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if you want to join me then together we'll grow old

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Clay’d spent a life time being too scared of some nebulous sense of shame and loss to really let himself love anyone so he — knew. He noticed it, like he did sometimes with some things and some people — Sky and Tony, really — but he noticed. It was a start, he supposed. He owed at least a start to Hannah. He owed more, he knew, but maybe sometimes a start was all he could do. 

He walked over to where Tony was standing by his car. “Hey, Tony. Aren’t you going to offer me a ride?” He asked. The smile felt a bit unfamiliar on his face.

Tony turn, his own face opening up in response. “Hey Clay. This is new.”

“I didn’t bring my bike today. Unless you're too busy for me?”

Tony shook his head. “Nah, man, never for you.” He sounded sure. Clay liked that. Tony always sounded so clear, so sure. Unlike Clay, but maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing. Hannah had liked that about him. It wasn't so hard to have those thoughts anymore. 

“I know,” he told Tony. “Making a joke. I do that now.”

“Oh, really?” Tony asked him.

“Yeah,” he exhaled, putting a hand gently on Tony’s shoulder. “So, about that ride?”

“Sure, man.” They stood in the bright sunshine for a second, staring at each other before Clay bent down and swung into the passengers seat.

“No tapes?” He asked.

Tony paused before answering, hand guiding the car gently out of the parking lot. “I’m done with old things. For now.”

“You know,” Clay pointed out, “It’s kind of like a metaphor, you know. Learning from the past, from history. But not letting it dictate your life.”

“Clay,” Tony told him, “it’s a car radio.”

Clay felt himself starting to grin. “But -“

Tony groaned back into the headrest of the car. “You think I didn’t get enough of this shit with Ryan?”

“Yeah, why did you date him anyway?”

Tony shrugged.

“My mom,” he said loftily, ignoring Tony’s scoffing, “said you should always marry your best friend.”

“Well, if your mom said it …” Tony trailed off. “Besides, we are in high school. Just wanted some fun. You know how it is. Or maybe you don’t.”

“Yeah,” Clay said, sky casting a shadow over his face. “I don’t think I do.”

Clay’s new to this watching people thing, but he isn’t new to watching Tony. Tony, he wondered, might be new to being watched though. He felt his throat closing up a bit, wishing more than ever that Jeff was here. Jeff would —

“I wish Jeff were here,” he blurted out because he could do better than just watching today because he owed Hannah courage, “sometimes more than Hannah. If that makes me the worst person on the planet. But Hannah was — someone I never really had, you know? But Jeff. Was. Someone I had. Does that make sense?”

Tony moved his hand off the gear shift and onto Clay’s shoulder and lets out something of a laugh. “Yeah, Harry Potter, I’d say that puts you on par as Satan himself.”

Clay shoved his shoulder into Tony’s. The wind rustled through the open window. He shivered.

It’s been a year.

 

 

 

See, the thing about rumors, or the thing about Clay and his gay rumors, more accurately, is that they tended to be a lie about a truth. Like something somewhere in them was true but they were somehow, never true.

And there’s something to be said about not having gay rumors spread about you that was just really nice. And anyway, Hannah showed up and Clay fell a little bit more in love every day and it didn’t seem — necessary — to explore any other ideas or concepts. He could just, you know, put it off. Didn’t really need to think about it.

And she didn’t really know about the rumors. So. His parents didn’t either. It wan’t any sort of real bullying. Just, kind of laughing in the halls and this weird sort of sense that everyone thought he was gay and he wasn’t entirely sure they weren’t wrong and —

And then he’d started tutoring Jeff at the start of his sophomore year. Jeff was a year above him and Clay was a loser in all those advanced classes, the kind that took basic courses over the summer so that they could take the harder ones in school.

Ms Marks put them together, mostly just for english tutoring but Clay didn’t mind helping Jeff study or anything else.

At maybe their third or fourth studying session, Jeff started telling him about his crush on this chick Sheri who was a cheerleader and always so nice and everything. “I’m probably going to ask her out after tomorrow’s game.”

“What, just like that?” Clay asked.

Jeff shrugged. “Yeah,” he said. “Just like that dude. She doesn’t feel it, I move on. Better like this. What about you? You got your eye on anyone?”

