Things got better after that heavy sadness and guilt went away. His mom wasn’t a good person to him. She wasn’t a good mom. Mama and Ina were his moms. He got to purely be himself at home without worry or fear of his mom.
That didn’t mean he didn’t miss his mommy. His mommy that hugged him when she was drunk and didn’t look at him like he was scum. He wished he could’ve had his mommy all the time instead of his mom. There was a clear distinction between the two.
It bothered him even while he was sitting with Michael in his room. Michael was looking over different lists of dog breeds that Mama gave him before she hurried off for her nursing shift. Neither of them knew why he got the dog lists, but Michael was excited about them.
“They’re all so good, Remy. How can I choose just one?”
Jeremy gave Michael a tired smile. He wasn’t feeling so energetic, even if he was excited about dogs, so he couldn’t muster his usual enthusiasm. Still, he was happy Michael was so excited.
“I dunno, dude. You just gotta go with what feels right, I guess.” He shrugged, shifting slightly. His new binder pressed a little uncomfortably on his chest. He wasn’t used to the pressure yet, but it would pass.
Michael looked over at Jeremy, focusing properly on him. He frowned after a second, putting down the list of dogs. “Are you okay? You look... off. Like you’re sad but also just... off. It’s hard to describe.”
Jeremy sighed. He would ever lie to Michael. “No. I’m not okay.” He shook his head. “I’m still feeling... weird and sad about mommy leaving.”
Michael’s frown deepened as he scooted closer. “That was... Uh, we’re going to enter high school in a few weeks, and that was the seventh grade...” He muttered to himself for a few moments. “That was almost two years ago, Remy. Maybe closer to a year and a half ago. She... she didn’t treat you right. She didn’t deserve you. She still doesn’t.”
“I know.” Jeremy nodded. “I’m just... I found something yesterday. She’d written me a note. When she was drunk, from the looks of it. Considering the fact that she had written it from a place of love, I’d say it was certainly from when she was drunk.” He sighed and pulled it out his pocket. “Here, take a look...”
“You... Where did you find this?” Michael took the note but didn’t read it yet.
“In my dad’s room. He left it out on the bed... I think he was trying to decide whether to give it to me or not. it was in an envelope with my name on it so I opened it without thinking.“
“I don’t know if I should read this, dude.”
Jeremy sighed again. “You don’t have to. But you’ve got my permission if you want.” He was just feeling weird about it all again. He missed his mommy, the one who clearly loved him. The person who wrote the note was his mommy, not the woman who she was the rest of the time.
Michael looked at the note before handing it back to Jeremy. “It feels too intimate to read. You can tell me what was in it though.”
Jeremy took back the note and tucked it away. “It says how much she loved me. And that she was sorry for how everything turned out. And she kept saying how it was all her fault, but never specified what ‘it’ was... She tried to fix it, whatever it was, but apparently it didn’t work,” he explained. That was the summary of it, anyway. It took a few reads for Jeremy to get the coherence, so maybe it was better that Michael didn’t read it just for the fact that it was hard to understand. Mommy had been very drunk when she wrote this.
“That... She might have just been very drunk. I don’t know what that could even mean.” Michael was just as honest with Jeremy as Jeremy was with him. He knew lies made Jeremy feel sick. It worked better this way, even if honesty hurt sometimes.
Jeremy hugged himself tightly. “I know it’s basically drunk nonsense but... she did love me. Somehow. This letter is like proof. And it’s just... hard to process. If she actually loved me, why treat me like she did? Hell, why do most people treat me like they do? I just... It feels like something’s wrong with me,” he admitted softly.
Michael scooted to sit right next to Jeremy, hugging him. His hug helped him feel a bit better. “I... I don’t know. I can’t really get how and why people think how they do.” He rested his head against Jeremy’s. “But I know there isn’t a thing wrong with you. You’re my best friend and the best dude I know.”
Jeremy leaned against Michael, closing his eyes. “Thanks Mikey. I just... Sometimes, I wish I understood. I mean, I’m not a bad guy, right? But people seem to decide to hate me the moment they meet me if I’m not with you.” He sighed. “It’s like I’m cursed or something, and even my own mother wasn’t immune.”
