He knew there was a reason he hated soccer before he even joined the middle school team; and it was less of him joining and more of his mom shoving him into the role because everybody else in the family was a natural athletic because it ran in the family and not doing sports was a show of weakness in his father's eyes.
If getting hit in the face with a soccer ball the first practice was anything to show for the sport, he hated it even more now. He couldn't be positive, either, whether it was the force of the ball or his own physical presence (or lack thereof) that had knocked him down, but the world was spinning down in the grass and it occurred to him that the sky was very bright at this angle. He thought briefly on playing games on the side of the field where the sun would be in your eyes and hated it more.
"Hey! You deaf or somethin', kid?"
Epsilon Church snapped out of his own thoughts when he finally noted he was being spoken to, staring up into the soft face of a boy with dark skin and choppy, darker hair, falling about his cheeks in just the right way. Epsilon was briefly caught in his chocolate brown eyes, engulfed for all of two seconds before those thick eyebrows furrowed and he spoke again.
"Are you okay, or what?"
"I'm, uh... fine." The boy hovering above him held out a hand, biting the inside of his cheek.
"My bad. Come on." Still bewildered, he was helped onto his feet, and then paused there, staring after the boy-- who, to his quiet delight, stood shorter than him when both were upright-- as he began to depart, serious in his mannerisms and evidently incredibly focused on practice. He'd suddenly forgotten everything he was doing in the span of seconds; Coach's barking faded out in the background as whitenoise and he rejoined the team, unable to focus the rest of practice.
- - -
Church catches glimpses of him in the hallways sometimes and they don't share any classes together. They never speak during practice and he never makes a move to converse even when they have time to spare. To be fair to himself, he was focusing on school. But it was an instinct to curse himself every time he sat in close proximity and once again forgot to glance at the back of his jersey or, god forbid, ask for his name. He curses himself even more when he realizes just how much time he spends thinking about this boy, who he met eyes with and touched once in a matter of weeks; he doesn't know him, and he has no idea why he wants to. Only in the car on the way to their first game of the season does he realize why, and the thought makes him heat up.
Only a small fraction of the team is there by the time he's walking up the sideline with his water bottle. He's still thinking about his twin sibling smacking him on the back; on any other day he would've started a fight, but nerves overcame his need to express familial dominance. Regardless, he knew it was a good luck gesture, and he carried that thought with him all the way to the team huddle.
Fifteen minutes passed before the entirety of the game staff-- including both teams and whom Church assumed to be the referees-- showed up and stood at their posts, and Coach, or, more aptly, Sarge, whistled everyone in before kickoff.
"Listen up, men," he started, hunched down to their level. Church couldn't pick out the boy he'd struck a chord for among the small crowd of middle schoolers, but he noted the boys on either side of him, both darker and of varying heights. He realized with a start he wasn't paying any attention to the coach's before game spiel, but he picked out the words "beat the everlovin' crap out of 'em," and got a basic idea.
"Starters are on the clipboard," he eventually concluded, standing up straight. "We've got 3 subs today, so be pernicious."
Every game started with both teams gathering around the ref as he detailed sportsmanship and game etiquette, and Church was hardly listening; now that the full team was out, the dark boy was in plain sight, a determined but almost tired look on his face. Church had checked the clipboard; he wasn't starting, and he couldn't help but wonder if the other boy was. Probably, with the degree to which he seemed to take the sport seriously. However, as players from each team scattered to take their place on the field, he noted they were walking in the same direction, along with the small boy he stood next to earlier, and even more anxiety began to settle on his chest.
Kickoff went smoothly in the five minutes he'd bothered paying attention, but there were more important matters at hand, and Church sat on his hands in anticipation for speaking.
"Hey, so, uh," he started, turning to the boy to his right and making a mental note to kick himself later for the shakiness of his voice. Church attempted to make eye contact, but it was evident he was half listening, eyes trained on the game. "What's your name, man? I realized I never asked." It was only then that the other boy's eyes broke from watching the game, meeting Church's wide-eyed stare with an expression he couldn't determine.
"...We've had team introductions like, three times," he retorts, an edge of snark to his voice. Church shifts uneasily, unable to stop himself from flushing.
"N-no, I know! Trust me, I know." He tries to chuckle it off, but makes himself continue before he loses his teammate's attention. "Just, y'know. To make sure, to make extra sure, I mean."
"What do you think my name is, huh?" The mischief in his tone is prevalent, and Church catches a smirk on his lips.
"Uhhh..." He pauses for a long while, hoping to get some prompt, but the boy waits expectantly, his eyes glossing over with curiosity. "S...Steven...? Uh, Samuel? Wait wait, S...Sh...Sheldon... Sheldon, is it Sheldon?"
"Yeah." He shakes his head proudly. "Not even close. It's Grif," he finally follows up, and turns to face the game again.
"Grif? What kind of a name is--"
"Just call me Grif."
"Is your name Griffin? 'S it a last name?"
"Dude, quit prying. Just call me it." He kicks his feet absently, hands in lap, and Church stares.
"...Aren't you gonna ask mine?" he prods eventually, and Grif looks at him again.
"I already know you."
"You're in my math class. You're Leonard." Church breathes in, furrowing his eyebrows.
"That's... my brother."
"Oh." It's silent for two seconds, and Church finally takes his eyes off of him. "Twins?"
"Huh." He thinks the conversation is over then, but after a moment, Grif continues. "That's cool. I have a little sister."
"I have a sister too. Er, she's older, though."
"That's cool, too," Grif says again, and Church realizes after a minute that they're having a conversation, and he suddenly doesn't want to play soccer. Neither of them had gotten called up, either, and Sarge was hardly paying any attention to them. The smaller boy at the end of the bench had gone up to sub not long ago, and Church hadn't even noticed.
"Uh, you can just call me Church, by the way."
"Why didn't Coach start you?" Church asks, and Grif seems to tense up.
"Sarge hates me," he answers eventually, voice tight, and Church looks up.
"He knows my mom." The single phrase is dismissive, and Church drops the subject. It's silent for a while, and Grif subs in just before halftime. Church thinks on his words for a while after, his willingness to speak to him, and zones out up until the moment Sarge blows the whistle in his ear. The halftime huddle is short; they're apparently winning, but only by a single goal. He still isn't listening, and barely listens when Sarge mentions he's starting second half. He hates the mid field position, but he's not thinking about it. Grif is behind him, and when he turns around, they smile at one another.