“No,” Clay lied firmly, looking at the table, face burning. “Not right now.”

“Nah, dude,” Jeff grinned at him. “You can tell me. I’m cool about that sort of thing.”

Clay was pretty sure he knew exactly what sort of thing Jeff was talking about and maybe that was why he said it. “Um, you know the new girl?”

“Hannah Baker?”

“Yeah, her.”

“Alright,” Jeff nodded at him, smiling. A little begrudgingly, Clay felt himself smiling back. “So,” Jeff asked, “you’re not gay then?”

Clay choked. “No,” he eventually coughed out. “That’s — a stupid rumor.”

“This school can really suck sometimes,” Jeff told him with all the earnestness of a newborn puppy. "I'll tell people to drop it, I've got sway, you know. I think it's a jock thing," he confided.

Clay just shrugged, grinning into the table so that he didn't have to look up into Jeff's perfect face. “It’s alright.”

The rumors started to fade after that. Clay didn’t know if that was Jeff or just time or some other mysterious force but, especially now, he liked to think that was Jeff. Having his back, even then.

 

 

“Jeff,” Clay told Tony, laying back on the grass and blinking up into the sun. “Was a really good guy, you know? He was probably the one that stopped all those gay rumors about me. Back in freshman year. He really wanted me to get together with Hannah. Encouraged me all the time.”

Tony didn’t say he knew or anything like that and Clay was grateful for that.

He took a breath, wiping his sweaty palms on his shorts. “I sort of had a crush on him freshman year,” he admitted.

“Oh,” Tony said, trying to control his surprise. Clay let out a little huff of laughter.

“Yep,” he said, drawing out the ‘p’. “It’s kind of exactly what you think. Very, you know, early Luke / Leia vibe — who is this woman? She’s beautiful! But then they’re like, really siblings and have this great bond and everything? It was like that. Only we’re not related and we’re both dudes. But other than that. Well, we’re also not Jedi and — didn’t save anybody.”

Tony blinked. “I’m going to be honest with you, I’ve never seen the Star Wars movies, so that made about as much sense to me as you can imagine.”

“Dude, what? How have you not seen Star Wars? It’s seminal media!”

“Wow, dude, wow.” Tony replied. “I cannot believe you just said that."

Clay shoots him a look out of the side of his eyes. “Yeah, you can.”

“No,” Tony shrugged. “I give you more credit than that. Be better Clay,” he told Clay seriously.

“Asshole!” Clay laughed. “You asshole!”

They fell into a companionable sort of silence, watching the clouds move around the sun and breathing in the air.

It’s been a year, Clay thought. It’s been a long year. The grass was scratchy on his arms and legs uncovered by clothes and the sun was burning but he didn’t move. He didn’t move or close his eyes. He just laid there and breathed, arms thrown back over his head.

It’s been a year.

“My boyfriend isn’t going to like this,” Tony told him.

“Dump him,” Clay murmured back in a rare moment of something.

“What?” Tony asked, turning his face away from the sky to see Clay looking right at him. “What?”

“You heard me,” Clay said. Tony turned his face back up to the sky.

“Good one, man,” he said. Clay didn’t reply.

 

 

 

 

The thing about gay rumors, Tony thought, was that they made things simpler. He didn’t really need to have any sort of grand coming out. He just — started dating Ryan and let the school do it’s work. And no one really said much to him, but he didn’t spend much time with the sort of people who would.

And rumors being what they were and Tony being who he was, he kind of just assumed — well, everyone knew Ryan. And everyone knew Ryan was gay. And everyone knew he dated Ryan.

So he didn’t really need to come out.

That, more than anything else, might have been why he even dated Ryan in the first place, not that he would ever admit that to anybody. He didn’t want to hide who he was but he didn’t want to make it a big thing. And it was a weird thing to bring up casually. It would be, he thought once, so much easier if I just had a boyfriend. It’s a clear message. I don’t have to talk, to explain. Of course, Clay, much in the same way he usually did, ruined that plan. 

Tony liked that he wouldn’t have to talk. When he wanted to help Clay, they didn’t talk. They climbed. You showed people yourself, you didn’t tell them.

Actions spoke louder than words, always.

