and Katelyn for lunch, Aaron asks, “What’s up with your face?”
Katelyn grins behind her shoddily raised hand.
“You’re all smiley and shit,” Aaron says. “It’s fucking weird.”
“ You’re fucking weird.”
“Nice comeback, what are you, twelve?”
“At least I don’t look like I’m twelve, short stack.”
“You’re barely taller than me!”
“Ah, but you admit I’m taller.”
“God, I fucking hate you so much, Josten.”
Neil shows up early. After he got dressed and ready, he was just pacing around the house until uncle Stuart told him to get the fuck out of his sights, in that loving family way, of course.
He parks and locks his bike, seeing as there was no need to borrow uncle Stuart’s car again. He waits on a bench outside, letting the sun shine down on his face as he closes his eyes and enjoys the warmth.
He opens them again as he hears a faint noise and sees Andrew standing in front of him, putting his phone away.
“Oh, hey,” Neil says with a smile, somehow pleased Andrew got here early too. “You look nice.”
He certainly does, and Neil’s beginning to notice Andrew’s somewhat into fashion. Today he’s wearing extremely ripped black skinny jeans, a simple white shirt, and a baggy oversized black cardigan that goes down to his knees. He looks cozy and warm.
He quietly thanks whoever gave Andrew his pale complexion which ensures his blush to show up clearly, even though he’s sure Andrew must hate it. It’s one easy way for Neil to read him, and it gives him a sense of pride whenever he gets that redness to show up.
“Thanks,” Andrew says. “You look decent enough, I suppose.”
Neil beams at that. “Thank you! I made an effort.”
He picked jeans that have fashionable holes in them, instead of the ones he literally wore down so much that holes started appearing in random places. Uncle Stuart bought him some orange sneakers which he claimed were on sale, though that’s a sly trick uncle Stuart has pulled several times before, and Neil knows not to call him out for it anymore. He just accepts it, and now he’s wearing the sneakers with pride. He paired them with a white tee and his khaki bomber jacket. Uncle Stuart wouldn’t let him leave the house without putting some product in his hair, so even if Andrew likes it, Neil’s not sure he can ever recreate it.
“I noticed,” Andrew says after a while, and Neil just grins. It’s as close to a compliment as Andrew can get, so it’s a win in Neil’s book.
“You wanna head inside?”
“Well, I am only here for the cats, so,” Andrew says, and Neil gasps dramatically.
“What about me?”
Andrew shrugs and pulls a face. “Meh.”
They get cozy in a corner and order some drinks and cake, and Andrew is immediately joined by a grey and white tabby. She’s missing an eye, but even she could see Andrew’s lap was the most comfortable position in the whole room.
Neil then pictures himself in Andrew’s lap and takes a sip of his tea to cool himself down. The tea, of course, is piping hot, and he fails to swallow correctly, leaving him a red, coughing mess.
“You okay there?” Andrew asks, and Neil is still coughing away, thankful that it helps hide his blush. He would not want to explain his thought process otherwise.
“Peachy,” he says with the voice of a chain smoker before clearing whatever’s left stuck in his throat.
It doesn’t take long for a different cat to snuggle up to Neil, and he’s inherently pleased with the trust this cat has in him. They sniff at Neil’s outstretched fingers at first, and after deeming him worthy, they pitter-patter over to Neil’s legs, turning in circles a few times until the correct position has been found to lay down. They’re a tuxedo cat with super fluffy long fur, and after checking the cat’s okay with it, Neil starts petting them slowly.
He’s so absorbed in their little calm interaction, he doesn’t realize he was doing it until Andrew makes a sound from across the table.
“So what’s your cat’s name? What are they like?” Neil asks, after wondering what subject to break the awkwardness.
“Sir Fat Cat McCatterson,” Andrew says without flinching. “He’s an asshole, but he’s mine.”
Neil takes a moment to take that name in. Then his brain comes up with, “He got knighted?”
He can see a muscle twitch in the corner of Andrew’s mouth. He feels victorious.
Neil gets the smile to show up two more times, so he’s fucking elated at how well this date has gone, and how much fun they had together.
They walk over to their bikes together, and Neil wonders what to say as goodbye. He won’t ask if Andrew had fun, he wouldn’t get an answer to that. If he says he had fun, Andrew won’t reply the same which would make Neil feel stupid. He chews on his lip trying to think of anything to say, because it’s getting awkward now and pretty soon Andrew will just head home without saying anything—
Andrew’s looking at his lips. At Neil’s lips. He doesn’t know Neil noticed, because he’s still doing it, and Neil doesn’t want him to stop. He looks down at Andrew’s lips himself, and then suddenly it’s all he can think about, because how would they feel against his own? They look soft and plump, and his top lip has this cute dip in the middle that Neil wants to explore—
“Andrew,” he breathes out. He has no idea when they both moved to stand so close together.
Andrew looks up at his eyes, and Neil feels so incredibly seen, he can’t describe it.
“Can I kiss you?”
It’s amazing how quickly Neil can see in Andrew’s eyes that he’s shut himself off. He knows what he’s going to say before Andrew replies, “No.”
Neil tries to calm his racing heart. “Okay,” he says, swallowing hard. “Can I message you?”
Andrew takes a step back towards his bike. “Yes.”
Neil smiles, then grins. “Great. Get home safe.”
“I— Yeah, you too,” Andrew says, before putting in his headphones and riding off.
Chapter 9: Andrew
You too. What a positively stupid, cliché and heartfelt thing to say. Andrew feels sick just thinking about it.
Neil’s not supposed to be caring, or sweet, or any other positive thing Andrew might fall for; Neil is a dickhead who’s pretending to date him just so his brother can go out with his little girlfriend. So, really, Neil’s just a very good actor.
It’s a weird thing to come to terms with, having seen the guy at his house for the last few years and watched him grow from a gangly, awkward boy to an unfortunately fit teenager Andrew somehow got the hots for. On top of that, now Andrew knows he’s some kind of mastermind. It should not be hot. He’s playing Andrew for a fool, and Andrew should not think it’s hot.
It took him a while to figure out how to react to finding out about Neil, and in the end, he’d thought of something Bee often tells him.
‘What have you done for yourself this week?’ she’d ask him during their pseudo-therapy sessions. They’re not real therapy sessions, because she is his mother and he is broke. Besides that, sure.
His usual responses are along the lines of ‘watched tv for sixteen hours straight’ or ‘brushed my teeth almost every day’ when things haven’t been right for a while. Now though, should she ask the question, he’d think ‘I’m going to let Neil date me, because I would like to be dated by him.’ He’s not actually gonna say it, he’s not a fucking idiot, but it’s a good enough reason for this buffoonery to continue.
So, when Neil asks him out, he accepts. Kevin doesn’t know what exactly happened that Friday, but he’s extremely protective nonetheless—which Andrew would appreciate more if it didn’t seriously mess with his edgy punk vibes, fuck, Kevin.
And while Andrew had allowed the cat café date to happen, he never expected to enjoy himself so much. Neil was funny in an unexpected way. He could give scathing remarks about inanimate objects, but melted into a puddle of goo when this one cat made its nest out of Neil’s lap. Yes, Andrew noticed. He noticed for a long time.
He wanted to find Neil’s faults during the date, but he didn’t. He wanted to weaken his crush on Neil, but he didn’t. And then Neil asked if he could kiss him, and Andrew wanted that too. But he didn’t. He couldn’t, not right then and there. Not seeing Neil up close and wondering what his lips might taste like, if he could recognize the tea he drank just by taste, if Neil’s fingers running through his hair would feel as good as he always imagined them to be. It all felt too real all of a sudden, and it’s not real.
So there is a serious dilemma going on in Andrew’s head: on the one hand, Neil is not actually interested in him, and therefore his feelings can’t be trusted. On the other, more convincing hand, the date was a lot of fun. Turns out, Andrew likes fun.
He sends Neil a message after contemplating the idea for a good hour (give or take a few days).
[8:21 P.M.] @minandrew_: wanna hang out tomorrow after school
[8:23 P.M.] @neiljos10: wait fr?
[8:24 P.M.] @minandrew_: yes. so
[8:24 P.M.] @neiljos10: yeah, ofc! what do u wanna do?
[8:25 P.M.] @minandrew_: do u play videogames
[8:25 P.M.] @neiljos10: do i
[8:25 P.M.] @neiljos10: get ready to get absolutely rekt, minyard
[8:28 P.M.] @minandrew_: sure jan
[8:29 P.M.] @minandrew_: so, we go to your place after school then?
[8:29 P.M.] @neiljos10: yeah sweet
[8:30 P.M.] @neiljos10: hey can u proofread my english essay while you’re here?
[8:31 P.M.] @minandrew_: sure
[8:31 P.M.] @minandrew_: if you can beat me, i’ll proofread
[8:31 P.M.] @minandrew_: so no
[8:32 P.M.] @neiljos10: rude
[8:34 P.M.] @minandrew_: part of the package
Neil’s place is gigantic. The place has fucking columns on the front porch. The entry has two staircases. What is the reason?
Neil shows him around with an adorably flushed face that Andrew is ignoring very valiantly, until he suddenly stops in the kitchen.
“Uncle Stuart,” he squeaks. “I didn’t know you’d be here.”
“Well, it is my house,” Stuart says with an interesting British accent. Does that mean Neil has an accent he’s been hiding? “Why, what were you planning to do in my absence?”
Neil chokes on air, it seems like, and Andrew fights the eyebrow that wants to lift.
“Sorry boys, no hanky panky today,” he adds, and Neil’s blush is infectious, now travelling up Andrew’s neck too. “Who are you, by the way?”
Andrew clears his throat, but Neil cuts him off. “That’s Andrew, Uncle Stuart, you know who he is. Aaron’s been coming for sleepovers for the last three years, and you know he has a twin.”
“Yes, good, anyway,” Stuart says, and turns around to stir something on the stove.
Both Andrew and Neil wait for the continuation of that sentence, but it seems Stuart is done with the conversation. Neil shrugs and drags Andrew along by his sleeve over to the lounge.
There’s a giant corner sofa that dominates the space, but Neil sits on the floor and leans himself against it, so Andrew sits besides him—with a respectable distance between them, of course.
He’s handed a controller and Neil boots up a game Andrew has never heard of.
“Are you ready?” Neil grins and leans over to bump shoulders with Andrew, the touch making Andrew feel like someone set his skin on fire.
“Just start the game, fuckhead,” Andrew says quietly, very aware that Stuart is somewhere behind them.
Andrew wins. He wins another time, and then once more, and Neil’s bottom lip starts sticking out more and more with every loss. Andrew wants to poke it back into place. Or just touch it in general, really.
Instead, he just stares at it. He can’t look away, mesmerized for some reason, until Stuart walks in and clears his throat, raising an eyebrow at how close they’re sitting. Andrew didn’t realise it happened, again , and he really should start paying more attention.
“Alright, kids,” he starts.
“We’re sixteen,” Neil interrupts.
“Shush, children,” Stuart says. “I need to go into work for a few hours. Can I trust you to leave the house in one piece?”
Neil blinks. “I’ve been home alone before.”
“Yes,” Stuart says. “ Alone . Just remember: safe, sane and consensual, okay?”
“ Uncle Stuart !” Neil sputters, and Andrew feels his face heat up.
Stuart winks at them both before pulling the front door closed behind him, and only Neil’s squeak gets Andrew to look up again from where he was burning a hole in the carpet with his stare. His entire face is red, so Andrew doesn’t feel so alone, and he’s been chewing on his lips again.
“You wanna watch a movie?”
Andrew shrugs, unsure of the state of his voice should he open his mouth.
“Okay, uh, cool,” Neil says. “I’m just gonna get a drink, you want anything?”
Andrew shrugs again, and Neil accepts the non-answer before yeeting himself over the couch.
He can hear the tap running, and when he peeks over his shoulder and lifts himself high enough to see into the kitchen, he sees Neil splash his face with water. God, Andrew wishes he had thought of that. His blush famously hangs around for at least an hour.
When Neil joins him again, right next to him on the floor with just a few inches between them, he hands Andrew a can of something. Andrew wonders how subtly he can hold the ice cold can against his own face without Neil noticing.
There’s a movie playing. He doesn’t know what it is. No idea what it’s about, not even a clue what language it’s in. All Andrew knows is that Neil’s hand is next to his hip, and by extension, next to Andrew’s hand which is next to his own hip, and he’s so very, very aware of the lack of distance between them.
He tries not to look down. He looks at the screen, distracts himself by giving up and leaning the soda can against his right cheek so at least he can pretend Neil can’t see it, takes deep breaths and then—
Something brushes against his pinky. It seems accidental, and Andrew won’t make it awkward by checking or moving his hand, but then it happens again. Andrew’s heart stops beating for a millisecond before it starts pounding in overdrive. It’s just a touch, but it’s so intimate, somehow secretive even though they’re alone, and it makes it so Andrew can’t think .
