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You Can Sit Beside Me (When The World Comes Down)

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"Come on," Spencer pleads, elbowing Ryan in the side, "It's just one extra kicking practice. How many times have I had to hang around and wait for you after school?"

"Never," Ryan says, shutting his locker with what Spencer thinks is undue force. "Like, once. Maybe."

Spencer rolls his eyes. "You're such a liar," he says. "You're deluded, and you're a liar." He pokes Ryan in the side. "It's your fault I play rugby in the first place, you could at least say you're going to wait for me after practice."

"Oh my god," Ryan says, shaking his head. "You're such a dick. I told you that you could hang around the arts magazine office with me. I gave you the lame emo poetry submissions to sort through. It is not my fault you went off and tried out for the stupid rugby team."

"I was bored," Spencer points out. "The arts magazine is boring."

"So is rugby," Ryan says, lamely, which is a lie. Rugby is awesome. Spencer thinks that Ryan just pretends he doesn't like it, to annoy Spencer.

Spencer rolls his eyes again. "I'm going to be late," he says, setting off down the hallway. "Come meet me on the field, after."

"Seriously? Extra kicking practice?" Ryan asks, dumping his books in his messenger bag and trying to force the zipper closed. "You don't do enough of that normally? You have to stay even later?"

Spencer narrowly avoids walking backwards into the door. "A flyhalf's got to do what a flyhalf's got to do," he yells, and the few remaining people in the hallway put their arms in the air and cheer. For reasons that Spencer can't exactly explain, their school doesn't play football, or even soccer, so everyone loves the rugby team. He's been the first string flyhalf since the end of his sophomore year, and everyone knows his name and wants to high-five him in the hallway. It's totally amazing.

"Awesome," Ryan calls after him, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, you're going to take us all the way to state. I get it."

Spencer waves his fist in the air and grins. He's pretty sure that Ryan's never going to get over Spencer being one of the most popular kids in school.


"Hurry up," Ryan yells, from outside the locker room. "Jeez, what took you so long?" he asks, kicking at the wall by the door as Spencer comes out, rolling his eyes.

Spencer's figured out by now that Ryan has a low boredom threshold when it comes to sports.

"You could come in and talk to me in there, you know," Spencer says, shrugging and pulling his bag over his head. "You don't have to stand out here and yell through the door."

"Whatever," Ryan says. "You learn anything life-affecting today?"

"My kicking average is getting better," Spencer tells him. "And I got in some pretty good tackles, too."

"Awesome," Ryan says, flatly. "That'll change the world."

"Fuck off," Spencer says, elbowing him and rooting around in his pockets for his gummy worms. "You want some?"

Ryan grabs a handful and then takes his time about choosing which one he wants to eat first. In the end, he sticks the whole handful in his mouth, just like always.

Spencer waits until Ryan's chewing before he asks, "You coming to the game this Friday?"

Ryan raises an eyebrow, and tries to chew faster.

"I'll take that as a yes," Spencer says, before Ryan's had a chance to speak.

"Fucker," Ryan says, coughing.

"You can sit front and center," Spencer tells him, as they head down the steps and out into the parking lot. Only seniors can drive to school, so Spencer and Ryan ride their bikes in. "Now, you want to come over and do homework, or what?"

Ryan rolls his eyes again. "Why else would I hang out and wait for you all this time?"

"Because you're my best friend," Spencer says, with a grin. "And because I let you play video games after we're done with math."


"No, you have to remind me again why I'm even friends with you," Ryan says, later on. He's sprawled across Spencer's bed with his math homework spread out in front of him, throwing pencils at Spencer's head. "You're so weird."

Spencer concentrates on his world history textbook and curls his toes into the carpet. "So what if I like things neat," he says. "It's easier when you know where everything is."

"Hmm," Ryan says, shaking his head. "They have a name for people like you. Freak."

"Being organized does not make me a freak," Spencer says, turning the page in his textbook and not looking up. "Having a clean room is not a bad thing."

"Yeah," Ryan says, absent-mindedly, standing up and stretching. "Whatever."

Spencer leans over and bumps Ryan's knee with his elbow; Ryan tumbles down onto the bed and catches the heel of his hand on his homework, scrunching the pages.

"Dick," he says. He rolls over and pokes Spencer in the shoulder. "Hey, can I check my email?"

"Waiting for anything in particular?" Spencer asks.

"No," Ryan says, and doesn't look up.

"Okay," Spencer says. "So, you're not checking for anything specific, then. Not an email from a particular mysterious person."

"No," Ryan says, "I'm waiting for advice from our English teacher. He was going to email me this thing. It's okay. I'll check when I get home."

"You're such a crappy liar," Spencer tells him, shutting his book with a thump and clambering on to the bed next to Ryan. He elbows him, and Ryan elbows back. "You want to stay for dinner? My dad's going to make spaghetti, I think, and you haven't for a while. My mom says she's forgotten what you look like. I reminded her though, I told her you were the skinny kid with the weird scarves and the frilly shirts."

"Ass. But, um, sure," Ryan says, after a beat. "I'll call my dad and tell him."

"Cool," Spencer says, and shuffles up the bed so he can walk his feet up the wall.


Ryan had joined the school arts magazine approximately three minutes into their freshman year, and had proceeded to devote ninety percent of his time to the magazine ever since. The other ten percent he divided equally between Spencer and sleeping. Sometimes Spencer thought that he deserved a higher percentage of Ryan's attention, particularly as the school arts magazine was the most under-subscribed publication on campus - including the annual janitorial review - but at this point Spencer tends to remind himself of the stupid amount of time he devotes to playing rugby, and decides not to complain too much.

Spencer's mom still complains every time Spencer comes home with a bag full of muddy rugby shirts and shorts, or when he comes home from a game or from practice with a black eye and covered in bruises and scrapes. Spencer just rolls his eyes and says that she shouldn't have sent him to some weird-ass private school if she hadn't wanted him to play some weird-ass private school sport. At least it wasn't croquet or lacrosse.

"Imagine that," Spencer says, "if you had to tell people that I was your son, the croquet player."

"That would be embarrassing," his mom says, mock-seriously. "I'd have to pretend we weren't related. There's not any chance you want to switch to croquet, is there?"

"Mom," Spencer says, rolling his eyes.

"No, really, Spencer, it's okay." His mom is sorting out the laundry in front of the washing machine. "If you want to switch to croquet, I'd cope. Ryan could be my son instead. That's okay with you, Ryan, right?"

Ryan's leaning against the doorjamb, picking at the skin by his thumbnail. "Fine by me," he says. "Spencer, looks like you're out of a job."

"Ryan," Spencer says. "Don't believe the hype. She'd make you fold clean laundry all weekend and babysit when you wanted to go out. You don't really want her. She's like a crazy lady when you're not around, honestly."

"Spencer James Smith," his mom says, flicking him in the legs with one of his dirty hoodies. Spencer rolls his eyes and moves out of the way. "Stop telling Ryan lies. He won't want to come around any more and we don't see him enough as it is."

Ryan just grins. "I'm over here every night," he says. "How can you not see me enough?"

Spencer's mom stands up and passes Spencer a basket full of wet laundry. "You can hang these out," she says to Spencer. "I'm going to go and make Ryan a drink, see if we can't persuade him to come over here more often and relieve me of your company, Spence."

"Mom," Spencer says.

"Laundry, Spencer." His mom presses a kiss to his temple and then slides her arm around Ryan's shoulders. "Are you sure you won't rethink that adoption thing, Ryan? I'd swap you for Spencer, you know."

"I'm really feeling the love," Spencer says, dryly, as he starts to hang out the clothes.


"So," Ryan says, after they're done with dinner and Spencer is pulling out the controllers for his Xbox. "I can check my emails, right?"

"Sure," Spencer says, easily. "So long as you don't mind me reading your emails from your creepy psychotic stalker over your shoulder."

"She is not a creepy psychotic stalker," Ryan says, "and anyway. I don't care about those emails. I told you. I'm waiting for something from my French teacher."

"Thought it was your English teacher?" Spencer asks, with a smirk. "Unless Ms. Jacobs and Mr. Arnold are both sending you emails outside of school hours."

"Shut up," Ryan says. "You're such a dick. You gonna let me check or not?"

"Of course," Spencer says. "But only when you admit you're only checking to see if your stalker's sent you an email or not."

"Fine," Ryan says, kicking Spencer in the shin. "Fine, okay, I just want to see if I've got a new email. Whatever, okay?"

"Aww," Spencer says, mildly. "It's cute that you're so attached."

"I am not attached," Ryan points out. "I am just interested, that's all."

"And, it could totally be a guy," Spencer says. "Dude, you're being stalked by a guy. That's kind of gay."

"Bisexuality now is what metrosexuality was for the nineties," Ryan says loftily.

Spencer snorts and pokes Ryan in the thigh. "You're such a fucking idiot."

"Yeah, well," Ryan says. "I hang around with you, so."


Spencer insists on booting up the computer for Ryan and pulling up a chair so he can sit beside him.

Ryan eyes him carefully. "You don't actually have to watch what I'm doing, you know."

"I do," Spencer says earnestly. "I'm looking out for your welfare. I've heard about the internet, you know. Old men can prey on young impressionable people like you, I just want to make sure your emails aren't coming from creepy pensioners or Ms. Jackson from the school office. I'm concerned for your well-being, Ryan."

"I hate you, I hate you, I hate you," Ryan says.

"Better to hate me now then regret it later," Spencer tells him. "Now log on and see if you've got any weird emails from stalkers. Come on."

Ryan grinds his teeth and logs on to his email.

Ryan's been getting these weird emails since the beginning of their sophomore year, ever since he took over being the editor of the arts magazine and opened up the centerfold as a place for kids to submit their photos in the hope of being published. It's never exactly been popular, mostly because the arts magazine has a readership of pretty much Ryan and - by force - Spencer, but Ryan slogs on regardless. Spencer thinks it's kind of sweet, Ryan's dedication to this magazine that precisely no one reads, but still. Spencer values his life so he never tells Ryan that. Spencer might be better at rugby tackling, but he's pretty sure that Ryan's better at taking people down with the power of his mind.

The weird emails started coming a few weeks into the semester, always the same email address but never signed. They always have a couple of photos attached, taken on campus or around the school buildings. And one of them always, always has Ryan in shot somewhere, whether it's his school bag or the back of his head in the hallway or him waiting for Spencer by the rugby pitch and half-assedly doodling in a notebook.

Ryan and Spencer have spent over a year not being able to figure out who it is who takes the pictures and emails them to Ryan. The photography centerfold has belonged exclusively to the elusive emailer ever since the first time they sent their photos in, when Ryan had sat down beside Spencer and said, "Fuck, Spence, look at these."

It had been Spencer who had noticed Ryan first; the corner of their table in the cafeteria, the back of Ryan's head and the strap of his school bag lying across the bench.

Ryan's eyes had widened.

He'd still put the photos on the centerfold, though, that issue and every issue since.

"Come on," Spencer says. "Hurry up. See if she's attached pictures of the bodies of the last people she stalked and kidnapped."

"Shut up," Ryan says, and hovers over the email in his inbox a few seconds longer than strictly necessary, probably just to annoy Spencer.

Spencer elbows him in the side and tries to grab the mouse off Ryan.

"Hey," Ryan says, keeping a firm hold of the mouse. "Fuck off, this is my creepy stalker email. Get your own."

"It's like an episode of CSI happening right in front of me," Spencer says nostalgically. "I'll get to be in all the flashback scenes. It's kind of beautiful."

"You're kind of weird," Ryan tells him, and opens the email.

"Let me see the photos," Spencer says, poking Ryan in the side, "I can't see."

"Get off," Ryan says. "And, fuck, Spence, there's a message."

"Fuck off, no there isn't," Spencer says.

"I can hear you two swearing, you know," Spencer's mom calls, from across the hall.

"How does she do that?" Ryan says, under his breath.

"Super freaky hearing," Spencer says, quietly. "She's like a mutant or something."

"Spencer James Smith," his mom yells.

"Fine," Spencer calls back. "Jeez. You can have her, you know, if you want, Ryan. I'll sell her cheaply."

"I am not for sale, young man," his mom calls back. "But I will swap you for a cup of coffee and a cupcake."

"Done," Ryan shouts back.

"Excellent," his mom says. "And keep the swearing down, boys. I don't want the twins picking up your language until they're at least old enough to know what it means, okay?"

Spencer rolls his eyes and leans over so he's got a better view of the computer screen. "What's it say?" he asks, elbowing Ryan out of the way.

"It says, 'Fuck off Spencer'."

"Does not," Spencer says, affronted. "You're making that up. And my mom won't want to adopt you if you keep swearing, you know. She'll send you back with a big label on saying unwanted."

Ryan shoves him. "Shut up," he says, "and read this."

The email says I really like your smile and it's okay, I hate tater tots too, alongside a photo of Ryan poking his lunch in the cafeteria in a desultory manner.

"When did we have tater tots?" Spencer asks. "I like tater tots. When did you have tater tots without me?"

Ryan stares at him, and then leans over and flicks him in the forehead. "Are you deliberately being stupid just to annoy me?" he asks. "My creepy psychotic stalker likes my smile."

"And watched you eat tater tots," Spencer says, sadly. "I can't believe I missed tater tots."

"Spencer," Ryan says, carefully. "Shut up, and pay attention to the fact that my creepy stalker likes my smile."

Spencer just rolls his eyes. "He - or she - has been taking your photo every two weeks for a year. Which part of they like you aren't you getting?"

Ryan shrugs his shoulders. "Um?"

"Oh my god," Spencer says, "you are such a loser. I can't even express how much of a loser you are."

"Shut up. Should I write something back?"