Tony brought Ryan to dinner with his family and said, “Ryan, this is my family. Dad, mom, this is my boyfriend Ryan.” It was the only time he called Ryan his boyfriend. Ryan put an arm around his shoulder while his parents struggled to hide their shock.

In the morning, his dad woke him up at six in the morning to help him repair a new bike that didn’t need to be repaired for the next three days and he left for school smiling.

“Hey, babe,” Ryan greeted him, leaning forward to peck him on the lips. Tony pulled away quickly.

“What the hell?” Ryan asked, tilting his head to the side, that disdainful voice of his going.

“It’s school.” Tony shrugged. “I’m a private man.”

“Yeah, sure, it’s school. It’s got nothing to do with this weird sort of homophobia you’ve still got going on where you’re gay but you’ve got to be toned down enough that everyone’s okay with it — that you’re dad’s okay with it. I bet,” he said, so condescending even then, “I bet it’s that whole pseudo masculinity thing that you see so much of, especially in the families of minorities like yours. And Mexican culture is like, very patriarchal but —“

“We're Puerto Rican,” Tony pointed out. 

“So?” Ryan looked, crossing his arms defensively. “It's pretty much the same thing. And it’s still clearly effecting you.” He went on to say other things because Ryan was always talking and using up words and Tony just tuned him out. He was fine with the gay thing. He was on board. His parents even knew.

In a family of five brothers in the bad part of town, there was a lot of shit you had to do to get through the day. You took a lot of shit. And sometimes when you screamed to be seen, the wrong sort of people saw. It’s hard to look for attention when you know it’s not all good. You don't want people really seeing you and you definitely don't want them seeing you hurting. 

His sister learned that, or so Tony hoped. They, him and his brothers, they put a body on the guy and they’d do it again. He never told his sister he loved her but anyone hurts her? She knew he’d put a body on them. She knows he loves her. No way not to.

You don’t need to say that shit in his family. You show it.

 

 

The sun felt too warm on his cheeks, the breeze barely touching his nose. He turned, slowly, to look again at Clay. Clay was still staring back. Bizarrely, Tony’s eyes darted to Clay’s fringe, wild with the wind.

Without really thinking about it, he reached his hand out. Watched Clay open his mouth. Touched his hair. “You gotta gel it man,” his voice sounded raspy. He cleared his throat. “Get you some nice looking hair. Like me.”

“Nah,” Clay said, smiling.

Tony propped himself up on one elbow. “What, you dissing my look?”

“Actually,” Clay leaned in, “I kind of love it.”

Tony froze for a second but recovered quickly. “As you should,” he said. “Palawan,” he added, gently joking.

Clay’s delighted laugh seemed to surprise even him and he clamped a hand over his mouth. Some muffled sounds made it out.

“Come on,” Tony said, reaching his hand out to tug Clay’s hand away from his mouth, instantly regretting it. His hand felt cool against the heat and smooth. Clay stared at him transfixed.

“Tony -“ He began.

Tony sat up. “I’ve got to get going. I was supposed to meet Brad later. For coffee.”

Clay didn’t say anything to that but Tony could feel his eyes harsh against Tony’s back, hotter than the sun on his face, as he got dressed.

“I’ll see you later?” He asked.

This time, Clay did say something. “You’re seeing me now,” he said.

Slowly, Tony turned around to stare at him nonpulsed. “You know,” Clay began to explain, grin growing with his words, “like in the show, Queer as Folk — the UK one, obviously, because between the two one is good and nuanced and affecting and not exploitative or political and I think it’s clear which one that is. The UK version, by the way. The US did a remake too concerned with being easily digestible to middle class suburbia with a message and sexed it up which is, like, super ironic considering a huge component of the UK version is the fuck you to middle class society and society in general, so creating a remake to appeal and fit in with society just seems — well, fucked up, really, and it is.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

“Text Brad,” Clay said instead. “Tell him you’ll meet again tomorrow. The day’s too beautiful to waste inside a coffee house.”

“It’s Monet’s.”

“So?” Clay asked. He had to squint to look up at Tony. “Step closer. Block the sun so I can see you.”

Tony didn’t move. “I can’t cancel again. I’ve cancelled too many times already.”

“Maybe you’re avoiding him.”

