They’d only been dating a month when Kevin decided to spend the night at Joaquin’s place; he lived the upstairs apartment over an army surplus store. Admittedly, Kevin had to lie to his father and say he was spending the night at Reggie’s house, a cover that Reggie agreed to maintain as long he was appointed official fashion stylist to Kevin’s position of sophomore class president. But it was all worth it, in Kevin’s opinion. He was finally going to get laid—and by an actual boyfriend, to boot, not some random hookup.
“You sure you want this?” Joaquin asked, hesitating after pushing Kevin down to the bed.
“Worried about the pressure of being my first time?” Kevin teased, pulling Joaquin back on top of him. “Don’t worry. I trust you.”
“I’ll take care of you,” Joaquin vowed, drawing Kevin in for a deep kiss.
He was true to his word, soothing Kevin through the pain and indulging him with pleasure never experienced before, all with incredible stamina. By the time their session was over, Kevin all but collapsed back on the bed with exhaustion. Joaquin noticed and pulled him close, adjusting Kevin’s head to lean on his chest.
“You all right, baby?” He asked, stroking Kevin’s hair.
“More than all right,” Kevin said, giving him a tired smile. “You make me feel fantastic.”
Joaquin chuckled. “I’m that good, huh? We can do this all again tomorrow, if you want.”
Kevin snuggled closer to Joaquin, reveling in the contact. “You know I’d like to, but I want to get home and make breakfast for my dad. You know I like to cook him something special during the weekends.”
“Sure,” was Joaquin’s only remark. Though he didin’t sound too impressed, he wrapped an arm around Kevin and held him there as he drifted off to sleep.
Kevin remained awake; ever since his parents’ divorce when he was in the eighth grade, he had stopped being able to sleep during the night. Instead, he used the time to exercise, study, or complete projects for his various extracurriculars.
He didn’t want to disturb Joaquin, though, so for the better part of an hour he lay in silence, until he was sure Joaquin was asleep. Once he was certain he wouldn’t be bothering him, he slipped out from beneath Joaquin’s arm and rolled over to the other side of the bed, where he hopped out. Quickly and quietly dressing, Kevin then made his way to the outside staircase. Keeping the door just barely open to prevent the cold from drifting in but making sure he didn’t lock himself out, Kevin sat down on the first step.
Tilting his head back, he let the moonlight wash over him, even as the cold nipped at his skin and the fall wind brushed through his hair. He had always liked nighttime. The darkness was like a cloak of anonymity he didn’t possess during the day. To him, the lack of light meant he could be anyone, do anything, act as wild as he wanted without having to tie himself into knots stressing about the outcome.
The apartment door creaked all the way open, and Joaquin stood there in a pair of loose drawstring pants.
“Babe, what the hell are you doing all the way out here?” He demanded. “It’s freezing out—you’ll get sick.”
“I don’t mind the cold,” Kevin said with a shrug. “Besides, I don’t sleep well at nights. I didn’t want to keep you up with all of my tossing and turning.”
Joaquin drew him into a possessive kiss. “I don’t care about that,” he said firmly when he let Kevin come up for air. He tugged Kevin back into the apartment. “I want you in my bed, darlin’, and I’ll take you any way I can get you.”
“All right.” Kevin let Joaquin drag him back to the bed. Truthfully, he couldn’t help but be impressed and flattered by Joaquin’s unwavering interest and concern for him.
He remained in bed with him until five-thirty in the morning, when he finally couldn’t stand it anymore and rose to shower and get ready for the day. After drying off and dressing, Kevin moved to the small kitchenette, planning on preparing his boyfriend a surprise breakfast. But he found nothing in the cupboards other than some cereals and canned pasta and the fridge completely empty other than alcohol. As such, Kevin decided to walk down the street to the gas station and pick up some food and coffees. He shook his head in disapproval as he closed the cabinets and grabbed his coat—he couldn’t believe Joaquin didn’t even keep any coffee in the house. The next time Kevin spent the night, he was going to force his boyfriend to go grocery shopping beforehand so he could make him a nice breakfast the next day.