"Yeah, stop fucking stalking me, you freak would be a start."


"Sorry Mom."

"Really," Ryan says. "What am I going to write?"

"Uh," Spencer says. "Who are you? It's just a thought."

Ryan rolls his eyes and carefully types who are you? and presses send.


Ryan sends him a text at ass-o-clock in the morning that says ur comin 2 c a play with me 2nite.

Spencer buries his face in his pillows, and groans. He opens one eye and types i hate u and sends it straight back. After a moment, he relents and sends what play n wen?

His phone beeps a minute later. Scenes from musicals @730. im outside urs. get up, we r goin in early.

Spencer hits the call button on the phone and buries his face in the pillows again. "What the fuck time is it?" Spencer asks, gruffly, when Ryan picks up.

"Dunno," Ryan says. "Like, six-thirty? Almost. Maybe. Get up, get in the fucking shower, put some clothes on and come to fucking school, Spence."

"Why are we even friends," Spencer says, crawling out of bed. "I hate everything about you."

"Get up."

"Come in, you idiot," Spencer says, yawning. "Dad's probably making coffee, you can go tell him when he's doing it wrong."


In the magazine office, Spencer drops his bag down on the floor and sits on the edge of the desk while Ryan boots the computer up. "What are we even doing here?" Spencer asks. "I could be in bed right now. I'm holding this against you, you know."

"Yeah, yeah. Whatever." Ryan pokes the screen dubiously. "I want to get a head start on the next issue."

Spencer rolls his eyes and kicks Ryan. "You mean, you want to check to see if your psycho stalker's emailed you back yet."

"Shut up," Ryan says. "Do not."

"Do too," Spencer says. "And what the fuck are you dragging me along to tonight, anyway? Scenes from the Musicals? What the hell is that?"

Ryan shrugs and refuses to meet Spencer's eye. This is a bad sign; Spencer is fairly sure that whatever it is they're going to see tonight will be both miserable and horrible to listen to. Spencer has seen far too many badly done plays, musicals, revues, skits, evenings of musical serenades, ninth grade recorder club shows and drama club productions since Ryan joined the arts magazine. Spencer's been to pretty much every production the school has put on since he started there; he's spent more evenings than he can count wincing at wrong notes and composing Ryan's obituary in his head. Ryan takes it all pretty seriously, though, and he has a clipboard and a notebook and one of those weird pens with a light at the end so he can see to write when the auditorium lights go down. Spencer mostly just sits there and falls asleep if it's boring or laughs if it's funny.

"It's scenes from musicals, Spencer. It's not rocket science. The clue's in the title, pretty much."

Spencer kicks Ryan again, just for fun. "Why do I let you drag me along to all these stupid evenings? Most of them make me want to poke my own eyes out." Not all of them, he thinks, vaguely thinking about that kid from his history class who is in most of the shows, and is pretty good. He contents himself with poking Ryan repeatedly in the shoulder until Ryan snaps and punches him in the arm.

"Some of them are alright," Ryan tells him, pulling open his backpack and dragging out his notebook and his arts magazine folder. It's pretty big.

Spencer blinks, slowly. "You remember the time the drama club put on The Caucasian Chalk Circle, right?"

Ryan winces.

"Yeah," Spencer says, "you remember."

The time the drama club put on Bertolt Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle is probably etched onto Spencer's brain for the rest of forever. Not content with putting on a play that the cast had to read in translation, the drama department had decided that the play was a wonderful opportunity to showcase the music department's budding composition class, and had set the play to music and made it more relevant by setting it in the modern day Middle East.

Ryan's review would have been legendary, if anyone actually ever read the arts magazine. Spencer thinks that's what stopped him getting suspended, in the end.

Spencer still hasn't forgiven Ryan for making him sit through it in the first place.

"You want to go get me a muffin?" Ryan asks, brightly, changing the subject. "I'll pay."

"No way," Spencer says. "You're not dragging me into school this early and then not letting me see if your stalker's replied or not."

Ryan makes a noise that sounds like a growl, but moves over so that Spencer can see the screen.

"Oh, he has," Spencer says. "That's really cute. Open it up so we can see if he's listing the ways he's going to make you scream before he kills you."

"Remind me why you're my best friend again?" Ryan asks, but he opens the email up anyway.

"Can you get female serial killers?" Spencer asks, while the page loads. The school computers are pretty good, apart from the piece of shit ones they let Ryan have for the arts magazine.

"Shut up," Ryan says. "Maybe they're just shy."

"Or psychopathic," Spencer suggests. "But at least they like your smile, huh?"

Ryan punches him in the arm.

"Is there a message?" Spencer asks, peering over Ryan's shoulder. "Does it say, I've loved you forever, Ryan Ross, much love, the hairy janitor with the creepy beard, come run away with me to Canada where we can make sweet love and nobody can hear you scream?"

Ryan wrinkles his nose. "Dude," he says, "you're really fucked up."

"Says you," Spencer retorts. "You're the one getting all hot and bothered over some stalker with a camera."

"I am not," Ryan says. "I'm not getting hot and bothered about anyone. And they're not a stalker. They're just shy."

"Shy, like freaky," Spencer says. "Shy, like we don't even know if they're a girl or a guy. Whatever, give me your money, I'm gonna go get coffee."

"And muffins," Ryan says. "Get me one of those blueberry ones with the frosting on top."

"They are an affront to muffins everywhere," Spencer says, holding his hand out while Ryan looks in his bag for his wallet, "and one day you will be struck down for even thinking about wanting one."

"Shut up," Ryan says. "And there isn't a message. Just a photo of the coffee bar."

"Maybe they're a loser caffeine-freak like you," Spencer says, ducking out of the way of Ryan's kick. "I'll keep my eye out while I'm waiting in line. If anyone looks like a weird-ass stalker and is stroking a picture of you, I'll be sure to point them in your direction."

Ryan just throws his pen at Spencer's head.


Spencer spends his lunch period practicing his kicking out on the rugby pitch.

Ryan sits on the bleachers and does his math homework and refuses to look even when Spencer yells his name after he scores five conversions in a row.

When Spencer's finished up, he comes to collapse next to Ryan on the bench, nudging him with his foot. "Did you see that?" he asks, "I'm on fire today."

"You're amazing," Ryan says. "Well done, you kicked a ball through some posts. You should get a prize."

"Shut up," Spencer says, rolling his eyes. "You know you think I'm cool really."

"Maybe it's just hidden somewhere really deep down inside," Ryan says. "Did you do this yet?" he asks, shoving his math book down the bench. "I'm stuck on number three."

"You're my favorite too," Spencer tells him, and leans over to steal his pencil.


"I think this is the most miserable I've ever been," Spencer confides, fifteen minutes into the first half of Scenes from the Musicals.

Ryan - leaning over his clipboard and scribbling furiously - shushes him. There are approximately twenty three people in the audience, all of them parents, and all of them are at least five rows of chairs in front of them. Spencer thinks he could probably start to shout and it wouldn't make too much of a difference.

"I hate you," he goes on, and he wonders if he wishes for earplugs long enough, whether they'll just magically appear in his lap. He really should have learnt by now to bring a pair.

On the stage in front of them, a freshman with red hair and too much blush is singing The Sun'll Come Out, Tomorrow. Luckily the pianist is either deaf or has a great deal of respect for the audience; the piano part is almost loud enough to drown out most of the technical errors, although the failure of the singer to stay in tune for more than three bars at a time is still relatively obvious.

"Shut up and be quiet," Ryan tells him. "Or else I won't come and see you play this Friday."

"Blackmail makes you an ugly person, Ryan."

"It makes me pretty on the inside," Ryan says, without inflection.

Spencer moves his chair five inches to the left.


"Oh, thank fuck for that," Spencer manages, once the intermission rolls around and the curtain drops on a particularly terrible version of You Can't Get a Man With a Gun. "Can we go now?"

"No," Ryan says resolutely. "If you're going to make me come to your stupid rugby game then we're staying for the whole of this stupid play."

"Musical," Spencer points out, grumpily.

"Did I mention you didn't have to audition to get a slot on stage tonight? You just signed up, and voila," Ryan says, "instant time on the stage."

"Worst idea ever," Spencer says. "I hope you're going to say that in your review."

"That," Ryan says, "that and other things."

Spencer sinks lower in his chair and wishes for death. Or ear plugs.

Ryan keeps poking him in the leg with the end of his stupid light-up pen, so Spencer starts wishing for his death instead, until the lights go down and the piano starts up again.

Then Spencer blinks and sits up a little straighter in his chair, then sinks down lower in case Ryan notices and starts wondering why Spencer has a sudden attack of the jitters. The singer on stage is the only reason Spencer hasn't fallen asleep in every single one of the shows he's come to see with Ryan over the past couple of years. The singer's a junior, like them, and he's in Spencer's last period history class, too. His name is Brendon Urie and he's been in pretty much every production he could fit in the rehearsal time for. He was even in that terrible production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle.

It isn't like Spencer's ever really spoken to him, or anything. He doesn't even know Brendon. He just - well. He likes to see him on stage. Brendon's good at singing and he's good at acting and he's even pretty good at dancing. He always looks like he's having fun and sometimes Spencer feels like Brendon's smiling directly at him, although he knows that's just a trick of the light. Everyone knows that you can't pick out individual faces from the stage.

But sometimes Spencer likes to think that Brendon's smiling at him. It makes him feel kind of - well, warm inside. He smiles back, sometimes, even though he knows that Brendon can't see him.

Spencer's kind of smiling now, even though this whole show is lame and Brendon singing Luck be a Lady isn't enough to raise Scenes from the Musicals out of the bottom two productions he's ever seen in his whole life ever. He knows that Brendon can't see him or anything, but Spencer maybe kind of wants Brendon to know that someone out in the audience is enjoying listening to him sing.

Not that Spencer is, or anything.

Still, he's kind of the best thing about the show so far.


"Thank fuck that's over," Spencer says, once they're out of the auditorium and trudging across the parking lot to where they've locked their bikes.

"Now you know what I feel like, every time I have to sit through a whole stupid rugby game," Ryan says, dryly, pulling his backpack onto both shoulders and tightening the straps.

"Pfft," Spencer says. "That's such a lie. You like rugby."

"I like you," Ryan says, kneeling down and fiddling with his bike. "I'm pretty ambivalent about the rugby part."

"Dude," Spencer says, and bumps his knee against Ryan's. Ryan busies himself with his bike lock.


Spencer stands up, looking around. It's the rugby coach, Mr. O'Brian. Apparently he used to play rugby for Ireland or something, back in the nineties. He's jogging across the parking lot towards them.

"Hi," Spencer says, wiping his hands on his jeans.

"It's an important game tomorrow night, Smith," Coach says.

Ryan mutters something under his breath. Spencer nudges him with his foot.

"Yes, Coach," Spencer says.

"You need a good night's sleep," Mr. O'Brian goes on. "Can't have our flyhalf running on empty now, can we?"

"Of course not," Ryan says, from somewhere down by Spencer's feet. Spencer nudges a little harder.

"You get yourself home now, Smith," he says, "and have an early night. Big day tomorrow."

"Sure, Coach," Spencer says. "Sure thing."

"Suck up," Ryan hisses, after Mr. O'Brian's said goodnight and jogged back across the parking lot to where he's parked his car.

"Shut up," Spencer says, rolling his eyes. "Come on, Mom will make us both a milkshake or something."

Ryan rolls his eyes in the gathering dusk. "Sure thing," he says, sarcastically.

Spencer does what he has to do, and pushes Ryan's bike over. "Race you," he says, and sets off across the parking lot on his BMX.


Spencer kind of loves game days.

Ryan pretty much doesn't, but mostly because he's dead inside. Spencer's thinking of making him a pin.

From the moment they bike into the parking lot, Ryan trailing behind because he's a loser, there are people everywhere. Spencer always gets high-fived a lot in the hallways, mostly by people he doesn't know all that well, but on game days he gets high-fived all day long. There's like, a line of kids by the bike racks, just waiting.

"Oh my god," Ryan mutters. "It's like you're their king."

"I know," Spencer says, smugly. "Isn't it amazing?"

"Oh yeah," Ryan nods. "It's like the best thing ever. I wish I were you."

"Oh look," Spencer says. "They've made me a sign."


Spencer has no less than three different spirit boxes inside his locker.

"Aren't our combinations supposed to be, like, totally private?" Ryan says, with one eyebrow raised. He's got his arms folded and he's leaning back against Vanessa Macy's locker. Vanessa Macy doesn't look too pleased about it, but Ryan's better at ignoring than most people. Vanessa Macy just takes her backpack to class, now. Spencer's lost count of the times he's seen her in the school office, petitioning to be designated another locker, anywhere. Anywhere away from Ryan Ross. It's kind of sweet, really, the lengths some people will go to to get away from Ryan.

"They are," Spencer tells him. "But the school office gives them out to anyone with a spirit box."

"I feel a whole lot more secure now," Ryan agrees. "They've covered all possible security eventualities with that fearsome dedication to our privacy."

"Shut up," Spencer says, and kicks him. "You want a cookie?"

"No," Ryan says, wrinkling his nose. "No way."

"Cheerleader cooties?" Spencer sympathizes, he really does. He opens the second box. This one smells pretty amazing, and there's a good luck card pinned to the top. It sparkles, which is cool, but they've spelled his name wrong, which isn't. He wasn't entirely sure before now that you could spell Smith wrong.

"Are those- are those snickerdoodles?" Ryan asks, hooking his chin over Spencer's shoulder.

"Yeah," Spencer says, taking a bite. "It's a shame that you hate the rugby team so much, I was totally going to share."

Ryan makes a sound in his throat.