Tony ignored that. “You can come with. Skye’s working today.”

“Fine, but you have to tell me why you’re avoiding Brad.”

“I didn’t say I -“

Clay rolled his eyes. “You didn’t have to, dude. Actions speak louder than words, remember? That’s what you’re always telling me. And you can tell yourself that you’re just busy or that things are just crazy right now but you’re avoiding him.” He paused, face still squinting up at Tony. “Is it Hannah? I know you don’t — I know you like to think about things and work them out yourself, you know, but. I can listen. I know it doesn’t seem like that, because I talk a lot and you usually listen, but it is within my many capabilities. I’m very capable, is what I’m saying.”

“It’s not Hannah,” Tony said.

“Are you going to break up with him?” Clay asked, sitting up faster than Tony honestly thought he could.

“No, dude, and try to sound less excited about that, will you?”

“Why?” Clay asked.

Tony opened his mouth and closed it. He put his hands on his hips. “Just get in the car, would you?” The car was a half a mile away. “You’re a menace,” he mumbled, turning down the path.

“The car’s half a mile away,” Clay pointed out.

“Shut up,” Tony advised him.

Annoying, Clay didn’t shut up. “You can’t keep ignoring this,” he said instead. Tony didn’t grit his teeth because Tony wasn’t the sort of person who grit his teeth.

“What’s this?” He gritted out, trying to ignore the tightening in his chest.

“You know.” Clay said.

“Really? Now you’re going wordless? This is where you shut up?” Tony demanded. “And clearly, no, I don’t know.”

Clay, like an asshole, smirked. “This feels a bit like roll reversal, doesn’t it?”

“Is there any way to stop this conversation and go the rest of the way to Monet’s in silence?” Tony asked the sky rhetorically.

“You could kiss me,” Clay said carefully. He took it back hastily, as Tony stopped walking and turned to face Clay. “I mean, that was out of line. You’re in a relationship. For now.”

“What the hell, Clay?”

“I’m sorry, I’m not trying to be awful, I just thought -“

“What?” Interrupted Tony, resuming walking. There was silence for the next few minutes while Clay gathered himself.

“I just thought. Today, you know, of all days. I should be …” he trailed off. Tony didn’t know if he wanted Clay to continue or not. He stood by helpless, feeling his control slipping just past his fingers. The wind felt raw against his flesh, the world wobbly and unsure, everything tensed. “I should be braver with my love,” he voice stumbling over this word, “my feelings,” he corrected.

“That’s good,” Tony told him in a controlled voice. “Are you going to ask out Skype?”

“What?” Clay snapped confused. “No, obviously I’m talking about —“ Clay seemed on the verge of saying something. He even started to move, forming words like “you and you’re important to me and you helped me and I -“ were coming out of his mouth and Tony felt some sort of panic rising up in his chest from somewhere deep inside of him. He couldn’t let Clay finish, he had to — “I know you’re with Brad but I just wanted you to — know. I like you.” Clay released a breath, and looked up from the ground to Tony who felt like the ground had now toppled completely, vanishing from between his feet.

He was already shaking his head, grabbing onto the only lifeline he could. “You’re right. I’m dating Brad. Come on, Clay, you don’t mean this.”

“No,” Clay insisted. “I do.” He reached for Tony’s hand but Tony pulled back and Clay let him. “I do mean it,” he insisted again, quieter. “I didn’t want to go without saying anything. This time.”

“You're not even gay," Tony protested weakly casting around.

"Well, I don't think I'm entirely straight either!"

“I -" Tony looked at the ground. "I have to go meet Brad,” he said. “Can we talk about this later?”

Clay forced his mouth into something resembling a smile. “Sure, sure. Call me. It’s probably better I don’t go with you guys to Monet’s, yeah?”

“That’s probably better.”

Tony reached his shaking hand into his pocket, unlocking the car. Clay, on his way home, turned and called back. “Hey, Tony, let’s talk over dinner,” he said. “I don't -- I still want to be friends. If just ... that. And a wise man once told me -“

“Before we do anything, we eat?” Tony finished for him.

“How’d you know?” Clay complained, but he was smiling again. Tony’s chest started to inflate a bit, seeing that smile. But as he got into that car, everything started to deflate back on him again.