Neil’s pinky curls over Andrew’s own. Andrew fights the urge to move his hand, to twitch, because it might scare Neil off. He shifts his hand further to the left, gently, so Neil knows he’s interested and he wants more.
He can hear the intake of breath next to him, can see the way Neil turns his head towards him, so Andrew caves and faces him too. The look shared between them is raw, honest, and Andrew wants .
“I really want to kiss you,” Andrew says, unthinking, aching.
Neil’s eyes shine as Andrew tries to keep his focus on them. “So kiss me.”
There’s a lot of reasons why he shouldn’t. They’re all vying for his attention in his head for a brief moment until eventually, need wins out. Fuck it.
He leans in, his right hand grabbing Neil’s nape so he can guide him closer and feel Neil’s hot breath against his mouth. He can feel Neil starting to say his name, so he shuts him up, kissing him, roughly, then tenderly, finally .
Kissing Neil is like a summer rain. It’s calming and enveloping—it makes Andrew feel good down to his core, and that’s before Neil playfully bites at his lip and drives an embarrassing sound out of Andrew’s mouth.
He pulls back just to grin, and Andrew mumbles, “Shut up,” before pulling him right back into place. His hand, previously wrapped around the back of Neil’s neck, slips forward and he reaches out a single finger to stroke along his sharp jawline.
Neil keeps his hands mostly to himself, but his right hand is still on top of Andrew’s left, their fingers still intertwined, and somehow that feels more intimate than the kiss they’re sharing.
It’s getting to the point where it’s hard for Andrew to breathe, just overwhelmed by the situation, so he breaks the kiss off with a final press of their lips and leans his forehead against Neil’s.
“Fuck,” he whispers.
Neil shifts, but only so he can press his nose against Andrew’s, then nuzzles into him and switches sides. It’s adorable, and it should not be raising Andrew’s heartbeat like that.
They’re startled when the sound from the TV stops, and they turn to see the message ‘Are you still watching?’ on screen. Neil chuckles and turns it off. When he turns back to Andrew, he can really tell what a mess he made of Neil’s hair. It’s inviting him to mess with it some more.
“Come here,” he says, and Neil does.
It’s a few hours later when Stuart comes back in, and Andrew is grateful the front door doesn’t have a clear view of the living room.
He and Neil were lying on the ground on their sides facing each other, sharing lazy kisses and whispered nonsense. Their hair is a mess, their lips are swollen and pink, and their hips are the only part not pushed close together. They weren’t prepared to go there yet, but they were definitely aware of what the other might be feeling.
The slam of the front door changes their position instantly. They both sit up, ruffling their hair and failing to think of an explanation for the state of their lips. There’s a hickey on Neil’s neck he’s trying valiantly to hide. Andrew rests his elbow on his raised knee and hides half his face behind his hand, but Stuart isn’t fooled.
“Boys,” he says with an amused smirk. “Did you two have fun?”
Neil groans and slams his head back into the couch cushion. “Please embarrass me later,” he asks, and Andrew is surprised Stuart easily agrees. Bee would never miss out on an opportunity like that.
“Sure thing, bud. I think it’s time for Andrew to go home now, don’t you think?”
Andrew checks the time on his phone, ignoring every single notification he missed while he was occupied with Neil. It’s nearing nine, and Bee’s probably worried. He had said he’d be at Neil’s, but Bee nonetheless tends to worry until he’s home again.
“Yeah, I uh…” Andrew says before standing up slowly. He had spent an awfully long time on that floor. Getting kissed breathless. Fuck. “I should go.”
He can see Neil’s face fall, just a little, and it’s hard to remember it’s not real.
“I’ll walk you out,” he says, leading Andrew to the door with a hand on the small of his back.
They’re silent when Andrew slips his boots back on, when he shrugs his jacket on too. He waves halfheartedly at Stuart who’s waiting in the kitchen door frame, and it’s only when Neil shuts the door behind them that they both breathe a sigh of relief. And then it’s awkward again.
“So,” Neil says before wincing at himself. “That was fun.”
Fun. Sure, that’s one way to describe it. Andrew stares at Neil incredulously.
“We should do that again some time?” Neil says, or asks—Andrew’s not entirely sure.
“Shut up,” he says before pulling Neil closer by the front of his hoodie. He kisses him briefly, far too hard by accident, but he follows it up with a lingering soft press that’s way too honest for Andrew’s liking.
“Goodnight,” he says before grabbing his bike, not letting himself turn around for Neil to see the feelings, the confusion, the want.
The wind against his face as he rides his bike home cools down his burning cheeks, making sure he’s slightly more presentable when he walks into the living room where Bee’s waiting with a cup of tea.
“You okay, bub?” It’s all she says, and she knows not to be insulted or upset when Andrew just nods and disappears into his bedroom. She knows he’ll tell her about it someday. He just has to work through some stuff for himself first.
Namely, how the hell he fell in love with Neil Josten.
Chapter 10: Betsy
There’s one thing Betsy Dobson likes more than hot chocolate, and only slightly less than her two sons, and it’s tea. Specifically, the tea. The piping hot town gossip, no matter how small it may seem—Betsy will drink that shit up like it’s water in the desert. She proudly admits it. She’s a gossip queen.
By proudly admits, she means that her fellow gossiping friends can know, and no one else. Her kids can’t know, because sometimes the gossip is about them. It’s just too easy with two hormonal teenagers in the house.
Her main partner in crime is David Wymack. He looks like a brick house, with arms the size of tree trunks, but the man loves spilling tea.
They had a big fight around a year ago after a friendly discussion about their kids quickly went south. Betsy had wondered what Aaron saw in Kevin, given he was stupidly tall and way too obsessed with sports. David had asked if Aaron could even look Kevin in the face without a step stool, and it only went downhill from there.
They rekindled their friendship when Aaron got over his crush, and David apologized by talking about how dramatically Kevin reacted to his first-ever A-minus.
Betsy pours some tea into cups, places them on their matching saucers, and brings them over to the table where she and David like to talk shit.
“So,” she smiles. “What’s new?”
David winces after taking a sip, he probably burned his tongue just then. “Kevin and Thea are thinking about sleeping together,” he says with a scowl.
“Did he tell you that?”
“Don’t be fucking crazy, of course not. I overheard him while he was video-chatting her.”
“Overheard, as in…”
David rolls his eyes. “Alright, fine. Maybe I was lingering as I was walking down the hallway, don’t act like you wouldn’t do the same.”
She wouldn’t. But she also won’t admit that to David to make him feel bad.
“And how do you feel about that? They’re both seventeen, right?”
“Right,” David says. “Which is dumb-dumb age, despite what Kevin’s grades say.”
“That’s true,” Betsy agrees. “I’m glad I got the twins to stay away from dating until now, but I fear for what might happen after all this time of it being forbidden. What if they immediately start dating and having sex and ignoring everything I’ve ever taught them about protection? I’m too young to be a grandmother!”
David whistles. “Okay, clearly you’re having more issues. Let’s dive into those.”
“No. Please continue, David, my meltdown can wait.”
“Your twins are responsible little shits, right?” David does not let her sidestep. “Don’t you think they’ll be careful?”
“I’m sure Andrew will be careful,” Betsy says, and David immediately nods in agreement. David knows Andrew as well as anyone considering him and Kevin have been best friends for years now. “You know the non-dating rule was his idea, so it means something that he agreed to it being changed, and he’s opening himself up to new things. It’s Aaron I’m worried about.”
David nods for her to continue.
“He just feels… so much, and so hard? He can’t ever do things halfway—it’s all or nothing with that kid. If he loves someone, he’ll go to the end of the world for that person, even if he’s only known them for a day. And what if that happens? He meets someone, falls in love and acts like the dumb fool I know he can be, and gets himself into trouble?”
“You can’t think like that, though,” David says, sensibly. “Every good parent worries about their kids, but you can’t let those worries eat away at you. If you panic about everything that can go wrong, you’ll have no space left in your head to think of ways to clown your kids.”
“I can’t believe the words coming out of your mouth, David. I haven’t even brought out the whiskey to spike our tea.”
“I thought this was a very weak blend,” David grins. “So, just say what’s really bothering you. Admit to it.”
Betsy sighs and braces herself. “My babies are growing up, and I hate it.”
“There you go.”
“You’re a monster for making me say it.”
“Yeah, well,” David shrugs. “You told me my son has a praise kink, so consider this payback.”
Chapter 11: Neil
Andrew is a good kisser. Never mind the fact that Neil has never kissed anyone else, he considers this a fact. He didn’t know kissing could be like that, never knew what the big deal was. But if that’s what kissing is like, Neil is interested in more.
He wonders how Andrew came to be such a good kisser; was he just born talented, or did he train for it, and if so, with whom? Has he kissed Kevin? And if so, is Neil jealous? Kevin isn’t dating Andrew, Neil is. Right?
Andrew ignores him the next day at school. He shouldn’t really be surprised. They don’t have any classes together, and he didn’t expect Andrew to be all lovey-dovey just because they made out once. For several hours.
It’s not like Neil wants to show off to the whole school, but it would have been nice if Andrew didn’t turn and speed-walk away from him when he saw him in the hallway.
When he turns to brush the incident off, he’s faced with his nemesis.
“Hi Aaron, stop scaring the fuck out of me, Aaron.”
“But your face looks hilarious when it’s spooked, why would I do that?”
“You’re an absolute terror.”
“Thank you. What did you do to my brother?” Aaron asks, face suddenly turning serious.
“What?” Neil chokes on the memory of what he and Andrew did last night. “Nothing, why?” Pretty sure his voice doesn’t normally sound that squeaky.
Aaron squints. “Not that I want any details, but how’s that going?”
“How’s what going?” Neil tries to deflect.
“Don’t play stupid, Josten, you’re far too good at it and I can hardly tell the difference sometimes.”
Aaron attempts whispering, which is to say he talks at a normal volume, but hides his face behind his hand. “How are things between you and my brother, fuckwad?”
“They’re fine. Normal. Fuck off.”
“So me and Katelyn can still go out?”
Neil is getting slightly pissed off, his skin starting to buzz and he wants to move, to run. “Yes, Aaron. Fucking hell, stop pushing this. You got what you wanted, right?”
Aaron scowls. “Yeah, I was just asking about you. You know, like a friend would. You haven’t even asked how things are between me and Katelyn, and, for your information, it’s going fucking fantastic. Not that you care—some best friend you are.”
“Yeah, well, I’ve been busy,” Neil yells back to hide how Aaron may have made a point there. He hasn’t asked about them, has barely shown interest at lunch when they’re all hanging out. But in his defense, Aaron and Katelyn are usually attached at the lips then, and Neil really doesn’t need to see that shit.
“Busy pissing off my brother?”
“He’s not pissed off,” Neil says, and tries to convince himself.
“Sure, that’s why he just ran away.”
“Oh fuck off, Aaron.” Neil sighs and feels the pent up energy leave his body all at once. “Just leave it alone, alright?”
“You haven’t pissed him off?” Aaron asks this time, and his anger has disappeared too, just like that.
“I don’t think so,” Neil admits. “I hope not.”
“Me neither,” Aaron says. “Come on, we’re late for class.”
After a full day of being ignored, Neil stays late at school, knowing Andrew will too. He’s not stalking him. He’s not. He’s just working on his paper. After he fails to write anything, he goes outside, throws his bag under the bleachers, and runs a few laps until he sees a blond head heading out across the parking lot.
“Minyard!” he yells across the field.
After a brief moment of panic where Neil thinks Andrew will just walk away, he’s soon joined by him instead.
“You’re sweaty,” is the first thing Andrew says to him after yesterday.
Neil pulls a face. “Oh shit, do I smell bad?”
“No worse than usual.”
“Thanks,” Neil grins. “Hi.”
Andrew stares at him. “I’m missing my bus, and all you’ve got to say is ‘ hi ’?”
“I missed you,” Neil says, blushing as the words just… spill out.
“It’s been a day,” Andrew says, unimpressed. “Junkie.”
“Is that bad?” Neil asks.
“Missing you after one day? Is that too much? You tell me, Andrew, you’re kind of the benchmark here.”
“I’m what,” Andrew says, voice sounding slightly off. “You’re kidding.”
“I’m not,” Neil says. “So, like, let me know if I’m being… too much, or whatever. Or not enough.”