"Hey," Grif says, after the game is over, and they're still standing on the sideline. Church wipes the sweat off of his brow, and Grif shoulders his backpack, the air lighter after the cheering of the home crowd died out on their win. Sarge had finished patting everybody on the back long ago and most of the team had exited themselves. The only people left were Church's siblings, and he wondered absently how Grif was getting home. But they stopped walking, and looked at each other, and Grif continued. "You wanna hang out sometime?"
- - -
After practice became Church's favorite part of the day. Grif carried two backpacks with him, and they would stand around and talk for way too long and the sun would start going down in the far west, the orange warmth riding their backs down below the horizon. It was one of those memories he could tell would be fond in the future, the after hours of Mondays and Thursdays. Which he always felt increasingly silly thinking about; it was his secret to bare.
On the other days of the week, two other players he actually shared classes with bothered him-- well, bothered was maybe an overstatement, he guessed they were friends-- on the bus home. The taller of the two who insisted they only call him Caboose, based on "soccer team rules", or something, felt like more of a handful than Church was prepared for, but Tucker, the other boy, might as well have been worse. He pretended they didn't get on his nerves for the first couple of weeks, and then stopped pretending, and they stuck around anyway. Seldom did he feel as good as he did when they were over for the weekend or just for a homework session. Having legitimate friends was not something he expected by the seventh grade, based on what his sister had told him. And yet, every day that wasn't Monday or Thursday, they were there.
Grif was something else, maybe. Soccer turned out to be a shitty sport that had a good end result, and his day felt a little better when he managed to make Grif smile, even if just a little bit. Some days he'd be out sick, and that's when Church felt the full effects of soccer practice on his own. Sometimes practice would get rained out, and he wouldn't have those two precious hours they got together only because they were always busy otherwise. Being honest with himself, he cherished walking home with Grif, hearing him talk about his sister and his classes and what schools he's already looking at for college. He smiles and takes it in out of courtesy and interest. Church's house is thirty full miles from the school, and he's never mentioned it.
- - -
"So what do you think?" A hand reaches up and flicks the ceiling fan into motion again, jostling some light, lazy movement that doesn't last longer than a couple of seconds.
"What do I think about what?" He reaches up again and repeats the action, with a little more force, letting his arm hit the bed beneath him, limp. Grif sits up on his end, hands in his lap, that familiar look of anxiety clouding up his eyes.
"About trying out for the soccer team?" he asks, nearly frantic, and Church's first instinct is to shrug.
"Uh, do it?" he retorts, as if it's too obvious, and Grif scowls at him.
"What if they don't like Freshmen? What if they won't let me join the guys' team?" Grif begins speaking aloud to himself, repetitive, and Church knows he's talked himself into that circle again. "Like, what if I just suck? Or the goalie they have is already better than me and they don't need me? Or what if they just won't let me join the guys' team? Or--"
"They'd do that, y'know, it still says 'F' in the system and we know how much everybody cares about gender and shit. I'd have to get lost, partly 'cause I'm not a boy and partly 'cause I suck. I..."
"Grif." Church sits up now and forces them to meet gazes, and Grif stops mid-sentence to stare at him, resuming conversation as if he hadn't been talking to himself.
"You're a guy, you don't suck-- and I mean like, you really don't suck-- and I'm positive they take whoever. You just gotta try out, show 'em what you got," Church rationalizes, flicking him a pointing finger. Grif seems to take his words in for a moment, facial expression mellowing out.
"Fuck," he says eventually, brushing the hair out of his face. "You're right. Whatever. Don't expect me to ever say that again, though," he adds for good measure, and Church throws him a smirk, and they kick each other playfully for a moment. Silence returns when Grif finally looks at the open textbook in front of him again, and Church goes back to examining every corner of his room, taking in all the little knick knacks he'd found and kept as his own. Worn posters of games from several years ago and drawings-- both from he and his sister, he assumed-- littered the walls and gave the space more personality than Church was expecting the first time around. His clothes were strewn about the floor, but that's all; it seemed to live in its own organized mess, and to a certain degree, he respected that. He felt at peace here.
"So," Grif starts again, earning a surprised jump from his companion. "What about you, though?"
"Well, what about me?" Church returns, resting his chin in his hands.
"Are you gonna keep playing? I know you don't really like soccer all that much--"
"Grif, buddy, are you kidding?" Church interrupts abruptly, his voice almost desperate. "I love soccer! Love it! Good sport! O-of course I'm gonna try out with you, duh!" The look Grif throws him tells him he's not been convinced, but he doesn't say anything to oppose Church's statements. They sit in silence a minute longer before he sits up straight again, reaching over and closing an exasperated Grif's textbook before he can even say anything. He sidles off the bed and stands, fully, arms extended.
"You said your mom's not home, right? Let's do our hair, like we said we would." Grif stares at him for a long moment.
"I don't really know that that's a good idea..." he trails off, and Church slams his hands on the bed, passionate.
"Look, if she gets mad, you can just say it was my fault, okay?"
"That's not really my concern."
"Then what is?" Church asks, more dramatic than he needs to be, and Grif gives him his irritated look.
"I have a little sister who's six years old."
"We can do her too!"
"We are not shaving most of my sister's head!"
"Ugh, okay, look." Church flops onto his back on the bed, staring up into Grif's eyes. "If I promise to deny her hair treatment, entirely, will you do it?" Grif crosses his arms, and Church grins at his obvious pout, noting the way his nose scrunches up.
"...Fine. But if you get those clippers near her head, Epsilon Church, God help you." All that earns him is a laugh, and Church drags him off of the bed.
It's only two hours later that the three of them are standing in the middle of Graeter's, Church with a somewhat-poor-mostly-on-top bleach job, Grif with shaved sides and no more bangs, and Kaikaina at their feet with a sloppy mohawk. Church is paying and Grif's still sighing, straining to keep himself from hitting his friend over the head with his cone.