It had been a year, but were things really better?

Chapter Text

 

i. 

 

In the car driving to Monet’s, Tony’s mind is filled with a blank sort of buzzing. His knuckles are white against the steering wheel as he pulled it into the parking lot. Was he there already? Why was everything so close together? Maybe he should make another loop? But he was already late.

Stomach churning, he walked to the door of Monet’s, opened it, and stepped inside.

“Hey Tony,” Skype greeted him, walking by the door with several armloads of dirty plates.

“Yeah,” Tony replied, distracted, looking for Brad.

“Looking for Clay?” Skye asked.

“What?” Tony jumped. “No, what? Why would you say that?” Fuck, now he sounded like Clay. He had to pull himself together. “I’m looking for Brad,” he said slowly, forcing himself to think through each word. “Is he here?”

“Uhhh …” Skye looked around, shaking her head. “Search me. Good fucking luck though. He kind of blends.”

It felt like that was some sort of insult, but Tony didn’t really have it in him to respond at the moment. And, it was kind of true, wasn’t it? Brad did blend, a bit. I mean, he wasn’t the first person Tony noticed when he walked into a room. That was usually Clay, Tony realized with an escalating sense of horror.

“Tony!” Tony turned. It was Brad. He was sitting just across the room, waving, at a small two person table in the corner by the stairs.

“Brad!” Tony sighed in relief.

“I’m just doing some work, Tones. You didn’t have to come meet me.”

“I wanted to,” Tony replied which was enough of the truth for now. He pulled up a chair and sat down next to his — boyfriend. “I wanted to,” he repeated.

Brad reached forward to put his hand over Tony’s. “Thanks, babe.” Tony, unable to help himself, pulled his hand away. Brad’s foot twitched but he didn’t say anything, just turned the page in his math textbook.

They sat in silence for a few minutes before Tony got up. “I’m going to grab a coffee, if you don’t mind?”

Brad made a face. “Sorry, sorry. I’ll just finish up these problems and then we can talk.”

“I don’t —“

“Tony,” Brad said, more gently this time, “I think I know what this is about.”

Tony twisted his head sardonically, holding back an eye roll. He left without saying anything in response. “I think I’m gaining some sympathy for Clay last year,” he mumbled to Skye at the check out counter.

“What?”

“Nothing, don’t worry about it. I’ll take —“

“I know, I know, a basic coffee because we’re boring like that.”

“No,” Tony shook his head, “I’ll take a hot chocolate today.”

“What are you five?” Skye asked, judgmentally. “Whatever. Your funeral. It’ll be $2.75.”

Tony reached in his back pocket for change. He checked his front pockets.

“Oh for fuck’s sake …” Skye snapped interrupting him. “It’s on the house, you’re clearly having some sort of problem. Just — I’ll bring it by, okay? Go sit with Mr Perfect Guy Brad over there.”

Tony thought that was probably as nice as it got with Skye. He went back to Brad who glanced up at him and then back down at his work.

“You didn’t get anything?” Brad asked, pencil tapping on the page.

“Skye’s bringing it.”

“Cool.”

It was an awkward sort of warm in the cafe that today. The kind where you don’t really need a jacket but you don’t really want to take one off either. Tony shifted in his seat a few times before he forced himself to still. He crossed his arms, leaned back, looked at the clock and waited.

“Wow,” Skye deadpanned when she arrived, “somebody call the noise police. And here’s your five year old girl drink.”

That got Brad’s attention. “You didn’t get a coffee?”

“No.”

“What did you get?” He prompted.

Tony sighed. He had hoped they wouldn’t have had to talk about it. “A hot chocolate.”

With a sigh, Brad closed the book. “So this is about Hannah?” He asked. He sounded, weirdly enough, a mixture of surprised and disappointed.

“No.”

“Give me more words, Tony.”

“Like I said, I don’t need to talk. Just wanted to drop in and say hi. Can’t a guy do that?”

“Tony, you obviously have something on your mind — can you just give me a hint?” Brad was clearly trying to keep his tone level, but hints of exasperation were leaking in around the edges.

“I don’t have anything I need to talk about,” Tony repeated, calmly. “Take your time. I just wanted a hot chocolate today. Why don’t you finish your homework, and we can talk then.”