Andrew’s quiet long enough for Neil to freak out again. “Is it not okay that I’m here right now? Should I give you space? I mean, I don’t want to, but if you need it I’d totally do that. Just tell me, Andrew—”
“Shut up,” Andrew says, grabbing Neil by the front of his sweater and pulling him closer. “Do you want me to kiss you?”
“Fuck, so much .” Neil barely gets the words out before Andrew’s lips are on his, and he struggles to breathe for a second before he relaxes into it, relaxes into Andrew, letting his weight fall forward slightly, knowing Andrew would hold him up. Andrew is strong, and, upon reflection, definitely better at kissing than Neil remembered. He smiles into the kiss, making Andrew pull away. Neil whines.
“What are you smiling about?”
Neil wants to move back in, but Andrew holds him off by the grip on his shirt, and that’s kinda hot. “You’re good at that,” he says, heat rising in his cheeks.
“Kissing.” Neil smiles and tries to move back in.
“Shut up,” Andrew says again, and when Neil opens his mouth he slaps his hand over it. “Don’t you dare say ‘ Make me ’, Josten.”
Neil is a child, so he licks Andrew’s palm. Andrew is a spiteful bastard, so he takes his hand off and licks Neil’s lips but refuses to kiss him afterwards. He pulls Neil in until they’re breathing each other’s air, but when Neil leans in Andrew holds him off, pushing and pulling at Neil’s shirt until he knows the fabric is doomed now. Neil whines, loudly, “Andrew, fucking kiss me.”
“Was that so hard?” Andrew smirks. It’s an expression Neil has never seen him make, and it’s disgustingly sexy.
“Yes, asshole.” Neil lets Andrew swallow the words out of his mouth.
It’s getting dark outside when they stop to check the time, and Andrew definitely missed his bus.
“I can take you home?” Neil offers.
“Did you drive here?”
Neil says nothing until they walk towards his bike, then he grins. “Hold onto me?”
“You fucking suck, Josten.”
“Maybe,” Neil laughs. “I’ve got good legs, though.”
“Really?” Andrew doesn’t look like he meant to say that out loud. “You’ve been looking at my legs, Minyard?”
Andrew glares at him. “Get on the bike.”
He does end up holding onto Neil, and Neil won’t mention how good it feels to have Andrew’s arms around him. It’s quiet out, the wind whistling through his hair and Andrew’s hands tightening when Neil has to swerve around a fallen branch. He breaks the comfortable silence by cracking dumb jokes and feels alive every time Andrew’s amused huff hits the back of his neck.
When they arrive at Andrew’s house, he can see Betsy’s shadow peering out from behind the curtains. He notices the light in Aaron’s room is on, and it’s weird to be reminded that Aaron’s here too. Weird that he’s been here a thousand times, but this thing with Andrew is so new, and different.
“See you later?” he asks instead of says, still too unsure if he’s allowed to do this. Is he too pushy, too clingy? Will Andrew grow tired of him? Will he kiss him goodnight even though his mom is watching?
Andrew steps off the bike and faces Neil.
“Yeah, see you,” he says before leaning in and kissing Neil quickly, like it’s not allowed or like he just couldn’t help himself. Neil smiles, smitten.
“I want a piercing,” Neil admits when they’re next hanging out, just the two of them. They took their bikes out to some park nearby, and the weather is not nice enough for it to be busy. They laid down on the grass and counted clouds, pointing out the most obscure ones they could think to describe. Neil won when he claimed one was shaped like Aaron’s face when he doesn’t get what he wants, and Andrew had no choice but to agree.
“Where?” Andrew asks.
“I can see that for you,” Andrew says, and it’s as close to approval as Andrew usually gets.
“Do you have any piercings? Besides your ears, I mean.”
It was a simple question. It should not take Andrew this long to reply. Especially not when the reply ends up being “No.”
Andrew looks up at the sky, but Neil can still see his shifty eyes.
“Yes, you do.”
“That’s your lying face, what aren’t you telling me?”
“Shut up, Josten.”
“You have a piercing, where is it?”
Neil gets giddy with it. “Tell me, tell me, tell meeee— ”
“Bellybutton,” Andrew says, and rocks Neil’s entire world. “Happy now?”
“Yes,” Neil says, a grin stretching his lips. “Show me.”
“I think the fuck not.”
“Andrew,” Neil pouts. “Why not?”
“You’re far too excited about this.”
“When did you get it? How?” Neil’s brain is running in overdrive. Sure, he has questions—but also, the visual alone is shortcutting his already small amount of brain cells.
“Aaron dared me.”
This just keeps getting better.
“And you did it?”
Andrew raises an eyebrow, which is impressive when they’re lying down like that. Also sexy.
“We made a pact. We’d been living together for a year and we still hated each other’s guts most days. I told him to do something that wasn’t expected of him, and he said he’d let me pierce his ears if I’d let him pierce me somewhere that wasn’t my ears. We got ice cubes, an apple and a needle, and got it done.”
“Just like that, you did it?”
“Well,” Andrew says, a small grin on his face. “I respected his hustle. I picked my belly button because it was easiest to hide from Betsy, so the week after when he got cursed out for having earrings I fully expected him to snitch on me. He didn’t.”
Neil turns on his side to fully face Andrew, giving up all pretense that he was still looking at clouds. “Can I see it?”
Andrew sighs through his nose, which Neil knows means he’s won. He lifts up his hoodie and his loose shirt to just above his belly button, and Neil doesn’t know what to look at first. The shiver of Andrew’s belly under his stare, the line of blond hairs catching some stray sunlight dragging Neil’s eyes down, or the simple black piercing that’s so, so sexy.
“Fuck,” Neil says, for want of a better word.
“Spit it out, Josten,” Andrew says, with a smirk on his inviting lips.
“That’s so hot,” Neil says. He hates how that makes him sound like a cliché horny teenager, but god, it looks so good.
Andrew just looks at him, and it means Neil can see the moment his pupils grow, knows when the moment is building up until Neil whines, embarrassingly, “ Andrew ,” and Andrew pushes him on his back, leans over him and waits until Neil’s arms are crossed behind his neck to dip in and kiss Neil until he can’t think anymore.
“How serious were you about that nose piercing?” Andrew asks once they’ve shaken the loose grass off their backs, ready to leave the park now that the weather’s turning better and families with kids are invading the space.
Andrew knows a good shop, and so he takes Neil there. He talks to the shop owner like he’s been here a dozen times before. He guides him to his options and when Neil asks him to pick something for him, Andrew pinches his side and pulls him closer by the hip—all under the amused look of Roland the piercer.
It’s a simple gold stud to start, and Roland tells him he can replace it with a ring after it’s healed for a few months. Andrew holds his hand and they link fingers as it happens, Neil laughing at the stray tear that drips down his face.
“What do you think?” Roland asks after pointing him towards the mirror.
“I love it,” Neil says, with Andrew at his back.
Chapter 12: Andrew
There’s a room in the house that only Andrew’s allowed to enter. It used to be the laundry, so it’s not big by any means, but once Betsy remodeled the kitchen and moved the laundry downstairs, it no longer had a purpose. Andrew asked her if he could have it.
After discussing it with her and Aaron, who had gotten the bigger bedroom when they moved in, they all worked together to turn it into a darkroom.
It has been his sanctuary for the past two years, a place where he could indulge in this hobby without anyone mocking him for it or even asking to see the results. Nobody was allowed inside, and no one asked questions. If Andrew wanted to show something, he would show it.
It takes four weeks of dating Neil before Andrew takes him to the room.
Most of the time Andrew takes pictures with his digital camera or his phone, but every once in a while he takes out his analog camera to get a different take. Sure, it’s a lot slower to see the results, but that’s what's great about it too. It’s an entire process before he can see what he saw with his own eyes captured on film.
The small room is filled to the brim with his equipment, with old washing lines hanging from the ceiling holding up some of his photographs.
Neil is beautiful and silent in the red glow of the room. He takes it all in, really looks at everything, walks up to Andrew and says, “You’re amazing.”
“Can I take your picture?” Andrew asks instead of replying to Neil’s sentiment. It really isn’t something he can let himself get into.
“What, right now?”
“Yes, but not just now. I have a few… ideas.”
Neil smirks at that. “So what, am I like your muse?”
“You might look horrible on film, don’t get too cocky.”
“You like me cocky,” Neil says, and Andrew is loath to admit he’s right.
“Get out,” Andrew says, and as Neil’s expression shifts, he adds, “because I can’t push you up against the wall to kiss you in here.”
Neil looks great on film. It pains Andrew a little. The much larger part of him loves it, though, and being able to photograph Neil is doing wonders for his creative productivity.
He gets headshots, artistic pieces, close-ups, and they all look gorgeous.
It doesn’t take long for Andrew to realize Neil doesn’t tend to agree.
He shows Neil some of the pictures. There are some he won’t share—not because they didn’t work, but because they show too much of what Andrew’s feeling in them. They’re too honest, too raw, and if someone saw them they’d know too.
Neil doesn’t have much of a reaction to the pictures Andrew shows him. The way he looks at them feels reluctant, so Andrew confronts him.
“If you don’t want to do this anymore, you tell me. If you feel uncomfortable, you tell me. If something’s wrong, you tell me , Josten, and something’s wrong.”
Neil sighs through his nostrils from where he’s belly-flopped on Andrew’s bed, his legs crossed, feet in the air.
“Nothing’s wrong. They’re nice pictures.”
Andrew scowls. “Don’t bullshit me. Neil. ”
Neil worries at his lip, biting on the chapped parts. “I guess I don’t like… I don’t know, looking at myself.”
“Can you tell me why?”
Neil shrugs, and Andrew leans his arms on the mattress from his spot on the floor, dropping his chin on top so he’s eye level with him—closer, and far more intimate.
“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”
“I want to,” Neil says, looking down at Andrew’s hands. “You know my dad was a bad man.”
Andrew nods. “Aaron told us a little bit years ago.”
“Yeah, well,” Neil mumbles. “It’s tough to leave him in the past when I’m the spitting image of him.”
Andrew knows who Nathan Wesninski is. He googled him the same night Aaron told him about him. He knows his crimes, his sentence, his life without parole charge. He knows he died in prison during a fight with another inmate. He suspects that’s not the whole truth.
“I know what he looked like,” Andrew says, “and you look nothing like him.”
Neil looks into Andrew’s eyes finally, ready to object.
Andrew says, “I didn’t think people like you existed until I met you.”
Eventually, Neil asks Andrew if he can take pictures of him. Andrew doesn’t think the trade-off is very fair, doesn’t understand what Neil gets out of this, but he allows it because Neil asked.
Some of them are just pictures of his shoes, because Neil has that idiotic Instagram brand that somehow became wildly popular around school, but others are quite beautiful—intimate portrait shots of Andrew that make Andrew feel truly seen. It’s disturbing how much he likes that.
He knows he’s in deep with Neil, and has been for a while. Allowing this to go on for as long as it has was not a good idea, but he’s enjoying himself so immensely—and the thing is, he thinks Neil is too.
Neil, Andrew has come to find out, is not a mastermind-liar-extraordinaire who set out to bamboozle Andrew into falling for him just so Aaron could play tonsil-hockey with his girlfriend.
There’s commitment to a bet, and then there’s Neil kissing Andrew softly before he has to go. There’s the way Neil looks at him right before he takes a picture that makes Andrew want to throw his expensive camera to the ground and ruin him in the best of ways. There’s the gentle touch on his arms and the way he never asked but understood, there’s his smile when Andrew insults him, and there’s the way they trust each other with secrets about their past.
There’s the feeling deep inside his gut that Andrew won't voice out loud—that Neil might feel some type of way about him, too.
Neil decides he wants to paint his room. When he tells his uncle as much—right in front of Andrew, who’s investigating the crumbs on his plate and still vehemently refuses to look Stuart in the eyes after their last meeting—Stuart asks him which color.
Neil just smiles and Stuart sighs while handing over his credit card.
Stuart also gives him the car, which means Andrew and Neil can just drive over to the local hardware store and pick up a few dozen cans of paint in every color they have.
They’re not as stupid as they look, so they pick up brushes and tarps too, and once that’s all in place Neil hands Andrew some old clothes to change into. Neil himself changes into worn overalls over a loose white t-shirt, and Andrew has to try very hard not to stare.
He’s reluctantly wearing sweatshorts, with a long-sleeved shirt to protect his armbands from the paint.
“So, what is it exactly that you want to do?” Andrew asks after they’ve stood staring at the wall for a good minute.
Neil shrugs. “A little bit of everything.”
His walls now are the whitest paint Andrew has ever seen; it almost looks like they’re glowing. He’s willing to bet Stuart paid good money to have this special one-of-a-kind paint imported or something, and here they are, ready to mess it all up.
Andrew grabs a brush, dunks it into a can without looking, and flicks paint at the wall.