- - -
"So why 'Dexter'?" They're on Grif's back porch watching the sun go down, popsicles in hand. Kai's in Grif's lap gnawing away at hers, suddenly no longer exhausted from their impromptu soccer shoot out. The boys are both still sweaty, and Church's eyes are focused on his friend while Grif looks on.
"Your family's Hawaiian." Grif throws him a glare, and Church clears his throat. "I meant, like, uh... I guess I wondered why your chosen name wasn't Hawaiian."
"Yours wasn't Filipino."
"Okay, that's different." Grif looks at him now, nothing but curiosity in his gaze.
"My parents aren't exactly good, or Filipino. Also I've lived in the U.S. my whole life."
"I have too," Grif retorts, raising an eyebrow.
"You know what I mean! You moved here from Hawaii!"
"Still the United States, Church."
"Don't be a smartass." Church punches him in the shoulder, and Kai smacks his hand away, prompting both of the boys to giggle.
"Hey, don't say the a-word around my little sister," Grif snickers, moving suddenly to keep his popsicle from dripping onto his hand.
"Yeah, don't say ass!" she mimics, and this time all of them laugh, forgetting about everything else for a couple of minutes. The sun's gone down fully by the time silence overtakes the airspace again, and eventually Grif stands up, Kai on his hip and everyone's empty popsicle sticks in hand. Church sits while he puts his sister to bed, eyes trained on the backyards and houses beyond the Grifs' fence. The dark orange glow still edging above the neighborhood begins to dissipate in the night sky, but it's too cloudy to see stars out. Church tries anyway before Grif comes back outside, sitting down in his place and sighing.
"She's still not home," he utters, keeping his voice down.
"Yeah. I'm glad Kai's in bed now, though, just in case she decides to bring someone home again."
"Do you want me to stay over?" Church asks softly, and Grif looks at his lap, hands balling up gently.
"Only if you want." Grif shifts so he can wrap his arms around his knees, and Church watches, eyes wide. "Just hard being home all day during the summer. I can't fucking wait to get my license."
"How are you gonna get a car?" Church asks, bluntly, and this seems to dawn on Grif, his shoulders tensing.
"Fuck. I don't know. I haven't thought about that, shit."
"Uh, y'know, I could probably help."
"I'll find something cheap," Grif states uneasily, ignoring him. "I'll have to get a job, though. 16 year olds can work, right?"
"Hey man, we don't have to talk about this," Church rushes out, worry in his voice.
"...Yeah," Grif says eventually, hugging himself. "I'm sorry."
"It's okay." It's silent for a while longer, and Church scoots a little bit closer, still staring at him. "Really, though, you never answered me. Why Dexter?"
"Uh," Grif starts, suddenly bashful. "My given name was Hawaiian, and... I don't know. The name Kai chose was Hawaiian and it isn't even true anymore and my mom's not exactly a beacon of hope for continuing to respect my culture." He thinks for a minute. "I don't think my dad's name was Hawaiian. I don't know if Grif was his name either. I don't know, man." Church continues to be silent, expectant. He continues after a minute, staring at his hands. "Dexter is the root of the adjective 'dextrous', right? Or a name derived from it but it means skillful, which is, I guess a nice thought. Since I don't feel so skillful. In any case though I'm also ambidextrous," he finishes, wiggling both of his hands. Church smiles lightly.
"Why do you only use your left hand, then?"
"Uh, I have a preference, duh," he retorts, shoving Church with his right hand to make a point.
"Well, can you multitask?"
"Absolutely not." Grif laughs again, and Church stares for a moment, mystified. When Grif stops they meet eyes, and he grins at him again. "What are you starin' at, jerk?"
"Uh... just your ugly mug, stupid!" he exclaims, shoving the other boy away, and Grif snickers at him.
"So, I mean... what about you?"
"What about me?"
"Dude, you really gotta stop asking that."
"You started it." Grif's foot connects with Church's ankle softly, and he shifts criss-cross.
"What's going on in your life, I mean. I haven't been over to your house since... uh, you know."
"Oh." Church blanks for a second. "We haven't told them yet. I don't think it would really matter, though, they didn't care about Carolina so I don't know why it'd matter for us. Too busy screaming at each other every night."
"Ah." Grif looks away for a minute, but glances back at him eventually. "I'm sorry."
"'S fine, who cares. They don't really matter."
"Parents suck," Grif responds absently, and Church nods. "You know, though," he keeps going, looking up at Church again. "I think it's cute you and your sibling named yourselves after Greek letters." Church flushes, quickly looking away.
"It's not cute! A-and I did it first. He's just a copy-cat."
"Established himself pretty well picking Alpha, huh?"
"She said it felt gender-neutral, so..." He trails off, but Grif's gaze remains planted, a gentle simper on his face.
"Well, it's good. I'm glad." He claps his hands together gingerly, moving to stare at his lap again. "Man, I'm not ready for school to start."
"Me either," Church sighs out. "Junior year, though. We're closer."
"Junior year is the year they start making us do college stuff, though, and..." Grif shakes for a second, tensing. "I have to get into Harvard."
"You're gonna get in. You already got a fuckin' 31 on the ACT, man." Grif shakes his head.
"It's not good enough yet." Church waves his hands dramatically, eyes boring into Grif's.
"Not good enough! I haven't even taken it! We take it this year!"
"Yeah, and I'm going to do better." Church sighs again.
"Whatever, man. I mean good luck, but you stress yourself out too much."
"I'm not gonna stay here the rest of my life, Epsilon. No, no, I can't. We can't stay here. I'm tired of living on circus food."
"I can buy y--"
"That's not my point," he interrupts, shaking his head. "We have to get away from my mom. I... I can't depend on her or you. If I can't fend for the both of us then I'm useless."
"Dex, that's not true and you know it."
"No. I have to be better." The conversation seems to end there, and Grif's arms hug himself again. He doesn't look at Church, and eventually Church's eyes fall off of him. The only noise for a minute is the sound of crickets chirping, and Grif lets his head hang. "You wanna go inside," he asks, half-hearted, and Church stares. "You can sleep in my bed." He doesn't say anything else, and it seems to end there, because they both stand, silent, and move towards the house. Church looks at the back of his head the entire way to his room, even when the front door opens and whom he presumes to be Grif's mom walks in with someone else. Grif seems to walk faster until they're safely in the darkness of his haven, closing the door swiftly.