“You are not cursed. You’re the best damn person in the world and everyone else is stupid for not seeing that. They can fuck right off.”
Jeremy couldn’t help but smile. “Thanks Mikey. You’re pretty damn awesome too.” He shifted to hug Michael properly, needing to contact and to just feel Michael’s warmth. It helped immensely. Jeremy always felt sort of cold these days.
“Aww, thank you, my dude.” Michael squeezed him and held him close for a good minute or two. “But uh, besides dog business, do you think you could show me your new art that you’ve made? You brought your sketchbook over, right?”
Jeremy hesitated at that. He hadn’t really drawn anything in ages, he didn’t feel any drive to create like he used to. “Er, no. I have it, but there’s nothing new in it,” he admitted. “I mean, I can show you what I’ve done, but...”
“Wait, you haven’t? But you’re always drawing.”
“I... haven’t drawn anything in months,” Jeremy whispered, almost ashamed.
Michael pulled back just enough in the hug to look at Jeremy. “What? But... You’ve drawn when we’ve hung out.”
“And you’ve seen all of those. I never completed any of them, they’re just... sketches or parts. They didn’t feel right, I guess.”
Something danced across Michael’s face. “Have you only drawn around me? But you love drawing. You said you wanted to create an art portfolio your senior year of high school. Do you... do you not feel a drive to draw anymore?”
Jeremy shrugged. “I don’t feel a drive to do much of anything anymore,” he admitted after a moment. “I just feel... kinda numb, I guess. It’s not so bad when I’m around you, but... yeah.”
“You...” Michael frowned and quickly pulled out his phone with one hand, typing on the screen as he kept Jeremy in a hug. “Hold on.”
Jeremy let Michael do what he needed to. This was pretty normal, he’d start researching something to understand it better before continuing whatever they were doing. In this case, Jeremy was more than happy to just sit there and accept the hug.
After a few minutes, Michael put down his phone and reached up, holding Jeremy’s cheeks- Wait, what? “I’m so sorry that I didn’t notice until now.”
Jeremy blinked as he looked up at Michael, confused but also really loving being held like this. “What’re you talking about?” he asked softly.
“I should’ve noticed that you’ve been feeling so bad lately. I mean, I’ve sort of noticed it, but I didn’t take action. I’m really sorry.”
Jeremy blinked again and started to melt into the contact a little, his eyes closing once more. “I mean, it’s not that big of a deal. M’just not one hundred percent at the moment. It’ll get better... maybe.” He wasn’t sure if it would, but he hoped so.
“It is a big deal. You’re my best friend and closest person to me. I should have said something.” Michael shifted a little but his hands stayed against Jeremy’s cheeks. “You’ve helped me so much and still help me. I gotta help you too.”
“But how?” Jeremy was genuinely curious to hear what Michael had to say. “S’not like you can control what people do when you’re not around... And I feel better when I’m around you anyways. Being away from you... That’s when people get nasty and then it makes me feel more numb.”
“You shouldn’t just rely on me. There’s just...” Michael sighed in a way that meant he was trying to figure out how to say his thoughts. “I’m going to work on having people not be mean to you when I’m not around. I’ll figure something out, I promise. You deserve the world, and I haven’t been helping you get that.”
“Michael, I’m pretty sure you’re the reason I’m still alive,” Jeremy pointed out softly. “When I was younger, the older kids would pick on me on the days you were gone. They’d shove me and hurt me and-... It got worse the longer you were gone for, but they never looked at me twice when you were around. I’m pretty sure if you weren’t around, they’d have killed me. Them or some adult I encountered or someone ...”
Michael stared at Jeremy as he processed everything he said. “You shouldn’t have to only be around me to not feel scared or worried,” he stated. “You don’t deserve to be treated like that. No one deserves that, but especially not you, Remy.”
Jeremy sniffled a little at that, his eyes starting to water. “Doesn’t feel like I don’t deserve it,” he mumbled, not really sure how clear his words were.
“You don’t deserve that treatment, Jeremy. You are the best thing that has ever happened to me,” Michael said clearly and firmly with love and care. “Fuck the world. Fuck everyone. You deserve nothing but the best.”