“Alright, alright,” Brad backed down. He looked down at the paper, stuck in the book and closed the book. “Done.” He looked back up, eyebrow cocked at Tony.

Tony relaxed his arms to his side. “Really?” He asked. “Really?”

“Yeah,” Brad lied blatantly. “Tell me what you wanted to say.”

“It’s, ah,” Tony started. “Been a year, since Hannah -“

“Killed herself,” Brad finished. “Is that why —“

Tony wanted to say something, but instead he just shrugged. Let Brad take that how he wanted. All of the sudden, all he wanted to do was sag back into his bed and close his eyes on the day.

His fingers tightened around the coffee cup, but he stayed still in the chair. Maybe Clay would let him cancel dinner. But he didn’t think Clay — this Clay, this new Clay — would. “Clay told me he liked me.” A sigh escaped Brad or a gasp. “I said I was dating you. I said that he wasn’t even gay, which I feel bad about. He seemed to think I would — I knew. It threw me,” he admitted.

“To be honest,” Brad said, “I kind of thought you knew too.”

Tony’s face snapped up, eyes locking onto Brad. “What?”

But Brad wasn’t listening to anything Tony was saying. Brad was looking down at the table, looking unsure or lost. “You really told him you were with me? He told you all that and you — chose me?”

Tony, starting to worry he was sounding like some sort of robot, had to repeat himself: “What?”

“You said you were with me?” He repeated.

“Of course. I am with you.” He reached his hand out to gently tip Brad’s face back up so that it wasn’t looking at the table anymore. Brad wasn’t really meeting his eyes. His fingers seemed to be trembling or starting to.

“I thought —“ Brad began, voice a little shaken. “I thought you were coming here to break up with me.” He still wouldn’t meet Tony’s eyes.

“Why would I do that?” Was Tony’s response, honestly bewildered. “Why would you think that?”

“I don’t know,” Brad told Tony’s shoulders. “But don’t you think maybe we should?”

Tony slide back in chair, letting go of Brad’s head. “What?” He couldn’t say anything else, the words trapped behind some sort of lump in his throat.

“You’re not in love with me —“

“I am, Brad, I am —“

“No, Tony, I don’t think you are. And I —“

“Please.” Tony tied to catch Brad’s eye but couldn’t. His voice held steady but his eyes were wide with some sort of desperation he himself couldn't even describe. “Can — give me another chance.”

“I think —“

“Brad!”

“I think we should break up,” Brad told the table this time, without Tony’s hands to hold him up.

“Then tell me, okay, not the damn table. Look at me, please, Brad. Why are you doing this?”
“If you love someone,” Brad told him with a watery smile, “let them go and all. That’s why. I think I love you but I don’t — I don’t know if I’m in love with you. And I really don’t think you’re in love with me. This relationship is safe, yeah? It’s safe but that doesn’t mean good.”

If it was safe, Tony thought but didn’t voice because he wasn’t sure if he could, then it wouldn’t be ending.

“It’s for the best,” Brad said. “Bye, Tony.” He grabbed his books. But as he tried to leave, Tony stood up with him.

“Can’t we,” he paused, licked his lips, eyes darting around. “Can’t we talk about this some more? I can do better, Brad, I promise. I’ll be a better boyfriend.”
Brad sniffed. He rubbed at his eye, voice breaking when he spoke. “It’s not that I don’t love you -“

Tony stepped in to embrace Brad but Brad moved away putting both his arms in front of his chest and knocking his chair over.

“It’s over, Tony. Honestly, I’m surprised you didn’t see this coming. Everyone else seemed to.”

He left, taking in shuddering breaths as he did so. He was clearly trying not to cry and Tony — Tony slowly, painstakingly, slid back down into his chair. It was hard and uncomfortable now, the hot chocolate cold. Had they really been talking so long? Had he been sitting so long?

He went to get up, but felt his own eyes start to water. Quickly, he sat back down. Eyes cast on the table, he wrapped his hands around his cup and didn’t move. He couldn’t — Brad couldn’t leave it like that, Brad wouldn’t. And Clay wanted to meet him for dinner and a year ago Hannah killed herself when Tony didn’t open the door and let her in. His grip on the coffee cup tightened.

