Connor sneered as he heard his door slam behind him.
He practically took a running leap into his bed, sighing in relief as his aching feet lightly rubbed against the coolness of his blanket.
Connor had been on his feet all day; going to the music store to pick up Zoe’s new guitar strings, going to The Office to drop off some of Larry’s papers, going to the local Starbucks to get Larry a coffee. He’d gotten some weird looks when he burst into the café, his pastel shirt drenched with sweat as he doubled over in pain. He hadn’t exercised before --- ------ ----, and now with all the football and track and fucking baseball he’d been forced into joining, his body wasn’t ready for being forced into becoming fit.
--- ------ would never have made him do all of this. She would have told Lar-Dad that Connor was perfectly healthy and didn’t need sports to express himself. Plus she’d actually listened to him when he’d told her about the other players, and the bullying he’d had to put up with. Now Connor came home with black eyes and burst lips, and not get much more than a second glance.
La-Dad had told him he shouldn’t stand up for himself, because they both knew Connor would end up throwing a punch, and his dad would rather deal with his son opening the first-aid kit every other day than deal with complaints from the school.
Connor rolled over onto his stomach, burying his face into his pillow. He was so tired, but his brain just wouldn’t turn off.
And Zoe. Zoe.
She didn’t talk to him. Admittedly she didn’t talk to him before ----- ------ ----, but now it was worse. She looked right threw him instead of adverting her eyes. She ignored everything he said, even if he was just asking her to pass the milk. Connor would never say he missed their fights from before, but he just wished they could fix things. Go back to how it was before he became a mental case.
But he knew it was too late. Too many nights of pounding on her door, screaming that he was going to kill her for no reason wasn’t something that could be forgotten with an apology. He had ruined his sister’s childhood, her life, and there was no way to go back and fix it.
He felt his stomach twist at the thought, and ran a hand threw his short hair. He wasn’t quite used to the new length.
Connor wouldn’t even know how to apologise. He hadn’t had any real human interaction other than answering questions in class, and the occasional ‘School’s fine, we’re fine, our family is normal’ with Dad’s co-workers.
On the rare occasion that Connor did catch Zoe’s eye, she would flinch like she’d been struck.
It broke his heart. His cold, black, shrivelled little heart.
Connor didn’t bother getting undressed before he fell asleep.
Evan felt like crying. He watched helplessly from his seat as luscious banners were hung from the ceiling and carpets were rolled across the floor. His mother was busy peppering random workers with questions just to make absolutely sure that everything would go right. Not that any of them would complain, Queen Heidi’s enthusiasm was infectious, but it made everything take twice as long as it should have. Evan wouldn’t admit it, but he was kind of glad. He wanted this to drag on forever, to take so long that his mum would just call the whole thing off, and then Evan wouldn’t have to suffer through the horror of-
“Hey, General Sherman? It’s your turn.”
Evan tore his eyes away from his mother’s endless questioning to see Jared watching him expectantly. He gave the other boy a small smile before turning his attention back to the large chess board in front of him, eyeing Jared’s last move.
A ‘General Sherman’ was one of the rarest trees in the world, Evan had told him that last night, and it made him feel a bit pleased that Jared had remembered.
Okay, not just a bit.
Evan hesitantly moved his knight a space, and Jared leant back in his seat. Neither of them said anything, Jared still staring at the board, but Evan guessed that neither of them were thinking about the game.
“Are you… okay with this?”
Evan looked up from his hunched sitting position, twisting his hands together nervously. Jared frowned when he saw.
“Sorry.” Evan moved up a little bit, and sat on his hands.
More silence. Jared moved a piece.
“It’s just… with the party and everything? I know you’re… on edge.” He said awkwardly, shuffling in his seat. Evan nodded. He knew it was hard for Jared to express any emotion other than ‘obnoxious asshole’, but he was trying. For Evan.
The blond boy scratched at his arm without thinking, and Jared’s eyes immediately followed him. Evan moved his hand away and sat on it again.
The tree had really changed things for them. Not that Evan was really complaining, he liked spending time with his friend (friend, not family friend, an actual caring friend) without spending hours playing violent video games that completely shot Evan’s nerves, or drinking wine until three in the morning.