At the convenience mart, Kevin grabbed a black coffee for himself and one of those sugary cappuccinos that Joaquin liked from the self-serve coffee station. From the hot food section he quickly located two bacon, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwiches for his boyfriend and then, as he didn’t really like breakfast-style foods, tried to hunt down some sort of sustenance for himself. There weren’t very many options available, so he eventually settled for a few peanut butter and strawberry jelly Uncrustables. The tattooed clerk sent him as an odd look as he rang up Kevin’s purchases, but Kevin shrugged it off; he wasn’t looking to impress anyone with his food preferences.
Upon return to Joaquin’s apartment, Kevin noticed an unfamiliar older pickup truck parked just in front of the store. He couldn’t suppress a sliver of suspicion at the sight. The store below the apartment didn’t open until ten on weekends, and it wasn’t even seven yet.
Proceeding up the stairs quickly but cautiously, Kevin paused at the top, halted by the sound of arguing voices emitting unhindered through the open door.
“—don’t have a choice! We need to leave now!” It was a commanding voice, slightly hoarse, and Kevin was certain he had heard it before.
“Kevin hasn’t said anything about the investigation. I don’t think his father has any leads,” Joaquin replied.
“Yeah, well, your boy’s information is wrong. I just got a tip saying the sheriff is having search warrants signed as we speak. Remind me to never have you grift for me again. You’re awful at grooming the mark,” the unknown voice said.
“He never knew all that much to begin with,” Joaquin countered. “You set me up for failure from the start. Kevin told me his dad doesn’t talk to him about investigations. How the hell am I supposed to find out information from someone who doesn’t have it to start with?”
Realization hit Kevin like a freight train, and the air whooshed out of his lungs as if he had just been punched in the stomach. Joaquin just out for information? He was using him?
A choking sadness swelled in Kevin’s throat, but he forced it down, instead concentrating on the anger and outrage boiling within him.
That bastard. That lying, backstabbing bastard.
Clenching his jaw, Kevin stormed up the last few steps and burst into the apartment, where he found Joaquin standing with FP Jones, the leader of the Southside Serpents. Both whirled to look at him as he entered: Joaquin’s expression was one of dismay, while FP just looked impatient.
“I’ve brought you breakfast,” Kevin said curtly, offering Joaquin the coffee tray and the bag of sandwiches even as his hands trembled with rage.
FP snatched the items before Joaquin had a chance, opening the bag to peer inside. “Thanks, kid.”
“Kevin, let me explain,” Joaquin began, but Kevin cut him off.
“Let me see if I understand,” Kevin said with forced control in his voice, even as his heart thudded in his chest. “You, Joaquin, were told by your gang leader,” he sent a disdainful look at FP “to date me to get information on one of my father’s cases. I’m guessing it was the Blossom case, since it’s the most high-profile one at the moment.” He glared at Joaquin. “All along, you were playing me for a fool. I bet you were laughing behind your hand the whole time about how naïve I was, huh?”
“In fairness, you two did make a hot couple.” FP leered at Kevin. “When I saw you with him in the kitchen that night at Jughead’s party, even I got a hard-on just from watching you two.” He took an emphatic bite of one of the breakfast sandwiches.
“That’s not what this was,” Joaquin said desperately. “I wasn’t stringing you along for thrills—”
“Just for criminal purposes,” Kevin returned coldly.
“Kevin, I wasn’t faking what I felt for you. Just give the benefit of the doubt here,” Joaquin pleaded. “I was between a rock and a hard place. I had to do what FP said.”
FP snorted. “Thanks. Way to pass the buck.”
“So you were ‘just following orders’?” Kevin asked in disgust. “That’s weak, Joaquin. Be a man and own up to your mistakes. If we weren’t already done, I would have dumped your ass in a hot second just because of that response.”
“I do care about you,” Joaquin insisted. “That part was real. I never lied to you when I said I loved you.”
“Hate to interrupt this prime time drama, Joaquin, but we need to split.” FP took a swallow of Kevin’s coffee.
“Speaking of going, that’s what I’m doing now,” Kevin informed them, ducking into the bedroom and grabbing his backpack. He was grateful that he’d already packed away his clothing earlier that morning and didn’t have to worry about doing so right then. All he wanted to do was leave and get away from the people preoccupied with manipulating him.
Joaquin hesitated as Kevin approached the door, but he grabbed his arm when he was just about to exit. “I’ll call you and tell you everything.”
FP scoffed. “Uh, no you won’t.”