Spencer waves the box under Ryan's nose. "They smell pretty good, don't they?"

Ryan hisses. "This sucks. I hate you. Give me a snickerdoodle. The biggest one."

"Nah," Spencer says, stuffing the box back in his locker and shutting the door. "Not until you say how much you love the rugby team."

Ryan folds his arms. "Just give me one, okay? I'm going to see your stupid game, aren't I?"

"You forgot the magic word."


"Not that one," Spencer says, with a sigh. "The other one. The one that starts I love rugby."

Ryan grinds his teeth. "I want the biggest one."

"Fine," Spencer tells him. "Magic word?"

"I love rugby," Ryan narrows his eyes, grabs a snickerdoodle and takes a step back, all in one fluid movement. "But I hate you."

"Good enough," Spencer says, and hands over the box. "I was gonna give them all to you anyway. It's just funnier to make you beg."

"I want my best friend charm back," Ryan says.

"Never," Spencer says, with a grin. "You should hurry up, you're going to be late for class."

So is Spencer, but no one ever gives him a late slip on game days.


Spencer's kind of busy, so he skips out on lunch in the cafeteria and eats his sandwich in the office by the side of the gym, going over the game plan with Zack, their lock and team captain, and Coach O'Brian. Ryan sends him a text message that says, ur missin tater tots. bet u dont love rugby now. Spencer narrows his eyes and concentrates on the game plan.


On game days, they finish classes early and hold a pep rally in the school gym. Ryan has been known to complain for hours about how pep rallies undermine the education system and result in students graduating without achieving their academic potential. His argument is more detailed than that, but Spencer always tunes out after the first couple of minutes. It's kind of funny, watching Ryan get all worked up. He goes all red in the face and starts inflecting. It makes Spencer laugh.

Still, Spencer ends up standing at the side of the gym, scanning the bleachers to see if he can pick Ryan out. He's usually sitting in a corner somewhere, trying to read, and only throwing his arms in the air when it looks like one of the teachers is going to come over and confiscate his book. Spencer spots him just before the principal calls his name, and he catches Ryan's eye and grins before he jogs out into the middle of the gym as the student body cheers.

Pep rallies are never going to stop freaking him out, he thinks. It's one thing having people high five him in the hallways and clap him on the back in the cafeteria, it's another to have everyone cheering his name when he's not even out on the field, actually playing.

It feels pretty good, though.


There aren't exactly a lot of schools that play rugby, so their competition is mostly made up of other private schools who bus in from way across the state.

It's kind of a big deal. Because the flyhalf is the most important position on the team, Spencer has to go out with the coach and the principal to go meet the other team when they pull into the parking lot, him and the team captain and whoever was most valuable player last time they played. Mostly it means hanging out in the parking lot trying to make conversation with the principal and his gym teacher. Usually Ryan comes out and leans on Spencer's bike and points and sniggers, but today he's nowhere to be seen.

Spencer sends him a covert text. where r u, ur normally here 2 laugh @me by now.

His phone vibrates in his pocket a minute later. got detention 4bein late 2 class this mornin. am blamin u. u owe me.

Spencer hides his laugh in his sleeve. no way, he texts back, thats really funny.

am dreamin up ways of makin u pay, Ryan texts.

yeah, am shaking in my shoes. Spencer presses send and almost before he's sliding his phone into his pocket, he's pulling it back out again. Ur still comin 2 c me play, right?

There's a pause, then his phone buzzes. Yeah. Front n center.

Spencer grins and tries to pay attention to his coach's game plan.


The teams are pretty evenly matched. Their flyhalf is a tall, straight-backed senior named Flagg, who shakes hands with Spencer and then tells him in an undertone, "We're going to take you down."

Spencer just rolls his eyes, shakes his head and says, "I'd like to see you try."

Flagg just laughs, claps Spencer on the back and says, "We'll see you on the field, Smith."

Spencer likes Flagg; they've been playing against each other since Spencer's freshman year. He's a more precise kick than Spencer, focused and long-limbed. He's fast, but Spencer's quick. Spencer's kicking percentages are higher because he kicks more. They're both strong, but Spencer's center of gravity is lower.

Spencer rolls his shoulders and turns back to Zack, who is crowding his team around him and telling them they're going to win. Spencer cheers with the rest of them; he fucking loves rugby.


The game is fast and furious and dirty. By halftime, Zack's sporting a black eye and a split eyebrow, hurriedly taped together by the coach and the school nurse fifteen minutes into the game. Spencer's muddy and covered in grass stains; the score is six-all, two drop-kicks from him and two from Flagg. They've lost a couple of line-outs; Coach O'Brian is going to ream the forwards for their fumbles. The scrums are good and the backs are running well, but there's something missing. Possession is more or less equal but neither team are making it near the try line. Defense is good but their attacking sucks. Spencer's already running through their plays, through the other team's weaknesses. Nate Graham is a good scrum-half, and he's quick but Flagg doesn't protect him enough. If he can intercept - he takes a deep breath, and reaches for one of the water bottles as the coach outlines the strategy for the second half.


They're ten minutes into the second half when Brent, one of their backs, breaks away and manages a run most of the way down the pitch. The other team are hot on his heels and Brent makes a quick pass to where Spencer's waiting. It all seems too easy, like time's moving in slow motion. He makes the catch, and he can see Flagg out of the corner of his eye, making a run to tackle Spencer down and out of play. He finds an extra burst of speed from somewhere and Flagg's left catching Spencer's shin with his fingertips, going down and leaving Spencer with a clear run to the try line. He knows there are other players running after him, he can hear the screams of the crowd and his team shouting. He throws himself down over the try line, making the try by a clear margin. He feels his knee twist as he lands.

The crowd erupts, and the screams are deafening.

But Spencer, Spencer can't get up. Pain lightning-sparks its way up from his knee down to his ankle and up to his thigh. He bites down on his lip until he can taste blood, and he rolls on to his side, the pain leaving him breathless. He squeezes his eyes shut, but he can't stop the tears from escaping.

The crowd falls silent and then the coach is pushing through his teammates and kneeling beside him, and someone's calling for an ambulance.

Spencer doesn't remember much after that.


The E.R. is really busy because it's a Friday night. Even though it's early, there are still people throwing up into cardboard bowls and if Spencer wasn't trying to concentrate on not throwing up from the pain himself, he'd be really grossed out. His mom is with him, holding his hand, and Ryan's out in the waiting room because he refuses to go home. Spencer's dad's gone to pick the girls up and drop them off at Spencer's grandma's; Spencer wishes he were here. He wants his dad.

The pain is stupid. He feels like he can't think of anything outside of how it hurts. He's thrown up twice already, his mom smoothing his hair away from his forehead and holding his hand. He's had x-rays, but every movement of the trolley down the hallway meant that pain ricocheted up and down his leg until he was breathless from trying not to cry. They'd given him painkillers, but he hadn't been able to keep them down and they'd been forced to put a line in instead, so now he's got a needle taped into the back of his hand.

His dad's back by the time he's back from his MRI scan. "They think it's ligament damage," his mom tells his dad in an undertone.

Spencer squeezes his eyes shut and tries to think of anything other than the pain.


Ryan's still there a few hours later, Spencer can see him pacing the waiting room and refusing to go home every time the doors at the end of the hallway open. When Spencer finally persuades them to let him in to see him, Ryan just rolls his eyes at him across the bed and takes Spencer's mom's seat while she goes down to the cafeteria to get a cup of coffee.

"You ever fucking scare me like that again," Ryan says, after a minute, "and I'll take you out myself, you hear?"

"Sure thing," Spencer says, and tries to smile. They've strapped his knee up - it's tight and it hurts. He's got it elevated on some sort of foam block underneath the sheets. He wiggles his toes uncertainly. He's still covered in mud from the rugby game. He's not sure he wants to think about what he might smell like.

"Does it hurt much?" Ryan asks. He's touching at the sheets with the tips of his fingers.

"Yeah," Spencer says, letting out a long breath. "Yeah," he says again, because it really fucking does.

"Okay," Ryan says, and he twines his fingers with Spencer's. "You can, you know. Squeeze if you need to. Or whatever."

Spencer holds on tight and tries not to cry.


They let him home a couple of hours later, the doctor passing his dad a bag of pain meds as he signs all the paperwork. His mom takes the crutches they're going to make Spencer use. There's an information sheet, too, but Spencer doesn't want to read it just yet. He's asked about rugby, and he knows the answer. A month off, bare minimum, and probably rehab. He feels nauseated.

One of the nurses wheels him out to his dad's car, and Ryan walks beside the wheelchair. Spencer wants to hold someone's hand again, because he might be a fucking junior and almost an adult and the flyhalf for his rugby team, but it hurts and he's tired and he's scared and he wants to go home. They have to help him up and out of the chair and into his dad's car. He's breathless with the pain because he can't get in without bending his knee, not even with help. He leans back in his seat and Ryan climbs in behind him and puts his hand on Spencer's shoulder, squeezing.

Spencer rests his head on Ryan's hand. His mom comes round to the side of the car and kisses his forehead, helping him on with his seatbelt.

Every moment of the journey home hurts.


He doesn't sleep well.

He can't get comfortable, and he hates sleeping on his back and the covers are too heavy on his leg. His dad makes him a nest of pillows so he's half sitting up; his dad's taken all the pillows from Crystal and Jackie's beds because they're staying with Grandma, and two from his and Spencer's mom's bed, too. It's uncomfortable and it hurts and he wakes up every time his knee brushes against the sheets or he tries to turn over in his sleep.

He wakes up when the painkillers wear off, and he needs to go to the bathroom. He's not used to managing the crutches and he can't move without it hurting; he gets to the bathroom just in time but he can't stand up without the crutches and it's the middle of the night and he's desperate. He kind of half wets himself and he can't help it, he just cries. He's burning red with embarrassment when his mom comes to find him.

She's brisk and kind and Spencer hates every moment of it. He leans against the side of the bath while his mom goes downstairs to get a chair from the dining room - she leaves it right by the toilet so he's got something to hold onto in the future. She waits outside while he shrugs out of his pajama pants and into a clean pair, and then she helps him back into his room.

She stays up with him while he waits for the painkiller to kick in, and she's the last thing he remembers before he falls asleep.


Ryan comes over after lunch. He brings Star Wars and The Girl Next Door on DVD with him, and when he comes up to Spencer's bedroom, Spencer's mom is following and she's carrying two plates of sandwiches.

"You should try and eat these," his mom says, after Spencer makes a face. "You won't feel so sick when you take your meds if you've eaten something."

Spencer doesn't believe her. He doesn't believe anything at the moment, other than the time ticking by on his alarm clock, counting down until his next pill. Still, Ryan comes and sits beside him, pulling a chair up to the side of the bed and nudging Spencer in the arm.

"Dude," Ryan says, and Spencer manages a grin. Ryan's an idiot. "I can't believe I'm coming over to sit by your sickbed. We should be in some Russian novel or something."

"You wish," Spencer says. He pushes his sandwich across his plate. His mom's even cut the crusts off, which she hasn't done since he was seven and she told him that he was being ridiculous and she wasn't pandering to him anymore. Spencer had frowned, and then eaten his crusts.

"I'll be back up in ten minutes," his mom says, from the doorway. "I expect you to have eaten those, Spencer, and there will be trouble if you haven't."

"I'm sick, Mom," Spencer grumbles.

"And don't you be getting Ryan to eat them for you, either," she says. "He might need feeding up, but not from your plate, okay?"

"Mom," Spencer says, as Ryan says, "Mrs. Smith."

She rolls her eyes. "I'll bring you boys up some orange juice. And try and make him smile, will you, Ryan? He's been Mr. Cranky-pants all morning."

"Mr. Cranky-pants?" Ryan says, with a smirk, when Spencer's mom is already half way down the stairs.

"Shut up," Spencer grumbles. "It hurts, okay? You'd be cranky too."

"Yeah," Ryan says, but he doesn't stop grinning. "Mr. Cranky-pants."

"Put the DVD on," Spencer says, "before I have to hurt you."

Ryan pokes him in the side.

"I'm an invalid," Spencer yelps, but he shifts wrong and pain sparks up his leg. "Fuck."

"Shit," Ryan says, "Sorry. Sorry - fuck. Are you okay?"

"Yeah," Spencer manages, hissing in a breath. "Yeah, it's fine. Put the DVD on."

"Okay," Ryan says, after a moment. He watches Spencer carefully. "Star Wars?"

"Sure," Spencer says, but he doesn't much care. He watches his alarm clock, counting down the minutes until it's time for his next pain med.



Spencer misses the next few days of school. He's in pain and bored at home, but his dad says he's not going back until he's convinced that Spencer can manage the crutches and the stairs and the bathroom by himself.

Spencer complains, but the crutches really are kind of difficult to get the hang of. Using the stairs is painfully slow and he's still unsure on his feet when it comes to getting up from chairs and he has no idea how he's supposed to carry anything when he's already using both hands for the crutches.

Ryan texts him after every class - and during, if he can get away with it - keeping him up to date with what's going on. Mostly Spencer wants to know about Ryan's creepy psycho stalker, but Ryan can be pretty evasive when he wants to be. Spencer just sends him a message telling him to come by after school. Spencer has ways and means of getting information out of Ryan, and if it means playing his I'm injured card than he's perfectly willing to do it for the sake of watching Ryan get all pink-cheeked about his weird-assed emails.

Spencer's kind of starved of entertainment now he's stuck at home.


Ryan comes by after he's put in his obligatory time in at the arts magazine. Spencer goes to answer the doorbell and it takes him such a long time to let him in that Ryan starts talking to him through the closed door. Spencer can't actually hear much of what Ryan's saying, but he's pretty sure it doesn't matter much as Ryan's kind of just listing all the people who've stopped him in the hallways to ask how Spencer is.