- - -
In three years, Church still hadn't adjusted to high school soccer being as different as it was from middle school soccer. Practices were relentless, sometimes 3 times a week, and games weren't restricted to Saturdays. In some ways he resented Grif for being the perfect goalie; when they scrimmaged each other, he hardly had to move, just had to stay poised whenever the ball was on their side of the field. He'd told him before Church just didn't understand the amount of anxiety he felt when the ball got near, but he couldn't believe him. Maybe he really didn't understand, because he wasn't a goalie himself. Not that it mattered; Church's job was getting the ball away from himself as quickly as possible.
Running had gotten easier than it previously was, but he didn't mind being a sub mid-fielder in the first place. They had plenty of extra players in high school, so it was fast-paced, he was in and out. Grif was their permanent goalie, until he was sick, in which they'd sub in Caboose for the game, so the only real rest he got was when the ball was on the other side of the field. Church felt bad at times, but Grif would always wave him off; no subbing was the sacrifice for no running and he was perfectly fine with that.
Today's practice had been extra rigorous-- conditioning was evidently the main focus, and Church could tell he was going to feel the suicides they'd run by tomorrow. Grif, however, was missing, and Church snickered to himself at the thought he'd foreseen conditioning and ditched school altogether. Regardless, by the end of practice he'd sent two texts with the notion he was trying not to sound worried, and probably failing. Carolina pulled up right as he tucked his phone away, and he climbed into the passenger's seat, head lulling back.
"No friend today demanding you be picked up a mile from the field?" she asks sarcastically, and Church waves her off dramatically.
"He wasn't here today."
"You kind of stink."
"Thanks." He glares, and Carolina snickers at him. "Conditioning," he adds as she pulls out of the school parking lot, humming.
"Rough. We had a ton of those in basketball and track. It does strengthen your core, though." Church stares at her long and hard for a second before facing forward again.
"I, uh..." His hands shake in his lap briefly before he clenches them. "I need you to teach me to be good at soccer."
"I need to be good at soccer. I'm like, the worst right know and I want to be better."
"I thought you hated soccer?" Church stops for a minute, stammering.
"N-no I don't, of course I don't! Why does everyone always say that!" The look Carolina throws him tells him she doesn't buy it at all, and he groans at her. "I just need to be better, okay?"
"Okay, fine. We can do it Saturdays whenever you're free, and also have 5 bucks on hand."
"No way!" he yells, shoving her lightly, and she snickers for a moment.
"You'll have to really push yourself if you want 'em free. High school sports are relentless."
"I know that," he sputters, crossing his arms. "I've gotten better, you know."
"I know. You look good," Carolina replies, but then shakes her head. "Well, not good. You look okay. But we're going to mend that. When's your next game, by the way?"
"Thursday," Church mutters, staring at his phone. No reply from Grif meant he was either asleep or out of the house, and he hoped more than anything that he'd answer soon. "I-it's home, by the way."
"That's convenient." It's silent in the car for a minute or two, Church's eyes trained out the window. "What's up, kid?" Carolina asks eventually, her tone softer.
"What do you mean?" he responds, trying to be nonchalant and failing.
"You seem distant."
"I'm just tired."
"Are you sure?"
"I'm fine, Carolina," he grunts, voice biting, and Carolina drops it, tension present in the air. They haven't said another word when the cheap car pulls into the driveway, and Church shoulders his things and gets out immediately. He stops on the walkway up to the house, though, to stare at his phone.
The single message makes his heart jump a beat, and he rushes to get inside and upstairs to answer as quickly as possible.
dont worry about it
His reply feels too short, and he bites his lip, straining to text back before Grif could read it.
do you need anything?
The time between responses was varied again, and Church took the time to change out of his sweaty soccer gear into pajamas, and fell back onto his bed, noting Alpha's absence in their shared room. Her side was slightly less messy, and he almost stood to clean his own dirty laundry and trash off the floor until his phone vibrated again.
might go back to sleep
Church stared at it for a minute, thinking to himself. Someone banging on his door made him lose focus, and he shouted a courtesy "Come in!" before turning back to his phone.
im here if you need smth
Alpha walks in in the middle of his typing, staring at his sibling with an eyebrow raised.
"Not even gonna say hi?"
"I'm busy," Epsilon responds just as he hits send, finally raising his eyes to meet his twin's. Alpha squints and Epsilon returns the gesture.
"...I see." Her eyes alight on the phone in his hands, and with sharper vision through her glasses examines the screen. "Texting your boyfriend again?"
"He's not my boyfriend!" he returns quickly, scouring for something to throw at Alpha. He merely snickers, moving to sit down on his own bed.
"You sure talk about him a lot."
"Uh, yeah, we're like, friends. Look it up, idiot."
"You talk about him more than those other guys you have over, and you've never had him over here."
"That's 'cause..." He swallows. "His house is better." He formulates a lie and covers it smoother than he anticipates, adding, "'Cause he has to watch his little sister anyway, so." Alpha hums, wrapping her arms around her knees as she watches her sibling.
"I'm just sayin', you should have him over if you're so inclined." Epsilon's hardly listening anymore, as his phone buzzes in his hand.
His eyes go wide as he stares at the two short messages, eyes fixated on the heart. He sent me a heart. Silence permeates the room until he feels Alpha's eyes on him, cheeks coloring as he looks up only to be met by a smirk.
"Shut up!" is his instant reaction and she laughs again. Epsilon follows up by actually tossing a flip flop his sibling's way, face getting even hotter. He turns off his phone and tosses it onto his laundry pile, turning over and deciding to sulk in his bed until Alpha leaves him alone officially, and they both go back to their respective tasks. Epsilon would never admit he was still thinking about the heart, or his sibling's suggestion.
- - -
"Hey, look!" He beams, arms outstretched to show off a cheap car a ways away from them.
"Yeah! 350 bucks. Doesn't have a radio yet but he gave me an aux cord for free, so."
"Yup. One of the windows is taped also but it's still, like, a window." Church meets Grif's grin halfway, proud for his friend. He'd been talking about it all day; he'd taken his intermediate test the week before and promised he'd have a car "soon", which mostly meant they never had time to hang out anymore because he had work right after practice. But it did mean money, and eventually a car, so Church couldn't be that up in arms about it.