It leaves a bright orange splatter, and next to him, Neil laughs. He laughs, and it’s like the sun suddenly starts shining. It’s a laugh like he’s never heard before. It’s incredibly free, and when Neil joins in by grabbing his own brush and throwing paint around, Andrew can’t help but join him in laughing.
It comes from deeper than he would have expected, these bouts of joy and excitement, and he gets giddy when he dips his brush again and whips his arm around.
Some paint lands on Neil’s shirt, and it’s not long before Neil repays the favor.
There’s music playing, their laughter fills the air, and Neil’s wall becomes multicoloured, messy and beautiful.
Neil accidentally on purpose paints Andrew’s cheek blue, and Andrew meticulously paints a rainbow on his hand and then swipes it on Neil’s face.
When the paintbrushes are lying somewhere long forgotten, they both dip their fingers in instead and see what art they can create like that.
Neil dyes a piece of Andrew’s fringe pink, Andrew starts a tickle fight he simply cannot win, and they end up on the floor giggling until they’re just breathing each other in, until the air changes and they move closer. Andrew reaches out to pull Neil in and they kiss like it’s oxygen, Neil throwing a leg over Andrew’s hip and Andrew pulling it closer.
Their hips meet and Neil groans, breaks the kiss just to ask, “Is this okay?”
Andrew nods and pulls him back in, bites his lip and licks over the mark. They roll until Neil’s on his back and Andrew braces above him, breathing heavily.
“Okay?” he asks Neil too.
When he nods, Andrew strips himself of his shirt, watches Neil undo the clasps of his overalls and pull his own top off. Neil is lean, wiry, with strong muscles from running every day, and Andrew is self-conscious for two seconds until Neil pulls him on top of him and kisses his worries away.
They both fumble and clumsily push their pants down, and then Andrew wraps his hand around them both and breathes in Neil’s groan.
Neil’s hands are in Andrew’s hair, tugging him closer for a kiss until they get too distracted to coordinate that and they just breathe each other's air, inhaling the other’s moans.
Andrew bites Neil’s shoulder when he comes, and Neil scratches along his back when he does. Then Andrew turns and lays down next to Neil and stares at the ceiling.
The loud music is still playing, Andrew can feel wet paint against his bare back, and he tries to catch his breath.
He doesn’t really know what to say that wouldn’t sound awkward as hell, so he just escapes to Neil’s ensuite to clean up instead. He leaves the door open but Neil stays where he is, so once Andrew has cleaned himself up, he brings a wet cloth and drops it on Neil’s chest.
“Thanks,” Neil says, breaking the silence. He cleans himself up and puts his overalls back on without the shirt, and Andrew will be thinking of this memory for a long time to come.
Neil throws the cloth into his bathroom and walks over to where Andrew is standing awkwardly, too afraid to lean against something and leave paint stains.
“Hi,” Andrew says, arms crossed around his middle to hide behind.
Andrew nods. “You?”
“Yeah,” Neil smiles.
“Can we not… talk about it?”
“Talk about what?” Neil says, full out grinning now. “Now, come here. I need kisses.”
Well. Andrew can’t really argue with that.
Aaron and Katelyn have been dating for four glorious weeks. Since they knew they were into each other before the actual dating happened, they’re celebrating their one month anniversary tonight in the comfort of Katelyn’s castle of a home, watching movies and eating junk. Katelyn just had to keep her door open, but considering the size of this place, Aaron’s not too worried about being walked in on.
Anyway, it’s not like they’re making out right here on the floor. Not anymore.
Katelyn looks up from trying to throw popcorn into her mouth. “Hey, how are things going with your brother?”
Aaron will never get over the thrill of being reminded he has a brother, even when that brother is an asshat.
“Why, are you interested? I’ve been told many many times these last few weeks that he’s firmly into dudes. So many times. I never asked.”
Katelyn pats his head. “Hur hur, babe. Him and Neil.”
Aaron shrugs. “I don’t really know. Neil’s kinda shifty about it? Like he doesn’t really wanna talk about it, I guess, which is fine. I don’t really want to know any details about my brother’s love life .”
“Does Andrew mention it?”
“Not his love life, idiot, Neil. Does he mention Neil?
“He’s Andrew, he doesn’t mention anything. All he talks about is this scholarship he can get to some fancy school where he can do photography.”
Katelyn smiles. “That’s nice, that he’s up for that!”
“Fuck off, I guess so.”
“It’s not a crime to admit you want good things for your family, babe.”
Aaron can’t ever hide how he’s really feeling, especially around Katelyn. She sees right through him.
“Why does it have to be on the other side of the country, though? Why can’t he find some school around here? I fucking did.”
Katelyn turns on her side to face him, and Aaron tries his best not to look her in the eyes, knowing he won’t stand a chance.
“Is that what’s right for you, or convenient?”
Aaron pouts. “Be on my side.”
“I am, babe. I don’t think you are.”
Aaron rubs his face, two fingers poking his eyes so he can rub the annoyance at this whole stressful situation away. “Stop being so sensible all the time.”
“Terribly sorry for inconveniencing you with the truth.”
“I’ll drop it for now, Aaron, but think about it, okay? You don’t need to stay here for anyone. Think about what’s going to be good for you .”
Aaron rolls on his side and lets Katelyn cup his face, her hands warm and soft, calming.
“How can you be so smart and still be dumb enough to date me?”
Katelyn kisses him squarely on the mouth. “I ask myself that every day.”
In some alternate universe Aaron doesn’t like to think about too often, Kevin Day pushing him into an empty classroom and locking the door behind him would be exciting—exhilarating, even.
That version of Kevin Day would probably not say, “What the fuck do you think you’re doing, shithead?”
Aaron gulps and straightens from where he had tripped into a desk, very unsexily. Which is hardly the point, Aaron, fucking hell—focus, dude.
“Ah,” he says, ignoring the squeak in his voice. “Kevin.”
“Ah, Aaron,” Kevin mocks him with an annoyingly high and frankly accurate tone of voice. “I asked you a fucking question.”
Did he? He did. Probably.
“Care to, uh… Repeat it?”
Kevin squints his eyes and Aaron feels so, so fucking stupid. Especially when he somehow follows it up with, “Please?”
“I heard you and Josten talking last week.”
Last week. What did Neil and Aaron talk about last week that would piss Kevin Day off?
Kevin must notice the confusion on Aaron’s face.
“Him and Andrew are dating?”
Aaron clears his throat, it feels like there’s a pebble stuck in there. “I mean, yeah, they’ve gone out a couple times the last few weeks.”
Kevin scowls, “Then why were you so invested in how things were going for them? I know you don’t care about Andrew.”
“Hey now,” Aaron says, hero-worship disappearing instantly. “Fuck off, that’s not true.”
“You asked Josten if you and your girlfriend could still go out. Funny how that all happened just a few weeks after you asked me to fucking fake-date my best friend and I told you to fuck off.”
Right, okay. That does look very incriminating. It’s also all true, which gets on Aaron’s nerves. He feels like he’s being told off, like he’s getting a lecture after being bad. Well, he guesses that’s what this is, actually.
This is it then.
“What are you… What are you gonna do?”
“Jesus Christ, stop looking like you’re gonna pee your pants.”
Aaron schools his face, even though he doesn’t believe that’s what his expression was, hasn’t been for at least four years. Maybe five.
“Are you gonna tell him?” Aaron asks.
Kevin scoffs. “Are you?”
Aaron shrugs. “It’s over if I do.”
“Me and Katelyn.”
Kevin laughs in Aaron’s face. “Oh, grow the fuck up, Aaron. Worst case scenario is you can’t date this girl until after high school, you’ll survive.”
“Oh, will I?” Aaron spits. “Thanks for that magnificent insight, Day. I don’t think I fucking asked you, though.”
Kevin points his finger right at Aaron’s face, and Aaron kind of wants to bite it off. “You tell him, or I will.”
“Get your finger out of my face, or I’ll snap it off.”
Kevin chuckles at that, which just riles Aaron up more, but then he leaves the classroom with a final look back. “You’re a dick, Aaron.”
“Fucking likewise!” Aaron breathes out heavily before the panic sets in. “Fuck.”
Aaron has been pacing in Katelyn’s bedroom ever since she told him to come over after his hysterical phone call and subsequent freak-out. He doesn’t particularly think he’s done freaking out yet.
“What do we do?” Aaron asks, hands firmly nestled in his own hair.
Katelyn, who is usually perfectly composed, is now biting her nails. “Do we tell Neil?”
“No,” Aaron says, before thinking about it and repeating, “No, better not. If Kevin is bluffing, Neil doesn’t need to know anything—he just has to keep doing what he’s doing.”
“And if he’s not bluffing?”
Aaron sighs and hits his head against the wall. “Then we’re all fucked.”
“Aaron, do you think… Do you think we should stop this?”
Aaron’s heart sinks. “What?”
uh oh spaghetti o's
Chapter 14: Kevin
It’s his step-mom who realizes something is wrong first. Really, Kevin thinks he’s lucky she was first, because his dad is part of the town gossip posse, and that’s the last thing he needs right now.
She corners him when he comes home after school and is fixing himself a sandwich, closes the door to the kitchen behind her.
“Are you gonna tell me what’s wrong, or do I need to drag it out of you?” Abby says, adding a playful smirk. “You know I’ll do it.”
“I know,” Kevin immediately concedes. “Can you promise not to tell dad?”
“You know I can’t just promise that upfront, honey. You tell me what it is, and if I think your dad needs to know, then he’ll know, alright? But if he doesn’t need to know, you have my word.”
Kevin nods. “Thank you.”
“Now,” Abby smiles and sits next to him at the kitchen counter, stealing one of his sandwich triangles. “Talk to me.”
Kevin pulls a face at the stolen food but knows it’s no use to complain. “So I have this friend…”
Abby chokes on her sandwich. “Is this you in disguise or an actual friend?”
“ Mom ,” he whines, “Just let me talk, this is hard enough already.”
Abby pats his shoulder, very patronizingly in Kevin’s opinion, but again, he won’t say that out loud.
“I have this friend, and he’s being lied to by people close to him.”
Abby motions for him to continue.
“But the thing is, what they’re doing, it’s making him happy. So now I don’t know if I should tell him about it and make him unhappy, or I don’t tell him, but then I’m just as bad as them, a liar and a bad friend.”
Abby nods along and munches on a stray leaf of lettuce.
“I’m assuming you’re not gonna give me specifics on what’s happening to Andrew?”
Now it’s Kevin’s turn to choke. “I didn’t even say—”
“You’re not as subtle as you think, Kevin. He’s your best friend.”
“I don’t think it’s my place to tell you.”
“Alright, I can respect that. The people who are lying to him, they’re not going to stop?”
Kevin sighs. “I confronted one of them… Well, I sort of threatened him.”
“ Kevin. ”
“Not like that! Not bad! I just said that if he didn’t tell Andrew, I would.”
Abby drops an arm over his shoulders. “Well, it’s nice that you’re giving him a chance to fess up. I know you said they’re making him happy, but if it’s a lie, it could be very painful for him in the end. A lie will always come out, and it’s always better sooner than later.” Abby hugs him and kisses his temple. “I can’t tell you exactly what to do, bud, but you’ll figure it out. Giving them the chance to make it right is nice and all, but if they don’t, you have to protect your friend however you see fit, right?”
Kevin sinks into the seat, letting some of the pressure and anxiety loose. “Thanks, mom.”
Abby squeezes him tighter. “Be kind, be understanding, but don’t take any shit. That’s the family motto, remember?”
“You invented that last summer.”
“How do you think mottos happen, kid. Someone’s gotta invent them.”
Kevin told himself he would wait one week for Aaron and Neil to admit to what they were doing to Andrew. Any longer than that and he would step in, no matter the consequences.
He doesn’t sleep much that entire week. Anxiety eats him up inside, and the only reason Andrew doesn’t notice sooner is because he’s busy being happy with Neil .
They finished with practice, and Kevin was yelled at three times by his coach and once by Thea because he couldn’t focus on playing at all. He fumbled the ball, let it hit him in the thigh once while he was staring into the distance so now he probably has a bruise, and he tripped over his own feet while walking off the field.
He doesn’t realize Andrew had been watching him that entire time.
When he walks out into the hallway after showering, Andrew is leaning up against the wall, his heavy boot no doubt leaving a footprint. He instantly knows he’s been found out.
They walk over to Kevin’s car and Andrew hops onto the bonnet. Kevin won’t mention how he knows he does it to feel tall.
Andrew lights up a cigarette and for once Kevin lets him.
Kevin is fascinated by the tips of his shoes until Andrew clears his throat.
“You gonna tell me what’s going on?”