"I was late to every class," Ryan says, when Spencer finally gets the door open. "It was kind of annoying. I had to blame you."

"You were the center of attention," Spencer says, taking a breath and starting the slow hobble back to the living room. "Don't tell me that isn't your secret dream."

"What," Ryan says, and he's rolling his eyes, Spencer knows he is, even if he can't see him because Ryan's behind him, "secretly I dream about being you? Yeah right."

"Who wouldn't?" Spencer says. "I mean, have you seen me?"

"You are such a fucking loser," Ryan tells him, but he's leaning behind Spencer to rearrange the cushions on the couch as Spencer makes to sit down.

"Same," Spencer says, and fuck, he hates sitting down. It jars. The couch is too low down.

"You're the front page story in the school newspaper," Ryan tells him, once Spencer's comfortable and Ryan's sitting down in the armchair. "They wanted to make the whole front page black in honor of you, but apparently Ms. Chang made them stop at the last minute, because you weren't actually dead."

"Dead?" Spencer asks.

"Yeah," Ryan says. "Like, mourning you when you're still alive is kind of weird, right?"

"Well," Spencer says. "Yes?"

"I mean," Ryan goes on, "I knew you didn't exactly have to have a brain to write for the newspaper but I figured they still had to be able to tell the difference between you being alive and well, you being dead." Ryan maybe has a little bit of a grudge against the school newspaper, possibly because more than two people choose to read it. Spencer tends to stay very quiet on the subject. It's probably for the best.

"Maybe they just think it's kind of bad that I won't be playing rugby for the next couple of months."

Ryan rolls his eyes. "Well, duh. But you're still not actually dead, Spencer. You get that, right? They can't actually mourn you when you're still alive."

"I was their king," Spencer says, mournfully. "And I might as well be." No rugby. For weeks. He's going to be stuck hanging around the arts magazine office and throwing bits of paper at Ryan's head to pass the time. He can't wait. If he's really lucky, maybe Ryan will find a job for him to do, like reading through all the terrible, emo poetry that Ryan rejects every month without fail. Ryan's kind of elitist. "They used to make me signs. I liked the signs."

Ryan rolls his eyes again. "You're such a loser. A not actually dead loser."

"Shut up," Spencer says, grumpily.

"Mr. Cranky-pants."

"Fuck off."

"Okay, okay," Ryan shakes his head. "I will make you a sign, okay? If it makes you happy."

"What's it going to say?" Spencer asks, hopefully.

"YOU ARE NOT DEAD. GET OVER YOURSELF, I think," Ryan tells him.

Spencer narrows his eyes. "Remind me why we're still friends?"

"Because I keep you grounded," Ryan tells him airily. "Now, you want a drink or anything? Something to eat? A magazine?"

"You can make me a milkshake," Spencer says. "And pass me that magazine."

Ryan rolls his eyes for what seems like the gazillionth time.


"So," Spencer says, once Ryan's brought him his milkshake, an apple, and forcibly removed Spencer's magazine, "you heard anything from your creepy psycho stalker recently?"

"They're not creepy, and they're not a stalker," Ryan tells him. "Also, shut up." He flips Spencer's magazine open, and pretends to read one of the articles.

Spencer grins, because the magazine belongs to one of his sisters, and is a collection of stories about horses and step-by-step instructions for the perfect braid. Spencer was only reading it because he'd read everything else in the living room, and he was bored of the soaps on daytime television. He smirks. "That's totally a yes, dude."

"Fuck you," Ryan says, and throws the magazine at Spencer's head.

"What did they say?" Spencer asks. "Did they say you look pretty when you sleep? Please say they said that. I think I can die happy knowing your creepy stalker's sneaking into your room at night."

"You're totally fucking weird, you know that?"

"Oh," Spencer says, with a grin, "they did. They said you look pretty when you sleep."

"They didn't," Ryan protests. "It was a totally normal email."

"Apart from the part where they take pictures of you every two weeks-"

"-every week," Ryan corrects.

Spencer blinks. "Every week, which is so totally normal it's probably illegal, and the part where they don't sign their name."

"This way I'm getting to know the real them," Ryan tells him. He's flicking through the TV listings magazine and refusing to look at Spencer.

"Ryan." Spencer stops. "They don't actually say anything in their emails to you, right? They just send you photos."

"They said they liked my smile," Ryan says, defensively. "And we were starting a dialogue about tater tots."

"Neither of which are creepy things to say at all," Spencer agrees. "You're totally right."

"Shut up," Ryan says, "and eat your apple. It's good for you."

Spencer narrows his eyes, and takes a bite. "Better?" he asks.

"It will be when you've finished it," Ryan tells him, and concentrates on reading an article about Oprah until Spencer pointedly waves his apple core in the air.

"You going to show me these new photos, or what?" Spencer asks, after Ryan's stared at him for a while without blinking.

"Sure," Ryan agrees. "Just as soon as you turn on the computer. Oh, wait," he snaps his fingers regretfully. "The computer's upstairs and you're downstairs. What a twist of fate, huh?"

"Are you using my horrible accident against me? Because I'm totally telling Mom."

Ryan blinks. "Did you just say that? Did you hit your head as well as fucking up your knee? Are you eight years old again?"

"Help me up," Spencer says, reaching for his crutches. "We are going upstairs and we're going to send your stupid stalker an email."

"Spence-" Ryan starts.

"Shut up," Spencer tells him, shortly, trying to gather up the momentum to stand.

"Maybe we shouldn't -"

"Shut the fuck up and help me," Spencer says, "because I'm going back to school on Thursday if it kills me, so you're going to have to get used to it."

"I love being your friend," Ryan says, and then he leans over and lets Spencer put his arm around Ryan's neck, helping him up.

"Good," Spencer says, taking a deep breath and then slowly moving forwards on his crutches, "that's good."


"Let me see," Spencer says, ten minutes later, after he's worked out that sitting down on a wheely chair with crutches is about as much fun as falling over.

"No," Ryan says, leaning over the keyboard and typing in his email password really quickly.

"Honestly, you should just share it with me. I'll tell you mine."

"No," Ryan says again. "Fuck off. And why would I want your email password?"

"It'd be for your own good," Spencer persists. "I could vet all your emails from your stalker and when you go missing, I can give the police all the information without them having to crack your password. It'll save time in the long run. Maybe even save your life."

"This person is a nice person, okay?" Ryan says. "They take fucking amazing photographs and they're talented. They're not a creepy-assed stalker, right?"

"Sure," Spencer agrees. "At least write it down and put it in a sealed envelope. I can just hand it over when the police come over to ask for a recent photograph."

Ryan makes a noise in his throat that sounds kind of like a strangled growl. "Look," he says, leaning over the keyboard and reaching for the mouse, "just more pictures, see?"

Spencer does. The only things in Ryan's inbox are forwards from him and email after email of photos from the same email address.

Ryan clicks on the email, and then on the first attachment. The first one is of the crowd before the rugby game - Spencer can't look at that one, even though the colors are great and he wants to look at each of the faces in the crowd in turn. He can't. "Are you in that one?" Spencer asks, looking down at the keyboard.

"No," Ryan says, and he looks at Spencer uncertainly, kind of like he's worried.

"I'm fine," Spencer snaps.

"Okay," Ryan says, and Spencer would feel bad only his knee hurts, and he's got nothing to look forward to and everything sucks.

There's silence for a moment, and then Spencer ducks his head. "Sorry," he says. "Show me the next one."

"Okay," Ryan says again, and leans over him again to get to the mouse.

The second picture is also from game day; Spencer recognizes Ryan's clothes. He's leaning up against the wall outside the detention room, reading his book with his bag on the floor beside him. The photo is of the hallway after the pep rally, with crowds of kids in school colors. Ryan's just one kid in a hallway full of others, but Spencer picks him out straight away. It's kind of weird how easy it is to see him.

"Wow," Spencer says, after a while. "That's amazing."

"I know, right?" Ryan sounds almost proud.

"Whoever your stalker is," Spencer says, "they're pretty talented."


"I'm just saying," Spencer says. "They're talented. For a creepy psycho stalker."

Ryan rolls his eyes and goes back to his inbox. There's a brand new email.

"Oh look," Spencer manages, brightly, "your stalker's online now. That's not in the least bit creepy."

"Yeah," Ryan says. "Hold the front page."

"Sarcasm doesn't suit you," Spencer tells him. "And I still think there's a good chance it's the janitor. Go on, open it."

There's a message, and an attachment. The text says, I'm sorry your friend got hurt. I hope he's okay.

"Oh my god," Spencer says, covering his eyes with his fingers, "they're going to murder me in my bed."

Ryan flicks him in the forehead. "I would punch you if you weren't already injured," he says, steadily. "You are a dick."

"What did I do?" Spencer asks. "I'm just scared for my personal safety. I can't run away when I'm on crutches."

Ryan rolls his eyes again and clicks on the attachment. It takes a while to load, and Spencer has to turn his head on one side to see what it is.

"Is that -" he starts.

"It's a cat," Ryan says. "Asleep."

"Well," Spencer says. "That's normal."

"Shut up, Spencer," Ryan says, and drags the keyboard onto his knee. He types, you should tell me who you are. you take awesome pictures. you should get credit for it in the magazine. is that your cat? and presses send.

"Wow," Spencer says.

Ryan punches him in the arm.


He's going back to school on Thursday, and it's like an exercise in military maneuvers just to arrange to get him there. He can't walk and he can't take his bike, and even though Spencer's pretty sure the school would waive their rule of only letting seniors drive to school for their star flyhalf, Ryan hasn't got a car and Spencer can't face having anyone else see him struggle in and out of the front seat.

In the end, his mom arranges to drive him, which will possibly be the least cool thing that's ever happened to him. The only saving grace is the fact that she calls the principal and arranges for him to arrive late so that he misses the crowds in the hallways when he's just getting used to negotiating the crutches. What's not so good is the realization they won't let Ryan come in late with him.

"Mom," Spencer says, when she comes off the phone to the school.

"Believe it or not, Spencer," she says, "I didn't actually expect them to let Ryan miss out on his education just because the two of you are co-dependent."

"But I'm the flyhalf," Spencer says, petulantly. "Did you say that? You should call them back and tell them."

"Oh, you did not just say that," his mom shakes her head. "Spencer, what have I told you about believing your own publicity?"

"Not to," Spencer says, sullenly. "But, Ryan, Mom."

His mom rolls her eyes. "Ryan will be completely fine by himself, Spencer. As will you. You've got an appointment with the guidance counselor, first thing, anyway."

"Mom, no way!"

"Yes way," his mom says. "She'll talk to you about what you can do instead of rugby to make up your P.E. credit."

Spencer carefully drops his head to the kitchen table. "Tell me you're kidding," he says, but his voice is muffled, pressed up against the table top.

"No, Spencer," his mom says. "You remember, right? When I'm kidding I put on my clown hat and dance around the kitchen."

Spencer groans.

"Yeah, yeah," his mom says, leaning over and ruffling his hair. "I feel you. I miss the clown hat too."


There's a huge sign hanging over the staircase in the main entrance of the school that says, WELCOME BACK, SPENCER SMITH.

"You were out three days, Spence," his mom says in an undertone. "Are those black drapes?"

"They love me, Mom," Spencer says, miserably. "I was the flyhalf."

"Hmm," she says. "Remember, Spence, you're not the Messiah -"

"I'm just a very naughty boy, yes, I know."

"Good work."

"Are you going anytime soon?" Spencer asks. "Because, like, I'm here now. At school. Where people know me."

"And I'm your mom, I know, I get it," his mom sighs. "You used to love me, you know. I remember you crying when we left you at kindergarten. You just wanted to come home."


"I'm walking you to your locker, and then to the guidance counselor, and then I will consider my duty discharged and I will go off and weep inconsolably over your defection."

Spencer groans. "You don't have to come with me to my locker, you know. I can manage."

"Sure you can," his mom agrees. "But I can't, so come on. Hop to it."

"That's not funny," Spencer says, "you can't make fun of my crutches. I have an injury. I'm pretty sure you're supposed to be sympathetic."

"Oh, you're cute." She ruffles his hair. "Come on, peg-leg."


"Do I have to do this?" Spencer asks, once he's finally sitting down inside the guidance counselor's office and his mom's gone. He leans his crutches up against the wall beside him. "Because this is stupid."

"I imagine if you want to graduate, then this meeting's a pretty good idea, yes."

Spencer groans. His guidance counselor is called Ms. Barton and she drives him crazy. She hates rugby and Spencer's pretty sure she's doing this just to annoy him.

"I'm going to spell it out for you, and I'll use short words," she says, tapping her pen against the desk. "You need seven P.E. credits to graduate, and you can't play rugby for the next two months. No rugby means no P.E. credit. Which means you need to find something to replace it, and all the other sport options are out of the question. Are you following this, Mr. Smith? Or do I need to slow it down?"

Spencer grudgingly shakes his head.

"Which leaves us with- well. I've had to speak to the principal about this, but he's okayed it - the choice of home economics or drama."

Spencer blinks. "What?" he says. "No way."

Ms. Barton narrows her eyes. "Home economics is a health and safety risk, because of your crutches," she goes on. "Cooking is definitely out of the question. Which leaves drama. There's a lot of set painting and other things you can do without moving around."

"No way," Spencer repeats. "No way am I doing that. Can't I join the arts magazine or something? The school newspaper?" He's never, ever telling Ryan he said that. "There's got to be something else."