"Have you quit yet?"
"Um... no," Grif states, voice suddenly quiet, and he kicks around the asphalt at his feet. "I'm not exactly sure I want to." Church stares, eyebrows furrowing instinctively.
"Well, I mean, this is the first time I feel like I'm doing something good for my sister, Church. We have... money, and it's not borrowed or stolen." Church sighs, thinking back to his rhetoric about fending for his family.
"I guess." He scratches his nose for a second. "What does that mean for, uh... us?"
"I'll have days off, dude. Like, today I'm off, and we can do something if you want," he offers, voice softened, and Church nods at him quickly. "Look, man. I promise we'll still have time, okay? I can go back to doing part time too, maybe, so... it just won't be that big of a deal. Okay?"
"...Okay," Church sighs out. "Now, are you gonna let me into your car or not, asshole?" he adds with a smirk, and Grif's face lights up again. He walks around the front and jams his key into the driver's side door, opening the door up enough for him to lean in and unlock Church's side before climbing into the front officially.
"I don't know whether we should pick up my sister or not," he confides after a time, eyebrows furrowed, and Church glances over at him.
"She's been, uh... acting out lately."
"I mean, Mom's not picking on her 'cause of it, but..." He tenses slightly, puffing out his cheeks. "She's been nasty with me a lot more. She gets all defensive when I try and hug her or yells at me for implying she do her homework and Mom just, like, goes along with it, like it's supposed to be like that." He shakes his head. "It's weird, but whatever."
"Dude," Church starts, turning to face him. "Kick her ass?" Grif glares.
"I'm not gonna beat up my eight-year-old sister."
"Put her in her place then!"
"Might I remind you, she's eight, and my mom's eating the behavior up."
"Well, whatever, screw it! She doesn't get to go on a joyride with us," he decides, and Grif finally turns the car on. He sits there, waiting for some of the school parking lot to clear out before putting it into drive. "So, are you, like... a good driver?" Grif glances at him out of the corner of his eye, mischief bleeding through his smirk.
"I guess that's for you to decide, isn't it?" They leave the parking lot faster than Church is used to, and he double checks that his seatbelt is buckled when they get to the road out beyond residency. Grif cranks his window down at a stop sign, turning to grin at Church momentarily, and then drives on faster than before. Church clutches his seat, tempted to yell at him to slow down, but when he reaches out to crank his own window down, the joy and freedom of the situation hits him, and he laughs too, letting the wind in the car abuse his hair.
"Dude, you are definitely speeding right now!" he yells above the noise, and Grif just laughs himself, shaking his head.
"Limits only 45! 50 is technically within the law!" Church can't even be aggravated with his smartassery, electing to snicker instead.
"Hey, y'wanna get dinner?" he shouts over the wind again, watching trees whip past. "I'll pay!" Grif slows the car down in preparation for a red light, and once the car is stopped, looks at him with a smile on his face.
"Yeah, I'd like that." Church has to physically look away to keep himself from blushing. "What did you have in mind?" he continues, eyes now back on the road as the light turns green.
"Uh..." Church scratches the back of his neck. "It's Friday, right? Pizza?"
"I don't care, dude."
"Alright, uhh, you know how to get to the closest Little Caeser's? I have no clue where we are."
"Going cheap on me, I see," Grif snickers, Church reading the sarcasm in his smirk.
"We can get Papa John's if you're gonna complain so much!"
"I told you, man, I don't care. I'm just flattered you're feeding me." He nods to his phone in the cup holder. "You can just look up directions to wherever you wanna go. Oh, and don't forget about the aux cord," he adds, pointing to the place it's plugged into.
"Fine, fine. We can get Papa John's--"
"I never said I preferred we get P--!"
"--but we're getting the breadsticks." Grif laughs again, and Church blanks for a moment in admiration.
"Okay, okay, whatever, just gimme the directions, you douche."
The drive over is longer than either of them expected, and it begins with Grif having to turn the car around. They roll the windows up again when it gets too loud to hear one another, but Church puts Tame Impala's discography on shuffle in Spotify and Grif turns the volume down, loud enough to hear but low enough to talk over. It's peaceful for a while after the conversation dies down, and they sit and listen. Church takes in the atmosphere outside of the car, still registering that it was Grif's car and Grif was driving him to get dinner, with him. Once again, Church felt tranquil in his spaces and around him, like it was where he was meant to be.
"So, how's Simmons?" he finds himself asking, breaking away from this thoughts. Grif does a lazy head shake, shrugging.
"Eh, I don't know. I don't think he likes me," he states simply, and Church raises an eyebrow.
"No. Uh, not to mention he's still in the closet, but... I'm pretty sure he likes Donut more."
"Dude, no way."
"No, I'm serious, man, they spend a lot of time together, apparently."
"You can spend a lot of time with people platonically, stupid," Church retorts, and then stammers, adding, "I mean, look at us, right?"
"Yeah, I guess you're right." He sighs, but his facial expression remains a content neutral. "I just don't think it's worth pursuing, I guess. I don't think he likes me much to begin with."
"Haven't you known one another since like fourth grade?"
"Well yeah, but I wouldn't say our relationship has always been peachy." He thinks for a second. "I think sometimes he doesn't realize his remarks are as biting as they are, but I can't really blame him for that. Not like I've brought it up."
"Why haven't you?" Church asks, expression softening.
"Brought it up? I don't know, I guess it doesn't matter that much, y'know? Fat jokes and stuff are just part of our relationship." His tone is nonchalant, like it's obvious, and Church frowns.
"I mean, I'm mean to my other friends, but I don't usually, like, dig on them." Grif shakes his head.
"I told you, it's just how it is. And it doesn't really bother me that much, it's just... consistent, is all. Which is comforting in its own way." He stops for a second, his fingers flexing on the wheel. "I do wish he'd just tell me what we are so I don't have to keep wasting energy on some stupid crush, y'know?"
"Yeah... yeah." Church groans. "Tex rejected me for years before I got a clue. Also, Tucker pointed out she kinda looks like my mom and I was outta there." Grif chuckles for a second, and then hums, sighing.
"Feelings kinda suck, dude."
"Yeah, they... they really do."