“I’m thinking about it,” Kevin says. “You might not like it.”
“Oh, by all means, let’s not talk about it then,” Andrew says sarcastically. “Spit it out.”
“It’s gonna hurt you.”
“Kevin,” Andrew says.
Kevin can’t get himself to look Andrew in the eyes. He looks over his shoulder instead, figures it’s close enough.
“Neil’s only dating you so Aaron could date Katelyn,” he spits out. “They orchestrated the whole thing weeks ago.”
A heavy silence drags on and Kevin is finally brave enough to check for Andrew’s reaction.
He stares into the distance, taking long drags from his cigarette.
“Andrew?” Kevin asks, worried at his scarily neutral expression.
“I know,” Andrew says eventually.
Kevin swallows air. “You what?”
“I know about it,” Andrew repeats.
“But… For how long?”
Andrew shrugs, throws his finished cigarette to the asphalt. “Not long after it started, I guess. They’re not exactly criminal masterminds.”
Kevin is baffled by how nonplussed Andrew is about all this. “And you went along with it?”
“Guess so,” Andrew says.
Kevin clutches at his own hair. “What the fuck? Why? Why would you do that to yourself?”
“Why the fuck do you think, Kevin?” Andrew yells across the abandoned parking lot.
Kevin’s heart sinks into his stomach, and it hurts. “Seriously? You’re better than that, you deserve better than that. Andrew .”
“It’s not really about what I deserve, though, is it?” Andrew huffs. “I wanted something, and this is how I could get it. I’m selfish, I guess.”
“You’re not selfish, Andrew,” Kevin says. “But you’re hurting yourself on purpose.”
“Old habits,” Andrew says, a wry smile on his face. He hugs his knees to his chest, his heavy boots leaving marks on Kevin’s car he couldn’t give less of a shit about.
Kevin swallows the pain that statement brings with it.
“How come you know?” Andrew asks.
Kevin clears his throat. “I overheard them talking about it last week. I didn’t know what to do.”
“I’m assuming you panicked.”
“Talked to Abby?”
“Not to your dad, I hope.”
“God, no,” Kevin says. “The whole town would know by now if I told him.”
“Good,” Andrew says. “I don’t need mom finding out about this.”
Kevin dares to be brave. “You know she’d tell you off for hurting yourself, too.”
“I know,” Andrew admits. “That’s why.”
Kevin leans back against his car, pulls on Andrew’s laces to untie them, and gets a friendly slap to the back of his head.
“What are you gonna do?”
“I don’t know,” Andrew says. “Guess I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.”
“Don’t worry about me, Kevin.”
“When has that line ever worked? Of course I’ll worry, since you won’t.”
“I hate you,” Andrew says with a smile. “Now drive me home.”
Chapter 15: Andrew
Realistically, Andrew knows this thing with Neil can’t last forever, but there’s that annoying sparkle of hope that occasionally tells him it can if he just ignores the truth.
Andrew is his adoptive mother’s son, and he knows that’s self-hatred. Having nice things for the wrong reasons is equally as wrong. Kissing Neil, talking to him about personal shit, enjoying his smile, and the way he whispers secrets into Andrew’s ears he hasn’t told anyone else; they’re all things Andrew shouldn’t have.
He will not be the one to pull the rug from under them, however, because that’s painful too. He’s enjoying it while it lasts and ignores the ticking time bomb.
After two years of being clean, Andrew’s hurting himself again.
They don’t kiss at school, not unless it’s sufficiently abandoned at the end of the day, so when the bell is about to ring for first period, Neil links his pinky with Andrew and walks off with that small touch as farewell.
Kevin’s locker is only a few feet away, and Andrew feels a brick in his stomach at his look. It’s not pity, because Kevin wouldn’t dare. It’s close, though.
Andrew shrugs it off and acknowledges that today will be a rough one.
Andrew and Aaron don’t really share any classes, but Andrew sees him sporadically throughout the day. He’s fidgety today.
He’s not joined by his girlfriend, which is odd too, considering they can do whatever the fuck they want now, at Andrew’s cost.
He has dark circles under his eyes, but he’s been home all weekend, and every evening too, so it’s gotta be stress. He doesn’t have any big tests right now, Andrew knows his time table by heart. Bee doesn’t know about the university flyers Aaron’s been shoddily hiding behind his bookshelf, so that can’t be it either.
Something is up with his brother, and unlike his own problems, he can’t ignore this.
He’s still a shithead, though, so Andrew corners him out of the blue in the hallway during his free period, and he enjoys the way he startles.
“Andrew, what the fuck?”
Andrew smiles and tilts his head. “What’s wrong?”
Aaron chuckles nervously. “I don’t know what you mean.”
Andrew sighs through his nostrils and hates that he even has to say this.
“You’re my brother. I know you and I know when something’s wrong. So spill.”
Aaron gulps, and just like that the tension releases from his body.
“You’re gonna hate me.”
Oh. Apparently this is happening now. He was right about the state of this day.
“I already hate you,” Andrew says.
“Andrew,” Aaron says, swallowing thickly. “It’s really bad.”
Andrew’s faced with the dilemma of admitting to Aaron that he already knows, or making him suffer through it first. But he’s tired, and depressed, and today is going to fucking suck regardless.
He nods. “I know.”
“You don’t,” Aaron shakes his head. “You won’t forgive me.”
“I know , Aaron.”
Aaron stares at him. He’s a lot smarter than people give him credit for.
“Yes,” Andrew says. “Is that what you wanted to say?”
Technically, they haven’t really said anything. Say about twin bonds what you will, but at this moment, they know what they’re thinking.
Aaron has pity in his eyes but he knows he has no right to it; Andrew is letting him know he’s probably not as mad at him as he should be. He wishes he was, but he can’t, not when it gave him Neil.
“You like him,” Aaron says, and isn’t that the understatement of the century.
“I hate him,” Andrew says. “I hate him so much.”
“But then,” Aaron hesitates. “Why haven’t you told him?”
Andrew doesn’t put it into words, he doesn’t think he could if he tried.
“I think he likes you too.”
Andrew glares at him. “Don’t do that.”
“Give me hope.”
“I’m serious, Andrew.”
Andrew shakes his head.
“Tell him, and see what happens. For all you know, he feels the exact same way and you can move on, together! Use the money and go on holiday together this summer, or I don’t—”
The brick in Andrew’s stomach sinks down deeper, and he feels rooted to the spot. Time has stopped, Aaron continues talking but Andrew doesn’t hear anything besides a loud, zooming noise between his ears, repeating the words at him.
“What?” Aaron asks, worried now. “Andrew?”
“The money,” Andrew repeats, louder than the whisper from before.
Aaron suddenly knows, Andrew can see it even as black enters his vision briefly. For a second, he thinks he might be sick. The next, he pushes himself off the wall and starts walking.
He knows Neil’s schedule, knows he has P.E. right now so Andrew can barge right the fuck in, and there’s nothing else he can think of as he storms his way across the field.
Aaron’s panicky shouts are following him but he can’t stop until he’s facing Neil.
The smile on Neil’s face is only there for a millisecond before it neutralizes, then immediately turns to worry.
Andrew walks right up to him and pushes against his shoulders, relishing when Neil has to step back.
“You’re getting fucking paid ?”
Andrew seethes saying it, sees the realization hit Neil’s eyes, and the lack of response forming. There’s not really anything he can say, can he? But Andrew sure can.
“How much?” Andrew laughs. “How much was this worth, huh?”
Neil swallows thickly, and Andrew hates that he notices that.
“After all this time, it turns out you’re just a money-hungry fucking dick,” Andrew says, and he can feel himself turn colder.
“Andrew,” Aaron says from behind him.
“Do you know how long I’ve known, Neil?” Andrew smiles. “How many times you could have spoken up and admitted things?”
Neil’s eyes grow wider.
“How long you’ve been proving you’re just another untrustworthy piece of shit?”
“Andrew,” he says, voice breaking. “That’s not what this is.”
“There is no this,” Andrew says, closing himself down completely.
He stretches out his hand to the side and calmly says, “Keys.”
“Andrew,” Aaron starts again, but a quick glare from Andrew has him dropping the car keys in his hand.
“Can you let me explain?” Neil asks as Andrew turns his back on him.
“Get fucked, Josten.” Andrew walks off, middle finger raised as he finally lets his angry tears flow.
Neil can’t remember anything that happened at school after Andrew walked away.
Aaron left too, class continued, and Neil felt empty for the rest of the day.
If he’s entirely honest he’s not even sure how he got home, but he’s holding his bike so it must have been okay.
Uncle Stuart’s home early, since his car’s in the garage and Neil can hear him humming in the kitchen. Neil freezes in the doorframe, not really sure what to do, what to say.
Uncle Stuart startles when he turns around and sees him, then laughs it off. “Guess I have a bad conscience,” he smiles, then turns worried. “You okay, love?”
Neil shakes his head.
Uncle Stuart gives him his full attention, but Neil’s glad he keeps his distance too.
“You wanna tell me about it?”
Neil tries to clear his throat and finds he can’t do that without feeling like he’ll cry. He shakes his head.
“Alright, hon. You go do whatever it is you think you need to do right now. I’ll come and bring you some food in like an hour, is that okay?”
Neil nods, ignoring the choked up feeling. He walks over to his room, shuts the door and sits down on the floor, leaning back against the wall.
The room is dark when he hears a knock on the door, followed by a strip of light appearing as it’s opened.
Uncle Stuart’s face appears before him, he’s kneeling on the ground.
“Can you eat?”
His throat still feels like something died in it, so he shakes his head. He starts staring off into space again but is interrupted by a glass of water.
“Have some of this, and then let’s get you into bed.”
Neil nods, drinks, and lets himself be maneuvered.
Uncle Stuart tucks him in, and Neil would comment about not being a child, but it feels nice and warm, and loving.
“Rest, darling,” Uncle Stuart says, and Neil allows one tear out before closing his eyes and falling asleep.
Andrew abandons Aaron at school and just drives home, kicks his boots off and slams the door to his room behind him. There’s no one to hear him, but the force it takes to rattle the door in its frame is exhilarating, and Andrew likes seeing the effects of his actions.
Anything to erase the look on Neil’s face from his mind because he will focus on it, will dissect and analyze it to shreds until he can’t stand it anymore and he’ll do something stupid.
He picks a book from his desk and throws it to the other side of his room just to hear the thump it makes. It’s disappointing, and he screams, pulls at his hair and yanks until it hurts, stands there and breathes, thinks too hard about breathing and forgets how to do it until he’s hyperventilating and has to calm himself down because no one else is here to help him, he’s alone again.
He’s alone again.
He crawls underneath the covers of his bed, pulls them over his head, and he lays there. That’s all he can manage, for now.
After a while he can hear the front door open and close, and by the sound of the footsteps he knows it’s Bee. Aaron must have messaged her, or maybe the school called when he wasn’t in class.
She stops outside his door, then makes her way over to sit next to him on the bed. Without moving his covers, she rubs his arm.
“I won’t ask you if you’re okay,” Bee says, “But I need to know you’re not getting any bad ideas.”
Andrew moves the covers down just enough to show his face. He can’t look her in the eyes, though.
“What can I do, honey?”
Andrew swallows and lets his sight go blurry. He fishes his phone out of his pocket, which has been vibrating all afternoon.
“Don’t give this back to me,” he says, handing it over.
Then, after considering it, “Keep Aaron away from me.”
Bee sighs, then leans down to kiss him on his forehead. “Come find me whenever you want, alright? We don’t need to talk, I just want to see you.”
Andrew nods and pulls his covers closer.
Neil wakes up with heavy eyes and a heavy heart. The sun is streaming into his window through his shoddily closed curtains, illuminating the mess of colours on his painted wall.
He fell asleep in his jeans and hoodie, so he jumps in the shower and dresses in loose sweats and an even looser shirt. There’s an old cardigan in his closet that’s so worn the sleeves hang down over his knuckles, and he hugs himself in it.
When he makes his way downstairs, he finds Uncle Stuart lounging in the living room and sipping on some tea. Neil gets his own mug and joins him, pulling his knees to his chest.
“Morning,” he mumbles.
They sit there in silence for a good long while until Neil’s tea is finished and he needs to talk.
“Have you talked to Betsy?”
Uncle Stuart raises a single brow. “No… Should I?”
Neil bites the dry cracks of his lips. “I think… Andrew and I aren’t together anymore.”
“Oh?” Uncle Stuart asks. “What happened?”
Neil stares at a scuff on the floor as he says, “I fucked up. I hurt him.”
“Hurt him how?”
Neil swallows and admits to himself more than anyone else, “I lied to him. Or I— I should have told him things but I didn’t, and that’s the same as lying.”