"I imagine you see enough of Mr. Ross without joining him in editing the arts magazine, Mr. Smith. Not to mention that those are both extra-curricular." She sighs, and drops her pen down onto the desk next to her stapler. "I'll try using even smaller words this time. Either you pick drama, or you pick coming back to summer school for P.E.. The choice is yours."

"Summer school?" Spencer yelps. "I'm the flyhalf."

"And don't think I don't know it." Ms. Barton rolls her eyes. "Time's ticking by, Mr. Smith. Drama, or summer school. And you might want to take into consideration the fact we don't let kids - even if they're the flyhalf - who are short on P.E. credits take AP classes in their senior year."

Spencer sinks down lower in his chair. No way is he joining the drama department. No fucking way.


He's joining the drama department.


Spencer waits for Ryan in the library. It's kind of quiet because it's only first period, so it's easy enough for him to manhandle his crutches and his stupid strained medial collateral ligament into one of the seats by the stacks. He passes the time till the end of class sending text after text to Ryan. It's kind of like an essay about why Ms. Barton is one of those weird creatures from a horror movie and why he hates everyone and everything and his stupid knee hurts and how much he hates his crutches, but spread over eleven text messages, typed entirely in caps and with no punctuation.

He only stops because the librarian comes and stands over him and says, "Because it's your first day back, I'm not going to confiscate that, but if you could at least put it in your bag and pretend you're here to read, Mr. Smith?"

Sometimes being one of the most popular kids in school really has its drawbacks.

He sighs, loudly, and tips his head back. "I'm in pain, Mr. Summers," he explains. "I can't concentrate enough to read."

"Hmm," Mr. Summers says. "I imagine you're in far too much pain to text then, too." He rolls his eyes. "Put that phone away, Spencer, and try to remember that none of the faculty were actually born yesterday."

Spencer has his own ideas about that, but he hides his phone in the front pocket of his new backpack and sits back to wait for Ryan.

His mom had bought him the new backpack, after she'd looked at his messenger bag and let out a huge sigh. She'd been right though, his new backpack was much easier to use with his crutches.

He hates the crutches. He's starting to get blisters on his palms and he's only been out of the house an hour. They hurt his underarms and he'd complained so much about how much they hurt that last night his dad had gotten tired of him and had taken the crutches off to the dining room. Spencer had heard the hum of the sewing machine and half an hour later, his dad had returned with his crutches. His dad had cut up two pairs of his best, thick walking socks to wrap around as padding.

It does kind of feel better, Spencer thinks, but it also means he's wearing fair isle socks as accessories.

Spencer checks the clock. It's only a few minutes till the end of class. He's bored, and frustrated, and he needs to rant.

Ryan's early, for once.

He's also beaming, which is only marginally more worrying. "Ms. Jacobs let me out early because I said I had to come and help you," he says loudly, ignoring Mr. Summer's frustrated shush from behind the counter. "That's ten whole minutes less French. You want to fuck yourself up more often?"

"Ryan," Mr. Summers hisses.

"Sorry," Ryan says, unrepentantly. He drops his bag on the table next to Spencer. "Really, this is a pretty cool deal. You think you could keep using those crutches a bit longer?"

"Fuck you," Spencer says. The moment his doctor says he can put pressure on his knee again, Spencer's burning the crutches.

Ryan rolls his eyes. "You okay?" he asks.

"It hurts," Spencer says, shrugging his shoulders and toeing at the carpet with his sneaker. "It hurts, and these stupid crutches are really annoying, and I can't play rugby and I've got to paint scenery instead. How the fuck can I get a P.E. credit painting scenery?"

"Maybe you just have to paint really energetically or something," Ryan says. He pulls up a chair and elbows Spencer kind of gently. "It'll get better, you know."

"Yeah, but not yet," Spencer says, sullenly. He wants to go home. He doesn't want to have to see all the other kids and go to class. He doesn't want to go to the drama department instead of the rugby pitch. The painkillers make him feel ill.

"Soon, though," Ryan says, and then he's rooting through his pockets and coming out with the remains of a bag of Skittles. "Want to share?"

Spencer nods. "Sure," he says, petulantly.

Ryan tips out the skittles on to his palm and doesn't complain once when Spencer picks out all the green ones first, even though they're Ryan's favorites.

"Thanks," Spencer says, through his mouthful.

"Don't mention it," Ryan says, bumping Spencer's shoulder with his own. "You ready to get to class now?"

Spencer nods, reaching for his crutches. "Guess so."

"Come on then," Ryan says. "I'll even let you bitch about Ms. Barton on the way, if you'd like."

Spencer manages a grin. "Cool," he says, and Ryan rolls his eyes.


Spencer's pretty glad that Ryan got off class early because once class lets out, he's all of a sudden surrounded by kids trying to clap him on the back and tell him they're sorry he's injured. They're just outside the algebra classroom by that point, though, so it's pretty easy for Ryan to suddenly get all steely-eyed and vicious, telling everyone to back the fuck away unless they want to fuck Spencer's knee up even more so he can't play rugby for even longer.

Ryan's pretty scary when he wants to be, but he can't stop everyone from coming over to Spencer's desk when he's gotten himself sorted and sitting down. Spencer resigns himself to everybody squeezing his shoulder and looking despondently at him like he's single-handedly responsible for the fall of humanity rather than just being ruled out of rugby matches until later in the year. He's left trying to catch Ryan's eye in the desperate hope that Ryan will come over and get rid of them for him, but Ryan's smiling beatifically at his algebra textbook and ignoring all of Spencer's handwaving. He even ignores the pen Spencer throws at his head in desperation, which Spencer is totally holding against him once they're out of here. When the police come over to investigate Ryan's mysterious disappearance after he's received one too many emails from his creepy psycho stalker, Spencer's going to pretend he knows nothing about the whole thing. See how Ryan likes that.

Mr. Adams comes in and tells everyone to sit down but no one listens. Everyone has their chair pulled up around Spencer's desk and Marissa Marcus is asking him whether his life flashed before his eyes when he went down for his try.

"We made you a get well card," she says, passing over a huge pink sparkly envelope with black edging. "It's from all the cheerleaders."

"The pep squad have a spirit box roster all planned out," Amanda Cornwall tells him, touching his elbow. "Because they know how terrible you must feel."

Ryan snorts, and Spencer's left leaning across the aisle and poking him with his crutch.


Mr. Adams won't let Ryan out early to help Spencer to his next class, even though Spencer resorts to desperate measures and tells him he's the flyhalf.

"That's wonderful," Mr. Adams tells him dryly. "I'd forgotten that there for a moment. But no."

"I'm on crutches," Spencer tells him. He has to go to the drama department for his next class. He wants to die.

"I can see that," Mr. Adams says.

"This school is a death trap for disabled students," Ryan says, seriously. "Spencer needs me."

"Seriously, boys, your co-dependency is heart-warming, but I'm not changing my mind. Spencer, you get to leave early while you're still figuring out your crutches. Ryan, you get to sit down until the end of class and continue answering the questions in the textbook."

"I'm willing to compromise my education for the sake of assisting other students," Ryan tells him. "That should count for something, right?"

"No," Mr. Adams says. "Shut up and sit down. Spencer, get out of here before I change my mind."

Spencer thinks very dark thoughts and shares them with Ryan using the power of his mind.

Ryan just rolls his eyes.


Ryan wasn't wrong; their high school is really crappy for kids on crutches. There's an elevator, but it's way down the other end of the building and all the doors between the algebra classroom and there are the pull kind, and that just involves a lot of ungainly hopping on Spencer's part, and a lot of unexpected pain as he jars his knee against the doorframe. He's swearing at himself and red-faced by the time he gets to the elevator, and he just leans against the wall and wishes he could go home.

Drama classes are held in the drama studio at the end of the hallway; Spencer's left staring at the heavy, weighted pull-doors to the studio he's supposed to be able to open while not falling on his ass and hurting himself all over again. He's pretty sure that opening a door hadn't always seemed like an insurmountable task. He hates his knee.

"Um," says a voice behind him. "Are you okay?"

"Sure," Spencer says, without turning around. "Everything's just great. I'm just using crutches for the fun of it. You should try it sometime, it makes every day just that extra-specially special."

"Right," the kid says, and then he leans past Spencer and opens the door. "I just meant - well. It looked like you were having some trouble. Sorry."

Spencer feels bad, because the kid is Brendon Urie, the guy from his last period history class and all the stupid plays and musicals that Ryan's ever dragged him to. Spencer would feel worse, only his knee hurts and he's stuck making up his P.E. credit in stupid drama class instead of outside on the rugby pitch with the rest of the team, and he sort of thinks that he must be being punished for being really fucking bad in a past life or something. He says thanks under his breath and carefully makes his way inside, Brendon following him in.


Drama class is the worst thing Spencer's ever had to sit through, hands down. All the chairs are in a circle and Ms. Elliot makes everyone sit down and make all these stupid noises and then get up and pretend to be a tree, and then a cereal box. Spencer just rolls his eyes and stays sitting down. He wants to text Ryan, because Ryan would have a fit, but he's left his bag by the wall and Ms. Elliot is already frowning at him for not participating.

Brendon's in the middle of the room, whooping a lot and jumping around. "I'm an exploding box of froot loops, Ms. E," he says earnestly, when Ms. Elliot questions the hand waving and the jumping jacks.

Spencer coughs back a laugh, because Brendon's being kind of funny.

"You're a very special student, Brendon Urie," Ms. Elliot tells him, shaking her head and moving over to where Kenny Gardiner was pretending to bubble up like oatmeal in the microwave. "Very good, Kenny-"

Spencer's not sure, but he thinks that maybe Brendon just winked at him.


It doesn't get any better after the warm up's over. The class is working on a theater in education project, and are creating plays to take to some of the local elementary schools. There's a lot of noise and kids rushing about and dropping scripts covered in notes all over the floor. Spencer figures that Brendon's probably gotten a pretty good part, because he always does, from what Spencer's seen of him. He's one of the only kids not looking over a script, and he's in the corner by the piano with a couple of kids Spencer recognises from the hallways. One of them is playing and Brendon's kind of singing along, but not loud enough that Spencer can hear. He doesn't really know any of the other kids in the class.

Ms. Elliot comes to sit by him. "I understand from your guidance counselor that you're here to help with the stage management for Hairspray?"

Spencer just shrugs. He's here to get a P.E. credit by painting really energetically. His school sucks.

"Hmmm," she says. "Rehearsals are after school, but we're still reading through at the moment."

Spencer can't hide his horror at the idea of staying after school to help with the school musical instead of playing rugby. It's not fair. He's the flyhalf, that should make a difference.

"The set design and painting is due to start next week," she goes on, "that and the other stage management stuff. But you should be able to make up your credit by just painting during this period."

Spencer can't hide his sigh of relief.

Ms. Elliot raises an eyebrow. "Your enthusiasm is overwhelming," she says. "I imagine you'd really like to be our prompt for the remainder of this week. Thanks for offering." She passes him a script, dog-eared and covered in alterations. "They're supposed to be losing the scripts today. Fat chance," she says loudly. "Scripts down, please," and she claps, right by Spencer's ear.

Spencer winces, and mentally composes a speech in which he tells Ryan each and every way in which his life sucks. He wonders if he's got time to make flashcards to aid Ryan's understanding of just how awful his life is.


Spencer is part way through a list of all the ways he could kill himself with his crutches so that he never has to sit through another day as excruciating as this, when Brendon sits down beside him with an oomf.

"Hi," Brendon says, and he sticks his hand out. "I'm Brendon. Brendon Urie. I think we're in the same history class."

Spencer nods, slowly. He knows that Brendon's in his history class. Spencer sits at the back of the room and stares at the back of Brendon's head at the end of every day. "Are we?" he says, grouchily. Brendon's head is always in the way of the whiteboard, it's annoying. And he never stays still, Spencer spends half his time craning to see what their teacher's writing on the board.

"Yeah," Brendon says, awkwardly. "Last period? Mr. Boulthard?"

"Oh," Spencer says, shrugging. His knee hurts and he wants to be out on the rugby pitch. If he cranes his neck he can see the corner of the bleachers out of the drama studio windows. He should be in study hall right now, doing his homework so he could stay later at practice and hang out with Ryan, after. "I guess."

"Yeah," Brendon goes on. "You must be missing playing rugby."

Spencer rolls his eyes in his best impression of Ryan. "No shit, Sherlock," he says. He looks at his watch. He'd been cutting down the painkillers over the past couple of days, but it was his first day back and he was tired and it hurt and crutches fucking sucked, and drama class was a total waste of time when he could be out doing something useful like being the flyhalf. He couldn't have another pain pill for another half hour. He tried flexing his knee a bit, trying to get it more comfortable, but the chairs in the drama studio sucked and everything fucking ached.

"But at least you get to come here, though, right?" Brendon says. "That's pretty cool, that you get to take drama instead, just think of all the other lame stuff they could have made you do."

"What's lamer than drama?" Spencer snaps. He wants Ryan. Or his mom and dad. He wants to go home because this is all a huge fucking waste of time.

"Oh," Brendon says. "Right."

"Is this class over yet, or what?" Spencer says. He bites his lip. He feels like he might throw up from the pain sparking up and down his leg. He doesn't know what he's supposed to do.

"Almost," Brendon says. "Dude, are you okay? You look kind of pale."

"Fine," Spencer says, shortly, hissing in a breath.

"Yeah," Brendon says. "I believe you."

"Just fuck off, okay?" Spencer feels nauseated. He wants to put his head down and close his eyes. He wants a pain pill. He doesn't want anyone else to see him like this.

"Do you need to go to the nurse?" Brendon asks.

"Yeah, and how the fuck am I supposed to get there?" Spencer asks. He swears that every single person in the whole fucking school is stupid apart from him.

"I could help you," Brendon offers. "If you'd like."