This wasn’t about Hannah. He knew this couldn’t be about Hannah. Clay didn’t think it was about Hannah. Tony’s breaths sped up. He wanted — he wanted to get up and go after Brad but he felt like the wind had been knocked out of him and replaced by anger. What did Brad even mean, ‘everyone else did’? Why should he have seen this coming? Why can’t they talk about it? Why did everyone — why did Clay seem — why did Clay — Clay -

PSLOOSH

— Sticky wet liquid poured over his hands.  Shaken out of his thoughts, he looked down at the crushed hot chocolate it’s brown liquid coating his brown hands. It was like Hannah, he thought unbidden, caught in the middle when the noose got too tight. It was a stupid thought to have about a paper coffee cup filled with hot chocolate and he blamed it’s entire existence on the brain fever that was dating Ryan. He should probably get some napkins.

But before he could get back up or even move, Skye was there, tapping him on the shoulder.

 

 

 

ii.

 

“Here,” she said, voice soft “you look like you need some napkins. You know, because you randomly crushed your full cup of hot chocolate?”

“Thanks,” Tony told her, not entirely making eye contact. He started mopping up the liquid, pushing more of it off the edge.

“Here,” Skye said, taking the napkins out of his hands. “Let me.”

Tony shrugged.

“So, you’ve been sitting here alone for a while,” Skye said in a casual voice, pushing the now cold hot chocolate into the center of the table and mopping it up from here. She looked around for a trash.

“Over there,” Tony pointed.

“Whatever,” Skye acknowledged him. “Thanks. We’re talking when I get back.”

“What about the customers?”

“They can go fuck themselves,” Skye said. “I’ve been working here for three years, I can take an hour off.”

“I don’t think -“

“Shut the fuck up Tony. Tell me your problems.”

Tony shut up. “Okay,” he said. “Brad dumped me.”

Brad dumped you?”

“Why does everyone think that I was going to break up with Brad?”

“Why do you think you weren’t?”

The question surprised Tony. He took a minute to think of an answer. “I thought things were fine,” was all he came up with.

“Half the time, you’re canceling dates or if you show up it’s usually with Clay. When was the last time you guys were alone?” Weirdly, this felt like Skye’s version of being gentle with him. “The fact that you have to think about it,” Skye said, not entirely harshly, “should tell you everything you need to know.”

“But — why didn’t he just talk to me?”

Skye shrugged. “Do you really want to fix it that badly?”

“Yes!”

“Why?”

“What?” Tony asked. “What do you mean why?”

Skye shrugged. “Like, why?” She asked, examining her nails. A few confused looking hipsters were hovering around the unmanned counter and fruitlessly trying to wave down ethic or professional looking patrons. “Why do you want to get back together with Brad?”

“I don’t like this,” Tony joked. “Everyone’s giving me all this advice, telling me things. No good. Can we go back to me being the advice guy with his life all together?”

“You want some real fucking advice because this could not be more obviously about Hannah despite whatever fucking ‘adorable’ denial thing you think you’re rocking?” Skye asked and, without waiting for an answer, launched right into it. “What Hannah did was super fucked up and it’s not your fucking fault she killed herself and it’s definitely not Clay’s or Jessica like - !” And here Skype paused too full of anger to even articulate herself anymore.

Skye took a breath and continued: “She didn’t give anyone a chance to genuinely help her because that would ruin her pretty little narrative of the consummate victim and I’m sick of watching you and Clay walking around her mopping about this imaginary perfect Hannah you’ve conjured in your memory just because she fucking chose to end her life and psychologically fuck with some poor rape victim and a bunch of other fucking idiots!”

She scooted backwards in her chair and stood up. “Open your fucking eyes and stop being such a pussy, Tony. I have some kind of racist hipsters to serve.” She shoved her hair out of her eyes and got up.

“Oh,” she turned around one more time to look at Tony. Tony barely avoiding cringing away. “And get the fuck out of here. It’s got bad mojo or whatever.”

Tony left, pulling out his phone. There was a text from Clay and another one from his mom. He opened his mom’s text. Working late tonight.

He closed his phone without looking at Clay’s house and got in his car.

 

 

 

iii.