“Well, did you mean to hurt him?” Uncle Stuart asks.
“Of course not,” Neil says, frowning. “But he still got hurt.”
“Neil, honey,” Uncle Stuart says, shuffling closer and enveloping Neil into a hug. “You know more than anyone that people can heal. He won’t be hurt forever. You can fix things if you want to.”
“I’m not sure I can.”
“But you want to?”
Neil hugs him back. “I want to.”
Uncle Stuart squeezes him tight. “Then we should work on a plan.”
Andrew sleeps for sixteen hours. Sir Fat Cat normally wakes him up when he’s feeling needy and things are taking too long, but Bee must have taken care of him. He changes into the biggest hoodie he owns and shuffles to the living room.
Bee’s watching TV with Sir Fat Cat sleeping on the headrest of the couch, and the rest of the house is quiet. Aaron must have gone out.
Bee smiles kindly as he walks in on socked feet. “How are you today?”
Andrew swallows and tries to clear his throat, but it still feels like there’s a rock jammed in there. He lays down on the sofa and lets his head rest in her lap.
“My heart hurts.”
Bee pets his hair until it’s out of his face and leaves her hand there.
She doesn’t say anything, and that’s probably for the best. Andrew falls asleep again.
When he next wakes up, it’s to the sound of whispers above his head.
“How is he?” Aaron asks.
“Not great, Aaron,” Bee says, voice just a little snappy. “What did you do?”
“It wasn’t just me,” Aaron starts to defend himself.
Andrew slowly opens his eyes and watches him fidget.
“I’ll fix it,” Aaron says, directs it at Andrew as soon as he realizes he’s awake. “I’ll fix it, ‘Drew.”
“Fix what,” Andrew replies, voice grainy from disuse. He sits up and wipes the sleep and dried-up tears from his eyes.
“You and Neil.”
Andrew stares at Aaron, and then just shrugs. “Don’t fucking bother.”
Andrew startles when Bee rests a hand on his shoulder, but she doesn’t take it back.
“Do you want your phone back, honey?”
He shakes his head.
“Kevin called me earlier to ask if he could stop by. Are you up for that?”
Andrew shrugs. Thinks about it. Wonders if Kevin will say “I told you so.” Knows he won’t. Figures he’s still not ready for that conversation.
Bee smiles and kisses his forehead. “Alright, hon. Take a shower, you’ll feel better.”
Andrew walks off as he hears Bee tell Aaron to stay behind. He had that coming, Andrew supposes.
Andrew hasn’t responded to any of Neil’s texts, not that Neil expected anything. He knows he’s not really in any position to demand attention, and if he’s feeling this shitty, he can’t even imagine what Andrew is going through.
What’s more worrying is that Aaron isn’t responding to him either. There’s been radio silence all weekend long, but Aaron is his best friend, the one who pulled Neil into this plot. It doesn’t make sense for Neil to feel like he’s the only one in the wrong here.
That’s not a good way to think about things. He shouldn’t shift the blame, or try and split it. He hurt Andrew.
When this all started, he didn’t think things would get to this point. He would go on a date with Andrew, give Aaron permission to go out with Katelyn, and that should have been it.
He didn’t expect to like Andrew as much as he did, as he does. He’s a lot more interesting than he makes himself out to be. He’s full of hidden skills and talents, and Neil won’t lie, that definitely includes kissing.
And besides the superficial reasons to like Andrew—like the way he looks, smells, the way he touches Neil like he’s precious—he’s also incredibly understanding, full of care and kind words. The stories they told each other, the secrets they shared,... Those are some of the most incredible memories they have together.
Alright. He’s had two days to wallow in self-pity. Hating himself for fucking up won’t solve anything, no matter how enticing it sounds to just crawl in bed and hope for things to fix themselves.
It’s time to win Andrew back. For real this time.
aaron: i'll fix it andrew i swear :(
me, after getting all your sad comments last week: i'll fix it i swear :(
Chapter 17: Aaron
Aaron ignores the buzzing of his phone. He and Katelyn agreed that they shouldn’t hang out this weekend —not even just to chat for a while— because they both knew they’d be too anxious and they’d just make it worse for each other.
In fact, Aaron’s lucky Mom didn’t take his phone away after he explained everything that happened. He got grounded for a week, but it’s not like he wanted to leave the house anyway.
Not when Andrew’s like this.
The thing is, while Andrew never told him about his past, Aaron’s good at guessing. He knows people hurt him, and he knows Andrew hurt himself. There’s a reason Andrew wears those armbands and it’s only partly because they look very cool.
So yes. Aaron’s scared for him. Worried. Feels guilty. Feels more guilty for not feeling guilty sooner.
His phone buzzes again.
It’s probably Neil.
Aaron’s not sure how he feels about Neil. He shouldn’t be mad at him, because, really, he has absolutely no place to be mad when they all orchestrated this damn thing. But he can’t help but feel mad anyway when he sees Andrew and the state he’s in.
He doesn’t know much about this thing between Neil and Andrew; Neil never shared many details and, frankly, Aaron liked it that way. How much could have happened in a few weeks' time?
In any case, tomorrow’s Monday, so before they head back to school, Aaron needs to know if Andrew’s okay.
He’s left him alone the entire weekend, but it’s Sunday night and honestly, Aaron can’t go to bed without checking up on him.
So, he goes to his room.
It’s empty. Lights are out, the door was shut, but Aaron’s sure he should be here. Then he hears it, the faint music coming from behind the door next to Andrew’s room. He wouldn’t normally ever go in there, so he doesn’t know what possesses him when he opens the door anyway.
He finds himself in front of a dark curtain, encased by red light. He closes the door behind him before walking through and finally finding Andrew.
Andrew can barely mutter a “Hey, fuck off,” before Aaron’s taking in the rest of the room.
He’s surrounded by pictures, surrounded by… Neil.
He’s quiet as Aaron tries to take it all in. There are shots of Neil at school, on the track field, on the bus, in the park. Shots of Neil’s eyes, his hair, his face. Shots where he’s half-naked, showing his skin, his scars.
They’re everywhere, and Aaron feels like he just caught Andrew red-handed.
“You love him.”
Aaron’s sure of it. He was wrong the first time, Andrew doesn’t just like him. He’s in fucking deep, even now.
It’s clear in the way Andrew isn’t denying anything, can’t, really, in the face of all this evidence.
“How long?” Aaron asks on a whim.
Andrew scoffs, confirming Aaron’s suspicion.
“Don’t fucking pity me,” Andrew says, voice scratchy.
“I’m not,” Aaron says, means it too. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m serious. What can I do?”
Andrew sighs and slumps until he’s sitting on the floor, so Aaron joins him, shoulder to shoulder.
“They’re nice pictures,” Aaron says when the silence drags on for too long.
“Thanks,” Andrew says.
“You got the scholarship, right?”
That, at least, gets a proud smirk out of Andrew as he nods.
“Knew you would,” Aaron says, knocking gently into him. “You’re gonna blow them all away over there.”
It takes a few quiet minutes, but then Andrew pushes back and says, “Tell me about med school.”
Surprisingly, Neil doesn’t corner him in the middle of the hallway the minute they walk in.
In fact, when Neil spots him, he only glances at him for a second before seeing Andrew next to him and turning around promptly.
Aaron looks at Andrew, who’s glaring at nothing in particular with that eerily dead look in his eyes that scares the shit out of Aaron because he’s never been able to figure out how to do it himself.
When nothing else happens, he walks over to his locker and decides to wait Neil out.
At the end of the day, Neil still hasn’t spoken to Aaron, which makes him wonder how the hell he could forget what a stubborn asshole Neil could be.
So, he texts Andrew to leave without him and finds Neil on the track field. He sits and watches him from his place on the bleachers for a while until Neil is done running and joins him, breathing hard, yet still controlled. If that was Aaron he’d have dropped dead from exhaustion during the second lap.
“Are we still talking?” Neil asks, “Or is this like goodbye?”
“God, you’re so dramatic,” Aaron says, voice clipped with emotions.
Neil shrugs. “I would understand if it was.”
“Well, you’re a sad sack, we know this about you.”
“I hurt your brother,” Neil says.
“I hurt him too.”
“But you’re his brother ,” Neil says with a wry smile like he expected that response. “He loves you.”
Aaron bites his tongue.
“This isn’t goodbye,” Aaron admits. “I don’t know what this is, but it’s not… that.”
“Can you believe,” Neil starts, startling Aaron after a long silence, “that I actually forgot about the plan, the money, the whole thing?”
Seeing the miserable state Neil is in, sure, Aaron can understand that. It’s clear that Neil is disappointed, not only in himself but in the fact that it’s over now.
“You like him, then?”
Neil chuckles. “He’s amazing.”
Aaron smiles before fake-gagging.
“You could have said you had a crush on me years ago, dude.”
“Fuck off,” Neil says with a grin. “You two are nothing alike.”
“We’re a little alike.”
Neil squints at him. “I don’t see it.”
Aaron shoves him until Neil tips over with a laugh.
They enjoy the slow setting of the sun behind the trees. Neil tells vague stories about him and Andrew, Aaron tells him about Katelyn.
He talks about med school, about the brochures he’s been hiding, the schools he applied to, and the ones he got in.
They catch up on weeks of shoddy friendship while they were too busy being in love, even if they won’t call it that exactly.
It’s like nothing’s changed between them, and Aaron thanks his lucky stars.
They’re lying stretched out on the bleachers, Aaron a row higher than Neil so he can look down on him.
“You know I don't just… like people,” Neil says softly, out of the blue.
Aaron nods and hums for him to continue.
“I don’t think I’ve felt this way about anyone before.”
“I can see that,” Aaron says. “So what are you going to do about it?”
Despite talking to Aaron about it, despite even getting his Uncle Stuart involved, Neil still isn’t too sure how he’s supposed to handle this.
Andrew ignores him at school, which Neil feels like he deserves. Neil finds different places to sit during class, even if he finds himself looking back at Andrew at times, unable to help himself.
He looks the way he did before Neil first talked to him, which is to say, closed off. Unreachable, faraway.
But Neil likes to think he knows him a little better, and if he trusts his instincts, the small pile of knowledge he has about Andrew, he can see that Andrew’s miserable.
That’s not the Andrew Neil had the honor of getting to know, the pleasure of seeing up close.
Neil doesn’t want to make it worse, so he doesn’t message him. It’s clear he needs to give Andrew his space, there’s no point in trying to reach him when he doesn’t care for Neil’s apology yet.
He keeps his distance at school, as much as he can.
When Kevin knocks into him in the hallway, Neil won’t speak up about it. It only happens in front of Andrew once before Kevin stops doing it, anyway.
They’ve been talking about Shakespeare in English Lit for a few weeks now, and Neil is pretending to care about it. He’s only interested in the assignments anyway, he’ll look everything else up on his own.
He’s reminded of this when their teacher brings up the assignment he gave out last week, where everyone had to modify Shakespeare’s Sonnet 141 to a modern, personalized version. They had to make it relatable to the times, or to themselves.
Apparently, the time has come for that dreadful moment of people reading theirs out loud.
Neil doesn’t particularly like reading out loud, especially in front of a group like this, so he tends to keep his head down and hopes enough other people fall victim before the bell rings.
Three dreadful poems are read, and Neil notices Andrew fidget in his seat. He looks restless, but it’s not that he didn’t do the work, because there’s a slightly crumpled piece of paper lying on his desk.
Andrew breathes a sigh of relief when the bell rings, which Neil copies until their teacher clears his throat.
“Everyone, don’t get too comfortable. We continue this next week.”
The painted wall in Neil’s bedroom could not be a bigger reminder of Andrew, but Neil loves it. The problem is waking up to the very sight of it every single day, so he decides to shift his furniture around.
Andrew showed him the benefits of having his bed in the corner of the room, encased by two walls, so Neil’s bed goes in the corner too, the head pushed against the splattered wall like a big colorful bedhead.
He finds one of Andrew’s black hoodies and wears it once before getting afraid he’ll make the smell of Andrew disappear faster like that. It lays next to his pillow now.
He tidies every nook and cranny of his room and can hardly believe how good he feels afterward. Uncle Stuart takes him to a charity shop to donate stuff and takes him out for ice cream after that.
When Uncle Stuart asks him how he’s doing, he shrugs.
He’s getting better.
A week flies by awkwardly, and Neil is still trying his hardest to keep his distance, which is why the sound of Andrew’s name startles him so much.
“Since no one else is volunteering to read out loud, I’d like to share some of my personal favorites among the poems. First up is mister Minyard’s.”
Neil twists in his seat to look at Andrew. He looks furious, but it’s not directed at Neil this time. If looks could kill, their English teacher would have dropped dead on the spot.