Kevin looked at his former boyfriend directly. “Joaquin,” he said, in as steady of a voice as he could manage. “I never want to see or hear from you again in my life.” With that, he yanked his arm free and rushed out the door and down the stairs as quickly as he could, nearly tripping several times in his haze of fury and hurt. However, once he reached the bottom, he needed to briefly pause to wait for an instant of dizziness to pass; the sudden motion, combined with his current adrenaline rush and empty, growling stomach took a temporary toll on him.
Realizing his seething wrath wouldn’t be any help to himself at the moment, Kevin tried to push away his emotions and concentrate on his priorities. Leaning against the railing, he stopped for just for long enough to regain his sense of balance and rip open one of the Uncrustables. Stuffing about half of it in his mouth, he didn’t move until he swallowed the first few bites, but then he took off again at a determined pace. He needed to get home, but he had left his truck at the house. Last night, Joaquin had picked him up on his motorcycle and would have dropped him off a safe distance away from his home later that morning. But now, it seemed that Kevin would be making the five mile trek back to his neighborhood on his own.
It was good for him to walk, Kevin tried to convince himself as he finished the sandwiches and jammed his fists into the pockets of his jacket. Not just for the exercise, but so he could work off some of his anger at Joaquin. This way, he wouldn’t have to carry around negativity with him, feel that burden weighing on his shoulders. He didn’t want to be the type of person who held onto their spite and used it as an all-encompassing excuse, shield, and weapon.
He could get over Joaquin. Yes, he had lied to him, been spying on him from the start, and harvesting whatever he had said. But he could be strong. He could recover.
At least, Kevin thought, swallowing down the rising lump in his throat as he blocked Joaquin’s number on his phone, he hoped he could.
His dad wasn’t home when Kevin got back to the house, and there was a note on the table saying he would be home from work late that evening. It was selfish of him, but Kevin was grateful. He had felt guilty enough for dating a gang member on the sly; he didn’t think he could cope with trying to keep up the lie when he was so filled with rage and humiliation. Besides, he wanted the house to himself to stew, to clear away some of the tension coiling around him like a boa constrictor.
The deluge of emotions rushing through Kevin was so intense and raw that he barely knew what to do with any of them. One instant, anger surged through him at the very thought of Joaquin and FP, urging him to put his fist through glass or scream until his throat grew hoarse. The next he was overcome by despair and just wanted to crawl away into a hole somewhere and hide from the world. But a second later, he was flooded by hatred for himself and couldn’t hold back the self-recriminations. How could he have been so stupid, so blind? Why hadn’t he realized he was being tricked? Was he really that desperate for companionship that he had ignored all the warning signs there must have been?
Lord, Joaquin must have thought he was one goddamn pathetic loser, especially when Kevin had started spilling secrets to him like he was the frickin’ Dear Abby column. But Joaquin had seemed like such a good listener, and Kevin found himself telling him things he previously swore he would take to his grave. How, as much as he loved Betty and treasured her friendship, he was getting tired of forever being her crutch and therapist for her crush on Archie and whatever issues were currently afflicting her family. That the real reason his parents had divorced was because his mother hated him for being gay and walked out, and his worst fear was that his father would be killed in the line of duty, forcing Kevin to go live with her.
A surge of self-loathing cascaded through Kevin at the thought. Of course Joaquin had listened to him, had encouraged him to confide in him. The only reason he had ever dated him was to mine for secrets, which Kevin had provided in spades like a bumbling idiot.
The hot press of tears seared at the back of his eyelids, but Kevin willed them back with a clench of his jaw. He learned a long time ago that people who knowingly hurt and lied to him weren’t worth crying over, and his aborted romance with Moose had only convinced him of that further.
Joaquin hadn’t been the first guy to use him. When Kevin had gone to the edge of Sweetwater River with Moose, he had been under the impression that Moose and Midge were finished, that their relationship was over. But then while waiting for the police after inadvertently stumbling across Jason Blossom’s corpse, Moose had admitted to him Midge had merely been away for the summer and he was getting back together with her once she returned. Needless to say, Kevin wasn’t willing to give Moose the time of day after that particular revelation.