 

The road sped by. Tony tried putting on music but he couldn’t focus on any of the lyrics and the songs and words gave the fog in his brain a wide birth so he turned it off. He drove without really thinking about where he was going and was surprised to find himself, twenty minutes later, in front of his house. He sat in the car for just a second, letting the gas run, before he pulled the key out of the ignition and got out.

“Tony?” His sister asked when he walked into the house. “Are you alright?”

“Don’t ask,” he told her calmly, or as calmly as he could manage. His sister turned back to her phone.

As he tromped down the hall to his room, he caught his reflection in the mirror. Wow, he could understand why she was asking. He looked exhausted and his face looked like it was just starting to melt away. And his hand was tapping his thigh, a nervous habit he never managed to shake entirely.

He paused at the door to his room. “Elena?” He called.

“Yeah?” She responded.

“Dad home?”

“Yes,” a voice that definitely wasn’t Elena responded. “Tony,” his dad said in greeting, sticking his head out.

Tony nodded at his dad. “Hey.”

His dad nodded back. They stood there for a minute. His dad cleared his throat uncomfortably. “I heard the car stalling a bit in the driveway. Let’s go work on that.”

“Dad -“ Tony protested.

“You have to take care of these things right away. The problems only get worse if you ignore them. Meet me in the garage in five minutes with your car.”

“Gottcha,” Tony nodded again, then made himself relax. He could hear his sister scoffing from the other room.

“Look,” his dad began when he got there, “it might be nothin’. But it might be something big. So I think we should just start with a general inspection and take it from there.”
“You’re the boss,” Tony agreed easily.

His dad looked at him askance under his hat. “Of course, we might want to change the bolts, check the fluids. It could take a long time, you know. You got anywhere to be?”

Tony wasn’t really looking at his dad. “No,” he said shortly. He was surprised to feel his dad’s hands squeezing his shoulders.

“Good. Because this could take a long time,” his dad repeated, with a strange emphasis.

“Okay.” Tony said, and they got to work. For a while the words exchanged were along the lines of popping trunks, handing over wrenches and closing examining exhaust pipes and the interior design of his car.

Halfway through the process, his dad turned to Tony and said, “I had a big family. Seven other kids. But when I was eleven, my three year old brother drowned.” Tony had known his dad had a brother who died when he was three, but nothing else. It wasn’t something they talked about.

Tony cleared his throat and shot a questioning look at his dad.

“I know,” his dad said, slowly and carefully, “I know that I am not the most talk-y of people. But what’s on your mind son?”

“Brad broke up with me.”

His dad didn’t looked very surprised. “Wow. That’s surprising!” His dad tried and it was so artificial that Tony couldn’t help but start to laugh.

“I don’t know why this isn’t surprising to anyone,” he said when he was done and this time his dad looked at him like he was stupid.

“Look, that girl killed herself and since then you’ve been going through life like you’re waiting for the next time.”

Tony furrowed his brow. “No, I’m not.”

“You’ve been sticking around that Brad kid because God forbid you let anyone else leave. You’re like an out of order car, you know, it’s a hard to hear hum if you arent’ looking for it.” His dad added one more thing, “You don’t got to take care of everyone, Tony.”

And that was it. His dad turned back to the car, looked at the inside and told Tony to get in the car and start it.

Wordlessly, Tony did.

“Ah-ha.” His dad reflected thoughtfully. “It’s like what I thought. We’re going to have to replace — sorry, change — the serpentine belt in here. It’s only got a few thousand miles left until you start seeing some real problems. And by change,” he dad continued with that weird reflection that Tony, to his utter humiliation, now understood, “I mean throw away the old one and get a new and different one.”

Tony squeezed his eyes shut. “Thanks dad. This has been … enlightening.”

His dad nodded solemnly at him. “Do you want to do this tomorrow, or should we spend all night working on this … problem?”

“Dad!” Tony almost yelped. “I got it, I got the message!”

His dad held up his hands in surrender. “Tomorrow it is.”

Tony held back a groan. “Tomorrow,” he said. “I’m meeting a friend for dinner tonight.”

“A friend?” His dad asked. “Or a new serpentine belt?”

Tony flipped his dad off, leaving the garage to the sound of his dad’s snort.