"Class isn't over yet," Spencer says.

Brendon shrugs. "That's okay. I'll tell Ms. Elliot we're going."

"Okay," Spencer says, finally. "Okay."


Ryan turns up approximately four and a half minutes after Spencer sends him a text from the nurse's office.

"What the fuck have you been doing?" he asks, barging in and past the nurse without knocking.

Spencer's lying on the bed with his knee propped up. He's got one of those really horrible cardboard vomit bowl things, but now he's lying down and he's had another pill he's kind of hopeful he won't have to actually use it.

"Nothing," he says, petulantly.

"Yeah, right," Ryan says. "I'm calling your mom."

"Ryan," the nurse says, patiently. "We'll start with how you can't actually walk in here without knocking, and then we'll move on to the part where calling Spencer's mom is my job and not yours."

"Nobody's calling Mom," Spencer says, but Ryan's narrowing his eyes at the nurse and looking fierce, and neither of them are listening to Spencer.

"It's that drama class, isn't it?" Ryan asks. "I knew that was a bad idea."

"It wasn't the drama class," Spencer says, rolling his eyes. "It was my stupid knee."

"And the stupid pain pills," Brendon says.

Ryan whirls around. "What are you doing here?" he asks, narrowing his eyes.

"I helped Spencer-"

"Boys," the nurse says, standing up and putting her hands on her hips. "Outside, now. Spencer doesn't need the two of you bickering."

"I'm calling your mom," Ryan says, darkly, as the nurse ushers him out.

"Bye Spencer," Brendon says. "Hope you're feeling better soon."

"Thanks," Spencer manages, and then, once the door's closed, he buries his face in the pillow and pretends today never happened.


Ryan comes back twenty minutes later with a tray from the cafeteria. "That weird kid tried to get you lunch," he tells Spencer, ignoring the nurse and sitting down next to Spencer and biting into an apple.

"Uh-huh," Spencer says, and thinks about how Brendon had opened all the doors for him between the drama studio and the nurse's office, and how he'd carried Spencer's back pack and walked really slowly so that Spencer didn't have to rush.

"I brought you tater tots," Ryan says. "Seeing as you like them so much. I got you a Snickers bar, too, but I ate that."

"Gee," Spencer says. "Thanks."

"And your mom says you're probably not going to die and she'll pick you up after school."

"Amazing," the nurse says, dryly, from her desk. "That's pretty much what I told her."

Ryan rolls his eyes. "I brought you some OJ, too," he says, ignoring the nurse. "That's good if you're not feeling well, right? And the pep squad have decorated your locker. I stopped to take pictures with my phone."

"Oh God," Spencer manages.

"It's mostly pink," Ryan says, nodding. "But the ticker tape is silver."

Spencer groans, and covers his eyes with his hands.

"I wish I was the flyhalf," Ryan says, happily.


Spencer feels better after the meds have kicked in. He stays in the nurse's office until the end of his lunch period, and then Ryan helps him to English class.

Ryan mostly helps by walking directly in front of Spencer and saying loudly, "Move, injured flyhalf coming through," over and over until everyone gets out of the way.

Spencer's fairly sure that once he no longer needs to use his crutches to get around anymore, he's going to beat Ryan to death with them.

"I hate you," he hisses, once they get to the classroom.

"No you don't," Ryan tells him. "You completely appreciate my unwavering dedication to your safety and well-being."

"You ate my Snickers," Spencer says, and pokes Ryan with his crutch as he tries to sit down.

"I'm pretty sure that contravenes about thirty seven school rules," Ryan points out, uselessly tapping his foot and getting in Spencer's way. "Assault with a dangerous weapon. I could report you."

"Yeah, yeah, whatever." There's an invitation on Spencer's desk; it's on thick card with black edging. In thick, sharpied letters it says, Spencer Smith's Welcome Back Party, Friday, 8.00pm, Be there or be square! and an address underneath.

"Be there or be square?" Ryan asks, carefully.

"My school loves me," Spencer says. "They throw me parties. You don't throw me parties."

"You've only been out of school for three days. What do you want, a parade?"

Spencer blinks. "I wouldn't say no."

Ryan leans over and flicks him in the forehead. "You," he says, "are an idiot."

"Ryan Ross, stop flicking the flyhalf in the head." Mr. Arnold is a big rugby fan and helps the coach out with training sessions. Spencer imagines it's like Ryan's idea of hell, being stuck in an English class with Spencer and the biggest rugby fan in the school. Ryan wants to get all deep and meaningful with the metaphysical poets, and Mr. Arnold tries to explain every analogy in terms of a rugby game. Spencer commiserates when Ryan says he has it very hard.

"But he was being stupid," Ryan says.

Mr. Arnold raises his eyebrow. "Sit down, Ryan, and open your poetry book. And stop poking Spencer. I do have eyes you know, I'm not blind."

Ryan pulls out his chair really loudly and slumps down in it, folding his arms.

Spencer tries to hide his grin, because Ryan sulking is kind of funny. After a minute, Spencer pulls out a piece of paper from his pad and writes, wanna come to the party with me? youll b w/the guest of honor. itll be cool, and slides it across his desk, nudging Ryan in the elbow.

Ryan rolls his eyes, sighs loudly and reaches for the note. youre not the messiah, but ok, he's written across the top of the page. He's totally stolen that from Spencer's mom.

Cool, Spencer thinks, and doodles in the margin of his poetry book.


Spencer's last period history class is secretly his favorite part of school apart from playing rugby and hanging out with Ryan. Mr. Boulthard is a pretty cool teacher and explains things really well and Spencer finds himself actually listening instead of just wishing he was some place else.

He's early, because Mr. Arnold totally let Ryan and Spencer leave super-early from their English class, and he's all by himself in the classroom, waiting for everyone else to come join him. He texts Ryan, u comin over l8r? after magazine?

Ryan texts back, y/y/mfy.

Spencer grins, and sinks down in his chair as the classroom door opens. It's Brendon, the kid from his drama class, and he drops his stuff in his chair at the front and then waves awkwardly at Spencer.

"Hey," he says, and Spencer rolls his eyes because this kid is like, totally lame.

"Hey," Spencer says, and promptly knocks all his history notes all over the floor. "Crap," he says, and then he jars his knee trying to twist in his seat and pick up his stuff.

"Stop," Brendon says, "before you hurt yourself. I'll get it."

Brendon kneels down and picks up all of Spencer's papers, and tidies them up before putting them on Spencer's desk. His sneakers are scruffy red converse, and Brendon's name is picked out in black sharpie across the side. "Cool shoes," Spencer says, even though they're the lamest shoes Spencer's ever seen.

"What, really?" Brendon grins, and sits back on his heels. "You think so? Mom and Dad were really mad at me but I kind of like them. Plus, you know, no one wants to steal them anymore."

"Someone stole your shoes?" Spencer blinks.

"Only a couple of times." Brendon shrugs. "Not anymore, though. You like the stars?"

Spencer hadn't noticed the stars. Brendon's drawn silver and purple stars all around the heel. "Yeah," he says, because it's like, no, your shoes are stupid would be the wrong thing to say.

"They're throwing you a party," Brendon says as he stands up, kind of wistfully.

Spencer glances down at his desk; he's accidentally gotten his invite out to his welcome back party as well as his history notes. "Well," he says. "Yes." I am the flyhalf, he wants to say, but he doesn't, because he kind of thinks Brendon might already know that. He doesn't know what else to say. "Um," he says. "Do you like parties?" Do you like parties? Spencer considers banging his head off the desk in front of him, just to see if it makes any difference. Even Ryan would think of something better to say than that, and Ryan was a stupid idiot who Spencer hated, just because he was pretty sure this was all his fault.

"Sure I do," Brendon says, and Spencer thinks he's looking a little pink, which is stupid. Everything's stupid. Spencer wants to go home.

"I don't think I've seen you at many," Spencer says, before he's had a moment to engage his brain to mouth function. Not that he's been looking. He hasn't been looking or anything.

"Um," Brendon says. "No. I've kind of got a lot on. I'm pretty busy outside of school. But I go to tons of parties. I'm like a party king."

"Uh-huh," Spencer says, and he's eyeing the door and willing it to open, and for someone else to come in and make this horrible, awkward moment go away. Ryan is going to laugh at him so much for this. Ryan is going to write this date in one of his stupid journal things and he's going to remember it every single year for the rest of forever and Spencer is never, ever going to forget how awkward and awful this day has been. Spencer's changed his mind; he doesn't want Ryan to make him signs, because Ryan will make him a sign that says 'DO YOU LIKE PARTIES?' in big, pink letters and Spencer's going to remember the time he embarrassed himself so much he wanted to sink through the classroom floor.

"Maybe I'll go to this one," Brendon says, hurriedly. "That's okay, right? That I might see you there?"

"What?" Spencer says, swallowing. The door's opening, thank fuck, someone else is coming in. "Yeah, cool."

"Awesome," Brendon says, beaming. "Neat. Cool, I'll see you tomorrow then."

"Yeah," Spencer echoes, "neat."

He sends a text to Ryan that says, kill me now. pls.

Ryan sends him one back that says hahahahaha no.

Spencer needs a new best friend.


"—and then they said that I had to make up my P.E. credits by painting scenery," Spencer says morosely, sitting in the chair in his kitchen while his mom makes him a sandwich. "Scenery, Mom. Like, summer school. I said, 'don't you know who I am, I'm the flyhalf,' but I think she doesn't like rugby or something because she just said I couldn't take AP classes next year if I didn't waste my time painting scenery. And drama class is full of losers, and they tried to make me pretend to be a cereal box and I refused because that's totally lame and then the stupid teacher made me run lines and then Brendon came with me to the nurse's office and he tried to bring me lunch but Ryan said he'd do it, only he ate my Snickers."

"If you said don't you know who I am to a teacher, Spencer Smith," his mom starts, "then I fully support whatever stupid class they're making you take."

"A cereal box," Spencer says, picking at the table cloth. "I think my life might be over."

"Cheer up, champ," his dad says, coming in and ruffling Spencer's hair. "Think how much worse it could be. I was in a drama group once where they made me pretend to be primordial ooze."

"You were in a drama group?" Spencer asks, brightening up. "What, really? Are there pictures? Like, how bad?"

"Your father was in Oklahoma," his mom tells him, proudly. "I think they picked him because he already had the moustache."

"It's a good moustache," his dad says, and starts singing Surrey with a Fringe on Top.

"You guys are so weird," Spencer says. "Maybe I'm adopted."

"Maybe," his mom says, putting the finishing touches to Spencer's sandwich. "We should take you back one day and see if we can get our money back."

"Ha ha," Spencer says, and picks at his sandwich.

"Don't play with your food, Spencer," his mom says. "Do you think Ryan wants cheese and tomato, or just cheese?"

Spencer looks around. "Ryan isn't actually here, Mom. Do you think you need glasses? That's Dad."

She throws the dish cloth at Spencer's head. "Remember who gives you your allowance, kid. Ryan's coming by, though, right?"

Spencer shrugs. "After his stupid arts magazine. It's lame emo poetry submission day again, so he's picking out the best ones to bring over."

"That's come around quickly," his mom says. She always gets worried on lame emo poetry submission day, because she doesn't think all of the black edged notepaper with poems about cutting and death and the futility of existence are funny. His mom's weird. Lame emo poetry submission day is Spencer's favorite day of the month, but his mom always makes a big deal about checking with the arts magazine supervising teacher to check that the submissions are being monitored. His mom is like, the most embarrassing mom ever.

"Cheese," Spencer says, quickly. Lame emo poetry submission arguments are some of his least favorite arguments. His mom's wrong, and the poems are funny. Sometimes Ryan and Spencer read them out in stupid voices and record them and upload them to Ryan's livejournal. "Ryan'll want cheese."

"Hmm," his mom says. "Finish your sandwich and then upstairs to do your homework before Ryan gets here."


"Has anyone, like, ever tried to steal your shoes?" Spencer asks, later. They're sitting by the computer, waiting for it to load up so they can check to see if Ryan's creepy stalker has emailed him again.

Ryan blinks, and then flicks him in the forehead. "You're so weird," he says. "Like, no. No one has ever tried to steal my shoes. Who would do that? Weirdo."

"You're weird," Spencer says, and thinks about Brendon.


"You were out for three days, Spencer, how on earth does that mean you get a welcome back party?" Spencer's mom isn't as cool about Spencer going to his party as he wants her to be.

"That's what I said," Ryan points out, nodding.

Spencer elbows him, because Ryan is decidedly not helping.

"I am their king," Spencer says, miserably. "I wanted a parade."

His mom's eyebrows raise, and Spencer decides that probably wasn't the most helpful thing to say, either.

"Three days, Spencer."

"They're doing their bit for school spirit," Spencer says.

"You're still on crutches," she says.

"We won't stay long," Spencer says.

"You most definitely will not," she says, tugging at the faulty clasp on her purse. "Because I'm coming to pick you boys up at ten thirty."


"That's the deal," she says. "I'll drop you off, and then I'll come pick you up. And don't drink anything you haven't opened yourself, because those painkillers are strong and I won't have you drinking unspecified quantities of alcohol and doing yourself even more damage-"


"- Ryan will find you a seat when you get there and then you will sit in it like the king you think you are, and then I will come back and pick you up, and if you are not outside waiting for me, then I will come inside and find you myself, you see if I don't."

"I did something really wrong in a past life, didn't I?" Spencer says, morosely.

Ryan claps him on the back conspiratorially. "Your mom's coming to pick you up from a party," he says, with a grin. "That's really cool."

"She's picking you up too," Spencer says sullenly.

"She's still here. And, surprisingly enough, not deaf or stupid, either. Do you boys want to go to this party or not?"