Shaking his head at his insistence on wallowing in self-pity, Kevin decided to put his energy to good use by cleaning the house. Most of the housework in terms of cooking and cleaning was Kevin’s responsibility, but lately, laboring under the delusion that he’d had a boyfriend, he’d been slightly remiss in his duties. Not only would the chores give him something to do beyond hating himself and hating Joaquin, Kevin reasoned as he removed the various cleaning supplies, but giving the house a thorough scrubbing without being reminded would show his dad he was appreciated. Kevin knew he owed his father an awful lot.
His father had never blamed him for his mother walking out, though Kevin knew he was the key reason she had left back when he was thirteen.
The last time Kevin had ever seen her, she was storming down the staircase, suitcase in hand, his father calling after her, trying to reason with her, trying to convince her to stay.
“Kathy, you can’t just leave—”
“You really think I’m going to stay, Tom? You think I’m just going to live in this house and accept having a faggot for a son?”
Then, Kathy’s eyes had landed on Kevin standing near the stair landing, and fury flashed in her eyes. Before Kevin had the chance to get out of her way, she had lunged forward and delivered a stinging backhand to his face. As he tried to jump back from her, she grabbed his wrist and pulled him close again, raising her hand to give him another blow.
But then his father had rushed in and pushed them apart, charging in like Kevin’s personal knight in shining armor. He put an arm around Kathy and forcibly steered her away from Kevin and out the door. Even when his son was the chief cause for the complete breakdown of his marriage, Tom Keller had never hesitated to protect him.
Kathy had left that night, never to appear again, which filled Kevin with both guilt and relief. He felt awful for driving his mother to leave, but he also knew he would never be able to cope with living in a house with someone who hated him. Thank God for small favors, though: his father didn’t resent him for any of it, even though Kevin knew he would be fully justified in loathing him the destruction of his family. Hell, he even made sure to send Kevin to a therapist afterward to ensure he was doing well with the divorce.
And how had Kevin repaid his father for being there for him, for taking care of him? He had gone behind his back and dated a Serpent. Maybe he had deserved what he had got with Joaquin, after all. He couldn’t help but notice the parallels between his sham romance with Joaquin and his parents’ marriage falling apart.
Kevin heaved a sigh as he finished polishing the furniture on the first floor and moved onto vacuuming. At the very least, the end of his relationship with Joaquin meant he no longer had to deceive his father.
However, Kevin couldn’t help but long for someone to vent to about all that had happened. But that was the downfall about being involved with as many clubs, sports, and activities as he was: he could get along with anyone and everyone was his friend, but few were really his particular friends. When he needed someone to trust, to truly listen, his options of people to turn to were very limited. And at the moment, he wasn’t precisely willing to take the risk of trusting someone new.
Reaching for his phone to call Betty, Kevin hesitated. She might not be the best choice of a confidant. Since the moment Veronica Lodge had sashayed into Riverdale, Kevin had been demoted to second tier as Betty’s best friend. And once Betty had started dating Jughead, the minimum amount of time she’d been giving Kevin since he’d been displaced by Veronica had gone from slim to none.
Still, Kevin went ahead and hit the button to call her. At the moment, he was in desperate need of a lifeline, and with as many times as he had been there for Betty, perhaps she could lend him some support.
As he waited for Betty to answer the phone, Kevin’s stomach twisted into knots. He wasn’t completely sure if he was making the right choice by talking so soon, and he didn’t know how he could explain all that had happened. But he couldn’t ignore the need to share his pain with someone, to have his feelings validated, to have a sympathetic ear listen to his problems and offer up an understanding, Hey, that really sucks.
It wasn’t until the fifth ring that Betty picked up. “Hey, Kev. What’s up?” Kevin recognized the distinct sound of car doors slamming in the background as she spoke.
“Betty, um, hi.” Riddled with doubt, Kevin found himself fumbling for a suitable reply. “Is this a bad time?”
Betty did not directly respond to the question, but the fact that she didn’t told Kevin all he needed to know. “Well, we woke up early this morning and went over to Midvale for some paintballing. We just got there actually—me, Archie, Veronica, and Jughead. But if this is urgent—”
“It’s not,” Kevin said hastily, embarrassment rolling over him. “I just had a question about our pre-calc homework,” he lied “but it can wait until later.”
He could faintly hear the conversation taking place around Betty on her end of the line, and he was able to recognize the dour tones of Jughead.