The sun's already starting to go down by the time they finish eating, and Grif promises as long as they keep the trash off the seats he'd be fine with throwing it away later. Grif eventually leads him out onto the hood of the car, laying against the windshield comfortably as they looked at the stars on the hill overlooking the school's sports field, having turned around an hour back. Grif sat quietly, seemingly a little tired, while Church attempted to get comfortable, groaning out.
"Man," he sighs, shifting his hands behind his head. "I wish it could just be like this every night, all the time."
"Yeah..." Grif returns, closing his eyes. "Last year, next year. And then we'll be free."
"Well, yeah, but college."
"I think college sounds fun."
"Jesus, only a dweeb like you would say yay to more school," Church retorts, and they both share a brief laugh.
"Hey, anywhere's better than here." Church breathes in, sighing out after mulling it over for a second.
"Yeah. Yeah, I guess you're right." They sit in silence for a time after, Church's eyes fixated on the sky while Grif lies there, still. Church scoots the tiniest bit closer, his leg brushing Grif's, and he tenses, assuming he'll say something, but he doesn't, and Church calms down again, instantly. When the placidity continues, he's glad it's Friday, glad that they can do this, glad they're together. Grif sits up.
"Hey, uh..." He rubs the back of his neck gently, but then seems to gain his composure. "If you wanna come back to my place, we have drinks and stuff. My mom keeps, um..." He swallows. "Alcohol, and stuff, if you want." Church stares at him for a while, eyes glistening. Normally he wouldn't be so inclined to break the law willingly, but the way he'd offered had sold him. Grif wanted to keep hanging out, and he wanted nothing more, too.
"I'd like that."
- - -
"So... no?" He sets the can of beer down on the nightstand, and sits up straight, sighing.
"I don't know, dude." Grif throws his hands up softly, letting them fall back into his lap.
"But it's senior year, Church. Last year for soccer." He pauses, eyebrows furrowing. "Last year, like, with me."
"You don't mean that," he chides, quickly, voice colder than he anticipated.
"I'm getting into Harvard, man. I'm getting big merit scholarships if it kills me."
"You're just gonna up and leave?"
"What the fuck else am I supposed to do?" Grif raises his voice and then regrets it immediately, composing himself. "I told you, Epsi. I'm... We can't stay here. After the school year is over, I'm leavin'. And if I don't get into Harvard, I'll just... go somewhere else. But I'm not staying here. We're not staying here." Church is silent for a long while, staring at the can on the nightstand as if it's the most interesting bottle of poison in the world.
"...I guess I didn't realize you were serious," he drones eventually, moving to stare at his lap.
"I thought we both felt that way."
"I mean..." He breathes in. "Yeah. Yeah I guess. But it just never seemed... probable, to me. I mean, I have money, but you don't, and--"
"And?" Church swallows. Grif's eyes bore into him but he forces himself to continue anyway.
"Observation, Grif. Not a testament to the power I hold over you." He attempts to make it sound light, but Grif's expression is still grave. "It just didn't seem plausible, is my point. More like... just kids, with some crazy out there dreams, y'know?" Grif's gaze falls, and he holds his own drink to his chest almost protectively.
"Well... it wasn't just a crazy dream, okay? I'm gettin' away from my mom. I'm getting Kai away from her. I've been saving up."
"When were you... thinking about telling me?"
"You've always known!" he sputters suddenly, and Church feels a twinge of guilt in his chest. "You just didn't believe me!"
"Yeah, but like... were you even gonna say bye?" Grif doesn't hesitate, but he speaks quieter and more cordial than before.
"...Of course I'm gonna say bye. How could I leave without it." He sighs, moving to lie down on his side of the bed again. "Just 'cause I'm leaving it behind doesn't mean there's stuff I won't miss." Church doesn't answer, and the tense silence in the room pervades. He surveys Grif's room again, similar to how it was in the previous years-- just as disorganised, just as tired and dusty looking as it had always been. The Halo 4 poster was new-- it was a birthday gift from himself a year or so back-- and the desk was nearly spotless, only a box of tissues and a pad of paper in front of the chair, but the rest had the same familiar, nostalgic charm. Church could sit for days with the slightly parted blinds casting rays of yellow-orange onto his crush's face a foot away, the fan overhead still not on but lazily turning anyway. The covers, most of all, smelled like Grif, so he made every excuse to bury his face in them and leave his own mark on the room. He loved it in Grif's personal haven; almost nowhere felt safer.
"But... I'm serious. Are you gonna try out?" Grif's voice comes, soft, from his left, and Church thinks for a long while.
"...Yeah, I'll try out. I still don't know if I'll play, officially, though. I don't... like soccer." He's known Grif long enough to have the fight about lying for friendship points, and Grif doesn't say anything, because he already knew. He knew 3 years ago.
Tryouts hardly stand out in his mind but he's positive Grif stared at him through the whole of it, longingly. And the list is out in front of the gym while they're walking to class one day, and Both of their names are on it. Church didn't need a list to tell him he was one of the best mid-fielders since sophomore year. He hardly cares. They move on, and he doesn't stay after school. He misses six practices because he doesn't really like soccer, and Grif's just going to leave, anyway. A game on Thursday approaches, and he lets it pass, silently. Grif doesn't bring it up again, which is when he knows he's won. Monday and Thursday afternoons he lies in his bed, staring at the ceiling and thinking about the times they spent after practice, when the sun would start to dip below the horizon. He always turns onto his side, flicking off the lamp, and cursing himself for knowing it would be fond. Part of him wishes it wasn't.
- - -
Three days. Three days and no texts, and no calls, and no visible presence, and then he sees him on Saturday and nearly blows a fuse because he's been trying to communicate with Grif for nearly a full school week and gotten nothing in return. Doesn't even stay after for practice, according to Caboose, and then has the audacity to show up to the game anyway, already sitting on the bench when he knows he starts in goal, and of course he has this whole speech prepared at him, because he turned from worried to sad to angry in three days, all three days it's taken for him to show back up, and as he stomps around their end of the field and approaches the bench he sees his face, finally, and Simmons is standing over him and they're both looking at--
A cast, pure white, on his left arm. Church feels all of the anger dissipate and replace itself with guilt, and he walks faster, staring at it like it's a threat. Simmons has already moved to address Coach Washington again by the time he makes it to the bench, and he stares down at Grif curiously. Grif meets his gaze with tired eyes, and Church blurts out the first question in his head without much thought.