Jeremy burst into tears at that point, unable to control his emotions any longer. God, this was too much, but the numbness in his chest seemed to almost pulse and lessen. It was as if just hearing those words helped break it somewhat. Not a lot, just a bit.
Michael held him close, guiding Jeremy’s head to his shoulder. Once his head was there, Michael practically wrapped himself around Jeremy as he whispered soft words of how he was a good person and how he deserved nothing but the best.
Jeremy just clung to Michael and sobbed. Hearing those loving words didn’t fix him, not even close, but it did help beyond belief. Having someone there, just... believing in him, believing that he was a good person, helped soothe the pain which he hadn’t even realized was there. Maybe... maybe things would be okay, eventually. Maybe Jeremy was a good person. Michael believed it after all and he was, in Jeremy’s opinion, truly the best.
High school wasn’t going to be fun. No matter how much Michael and Jeremy begged, they didn’t have all of their classes together. They had a lot of them together, but they didn’t have math, science, and some electives together. They only saw each other half of the day and during lunch. Better than no classes, but augh!
Michael walked Jeremy to the auditorium where his theatre class was supposed to take place. He gave him a quick hug before booking it to the other side of the building where his honors math class was.
Jeremy wished, not for the first time, that his teachers didn’t mark him down for no good reason. He knew he got the same answers as Michael on their last exams, but nope! Jeremy was stuck without honor role or honors classes because the math teacher seemed to be determined to hate him, more so than most teachers. Jeremy hadn’t told Michael about that fact yet, but hey, there wasn’t much they could do about it besides Michael getting upset, which would throw off his scores for future tests as well. Jeremy wasn’t going to let Michael throw away his future for him.
With a shaky sigh, Jeremy pushed opened the doors to the auditorium and slipped inside, taking in the view.
There wasn’t really anyone there yet, but the auditorium had rows of seats. The stage was open and inviting, and it made Jeremy want to stand up there and feel on top of the world for once in his life. He deserved that much, right?
Since he was alone and probably would be for a couple of minutes (he arrived very early from lunch because Michael wanted to make sure he got there safely), Jeremy decided to do just that. Why shouldn’t he actually enjoy himself for once? It’s not like anyone else would be there to judge him.
With that thought in mind, Jeremy grinned and threw his backpack into one of the unoccupied seats, scrambling his way up onto the stage.
It was amazing. Jeremy could just imagine it, him on stage, out of breath after maybe him finishing a song or a monologue, the people in the crowd cheering and clapping. They loved him, they loved his work and wanted to see more. It was an impossible fantasy, but as Jeremy stood up there, staring out to the empty auditorium, he couldn’t help but imagine. He closed his eyes and let himself indulge for a moment, throwing his arms wide as he basked under the non-existent heat of the stage lights.
Then he heard someone and he froze. “Oh wow, you look like you’re having a moment. A good moment, but a moment. I was hoping to do that before anyone else got here, but you beat me to the stage.” Somehow, the voice didn’t sound upset or anything. If anything, the person talking was excited.
Jeremy’s eyes shot open as his arms dropped to nervously pick at the hem of his cardigan.
A cute girl in a green dress and a denim jacket stood by the door to the auditorium. She was cute and non-threatening, that much was clear, but Jeremy had never been more scared of someone in his life. He had been in a vulnerable moment, letting his guard down for once, and this person came in and now had the power to take a swipe at him and completely destroy him. Okay, well not really, but that’s how it felt.
“Oh! I’m sorry, did I bug you? If you were having a moment, I can go and guard the door to keep kids from coming in. I don’t think I can stop the teacher, but I can stop them at least.” Did she say all of that in one breath?
Something about this girl was... familiar, almost. Even if it was quiet, Jeremy somehow managed to unlock his voice a little. “S’okay. You... you can have your moment too, f’y’like...” he mumbled, hopefully loud enough for her to hear. He hopped off the stage and shuffled back over to his bag.
“No, you finish your moment first! I’m sorry for interrupting.” The girl hurried over and dropped her bag off by the stage. “I’m Christine, by the way. It’s nice to meet a fellow theatre geek!” She held out her hand and beamed. It was like the world was a bit brighter and his chest was a little less numb because of that smile.