“Is that Kevin?” Jughead asked impatiently. “How long will you be talking to him?”
Bitterness welled within Kevin at both the question and the identity of the speaker. Not only was Jughead the boyfriend who Betty had been ditching Kevin for lately, but he was also the son of the man who had orchestrated Kevin’s relationship with Joaquin. Now, Jughead’s dismissive attitude was just further salt in Kevin’s wounds.
“I won’t keep you,” Kevin added. “Thanks, Betty. Have a nice time.” He was half-amazed he was able to keep his words completely sincere, without a hint of passive-aggressiveness.
They exchanged goodbyes. Kevin ended the call, somewhat stung at his exclusion from the outing and unable to discourage an increasing sense of isolation. Yes, he had been well aware that Betty had reconstructed her circle of friends, forming a “Core Four” with Veronica, Jughead, and Archie. But he hated the reminder that she had left for no room whatsoever for him and no longer even thought to so much as invite him to hang out with her new friends.
Joaquin. Betty. Moose. His mother. Maybe there was just something about Kevin that made him inherently disposable to others, convinced them they would be better off not sticking around.
“Stop feeling sorry for yourself,” Kevin scolded himself out loud as he hauled the vacuum up the stairs so he could clean each step. “You’re not helping anyone.”
Truthfully, a small part of Kevin was grateful to have some time apart from Betty. It could be draining to be Betty’s unfailing support system when it came to her tumultuous family life. Not that the circumstances were Betty’s fault in any way, but sometimes, Kevin just needed a break
But even a wave of weariness crashed over him when he was finally able to shut down the vacuum, Kevin knew he couldn’t give himself a break right then. He needed to use his anger for a purpose, to be driven toward a goal, even the intended accomplishment was as minor as completing his chores.
Yet as morning wore on to become afternoon and he tidied, scoured, and swept or mopped every room in the house, Kevin still didn’t feel any better. Memories of Joaquin followed him from room to room, from task to task, reminding him of when he had dreamed of their future together, of buying a house and building a home. Kevin had wanted a life with Joaquin, had thought about raising a family with him. As cliché as it was, he wanted marriage and kids and a dog, though his ideal home was a lodge in the woods rather than the standard suburban house with a white picket fence. While it was profoundly naïve in hindsight, he had wondered at the time if Joaquin had wanted the same future, speculating about if he was the right guy to provide it to him.
“I can’t believe I gave up the criminal lifestyle to ‘settle down,’ ” Joaquin might grumble as he hauled one of their kid’s bikes into the garage. “There was less panic and frenzy when I was boosting cars for a living!”
“Yeah, but you love it, though,” Kevin would return playfully, putting his arm around Joaquin.
“I do. I love our kids, and I love you,” Joaquin would say, drawing Kevin in for an intense kiss.
Waves of hurt and fury broke over Kevin as he once more remembered those hopes were built on a lie, and he pushed the fantasy from his mind. Joaquin had never been the right guy for him, and fond reminiscing about what could have been wouldn’t make him so.
And yet, trying to assuage his anger wasn’t a satisfactory solution to his problems, either. His preferred method of therapy, going for a long run along the trails of Eversgreen Forest and taking a hot shower afterward, didn’t help him in the slightest. As he toweled off and donned a fresh set of clothes, the only change he recognized was that he was now physically drained as well as emotionally defeated.
Still, his own misery didn’t have to be contagious, so he set to preparing an elaborate dinner to welcome his father home. When the food was finished and warming in the oven, the table set, Kevin tried distracting himself by working on posters for student government. But he quickly gave up, tossing his Sharpies aside when he was unable to concentrate, his mind once again insisting on replaying every interaction he’d ever had with Joaquin. After checking to make sure there was beer on ice for when his father arrived home, he fixed himself a cup of decaf coffee and went outside to sit on the patio swing in the backyard.
There could be no ignoring the chill of the night air, but Kevin welcomed it, willing it to somehow soothe the blazing heat of his anger and humiliation. Gripping his coffee with both hands, he closed his eyes, desperately wishing he could simply drift off into the dark of night and leave behind all that had been revealed to him that day. If only he could just simply fade into the background, forget and be forgotten, hide away in plain sight from the rest of the world. How could it be, he wondered, that at this time yesterday he’d felt such happiness and hope?