"Why aren't you in goal?"
"Busted knee," he wits back, sarcasm tangible, and Church smacks himself mentally while he sits down next to him on the bench.
"What happened?" Grif looks away, rolling his shoulder.
"Pissed 'er off."
"Dude," Church returns instantly, anger flaring again.
"It's not a big deal. Just a dislocation." He places his right hand in his lap and kicks his feet. "She already apologized, too."
"I don't give a shit if she apologized!"
"I promise, it doesn't matter that much." Grif meets eyes with him again, finally. "Okay?"
"Not okay!" Church stands up, gesturing dramatically with his hands. "I'm gonna beat the shit out of her, D."
"Please don't threaten my mom," he returns tiredly, and Church's stance weakens.
"I'm not... look, dude, you don't deserve that, and you really don't fuckin' have to defend her." Grif brings his hand to his temple, eyes closing.
"I know, okay? I know, Church." He's silent for a solid minute, and Church stares at him until his expression softens. "It's just like, two weeks. And I don't care. She's not hurting Kai and that's all that matters. This is just the second time. And, y'know, she's fucked up, and there's nothing we can do about it. I don't care. Okay?" He looks back up at him, and his gaze follows Church as he sits down, head in hands for a second.
"Man, though, what's the team gonna do without you?" Grif snorts, nudging him with his splinted arm.
"Look, I know you love me and all--" Church is glad for a split second he's good enough at reading sarcasm to stop himself from blushing, "--but I'm not the best by any standard. We got Caboose. He's like, big and stuff. I'll just be like, the, uh... mascot or some shit." Church thinks for a second.
"...Man, what did we do to end up with such a shitty mascot," he asks slowly, smirking, and Grif throws him a smile, nudging him with his leg. Church is silently glad the conversation's going better than he thought it might because the tense energy that sometimes existed between them was too much to bear at the best of times. Grif breathes, rolling his shoulder again.
"So, are you playing?"
"Uh..." Church looks around, and submits to the fact that he has all his gear with him anyway.
"I mean, Coach probably won't start you, but... I'm sure if you start coming to practice again he'll make it worth your while."
"Yeah, yeah, what the hell, I'm already here. I gotta change, though, so keep my seat warm."
"Not a problem," Grif hums, instantly putting his feet up, and Church leaves for the nearest port-a-potty with a smile on his face and a warm feeling in his chest.
- - -
Church doesn't realize how much soccer impacts his life until they're leaving every Monday and Thursday night in Grif's car, the hot night air seeping through the open windows as they fly towards nowhere in particular. It had become some unspoken agreement that anywhere was better than home, and so they sat, sometimes completely silently, on the roof of the car, watching life take place in the natural way. Church learned that the evening wind was Grif's favorite part of it all, soaking it in with deep breathes like it was a drug he'd never get enough of. Church got accustomed to the animals that lived in the area, crickets and frogs playing him a lonely symphony every night. Sometimes they ate and sometimes they talked. But sometimes they merely sat. Didn't need to say anything when the distance between them decreased or Grif's fingers snaked around Epsilon's own hand and squeezed. It never went farther, but he always got the same feeling of comfort in those moments-- knowing that, despite the fact that the world keeps moving, there's someone there to hold onto and experience things at your speed. He gave Grif a simple "Thanks," once, and he never asked for the context, which makes him sure, deep down, he knew. Sometimes he gets the opportunity to be sleepy in Grif's lap, and every time, he's sure there's nowhere else in the world that he belongs.
- - -
Alpha's sitting on the table in the kitchen when he walks in to grab some bottled waters, and she smirks devilishly at him. Epsilon furrows his brows, staring.
"Finally having him over, huh?" he teases, jumping off to meet his brother. "Only took like, two years."
"Shut up. It's happening, isn't it?"
"Yeah, it's happening," she returns, and hums to herself. "Have you told him yet? Like, are you two gonna fuck or whatever? 'Cause I can stay clear of the room if I have to, but I just need to kn--"
"We're not going to fuck!" Epsilon almost yells, and then clears his throat, voice lowering. "We're not going to fuck. And he doesn't know yet. I don't even know if I'm gonna tell him at all, 'cause I don't wanna ruin our relationship, and... maybe I'll just wait 'til he leaves."
"Dude, that's no fun, you have to be dramatic and do it like, the day before he leaves, declare your undying love for him and he'll have to stay." Epsilon stares at his sibling with an aggravated expression, and Alpha merely beams.
"You know what, you suck, and are also, coincidentally, no help. I'm gonna go upstairs, now, don't ever come in. Sleep in Carolina's room," he suggests, agitatedly, adding, "And it's not 'cause we're going to fuck. Just don't come in." He leaves upstairs before Alpha can get another word in, two waters in hand, and slows once upstairs officially, his socks sending him toward all sorts of extremes on the hardwood flooring. He assumes Grif's just going to be sitting on the bed when he walks in, and so is instantly ready to toss a water at his face, but he misses obscenely, going right in between he and-- Carolina, who is poised with nail polish. They both look up simultaneously, a soft smile on Grif's face.
"Hi, Church. She offered to do my nails," he says simply, and then looks down to continue watching as she keeps up with her strokes.
"Just wanted you to know that your boyfriend's cute, Lon," Carolina says, almost casually enough for it to stand as a statement on its own, unnoticed.
"H-he's not my--!" He cuts himself off, staring at Grif for some over the top reaction himself, but he either doesn't care, or didn't hear it, and the redness in Epsilon's cheeks grows. "Just... hurry up. We have, like, bro stuff to do, or something."
"But he's got such nice nails!"
"Cry about it."
"Maybe I will," she retorts, faking a teary-eyed expression.
"Don't make your grown sister cry, dude, that's kind of a dick move," Grif cuts in, and Carolina smirks at him. Epsilon sits down in his beanbag chair with a huff, crossing his arms. Grif sparing him a giggle for these actions forces him to soften, and he's completely zoned into good thoughts by the time Carolina leaves. Grif's looking thoroughly at his now coral-colored nails, and Epsilon's eyes are heavily focused on him until they meet gazes.