“You can’t do that,” Neil finds himself saying out of the blue, turning back to their teacher.
“And why would that be?”
“He didn’t say he wanted to share it. That’s not up to you.”
“I think you’ll find, mister Josten,” their teacher grins smugly, “that this is my class and I can do what I want. I’m just sharing a nice poem. It’s a compliment.”
When Neil looks at Andrew to check if he won’t speak up, defend himself when he clearly doesn’t want this, he doesn’t even look up. His death glare has moved to his desk, and he’s holding tight to the sides of his chair.
Neil’s stomach turns when the projector is turned on and Andrew’s poem comes into view.
“Care to read it out loud, mister Minyard?”
“No,” Andrew grits out, and Neil feels awful as soon as he starts reading.
I hate the way you talk to me,
the sight of you makes me swear.
I hate the way you look through me,
I hate it when you stare.
I hate your dumb orange trainers
and the way you read my mind.
I hate every inch of you,
and the way you say you’re fine.
I hate the way you’re always right,
I hate it when you lie.
I hate it when you make me laugh,
even worse when you make me cry.
I hate the fact that you didn’t reach out,
after the way you made me fall.
But mostly I hate the way I don’t hate you,
not even close
not even a little bit,
not even at all.
By the time Neil finishes with a ton of bricks in his stomach, Andrew has grabbed his stuff and stormed out of the classroom.
His first instinct is to run after him, but then he reminds himself he’s keeping his distance. He’s making it right, slowly, not rushing into things, so he can show Andrew he’s serious.
He sends his teacher the stink eye and vows to ask Uncle Stuart to have a chat with the principal about him. He’s a big donor to the school, and if Neil asked, he could probably ruin this man’s whole career.
Right. Chill. Maybe just get him fired.
When he gets home that night, he tells Uncle Stuart what happened. Uncle Stuart promises he’ll talk to the school, so Neil’s already pleased about that.
Then, he makes a riskier request.
“I need you to take me to a secondhand car dealership.”
Uncle Stuart’s right eyebrow flies up into his hairline. “Oh really?”
“Yes,” Neil says, and tries to look determined and confident.
“What will you buy there?” he asks, with a knowing smirk.
“With what money are you buying this car?”
Neil winces. “I have some saved up.”
“Who is this car for?”
Neil looks up, caught.
“Neil, honey. You hate driving. Who were you trying to fool?”
Neil shrugs and does not pout. “I thought you wouldn’t let me if I told you the truth.”
“Well.” Uncle Stuart shuffles his seat closer so he can throw an arm across Neil’s shoulders. Neil spares a horrified look for their wooden floors. “It’s your money, you can spend it however you like.”
“Yes.” Uncle Stuart smiles. “Oh. But you’re right in thinking you should get an adult with you when picking a car. You don’t want to get swindled.”
“Chances of finding a used Maserati there?”
Uncle Stuart nearly chokes on his glass of wine. “Not very high.”
it's almost the end ;_;
Andrew is dreading walking into English class after the absolute disaster that happened last week—and is dreading to be so near to Neil again—but when he arrives there is no Neil and no English teacher. Instead, there’s a substitute teacher who looks nervous, but quickly proves themselves to be capable so Andrew doesn’t get too annoyed during the hour.
He’s packing up to leave when that same substitute teacher walks over to him and hands him a note.
“I was told to give this to you,” they say and leave the classroom in a hurry. Andrew is thankful there are only a few weeks in the school year left, both for his sake and theirs.
The note, as Andrew had annoyingly guessed correctly, is from Neil. He recognizes the handwriting, the notebook paper (which is embarrassing to realize, even to him), and he fights the urge to crumple it.
He misses him. He does. He can admit as much.
He’s not sure how to feel when reading the words ‘Check your locker.’
That’s all it says. This annoyingly cryptic piece of shit that stole Andrew’s heart still has him, and Andrew hates how much he doesn’t hate it.
He grabs his bag and walks to his locker, where he can’t even begin to guess what Neil managed to slip in it other than another cryptic fucking note, but he’s quickly proven wrong when he opens it and sees a set of car keys lying there.
“What the fuck.”
He looks around him, but most people have left the hallways already, which is why he can so easily spot Aaron hiding behind a corner.
Fucking hell. Aaron must have worked together with him on this, he’s the only other person that knows his locker combination. Traitor. Andrew doesn’t fight the smile threatening to quirk the corner of his mouth.
He makes his way over to the school parking lot where most of the students have driven off into the sunset already, given it’s a Friday and the weather is decent enough. This, again, makes it a lot easier to find the car the keys belong to.
That, and Neil Josten is sitting on top of it.
“Hi,” he says when Andrew musters the courage to finally stand in front of him.
He tries to clear his throat without making a sound. He absolutely fails.
“Hello,” he says.
Neil looks good. His light jeans are cuffed, showing off some ankle—which Andrew shouldn’t be this excited about, he isn’t a Victorian gentleman—and he’s got a thin loose t-shirt on that reminds Andrew very vividly of what Neil looks like underneath.
And that small smile. Disgusting.
“You look nice,” Neil says, easily, like it’s not awkward or wrong to say that. “Do you like your gift?”
Neil knocks gently on the hood of the car he’s sitting on.
“That’s not… mine.”
“Yes, it is.”
“No, it’s not.”
“Well, it’s not mine,” Neil says, annoyingly stubborn, pointing at the keys in Andrew’s clenched fingers.
“You did not buy me a car.”
“I think I did.”
“What the actual fuck, Neil?”
Neil smiles a little at the sound of his name, and Andrew realizes he gave a small piece of himself away.
“It should have been your money to begin with.”
All the puzzle pieces click into place, then.
Neil jumps off the hood and stands in front of Andrew, just out of reach.
“I owe you an apology, but I owed you this too.”
Andrew doesn’t know what to say to that. He finally relaxes his fingers that were squeezing the key into the palm of his hand and looks at Neil. Just looks at him.
“I’m sorry, Andrew,” Neil says, and Andrew watches a faint breeze work its way through Neil’s curls. “I should have told you. You were right, I had every opportunity to tell you and I chose not to. If I’m honest, I was just scared to lose what we had, because I liked it so much. I like you so much. I couldn’t see a situation where I admitted to what I did and you would still like me back.”
Andrew clears his throat from whatever rock found its way in there.
“I would,” he admits.
Neil’s eyes grow wide, and Andrew bites his lip. He might as well admit to everything now.
“I’ve liked you for years, you absolute trainwreck, I don’t think I can get rid of you.”
“Do you still?” Neil says quietly, and Andrew notices the distance between them has shrunk again.
“Do I what?”
Andrew can be a little shit too.
Neil blushes. “Like me?”
Shit, now Andrew’s blushing too, this backfired completely.
“I hate you.”
“Uhu,” Neil nods.
Andrew copies it and swears. “Jesus fuck, Neil, you bought me a fucking car!”
Neil laughs out loud, a sound Andrew didn’t even realize he missed until it was ringing in his ears again.
“Kiss me,” he asks. Andrew can see the still-nervous question in his eyes.
Andrew wants to. God, he wants to.
But he wants to drive the car even more.
Andrew full-on grins at Neil and watches the surprise form on his face.
“Let’s go for a drive first.”
Neil looks less than impressed. “Andrew.”
“Neil,” Andrew replies and steps into his new car. Fuck. His car.
“Andrew,” Neil whines now, but buckles himself in. “This is torture.”
“Relax, junkie. I need to see if I like my gift.”
Neil huffs, but can’t think of anything to reply to that, so Andrew starts the car and can feel the adrenaline start pumping through his veins.
It’s not a race car by any means, not the Maserati he dreamed of having one day, but it’s a nice fucking car, and it’s his.
It only takes Andrew a few miles to figure out he loves the car, couldn’t live without the car, will never ever get rid of the car. Nevertheless, he keeps driving until he’s gotten them both out of town, where the open road is only surrounded by fields of grass and Andrew feels at peace.
Neil is quiet next to him, and they both stay quiet even when Andrew parks at the side of the road. He puts the backseat down so they can comfortably lay in the trunk and look out onto the sinking sun.
Andrew is very aware of Neil’s arm next to him, the way it buzzes against his skin, like his body is telling him he’s near. Look out, it’s your person! Touch! His hand reaches out and grabs Neil’s, linking fingers and squeezing gently.
“Andrew,” Neil says softly.
It takes Andrew a few minutes to speak.
“You meant it?”
It’s what Andrew’s been wondering ever since he found out about the money, if it changed anything about what he thought, assumed Neil was feeling.
Neil turns to look at him. “Every second of it.”
Andrew swallows. He starts to open his mouth, to try and tell this boy how much he hates him and how much it frightens him but he’s interrupted when Neil goes—
“I love you, Andrew.”
Andrew stares at him. Blinks. Says, “I fucking hate—”
“Yeah yeah,” Neil says before pulling Andrew closer by the neck. “You hate me, I get it. Now come here.”
It’s impossible to describe how much he’s missed Neil’s mouth on his, the press of lips, the little nips that set Andrew’s skin on fire. He sighs into it, surrenders himself to Neil’s hold because it feels like coming home.
it's almost the end ;_;
next week is an epilogue of sorts, so i shall leave my mushy feelings stored up til then <3
Aaron - Andrew
Aaron doesn’t budge when he hears the knock on his door. He’s too busy staring at his wardrobe and wondering when he ever even bought any of it, let alone wore it. It does not make sense that he has five flannel shirts. He doesn’t wear flannels. Does he?
When no sound comes after a few seconds, he knows it’s Andrew.
“I have no clothes,” Aaron says.
Andrew stands next to him to join in staring down his closet, which is filled to the brim.
“Hmm,” Andrew says. “Wanna borrow something?”
Aaron has never understood how Andrew could make any sense of his wardrobe. It all just looks like black blobs to him, but Andrew moves with precision like he knows exactly what he’s looking for and then throws it at Aaron.
Aaron holds the jeans up and tries not to wince.
“Just how tight are these exactly?”
“Tight,” Andrew says. “Tell Katelyn she’s welcome.”
Aaron changes right there and grins when Andrew glares at the clothes he drops haphazardly on the floor.
“Jesus Christ,” Aaron wheezes when pulling the zip up.
He flops down onto Andrew’s bed as he gets changed himself. Andrew’s pants have a lot more rips, he’s wearing twice the amount of belts Aaron is, and the black t-shirt he wears over top is loose and oversized, the sleeves reaching just past his elbows.
Aaron waits until Andrew’s done putting on some eyeliner before asking, “So when’s Neil coming over?”
Andrew ruffles with that same sense of ease through his pile of earrings and bracelets. “I’m picking him up. Katelyn?”
“Meeting her at Knox’s place.” He lets the silence settle for a bit before breaching a more serious topic. “Have you packed anything yet?”
Andrew snorts. “I leave on the eighteenth, why would you ever think I’d start packing before the seventeenth.”
Aaron’s happy to be reminded they have another thing in common, no matter how toxic the trait may be.
Aaron purposefully looks at the ceiling as he asks, “We’ll be okay?”
Andrew lies down next to him, stares at the ceiling, and drops his arm on Aaron’s chest with a painful thump, making Aaron wheeze just a little.
“We’ll be okay.”
Andrew - Kevin
“Day,” Andrew says before sitting down on the comfy sofa next to him.
“Minyard,” Kevin replies with a smile.
“So this is where you hang out on Friday nights.”
“What, Jeremy’s house? No—”
Andrew grins. It appears Kevin is already tipsy enough to fall into Andrew’s traps easily.
“Damn it,” Kevin says. “Change of subject.”
“Alright,” Andrew relents. “Your choice.”
Kevin hums and nurses his beer. It looks warm, but it doesn’t look like Kevin’s willing to move anytime soon. Neither will Andrew, he has his bottle of water. Plus, he knows Neil’s in the kitchen, and if he goes there, he’ll see him, kiss him, get so turned on they’ll have to look for an abandoned room in this mansion and Andrew doesn’t feel like being a high school cliché just yet.
“How was your anniversary?” Kevin asks.
Andrew grins. “Good. I got to annoy Neil by constantly calling it our one month anniversary instead of the three months he put on all his cheesy banners.”
“He made banners?” Kevin quirks a judgy brow.
“Yes,” Andrew says and fights his pleased blush. “It was sweet and nauseating. Then we drove out to Lover’s Peak except there were like ten other cars parked there and we just went for a long ass drive.”
“Isn’t that all you do, go on drives?”
“I like driving.”
“You know, I don’t think it’s very punk rock and anti-capitalism of you to just accept a car.”
“Oh, fuck off,” Andrew says. “It’s a car , Kevin. You’re just jealous your dad won’t let you have one.”