Jeremy stared at her hand for a second before reaching out and shaking it. “J-Jeremy.” No one ever wanted to shake his hand before, not without Michael being around and, generally, a lot of coercion. “And- And don’t worry, my-“ He took a deep breath to stop his voice trembling. “The moment’s over. I get... stage fright?” That was one way of putting it. Another way would be that he was just genuinely scared of people.
Christine pulled her hand back and looked Jeremy over. “Well hopefully this class’ll help with that. You seemed so happy up there and it was really sweet to see you so happy, though I felt like I was interrupting an intimate moment so sorry again.”
“S’okay.” Just who was this girl? No one was ever this nice to Jeremy, only Michael. Maybe... maybe Jeremy should say something nice? Christine was making him feel a good sort of weird, so he should be extra nice to her to make sure they could maybe be friends later. “I... I like-...like your... dress,” he managed to stammer out after a moment. It really was a nice shade of green.
That seemed to be the right thing to say. Christine’s eyes lit up and she twirled in place, letting her dress rise somewhat in the air and twirl with her. “Thanks! I got it ‘cause I really like the flower on it and I think that the color is really nice. Plus, it’s nice and flowey and super pretty.” She stopped spinning and looked over Jeremy. “I really like your sneakers. They’re cool and sparkly and where did you get them?”
“Online.” Jeremy muttered, shuffling his feet awkwardly. He wasn’t used to people looking down at his feet except to make fun of his sneakers. They were cute Hello Kitty ones, and Jeremy liked them and so did Michael so of course Jeremy would wear them. “I... I really like cute things.” Now that he thought about it, Christine was really cute.
“They look really good on you,” Christine said with a sort of finality, nodding as she beamed. Then she paused, as if thinking, before gasping. “Do you like cute stickers too?”
Jeremy nodded, a little more relaxed and excited. “Michael always gets me lots. My door is covered in them, and so is my laptop as well as all my journals.”
“Okay, hold on.” Christine rushed, grabbed her backpack, and took out a huge sticker book of cute animal, food, and plant stickers. “Ta-dah!”
Jeremy’s eyes went wide. So many cute stickers! Christine nodded when Jeremy hesitantly held out his hand, letting him flick through it in wonder.
He spotted a very cute, very familiar looking sticker on one of the animal pages. A black dog with a red collar, just like how he used to draw his dream dog, Ellie, when he was little. He couldn’t help but run his finger over the sticker longingly. She looked so cute chasing that little yellow butterfly.
“You can take that sticker if you want. You’re gonna love it more than I would.” When he looked up at Christine, Jeremy saw a soft smile on her face. “I think there are a few more stickers of that dog in here. There’s one with her rolling around in grass, with a pig nose and ears, and then just one of her sitting.”
Jeremy blinked and looked up at Christine. “R-really?” he asked quietly. “You’re sure you want to give it to... me?”
Christine looked confused for a second before smiling. "Yeah? I wouldn't be offering if I didn't want to give them to you. I just need to get some scissors to cut them out!"
Jeremy could almost cry. Someone was giving him something, just because. No reason or need or ulterior motive attached, just because she could. Christine had to be one of the nicest people in the whole world. She certainly was in Jeremy’s opinion, maybe almost as nice as Michael.
“Thank you,” he whispered.
"Of course!" Christine went to dig in her backpack before some other students came in. She ignored them in favor of finding her scissors she apparently had, and the kids... ignored Jeremy. They ignored him without Michael around for once.
Jeremy still curled up a little, as he always did when faced with a lot of people. Even if they ignored him, that didn’t mean they’d be nice if they had to interact with him. Even as he felt his voice seize in his throat, Jeremy couldn’t help but have that feeling of relief that he only ever associated with being around Michael. Christine made him feel different to how Michael did, but it was a similar sort of thing for sure.
"Aha, got 'em." Christine took out a pair of scissors with a sheath that covered the end. She took it off before plopping down on the ground, starting to cut out the first sticker.
Jeremy had to stop his expression from turning wobbly. No doubt now, he was gonna cry when he was next alone with Michael. He had a friend . That’s what this was, right? He was becoming friends with Christine? He really hoped so.
“Thank you so much,” Jeremy whispered, looking at the stickers in awe before standing and tucking them into his sketchbook he always kept in his bag.