Evan sighed again and Jared fiddled with his glasses. Okay, maybe Evan was complaining a little bit. The wine and games weren’t ideal, but at least they kept his mind off of the horrible truth that had been last summer. Almost an entire year had passed since then and Jared still treated his friend like glass, not letting him go to school alone and practically dragging him away from any chances of forced socialising.
That had been a really embarrassing moment at Starbucks, when Evan had to physically fight Jared and get him to let go of his arm and go back inside, because Evan hadn’t had time to pay before he was hauled away by the shorter boy.
“I-it’s not okay,” he confessed. “I don’t want this. A-at all. A-and I feel selfish because o-of it.”
The best way to get Jared to stop worrying was to tell him what was wrong. Sometimes that backfired horribly, because Evan would underestimate how messed up his confessions were and leave Jared feeling even more worried than before.
“Why?” Jared asked, leaning forward a bit. He stared intensely at the board, not looking his friend in the eye.
“B-because… you know why. The-there’ll be so many p-people. There’ll be loud music and laughing and I’ll be d-dragged into conversations I don’t want to be a part of, and I have to talk, to f-flirt, with so ma-many people, and you know I can’t d-do that, so-”
“Ev. Ev! Breath, buddy.” Jared made a soothing gesture with his hands, and Evan swallowed thickly, trying to steady his breathing. He felt his palms stick against the underside of his chair with sweat and tried not to cringe.
“T-thanks Jared.” He said, feeling his face heat up. He was getting better but, his anxiety still humiliated him. But, yeah, he was getting better and that’s what he should be focusing on.
“No prob.” Jared shrugged, and watched as Evan moved a pawn, stealing his queen. His jaw dropped.
“How did you-” he asked, and looked up to see Evan smiling sheepishly.
Connor woke up with his face half mushed into his pillow, and blearily blinked at the light shining in his eyes. He tired spitting his hair out of his mouth like he used to, before he remembered that it was too short.
Someone was talking a mile a minute, moving their hands animatedly as they explained something to someone else.
“Whsst?” Connor slurred, pushing himself off of his duvet and sitting over the edge of his bed. His blue jeans were all scuffed and twisted from sleeping in them, and Connor awkwardly pulled them round until they were comfortable to sit in.
The two people turned to him, and he blinked stupidly at them. There was a sigh, and the person reached over to the side table by Connor’s bed and handed him something. Taking them, Connor realised they were his glasses, and slipped them on.
It was his dad. And Zoe. In his room, in her pyjamas. Glaring at him.
“Connor,” his dad said sternly, and indicated at him to stand up. Connor obliged groaning as his knees clicked. His dad ignored him.
“We’ve got some… interesting news.” He said, and turned back to Zoe. She was watching her brother like a hawk, leaning back a bit like he would suddenly lunge out. Connor felt the familiar plunge in his stomach.
“The palace. There’s going to be a ball.” Was all she said, and crossed her arms across her leopard-print-onesie chest. Her dad looked between them, and sighed when he realised they weren’t going to say anything else.
“Connor,” he turned back to his son. “Prince Evan is throwing a ball to find his, umm, partner.” He scratched the back of him neck uncomfortably, staring at the ceiling. Connor knew he found it hard to talk about LGBT+ people, and Evan had come out as openly bi a year ago.
It had been quite a shock for the nation, as the prince was incredibly secretive and rarely shared any personal news. But apparently he’d gotten into an accident and ended up in hospital, and had some ‘personal discoveries’ as the magazines who then labelled him as ‘the sexiest bachelor of the year’ had put it, ending with him coming out.
“And, err, the invitation came today in the post.” Larry handed his son a slip of paper, which Connor carefully took from him. It was just a normal piece of plain paper, no fancy stationary or calligraphy, which was strange. Then again, most things Connor knew about the prince were strange, so he didn’t question it.
He scanned the paper quickly, written in New Times Roman, and paused at one particular line.
‘All eligible men and women between the ages of 17-23 will attend, and will converse with the prince. By tomorrow he will decide his bride or groom.’
What. The. Fuck?
“I-you can’t just-this isn’t-” Connor spluttered, reading and re-reading the line over and over. He felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Slow down, Connor. Zoe’s going, and she’s going to drive you.” Larry said in a no-nonsense voice, and looked down at his son with a strict expression. Connor’s eyes widened in disbelief.