Spencer rolls his eyes. "Yes," he says, and he tries not to think about turning up to his own party with his mom in tow.


"Lamest party ever," Ryan says, as he helps Spencer up the pathway. Spencer's mom is still parked up by the curb, and Spencer resolutely stands still until she rolls her eyes and drives off.

"It is not," Spencer hisses. "It's in honor of me, how can it be lame?"

Ryan points at the banner above the front door. They've spelled Spencer's name wrong.

"Hmmm," Spencer says, thinking, "maybe I should send out a memo or something."

Ryan blinks at him incredulously for a moment.

Spencer pokes him in the shoulder. "Come on, Mom made you promise you'd find me a seat and provide me with unopened cans of coke." He grins. "This is so cool, it's like you're my slave for the evening or something."

Ryan narrows his eyes, barges into the house and yells, "Look out, flyhalf coming through, everyone out of the way."

Spencer hates him.

"Dude," someone says, as about six people try to clap Spencer on the back simultaneously. "Ryan, you came."

"Out of the fucking way," Ryan says, loudly. "Flyhalf coming through. Injured flyhalf coming through."

"Totally fucking shot down, Jon Walker," someone yells.

Spencer hates all seniors, on principle, because they're in his way. "Ryan, you fucking dick," he manages, hobbling past the crowd of seniors and trying not to look like this is the worst experience of his life. Someone knocks into him and he bumps into a hall table, pain ricocheting up his leg.

Ryan's eyes narrow and he catches Spencer's elbow and frog-hobble-marches him across the room to the couch, narrowing his eyes even more until the girls stand up and leave room for Spencer to sit down. Spencer's immediately surrounded by people trying to sit next to him and clap him on the back and ask him if he's going to be okay. Suddenly he's glad his mom is coming back in a couple of hours, because Spencer only ever likes parties if he can sneak out the back with Ryan and hang out.

Ryan comes back with an unopened can of coke, and he barges past half the cheerleaders and sits down on the arm of the couch, folding his arms and narrowing his eyes at anyone who looks like they might get too close to Spencer's knee.

Spencer's kind of secretly glad because his knee hurts and he's tired, and because the pep squad make him feel exhausted at the best of times.

He bumps his elbow against Ryan's and waits until Ryan bumps back.

Yeah, he thinks.


Spencer thinks he sees Brendon over by the door into the hallway, but he can't be sure. There are too many cheerleaders in the way, dressed in their red and black uniforms (Ryan always rolls his eyes and says, haven't they seen Heathers?) but there's a flash of lavender hoodie that looks a little like him. Spencer blushes pink, because this whole thing is stupid, and it isn't even as if he'd invited Brendon to come to this stupid party, but it isn't like he'd say no to hanging out with Brendon. He'd pretty much say yes.

He blinks, and Brendon's gone, and he doesn't see him again.

He tells himself he's not disappointed.


"Fucking pumpkin time, Cinderella," Ryan says, later.

Spencer tugs his phone out of his pocket. Ten twenty-five. His mom will be outside in a couple of minutes, and Spencer doesn't think for a moment that she won't follow through on her threat to come in and get him. He sighs, and struggles to his feet. He can't exactly high-five when he's lumbered with his crutches, but his team-mates aren't exactly renowned for being smart at the best of times, let alone after they're half way down a keg. He ends up trying to high-five them with the handle of his crutch, which makes him look like a total tool. He's just glad that everyone's too drunk to notice. This is lame, he thinks, especially when he gets to the door and Ryan elbows him and says, "I'm going to pee. I'll be out in a minute."

"Fine," Spencer says, rolling his eyes. "Whatever. Don't think she won't come in and get you if you take too long."

"Your mom's weird," Ryan says, and Spencer pokes him with his crutch.

"Shut up," Spencer says. "And hurry up."

"Fine, fine," Ryan tells him, and pushes past the seniors on the stairs.

Spencer hobbles outside and there's someone sitting on the curb.

It's Brendon.

Spencer takes a deep breath and carefully makes his down the path to the sidewalk. "Hey," he says.

"Hey," Brendon says, scrambling to his feet and brushing off his jeans. "Hey, Spencer. Yeah. I'm like, I'm going on to another party. Like, a really cool one and everything. Fuck, should you be standing up? Do you want a seat? I could go get you a seat."

"I didn't see you inside," Spencer says. He wonders if Brendon really is going on to another party, and if his mom will let him go too. "And I'm okay." There's a handy wall across the front of the yard, and Spencer perches on top of it, awkwardly, holding his crutches in one hand.

Brendon shrugs. "I was kind of busy," he says. "You know, people to see, you know."

"Yeah," Spencer says. He nods. "Parties, huh?" He blinks, because he is officially the lamest person on the planet.

"Uh-huh," Brendon says, and scuffs his toe against the sidewalk. "Drama class was fun today, right?" he says finally.

Drama class was not fun today. Brendon's clearly deranged. Spencer raises his eyebrow. "I've never pretended to be a strawberry becoming part of a strawberry shortcake before," he admits, finally, because Brendon looks kind of excited.

"You didn't today," Brendon points out, because Spencer refuses to participate in Ms. Elliot's stupid warm-up exercises, and he will continue to refuse even when he's off the crutches and fully able to pretend to be jello or a tree or a daisy or a dolphin. It's stupid and he's not doing it, not ever. Plus he can't text Ryan to tell him how stupid it is if he's actually off pretending to be grass growing or a leaf blowing in the wind.

"You did, though," Spencer says.

Brendon grins, and does his impression of a squished strawberry again, and Spencer laughs, because Brendon's kind of funny.

"You're stupid," Spencer points out, still laughing.

"Yep," Brendon says, proudly, and then a car pulls up and Spencer expects it to be his mom, but it isn't. It's a purple mini-van, and when Brendon sees it, he blushes bright red and ducks his head.

Oh, Spencer thinks. "I guess I'll see you at school," he says, finally.

"Sure," Brendon says, and he stuffs his hands in his pockets, trailing over to the car and pulling open the door. "Bye."

"Is that weird kid trying to bring you lunch again?" Ryan asks, coming over as Brendon's car pulls off.

"Yeah," Spencer says. "And he didn't eat my Snickers bar, so he beats you."

"I was malnourished," Ryan says, airily. "It was for the greater good."

"Dick," Spencer says, and doesn't watch as Brendon's car disappears around the corner. "You want to stay over tonight?"

"Cool," Ryan says. "You want to stay up late and eat marshmallows and paint each other's nails?"

"Fuck you," Spencer says, elbowing Ryan. "We could watch Lord of the Rings, though. And his name's Brendon."

Ryan nods, watching him. "Okay," he says. "Yeah."

Spencer's mom pulls up and beeps her horn. Spencer rolls his eyes and starts to hobble over.


Spencer's faced with the stupidly exciting possibility of painting actual scenery in drama class when he gets back to school on Monday. He yawns when Ms. Elliot hands him a paint brush, and zones out when she tells him which color goes where. He's pretty sure one shade of brown is kind of like another. Whatever. While she's over with the rest of the class telling them to be monkeys or a predatory snake, he slips his iPod out of his bag and into the pocket of his hoodie, his earphone wire barely visible sneaking out from under his collar. He listens to Fall Out Boy as he paints a tree trunk a pretty horrible shade of brown, and doesn't watch Brendon pretend to be a creeping vine, right across the studio and into the corner where all the set is beginning to pile up, ready to be painted and fixed up.


Brendon comes over and grins at him at the end of class, bouncing on his toes in his stupid scruffy red sneakers. "Hey," he says.

"Hey," Spencer says, and grins back as he tries to think of something—anything—to say. He blinks, and realizes he's forgotten every word in the whole English language. "Um," he says, "hey."

Brendon nods, and bites his lip. "So," he says.

"Yeah," Spencer says, and nods awkwardly.

"Cool," Brendon says, "I'll see you later, then?"

"Sure," Spencer says, and he waits until Brendon's left the room before he groans and buries his face in his hands. "Lame, lame, lame," he says to himself, and he feels like all the half-painted scenery is laughing at him too.


"I am the biggest fucking idiot in the whole wide world," Spencer proclaims, once he finally makes it to the cafeteria after class. He sinks down slowly into the chair next to Ryan, and sighs loudly. "Hey," he says, when Ryan doesn't look up. "I'm an idiot."

"Awesome," Ryan says, distractedly.

"No," Spencer says again, slower this time so that Ryan can't miss it. "I'm admitting to being an idiot. I thought you liked it when I did that."

"Yeah," Ryan says, not looking up from his notebook. "It's my favorite thing in the world after puppies and rainbows."

"Hmm," Spencer says, narrowing his eyes. "Have you been an idiot too? Is that it? Should I guess?"

"Fuck you," Ryan says, but it's without malice, for once.

"Hmm," Spencer says again. "Are you going to get me lunch, or what?"

"In a minute," Ryan writes something in his notebook, folding a piece of paper in two.

"Some of us are hungry," Spencer whines, poking Ryan in the thigh until he yelps and hits Spencer with his notebook. "And on crutches. Did I mention the crutches? I'm injured and relying on you."

"Okay, fine," Ryan says, standing up. "You're the most fucking annoying person I have ever met."

"Says you. And don't eat my fucking Snickers," he yells, as Ryan pushes across the cafeteria and barges into the line just by the tater tots, ignoring Vanessa Macy's outrage as he pushes in front of her. Spencer thinks that Vanessa Macy puts up with a lot from Ryan, and one day she's going to flip and Ryan's going to end up the loser. Spencer resolves to keep his phone easily accessible so he can catch the moment with his camera for posterity.

Spencer looks around the cafeteria for a minute, but being the flyhalf means spending a lot of time nodding at people and waving at cheerleaders and pretending to remember the name of every kid in the place, and Spencer kind of likes having some time to himself, so he ducks his head and slides Ryan's notebook across the table. Ryan's left it open, which can only mean he's okay with Spencer reading whatever it is he's writing. Spencer and Ryan have a carefully engineered understanding of what is and what isn't acceptable when it comes to Ryan's notebooks; the technicalities having been mostly worked out through a tried and tested method of Ryan punching Spencer in the arm every time he screwed up. Now Spencer's much better at ducking out of the way, and also, of only reading Ryan's notebooks when he's clearly left them open for him to read.

Spencer tugs the notebook over. Mostly he doodles in the margins and highlights whichever bits of Ryan's obscure writing that remind him the most of lame emo poetry submission day, but this time it isn't poetry, or fiction, or—

It's an email. Printed out and folded in half. Spencer glances over at the line for food; Ryan's studiously ignoring him and staring at something which is probably labeled macaroni and cheese and even more likely to look like spaghetti sauce. He glances down at the page, and he sees that it's an email that Ryan's sent, a one liner that says, why won't you tell me who you are, you take really awesome photos but I want to know why you only take them of me.

He looks down the page; there's a reply and it's from Ryan's creepy internet stalker, and it says, because when you're around you're the only fucking thing that I see.


"You've been an idiot too," Spencer says gleefully, when Ryan comes back with a tray. "Like," he goes on, "at least me being an idiot didn't involve me telling my creepy internet stalker how awesome they are."

Ryan narrows his eyes and reaches for Spencer's Snickers bar, tearing it open and taking a bite.

"Oh," Spencer says, wincing. "Oh, you didn't just do that."

"Mmmm," Ryan says, taking another bite and obnoxiously chewing with his mouth open. "This is really fucking good, Spence, you should try one sometime."

"Don't think I'm not remembering all these times you've eaten my chocolate," Spencer points out, grumpily. "I'm making a list. When I'm off these stupid crutches, I'm going to take you down."

"Yeah, yeah," Ryan says, "you keep saying, but where's the action?"

"At least I haven't got a creepy internet stalker who's totally in love with me," Spencer waggles his eyebrows. "Loser."

"Last time I get you lunch," Ryan tells him, finishing off the chocolate bar and dropping the wrapper down onto the table.

"You only eat half of it, anyway. I'll get someone else to get me lunch. Don't think there wouldn't be a line of kids wanting to do stuff for me. There would."

"Because you're their king, yeah, I know." Ryan rolls his eyes. "Whatever. Shut the fuck up and tell me what to do about that email."

Spencer shrugs. "Reply and say you want to have their creepy internet babies?"

Ryan digs his fingers into Spencer's side. "Totally not helping, Spence."

Spencer rolls his eyes. "Okay, whatever. Email them back and ask who are you again."

"Like that'd work," Ryan says, shrugging his shoulders. "They won't even tell me if they're a guy or a girl. Not that it matters."

Spencer very carefully slides over his can of Sprite, and taps at the ring pull with one finger. "It doesn't matter?" he says, without meeting Ryan's eyes.

Ryan shrugs again, and doesn't look up. "Not particularly," he says.

"So," Spencer says, awkwardly.

"It doesn't matter," Ryan says again, quickly.

"Right," Spencer says. "Okay."


Spencer shrugs. He's pretty sure Ryan's just told Spencer he's bisexual, but he can't ask to make sure. That'd be weird. "Sure," he says. "It's kind of strange, though, right? That you've got a crush on some kid you've only spoken to online?"

"The internet is a totally valid and twenty-first century adaptation of existing dating rituals," Ryan tells him. "And their photos are awesome."

"It's just a shame they look like the hunchback of Notre Dame," Spencer agrees.

"Shut up," Ryan says. Then, "You don't know that."

"Well, they might," Spencer says.

"Or they might look like Ashlee Simpson. She's hot."

"You used to think she was stupid. You've only realized she's hot now because she's married to Pete Wentz and you're fucking in love with him." Spencer nudges him and steals a fry from Ryan's plate.