"Oh, do you draw? That's so cool-"
A man cleared his throat as he tried (keyword being tried ) to make a dramatic entrance from the stage, whipping his coat behind himself. "Hello everyone, and welcome... to theatre ."
Jeremy almost giggled. Except he didn’t want detention, so instead he quickly shifted his bag and sat down. He glanced over at Christine and patted the seat next to him hopefully. He was doing that a lot today. Hoping.
Christine quickly hopped up to sit next to him as the rest of his classmates sat down as well. She beamed up at Jeremy before focusing completely on (presumably) their teacher.
" I am Mr. Reyes. I will help you all discover the amazing craft that is theatre, but first, I need to go really quickly to my office. I forgot to cook something, so be friendly with one another, however you all do that nowadays." With that, he quickly dashed off the stage.
Jeremy couldn’t keep his small giggle contained this time before he stiffened. What if Christine thought he was being rude?
When he stopped giggling though, he heard Christine giggling as well. "He is so dramatic. I'm so excited, ah!" She flapped her hands, grinning.
Jeremy blinked before actually shooting her a small smile. “Me- me too. And Mr. Reyes is weird but I’m excited.”
"Same! I'm excited to have a friend in theatre. I just moved here and was nervous I wouldn't be able to make a friend but you're here, so... thanks." Christine gave him a small and vulnerable smile. "I know I'm loud and everything and talk a lot but... thank you, Jeremy."
Jeremy hesitated, then held out his hand. “Well, I mean... I only have one friend. No... no one else likes me. I don’t know why, so thank you , Christine,” Jeremy whispered just loud enough for her to hear. “No one except Michael has ever given me anything before.”
She stared at Jeremy like he was crazy for a second and oh god, did she hate him now-
"How could people not like you? They're crazy!" As she spoke, she took Jeremy's hand and squeezed it comfortingly. "You're amazing. I mean, I know I've done a lot of the talking 'cause I have a lot of energy and my mind wanders a lot, but still."
Jeremy blushed. “I- I like you talking and your energy,” he stammered. “I... I can’t always talk. So I like the fact you talk lots.”
"Oh, good to know." She smiled before hesitating and taking out her phone. It had keychains dangling from it and the case was clear but thick. It showed off a lot of small stickers of fruits. "Do you wanna put your number in my phone? I can be your second friend since you're my first new friend here."
Jeremy nodded and took her phone. It took him a second to remember his number, but he quickly inputted it. After a small hesitation, he also added a theatre mask emoji. He handed back the phone, blushing lightly.
Christine looked over his phone, smiling as she quickly tapped on her screen before putting it away. "Ah, I'm so happy!" She flapped her hands again before stopping and offering one to Jeremy.
Jeremy smiled a little more solidly and reached out, taking Christine’s hand. Her energy was infectious and he couldn’t help but relax and grin. He started wiggling with how happy he was, unable to contain his joy.
He had a new friend! A real, genuine friend! But... she made him feel different than Michael did. After a brief moment to contemplate that, Jeremy resolved to think about it later. He could ask Michael.
After half a week of school, Jeremy was excited to have Michael sleeping over for the weekend. They could hang, play games, and talk. He had a proper chance to talk about Christine.
Michael flopped down onto Jeremy's bed, humming as he kicked off his shoes before carefully placing them on the floor by the foot of Jeremy's bed. "God, they need to give us more than five minutes to go to class! It's a way bigger building... wait... It's a larger building than the middle school."
“Yeah, it is,” Jeremy agreed, flopping down on his bed and holding out his arms. His binder had come off as before even his shoes had so he was ready for some cuddles. “Still, you don’t have to walk me to drama class anymore. Christine has volunteered and people seem to ignore me when I’m with her too, so you don’t have to go sprinting all the time.”
Michael paused as he went to lie against Jeremy. "Wait, Christine? Who's that?"
Jeremy wrapped his arms around Michael. “She’s the girl in my class I told you about. The one who gave me the stickers that look like Ellie and Hello Kitty.” He squeezed Michael softly. “She’s my friend... I think.”
"Oh! Yeah, her." Michael glanced up at Jeremy with a smile. "She literally said you were her friend. She's your friend, dude."