“That’s not the point, dad likes driving me everywhere.”
“We have nice car chats.”
“It’s not embarrassing.”
“It isn’t,” Andrew confirms.
A few minutes pass as Andrew takes in the dreadful pop music that’s pounding through the speakers, and he observes someone losing dramatically at beer pong.
“Sometimes he tells me the town gossip.”
“I fucking knew it.”
Kevin - Aaron - Neil
Neil’s lounging on the kitchen counter, talking to Aaron who looks to be preparing some fluorescent drinks when Kevin makes his way into Jeremy Knox’s massive family kitchen.
He freezes in place for a few seconds before deciding he wants to confront this situation head-on.
“Hello,” he says.
Neil nods. Aaron stares at the floor.
He hasn’t really gotten as far as deciding what to say to them when he actually talked to them.
Neil decides to break the ice in the worst way possible.
“Hey, weren’t you dating Thea?”
Kevin sighs. “I was.”
Neil doesn’t immediately get what he said, but Aaron pipes up.
“Wait, you’re not dating her anymore?”
Neil snorts. “Jeez, calm down dude, you have a girlfriend.”
Kevin watches the play-fight between them and leans against the closest kitchen cabinet. Alright, maybe he’s had a little bit too much to drink already.
His mind wanders to shapely legs, strong hands, chiseled jaws—
“So, what happened?” Neil asks, waking Kevin from his tipsy daydream.
“She’s focusing on college,” Kevin says. “She got a football scholarship, she’s going pro and she couldn’t really make time in her schedule to date. It made sense, we both agreed.”
Neil hums. Aaron pulls a face.
“How are you so clinical about that? Didn’t it hurt?”
Kevin shrugs and looks around the living room to see if he can’t catch a glimpse of someone.
“No,” he says. “It was the best decision.”
He doesn’t find who he’s looking for and sighs.
“They’re out back,” Neil says with a smirk.
“Who is?” Aaron asks.
Kevin would ask the same, but he probably couldn’t make his ignorance very believable.
Neil grins and Kevin despises him again, just a little bit.
“Jean and Jeremy,” he says.
It’s fine. Everything is fine.
Aaron switches his stares between Neil and Kevin, almost cracking his own neck, but neither of them gives him any further information.
Kevin grabs a shot of something and decides that if this is his final hoorah before going off to college, he might as well try and make the best of it.
“Where?” he asks Neil.
“Pool house.” Neil nods encouragingly. “Good luck.”
“Fuck off, Josten,” Kevin walks off with the sound of Neil’s cackle behind him.
Neil - Andrew
Neil’s position on the kitchen counter is the perfect spot to spy on Andrew. Well, spying is a harsh word. Andrew’s facing him, watching him right back.
After Kevin leaves, Neil gives Andrew a wink, and almost immediately afterward, Aaron fake-retches beside him.
“In front of me? In front of my salad?”
Neil grins and pats Aaron on his drunk little head. “Go find your girlfriend, buddy. You don’t wanna see what comes next.”
“Gross,” Aaron whines and calls Katelyn while waddling out of the kitchen. “Kate, love of my life, where the everloving fuck are you, babe?”
A few seconds later, Andrew slots himself between Neil’s open legs.
“Evening,” Neil says, leaning in. “Wanna drunkenly make out?”
The corner of Andrew’s mouth lifts. “Neither of us is drunk.”
“Even better. That means I’ll remember this forever.”
“Nope, that’s my skill,” Andrew interjects, and Neil whines when he still doesn’t get kissed.
He pouts and points his finger on his protruding bottom lip.
Andrew rolls his eyes, but leans in and kisses him. Neil’s legs tighten around his waist, holding him close as he laughs against Andrew’s mouth, pleased to have won, pleased to have Andrew as a prize, and he won’t let him go again.
He stops laughing when the kiss turns more heated, teeth nipping at lips, tongues licking the hurt away, heavy breathing between them, and Neil knows Andrew can feel him hard against him.
“We should get out of here,” he mumbles between two kisses as Andrew twists to kiss Neil’s neck. “God, fuck, Andrew— We should—”
“No,” Andrew mumbles. “No fucking in my car.”
“Jesus,” Neil swears, eyes rolling to the back of his head at the thought of that, combined with the way Andrew’s definitely leaving a hickey right below his jaw, fuck.
Neil’s fingers grapple at Andrew’s shirt, one hand finding its way in Andrew’s hair to pull him off, reluctantly, because fuck, that felt so good.
“Andrew,” he tries to catch his breath. “Not in the kitchen either.”
Andrew leans back and takes in Neil’s disheveled state. “Fine. Let’s go find a bedroom.”
The Knox mansion is, naturally, massive, and even worse to navigate when you’re dealing with a fucking erection.
Andrew’s holding his hand as they walk through wide hallways, and it was probably obvious to everyone what they were planning on doing when they went upstairs, but Neil’s frankly too horny to care.
Finally, in the corner of the house, they find an unoccupied room, and, thankfully, the door has a lock.
Andrew pushes him up against it the minute it’s closed.
He reattaches himself to Neil’s neck, eager to give his hickey a friend, and all Neil can do is try and keep himself upright, one hand on Andrew’s waist to feel grounded.
Neil moans when Andrew kisses him again, when he feels his hands reach under his shirt and touch his bare skin, lighting him up from the inside.
Neil almost stops breathing when Andrew leaves a final nip and sinks to his knees in front of him.
“Andrew,” he says, his hands immediately going back to rest against the door behind him.
“Neil,” Andrew says and smirks as he pops the button, pulls the zip down slowly, agonizingly slowly.
The pants get pulled down, along with his underwear, and Neil fights a shiver when he can feel Andrew’s breath on him.
They haven't done this before, and Neil sort of assumed Andrew wouldn’t want to, but the confident way Andrew just goes for it, wraps his lips around Neil, and looks up at him shows Neil shouldn’t ever assume anything about Andrew again.
Andrew’s mouth is heat, his tongue teasing at Neil’s tight skin, his deft fingers wrapping around what his lips can’t reach yet. It’s the best kind of torture.
Andrew reaches out a hand to pull Neil’s hip closer, urging him on a little, but Neil’s terrified of his lack of control.
“Fuck, Andrew,” he groans. “I can’t— Your pace, okay?”
Making his mind up, Andrew now puts both hands on Neil’s hips to press him against the door and starts taking Neil in more and more, until Neil can feel himself hit the back of his throat.
It’s so hot and tight, and Neil whines as he shuts his eyes. He won’t make it long if he has to look at Andrew doing it too.
The filthy sounds fill the air around them, Andrew’s fingernails are biting into Neil’s thighs and Neil can feel the heat in his gut, warning him it’s time—
“Andrew, fuck, I can’t—”
Neil doesn’t want to touch him to shove him off, but Andrew doesn’t move, bobs his head faster until finally, Neil breaks, and he comes down Andrew’s throat.
Andrew hums around him, tongue dragging on his sensitive skin as he pulls off and visibly swallows. He doesn’t even pull a face, and Neil, lacking the support of Andrew holding him up, trembles and falls to the ground.
There, Andrew is waiting for him and pulls him close, wraps his arms around Neil’s neck and kisses him, lets him know the taste of him, lets him know he liked that, probably just as much as Neil did.
They move to the bed and undress until they’re both naked, lying still, and facing each other.
Neil’s hand itches to touch Andrew.
“What can I do?”
Andrew swallows and Neil’s eyes track the movement. “You can touch me.”
He feels clumsy as he holds Andrew in his hand, even though he’s done this before.
He knows what Andrew likes, the way he twists his wrist, the way he shifts between rhythms. The way Neil looks Andrew in the eyes as he does this, watching Andrew’s pleasure develop on his face.
The hitch in his breathing that tells him he’s on the right path, the way his eyelashes flutter as he can’t decide whether he can keep his eyes open or not.
The sound of his quiet, barely-there moans that ring so loud in Neil’s ears, he can’t help but lean in close and kiss them out of his mouth.
Andrew bites him, puts a hand on Neil’s jaw, and pulls him closer, tugs at his hair as Neil undoes him.
Only when Andrew’s mouth goes slack, when Neil knows he’s close, does he move away. He shifts on the bed to lie between Andrew’s legs and puts his mouth on him.
“Neil—” Andrew moans and attempts to push him away but Neil ignores him, suckles on Andrew’s tip, and gets acquainted with the weight, the taste in his mouth. The ache in his jaw as he decides to slide his mouth further down makes him groan around him, and with Andrew’s hand pulling at Neil’s hair, his mouth is quickly filled with Andrew’s spend.
It’s not as gross as he imagined it to be, to swallow Andrew’s come and clean up what he missed when pulling off.
Even less when Andrew pulls him back up on top of him, with their sensitive cocks resting against each other, their chests moving with heavy breaths, and their mouths linking again.
Their kissing turns lazy, uncoordinated yet effortless, their lips finding each other again and again.
“Do you wanna go back to the party?” Andrew whispers after a while when they’re just resting, Neil’s head tucked under Andrew’s chin.
“Fuck no,” Neil says. “Why the fuck would I want that?”
Andrew hums, pleased, Neil can tell. “Okay.”
“Can we just stay here?”
Neil smiles and trails a finger on Andrew’s chest. “Forever.”
Andrew snorts, jostling Neil’s head in the process. “Maybe not forever.”
“Until morning,” Andrew says.
“Alright.” Neil closes his eyes and lets the sound of Andrew’s heartbeat pull him into sleep.
The rising sun wakes Neil from his slumber, and he realizes Andrew’s up too because he’s rubbing gentle fingers through his hair.
He sighs and tightens his arm around Andrew’s chest.
“You’re leaving in three days.”
“Yes,” Andrew says.
“I don’t like that.”
It’s not really a joke, but they both laugh because it’s easier that way.
They kiss, pull faces at the taste, get dressed, and make their way through the house on tiptoes so they can’t get roped into clean-up duty.
On the seventeenth, Neil helps Andrew pack, and when it gets to be too much for Andrew, he goes and harasses Aaron for a while. At night, they all play video games together and ignore the looming deadline.
Later that night, Neil stays over and all they do is hug. They lie on Andrew’s bed together, closely entangled and they breathe. They don’t talk about it.
In the morning, Neil can tell Andrew hasn’t slept. He decides to change course then and smiles before kissing him.
“Hey,” he says, lifting Andrew’s chin to make sure he’s listening. “This is going to be so good for you.”
Neil nods and smiles again. “It is.”
In an effort to distract Andrew even further, they jerk off in the shower together, and if nothing else, it’s worth seeing the disgusted glare on Aaron’s face when they finally make their way downstairs.
“You know my bedroom is next to the bathroom.”
Andrew reaches for the cereal and deadpans, “You bet on my love life.”
Aaron sputters, “You can’t keep using that against me!”
“I hate this family,” Aaron says, stuffing his face with his sandwich.
They pile Andrew’s luggage into his car, stuffing everything in until only the driver’s seat is left free.
Neil had offered to join Andrew on the drive there, even going as far as looking up the train journey back, but when they discussed it together, it seemed best to say goodbye in Palmetto instead.
It would be too hard on both of them, they decided, and the trip wouldn’t be very nice if they were both counting down until they arrived and Neil would have to leave again, except he would have no support system with him as he went back home.
So, here they are now, on the Dobson-Minyard driveway, ready to say goodbye.
Betsy had taken Andrew aside earlier, and they had a long talk while Neil attempted to distract Aaron, so all they do now is hug. Betsy whispers something in his ear that makes Andrew snort, and Neil is happy the mood is high.
Aaron breaks a little when he and Andrew hug, and when Andrew says, “Dickwad, we agreed on no crying,” Betsy and Neil join in with complaints on how Aaron’s breaking the rules.
Lastly, when it’s Neil’s turn, he simply walks into Andrew’s arms and kisses him. He leans his forehead against him, and they take a deep breath together. Neil smiles. So does Andrew.
“Call me when you get there.”
“Bet you I can make it in nine hours,” Andrew smirks.
“No breaking the traffic laws, Andrew,” Betsy says from behind them.
Neil grins and sees the challenge in Andrew’s eyes.
“Fine,” he says. “Ten.”
Neil kisses him, hard and fast. “Alright. It’s a bet.”
I started writing this fic in April, and somehow I'm surprised that it's already the end. Short as it may seem to some, this is the longest fic I've ever written, and one of the hardest, yet most fun to write too. I'm endlessly thankful to every single person who read along the way, especially every person who commented on the updates because I can promise you those kept me going when it got tough. I'm sorry for not responding, but they meant so much to me, I wouldn't have been able to put it into words anyway.
Thanks for this wild ride, and I hope to see you on the next one. <3