He had been ignorant. He had been blind.
With a long sigh, Kevin tilted his head back, intent on watching the stars until he could simply no longer stand the frigid night air. But within a few minutes, a familiar voice roused him from his melancholy.
“Sport, what in the world are you doing out here?” Tom Keller demanded, walking up to stand beside him. “It’s freezing cold—you’ll get sick.”
“I don’t mind the cold,” Kevin said with a shrug. Despite his weariness and negativity, he tried to offer his father a smile. “Hey, Dad. How was work?”
Tom didn’t answer right away, instead settling on the swing beside him, his earlier complaint about the weather apparently no longer relevant. “Successful,” he said, satisfaction apparent in his voice, but he didn’t elaborate. He had never been one to discuss cases from the office at home
“That’s great,” Kevin said, even as his stomach twisted in dread. Had FP been right about his father signing the warrants? Had Joaquin been arrested? A part of Kevin was tempted to try to pry, but as tired and devastated as he was, he couldn’t determine a way to ask without raising his father’s suspicions.
“One thing I do want to know, though,” Tom went on, and Kevin’s pulse picked up, already panicking that his father had found out his secret. “You’re still friends with Jughead, right? Jughead Jones?”
“Oh, um, yeah,” Kevin replied, trying not to show his relief. Jughead may have been a hipster weirdo who now monopolized Betty’s time, but beyond that, Kevin had no problem with him. “Why do you ask?”
“No particular reason,” Tom replied nonchalantly. “I just think he could probably use a good friend around this time, and I think you’d be a good fit.”
“Hmm,” was Kevin’s only reply. His father’s remark was probably an indication that FP had been arrested or that he would be, and Joaquin probably wouldn’t be far behind either way.
Still, Kevin couldn’t suppress a stab of resentment that even his own father’s first priority was Jughead’s happiness. Deep down, he knew Jughead would need support with this latest upheaval in his life, and it was part of Kevin’s duty as a friend to help him in any way he could. However, he also wasn’t particularly inclined to be charitable toward any member of the Jones family at the moment.
“And Cheryl Blossom. You’re friends with her, too, aren’t you?” Tom glanced at him for confirmation.
“As much as Cheryl is friends with anyone,” Kevin responded truthfully, his pulse quickening again. If Cheryl was involved, that could only mean the police had found the truth about Jason’s murder. Was the killer FP Jones? Was it Joaquin ?
Even though he knew he wouldn’t be able to ignore the news for long, Kevin wasn’t sure he wanted an answer right then.
Instead, Kevin found himself broaching another topic.
“Dad,” he began hesitantly. “Was there another reason Mom left? Besides me, I mean?”
“What?” His father stared at him, surprise apparent on his features. “Why are you—why ask about her? She didn’t call, did she?”
Kevin his head. Kathy had never sent them so much as a card since she’d left, let alone initiated direct contact. “No. I was just curious, that’s all.”
Tom started to let out a long breath, but then cut it short as he abruptly decided to speak. “Kevin, listen to me. When your mom and I decided to divorce, it was for a lot of reasons. It’s not your fault we’re no longer together.”
“It . . . it doesn’t make you angry?” Kevin asked hesitantly. Now that he had lost a partner as well, he couldn’t help but wonder his father’s feelings on the matter. “That she left because I stayed?”
“Of course not,” Tom said firmly, conviction strong in his tone. He reached out a hand and squeezed Kevin’s shoulder. “Don’t think for a moment that I would ever blame you for what happened. I love you, kiddo. Whatever Kathy did doesn’t change that.”
A small but genuine small tugged on Kevin’s lips as relief coursed through him, the first positive emotion he’d experienced since leaving Joaquin’s apartment. “Thanks, Dad.”
“No problem at all.” Tom said understandingly as he rose from the swing. “What do you say we go inside and get something to eat?”
Kevin took a deep breath, his anger and worry ebbing away for the moment as he stood with his father. “Why not? I made your favorite—beef Wellington.”
They began walking back to the house, side by side, and Tom put his arm around Kevin’s shoulder, drawing him in close. Kevin could not help but be grateful for the gesture. He may not have had a boyfriend, his best friend, or his mother, but he did have his father, and Kevin knew he could always rely on him.