Jeremy blushed. “I mean, I know that. But I just... I don’t have friends except you, Mikey. I don’t know all this stuff. Plus, she makes me different than I feel with you,” he grumbled playfully.
"Dude, I don't know this stuff either. You're, like, my only real friend. I mean, the girl Jenna in my math and science classes is nice, but you're really my only real friend." Michael paused then, glancing to the side for a moment. "Wait, she makes you feel different than I do?"
“Well yeah.” Jeremy nodded. “You’re my Mikey. You’re, like, the other side of my coin or something. She’s... different.”
"Hm. I guess that makes sense. New friend versus an old friend."
Jeremy nodded again. “Yeah... she makes my stomach feel weird.” He sighed. “And people keep whistling at me and her when they see us holding hands. She’s been helping me stay calm when people get loud.”
Michael frowned as he cuddled closer to Jeremy. "Well, I'm glad that she's helping you, but... How does your stomach feel weird?"
“Like... twisty.” Jeremy hummed after a minute. “I don’t know, it’s weird.”
"That is weird," Michael agreed. "Maybe ask your dad about it? I have no clue what that could mean."
He nodded. “Yeah. I guess that makes sense.” Jeremy nuzzled against Michael. “You’re still my best friend, though, Mikey.”
"And you're my best friend, Remy." Michael gave Jeremy a big smile. "Oh! Also, Ina and Mama told me the reason why they gave me that list of dogs! I forgot to tell you why during lunch."
“Oh, tell me!” Jeremy cried. He was now excited about dogs. He needed to know.
"They said that they'd been researching and saving up to get me a service dog!"
Oh. My. God. “That’s so awesome, Mikey!” Jeremy couldn’t control his volume, his voice cracking as he almost shouted in his joy. “You chose the yellow jindo, right?”
"Yup. The dog's apparently been trained for a bit and in, like, two months, I'm gonna be going to pick her up with Mama. Her name's Sunny. I chose it unknowingly. I was sorta just spitballing names and I guess they told the breeders and trainers to name her that."
“Oh wow, that’s so cool!” Jeremy giggled. “Can I come with you to go get her?”
"Of course. We’re going to be going after school to get her, I know that much."
Jeremy wiggled happily. “Yay!” Hopefully that would be as awesome as he was imagining. He loved dogs. Even if they tended to just stare at him or even growl sometimes, he really loved them.
"I'm told she's a very happy and lovely girl. She's a very hard worker too. I'm just- ah! She's gonna be with me all the time too so I'm excited."
That made Jeremy hesitate. “She’s gonna be great, Mikey.” His smile was a little forced, admittedly. Michael was gonna be with the dog at all times, if the dog didn’t like Jeremy then Jeremy wouldn’t be able to be around Michael. There was no way Jeremy would deprive Michael of such an important helper just because he wanted to be near Michael. If the dog didn’t like him, Jeremy would take a step back, even if he didn’t want to necessarily.
"She will be. And I know that she'll love you," Michael said, looking up at Jeremy. He reached a hand up and cupped Jeremy's cheek. "If she doesn't love you, I don't want her."
“But she’ll help you so much, Mikey,” Jeremy protested.
"You're too important, Jeremy. I can't not have you two like each other."
“I’m not so important,” Jeremy whispered.
"You're the most important person," Michael whispered.
Jeremy closed his eyes and leant into the touch. He didn’t believe it, but he knew Michael did. He could feel that Michael believed it wholly. He wasn’t lying.
"You trust me, right?"
Jeremy nodded instantly.
"Then trust that you're the most important person to me. You're the best person, Jeremy."
Jeremy nodded after a second. “Okay... okay...”
When he opened his eyes, Jeremy saw Michael's fond smile before he rested his head on Jeremy's shoulder. "Alright, good."
“You’re the best person to me, Mikey,” Jeremy hummed softly.
"Aww, Remy. You're too sweet."
“I’m just honest.”
"You are, but you're also very sweet." Michael was completely relaxed, and Jeremy could tell he was starting to doze off.
Jeremy smiled and held Michael close. Yeah, they could both use a nap. Honestly, Jeremy was always tired after school. At least he never came home hungry anymore.