"What'cha starin' for, loser?"
"No reason," he blurts out, and then stammers to recover. "I mean, uh, 'cause you're fuck ugly." Grif rolls his eyes as he moves to sit next to him, shaking his head. "Sorry about my sister."
"Nah, she's cool. Kai likes having her nails done but we never have polish. Let me know whenever she's available." Church shoves him and Grif smiles. "What? I'm serious!"
"Yeah, whatever. Shut up." They scoot closer to the middle of the bed, relaxing more.
"Your sister tried to tell me this color is more pink than orange, though. Which, come on, coral is orange."
"Why do you care?"
"Orange is my favorite color. Also, 'cause it's clearly more orange than pink." Church groans, shifting to face him.
"Dude, whatever, you and Donut confuse me with that color shit." Grif throws his hands up.
"He just won't say pink! It's pink."
"Your favorite colored pencil is yellow."
"Shut the fuck up, it's not, it's a kind of orange."
"See what I mean?" Grif laughs, punching him in the arm softly.
"Man, shut up, Church." Grif's eyes leave him for the first time and Church watches him survey his room, suddenly feeling self-conscious as he notes the differences between their two places. He hopes Grif isn’t thinking similarly, but only serves to sit and watch him take it in until he speaks again. "So... how are you feeling about soccer this time around? Er, uh, like, the team."
"Uh..." Church thinks for a minute, caught off guard. "Losing that Maine guy we had in the back sucks, but losing you next year's gonna be even worse.
"Please, I'm talkin' about this year."
"Yeah, I know, but... y'know." Church meets eyes with him, pausing for a split second. "You want my real opinion? Our forwards suck. I don't know why Tucker's not starting anymore, 'cause he's the only one who sets shit into action."
"Yeah, yeah, you're totally right. I don't know, Coach should know better, like, it's been four years," Grif grunts, and Church nods with him.
"I don't know, I get that we have a lot of players but so many of them just, suck, so bad."
"So badly," Grif agrees, shaking his head slowly.
"Why do you ask?"
"Oh, no reason in particular, just, like, curious." Grif stares at his hands and Church raises an eyebrow.
"What, we're you hoping I'd point out the fact that I think Simmons sucks this year?"
"I wasn't...!" he stammers, but then looks back up, mild discomfort in his expression. "But do you?"
"He's certainly not trying," Church hums, crossing his arms.
"You can say that again," Grif mutters.
"So, are you two, like--"
"No. No, we're not." Grif sighs, bringing his knees to his chest. "I'm tired of his vague shit and the beating around the bush and denying he's gay stuff, it makes me feel bad. And so, like, I don't know, I'm giving him space, and then... we'll see what happens, I guess. But I know we're not gonna date, so I don't even really care anymore."
"Eh, who cares. Not your fault." Grif gives a weak smile, and reaches out to give his leg a love tap. "I've got more important stuff to care about." Church stares into his eyes, cheeks red, and he looks all over his face for... something, he's not sure what, but keeps coming back to his eyes. They're warm, possibly Church's favorite part of his face, and they always seem to bring a wave of comfort washing over him. He can tell Grif's about to ask why he's staring again, until he works up the nerve to speak, and speak first.
"Hey, uh... Grif, can I ask you a kind of weird question?"
"Shoot." "Um... here goes," he mutters under his breath, and then holds said breath out of anxiety. "Uh, can I... can I kiss you?"
"What?" The mere surprise is evident in his voice but especially on his face, eyes wide and his own cheeks slightly heated. Church feels vulnerable, but knows he's too far in to take it back or stop now.
"Can I kiss you. Like, like, o-on the lips." Grif still sits there, mouth slightly agape, but he forces himself to talk after a second passes.
"Oh, uh... g-go for it, I guess," and the way Grif's voice breaks lets him know he's anxious, too. Church positions himself in front of him, scooting close enough that their legs are touching again, and he leans in, almost shyly, planting a tender little peck on Grif's lips. And Grif sits and waits for a moment, but then he leans in on his own, what seems like an instinctive hand snaking up to hold Church's jaw when their lips meet, deeper, and longer. Church sighs into it, his eyes closing, and Grif seems to get even closer. The moment seems to last an eternity, Church's only thoughts focused on just how soft Grif's lips are, and the way his other hand is placed firmly on his hip. Church moves his arms up to rest on the other boy's shoulders, merely enjoying the soft, simple sensation of teeth teasing his upper lip. He gets a flare of genuine, warm emotion, and then all at once, it's over, and they both pull away with a sparkle in their eyes and dumbfounded expressions on. Their hands don't move, and neither of them says anything for what feels like forever. When they finally separate, Church figures he's never missed anything more, and the rest of the night spirals into something and warm and awkward. Grif never gives a no afterwards and Church doesn't make him leave, either, and by the time he turns the lamp off, Grif is curled up at his side, and he's counted another 3 kisses onto his mental tally.
- - -
"So you knew?"
"How? A-and for how long?"
"I don't know, a while. A couple years, maybe. And dude, you weren't exactly... subtle."
"But I didn't even know you were gay until last year!"
"I'm not gay," he corrects, lightly. "I just like boys."
"How can you like boys but not be g--"
"Oh." He shuts up bashfully. "Right." They sit there, twiddling their thumbs for a second on the sidelines, and Grif's eyes are focused on the dying orange light of the sun. They hadn't won their game, but it didn't stop them from staying after anyway with the same air of confidence. Grif scoots closer to him in the grass and snakes an arm around his shoulders, squeezing him close, and Church blushes instinctively, leaning into the touch like he depends on it.
"You think we should leave soon?" Grif asks, lazily, and Church glances up at him.
"Leave the field? Or leave... you know."
"I don't know." He states, and then sighs, tilting the top of his head into the smaller boy's chin. "Probably." Grif hums for a second, his hand squeezing again, and moves enough to plant a subtle kiss on Church's nose. The silver-haired boy reacts immediately, arms stretching up to pull him even closer, forcing their lips to meet eagerly. Grif is slightly surprised by his willingness, but he meets him halfway until they're all but out of breath, splayed out on the grass and red-faced. Grif glances over and Church meets his gaze, the familiar content sparkle present in the connection.
"Sounds like a plan to me."