“But, what if I don’t want to go, huh? What if-what if the prince is a creep, and he hits on Zoe and I punch him and I DON’T WANT TO GET MARRIED!” Connor screamed, and pushed his father’s hand off of his shoulder. He heard Zoe snort.
“Like that’s even an option.” She laughed, mockingly, and his breathing slowly evened out. Connor knew he was being childish, knew that he was basically throwing a tantrum, but the thought of Prince Evan hitting on him, on his sister, still freaked him out.
Larry sighed heavily as he looked between the two of them.
“Well, there’s no chance you’re getting married, Connor,” he didn’t miss his son’s glare. “but it says all men and women, and Zoe just turned 17, so you’re going.”
Connor’s frown deepened.
“Well why can’t Zoe just go on her own? It’s not like anybody would miss me.” He argued. The hidden meaning behind his words didn’t go over his family’s heads, but no one said anything.
“Connor, all men and women. And people would ask questions if you didn’t show.”
Connor groaned in annoyance, and fell back onto his bed. It was, again, pretty childish, but it was better than throwing something. Zoe glared at him even further.
“It’s not like I’m any happier about it.” She snapped. “Anyway, you’re coming shopping with me.”
He looked up at her with a surprised look. Why would Zoe want to spend time with him?
“I’m not showing up to that ball with you looking like a drowned rat.”
Connor flopped back down again and shut his eyes. After a few moments he heard the door shut and fell back asleep.
Evan fiddled with shirt and swallowed as he looked out at the small crowd of faces mingling in the ballroom. The few people who had showed up early had already taken a shine to him, and Evan had slowly, and accidently, formed a band of groupies who trailed him everywhere. It was split between nervous teens who giggled every time they looked at him, and cocky young adults who seemed to take everything he said as an innuendo. Evan had spent enough years with Jared to know how to ignore those.
The shorter teenager had taken pity on his best friend (an upgrade from just friend, Evan was pleased to note) and was flirting shamelessly with some of Evan’s fan boys and girls. The prince’s face had turned an alarming shade of red as he overheard some of the things his BFF (too much Evan, dial it back) was saying to them.
The doors opened again, and Evan’s breath hitched. Every time more than five minutes passed without anyone entering he hoped that no one else would show. But this was a ball to find the prince a fiancé, everyone in the country would come.
“Hey, you all look pretty good in your suits. How about when I get back we all strip down to our socks?”
A weak moan was heard from behind Evan, and suddenly Jared was beside him, steering him away. The prince twisted his head around to see a few of the young men blushing and staring after them. Evan turned to give his friend a mock-glare.
“R-really? You c-couldn’t be anym-more subtle?” He asked, hoping he didn’t sound too peeved. The last thing he wanted was for Jared to get mad and leave him on his own.
Thankfully Jared just grinned and punched him good-naturedly in the arm, and they both laughed quietly. Evan was almost glad to notice that Jared had punched his arm (yeah, that arm) and hadn’t made a big deal out of it.
“Would you rather I disappear and unleash the hordes of fan-boys on you?” Jared asked, grinning. Evan grinned back and shook his head, a strand of his blonde hair falling over his eyes.
“N-no. Please do-don’t go.”
“Oop. Here comes another pair.”
Evan turned his head towards the door, and watched as young couple made their way into the ballroom. A girl in a classy dress decorated with stars, and a miserable boy in a tight-fitting black suit and pastel tie. With their brown hair and pointed features, they looked a little too much like siblings for Evan to think they were a 'thing'. He felt a bit disgusted that he had assumed they were a couple.
Jared whistled lowly as he look them up and down.
“Hmm, tall, dark and emo? Isn’t that your type Evan?” Jared asked playfully, watching as Evan’s blush went to volcanic. His eyebrows shot up in surprise.
“Oh shit, seriously Evan? I know you like JD, but I just assumed that was a Christian Slater thing, not a submissive kink-”
“Shut up Jared!” Evan hissed, feeling his palms grow sweaty as a few people turned to stare at him. Including the boy. Fuck.
Jared saw his friend’s pained expression and immediately dropped it. He didn’t want to upset Evan even more than he already had.