"Am not," Ryan says, blushing bright red and tugging his plate over. "I just like his music."

"And his face," Spencer says, poking Ryan in the side. "You like his face. And his hair. And his smile, and his -"

Ryan punches him in the kidney. "Shut up."

"Just because you've got a crush on Pete Wentz," Spencer says, narrowing his eyes and rubbing his side. "And his wife. No need to get violent. Now, about your stalker -"

Ryan sighs. "Maybe I should just email them back and try and talk to them about like, normal stuff."

"Like how much of a weirdo you are," Spencer suggests. "And how you want to be Pete Wentz when you grow up."

"That's it," Ryan says, "I'm getting a new best friend. Right now." He tugs his chair away from Spencer. "Next person to join the lunch line, they're going to be my new best friend."

"Vanessa Macy's going back for seconds," Spencer points over to the line, where Vanessa's just joined. "I'm pretty sure she doesn't want to be your best friend. You're kind of stuck with me, dude."

"My life," Ryan says, and shovels down a handful of fries.


Spencer spends the rest of the week deliberately avoiding pretending to be a duck, a lava lamp, an oak tree returning to the earth from which it came, a tulip and an umbrella in the rain. He sits at the back of drama class with his iPod on under his hoodie, texting Ryan to tell him what stupid thing Ms. Elliot's trying to make him do now.

Brendon's always pretty cool though, in a totally lame kind of way. He waves at Spencer when he tumbles late into class every day—they've shifted his Biology class or whatever, all the way over to the other side of campus, so he always has to run now. He's pink and sweaty when he gets to class, and he always tries to catch Spencer's eye when he's doing his best impression of a tulip. Spencer doesn't wave back, because that would be stupid, but he kind of nods a bit and folds his arms. Then he sits in the corner of the drama studio painting backdrops and brickwork and not thinking about what it might be like to hold Brendon's hand, which is his new and totally stupid daydream.

Spencer is turning into the lamest kid in the whole school and he knows it. He's just in the middle of texting Ryan to tell him, too, when Ms. Elliot comes over and taps him on the shoulder.

"Spencer," she says, quietly, which is when Spencer knows he's in trouble. "Spencer, I have turned a blind eye to your lack of enthusiasm for my drama class. You also seem to think that I am incapable of spotting a pair of iPod earphones when I see them, which is—frankly—a little demeaning," she clears her throat and looks pointedly at the earphone wire peeking out from under Spencer's collar, "but the constant texting is one step too far. Do you think I'm stupid?"

Spencer hates it when teachers ask him really ridiculous questions. "Um, no?" he hazards. Yes, he thinks, thinking about Brendon pretending to a lava lamp and trying not to grin at the thought.

Ms Elliot rolls her eyes. "That was rhetorical, Spencer."

"Sorry, Ms. Elliot," Spencer starts, "but it's very hard on me, what with me being injured and all-"

"Detention," she says, cutting him off. "And because I'm a good person and not cruel enough to make you sit in a classroom with your poor injured knee after school, you can come back here and paint scenery while we rehearse."

"Ms. Elliot," Spencer complains. He's almost sure he pouts, but there's no one around to see so it doesn't matter even if he does.

"Back here at the end of the day, Mr. Smith, and if I see you with your phone out again during class then it will be detention for the whole week, do you understand me?"


"And I will confiscate it."

Spencer blinks. Surely no one could be so cruel. He wrinkles his nose as she makes her way back to the rest of the class.

"Bummer," Brendon says, sneaking over and standing by a giant piece of scenery that looks like it's going to a can of hairspray.

"Yeah," Spencer says, nodding, and he hates his life because he can't think of anything else to say. He flicks the paintbrush so that a few drops of paint spray against the wall. "Um -"

"Brendon!" Ms. Elliot yells, and Brendon rolls his eyes and walks away.


"I hate my life," Spencer says, hitting Ryan repeatedly in the shin with his crutch as Ryan logs in to the arts magazine computer after the end of school. "It's like I'm destined to paint scenery for the rest of forever."

"My creepy internet stalker has cats," Ryan says, opening up his internet browser. "There are pictures."

Spencer blinks. "What?"

"They've sent me pictures. And I kind of think they might be a guy."

"Guy cats? What, did you see cat dick? That's totally fucking weird, dude. Creepy stalker's sending you cat porn."

"No, I think he's a guy," Ryan says, rolling his eyes. "And don't think just because you've got a fucked-up knee I won't beat you dead if you hit me one more time with your stupid crutch. His cats are kind of normal."

Spencer rolls his eyes right back at him. "Lame," he says, and pokes Ryan again.

Ryan elbows him the side, hard, and Spencer shoves him back.

"You gonna show me, or what?" Spencer says.

"No," Ryan says, decisively. "These are my cat emails. Get your own."

"Yeah, yeah," Spencer says. "And it's your creepy internet stalker you're totally in love with, yeah, I get it. You ever heard of Stockholm syndrome?"

"Fuck you," Ryan says. "Here, look. They're pretty cool cats, right?"

There are two pictures attached to Ryan's email; the first one is of a tabby kitten, the second of another cat with its long white legs stretched out towards the camera.

Spencer leans over and presses his palm to Ryan's forehead. "You don't feel hot," he says, "but you're certainly acting like you're delirious."

"Shut up, and look at the cats," Ryan says, shrugging Spencer's hand away.

Spencer looks at the cats. "Hmm," he says. "They're kind of cute." He shrugs a shoulder. "You know, for cats and all."

"You see it too!" Ryan says. "Maybe they're magic cats. Maybe he's controlling us with the power of his mind and the pictures of his creepy magic cats."

Spencer blinks, and shuffles away from Ryan. "You are crazy," he says. "I can't be around you anymore."

"Yeah, that's right," Ryan says. "Because you've got detention."

"I've got detention because of you," Spencer points out, perfectly logically. "So you should come along too and keep me company."

"No," Ryan says and he chucks a piece of balled-up paper at Spencer's head. "Get the fuck out. You're late for energetic scenery painting."

"You are dead to me," Spencer says, loftily, and hobbles off down the hallway.


"You are late, Mr. Smith," Ms. Elliot yells, as soon as he manages to open the stupid heavy-assed doors into the drama studio. "You'd better come back tomorrow as well to see if you can make it here on time for a change."

Spencer just groans, and heads for the back corner of the studio, where he's left his paintbrush and his soul.


This is the first time he's seen any of the rehearsals for the school play he's painting the scenery for. They're putting on Hairspray, and it's not like Spencer's ever seen the film or anything, although his little sisters own a copy because they're like, kids, and all kids find Zac Efron attractive because it's the law, but it seems kind of cool.

Brendon's playing the lead, and Spencer finds himself hopping down off his stool and ignoring the spark of pain that runs up and down his knee as he jars it. He rearranges himself so that he's got a better view of the stage—because he wants the paint job to be right, and not because he wants to watch Brendon sing and dance and throw himself around the floor. It's just a coincidence that he can see all of that, and it's just a coincidence that when Brendon sees him and waves, grinning over at him and bouncing up and down, Spencer grins back, ducking his head.


Brendon comes over when they've finished working on his scene.

"Hey," he says, grinning.

"Hey," Spencer says, doing his best not to grin back and look like a dumbass.

"Detention must suck," Brendon says, after a moment of standing there looking like an idiot.

"Oh," Spencer says. "I don't know. I've had worse."

"Yeah?" Brendon asks, tugging up a stool. His knee bumps Spencer's thigh as he sits down.

"Yeah, me and Ryan got busted this one time and we ended up spending the whole week in the principal's office after school. It was, like, really crappy and totally boring."

"Really?" Brendon's eyes are wide. "What did you do?"

"Um," Spencer says. Fuck, he and Ryan are kind of lame. "We kind of came in on a Saturday this one time before the arts magazine was due out and we got hungry, so we broke into the home economics labs to make muffins."

Brendon blinks. "Muffins?"

"Yeah," Spencer says. "I know, that's totally lame."

"No," Brendon says, "that's really cool. How'd you get caught?"

Spencer shrugs. "Ryan set the towel on fire and it was like, a totally little fire and we totally put it out and everything, but the fire alarm went off."

"Cool," Brendon says, reverently.

"Yeah," Spencer says, biting his lip and grinning. "It kind of was."

"You're badass, Spencer Smith."

"Totally," Spencer says, and he feels all warm inside.


Spencer is late to detention again the following day, but it is completely not his fault this time, only Ms. Elliot won't listen.

"I don't care," she says, as Spencer tries to explain. "I don't care if the school fell down and you had to clamber through the rubble to get here, you're late, and we will keep doing this, Spencer, until you learn. You'll come back tomorrow, and the next day if you don't manage to be on time tomorrow—"

Spencer groans.


"You've lost your crutches," Brendon says, coming over and offering Spencer a bag of gummy worms after rehearsal's over, and Spencer's packing up his stuff.

Spencer shrugs. "One crutch," he says, waving his new, single crutch in the air. "Now it's just like I'm walking with a cane."

"Still," Brendon says, still holding out the gummy worms. "That's kind of cool, right? When did that happen?"

"Just now," Spencer says. "That's why I was late, I had to go see the doctor. He says I should be fine and I'll be able to play rugby again soon and everything. I am healing well, apparently."

"That's really cool," Brendon says. "You want some candy? I got you a bag."

"You got me some candy?" Spencer blinks.

"Yeah," Brendon says, awkwardly. He ducks his head. "Like, I had a spare bag, and I figured. I don't know. You want it, or not?"

"Sure," Spencer manages, and his voice squeaks. Ryan is going to laugh. He is going to laugh and then he is going to fall over because he's laughing so hard, and then he's going to have to put Spencer out of his misery and push him in front of a bus.

"So," Brendon says. "How long till you get to play rugby again? Like, you must be missing being like, whatever it is that you are. Quarterback."

"Flyhalf," Spencer says. Mostly he feels like punching the people who call him the quarterback. He doesn't really feel the urge with Brendon, which is kind of weird. "I'm the flyhalf."

"Right," Brendon says, nodding quickly. "Yeah, the flyhalf. That's what I meant."

"Have you ever been to see us play?" Spencer asks, tugging open the bag of gummy worms and stuffing a handful in his mouth.

"No," Brendon says, "but like, I've just been busy. It's not that I didn't want to, or whatever."

"You should come to a game when I'm playing again," Spencer says. "That'd be cool."

"I could make you a sign," Brendon says. "People do that, right? Make signs?"

Spencer blinks. Mostly the pep squad make signs. The pep squad, and girlfriends. "Yeah," he says, shrugging his shoulders. "People make signs. That'd be cool. You know, if you made a sign." He texts Ryan in his head, KILL ME NOW KILL ME NOW KILL ME NOW. Ryan doesn't reply.

"I could learn the rules," Brendon goes on. "So that I'd know what was going on. Then I could cheer in the right places."

Spencer swallows. "Yeah," he says. "Maybe I could, you know. Teach you or something."

"To play?" Brendon makes a face. "I don't think I'd be any good, but-"

"No," Spencer interrupts. "Like, I'd just tell you the rules. Before you came to see the game. So that you'd know what was going on."

"Right," Brendon says, nodding enthusiastically. "I'd be a pretty crappy player. People would mostly punch me in the head, I think."

"They would not," Spencer says, thinking I wouldn't let them. He contemplates punching himself in the head, just briefly. His phone buzzes in his pocket and he tugs it out, flicking it open. It's from Ryan, and it says, am outside. Hurry the fuck up. "I've got to go," he says.

"Okay," Brendon says. "Me too. Which way are you going?"

"Parking lot," Spencer says, and watches as Brendon's face falls.

"Oh," Brendon says. "I'm going to the bus stop. I guess I'll see you tomorrow, then."

"Yeah," Spencer says quickly, "but you could walk out the front way, and cut through, and I could tell you about tries and conversions and stuff."

Brendon smiles so hard it looks like it might break his face. Spencer resolutely does not smile back.

Okay, so like, maybe a little bit.


"So," Ryan says, as soon as Spencer gets out of the school doors, "I emailed him and told him all about how I wanted a dog, and he was all, yeah, it's cool how we both like pets, which I think is really awesome of him, because people are mostly like, dog or cat people and not both, right -" he tails off. "Oh. You've brought -"

"Brendon," Spencer fills in. "I've been telling him all about rugby."

Ryan rolls his eyes. "You're such a fucking loser."

"Says you," Spencer retorts. His elbow brushes Brendon's and he most definitely doesn't blush.

"Yeah, whatever," Ryan says. "Your dad's over there, and he's been waiting like, forever. Where the fuck have you been?"

"I'd better go," Brendon says, tugging his backpack onto both shoulders. "Thanks though, for the rugby stuff. I know what I'm going to put on my sign now."

"Yeah," Spencer says, awkwardly. "I'll see you tomorrow."

Ryan stares at Spencer as Brendon walks away. "His sign?"

"So what," Spencer says, "he's making me a sign. Shut the fuck up."

"Oh my god," Ryan says. "Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god."

"Shut up," Spencer hisses. "Shut up."

"This is the funniest thing that's ever happened, ever," Ryan says. "Can I make you a sign too?"

"It is not," Spencer says. "And you wouldn't make me a sign when I was sick, you're totally not allowed to make me one now."

"It'd say, total fucking loser," Ryan says, dreamily. "It'd be perfect."

"I'm telling Dad you don't need a ride home," Spencer says. "We're just going to leave you here. It looks like rain, don't you think?"

Ryan just beams. "He's making you a sign. Oh fuck, this is perfect."

"Shut up," Spencer says, and elbows Ryan in the kidney.

"This is like the greatest Christmas ever," Ryan goes on, poking Spencer in the arm. "Is this what heaven feels like?"

Spencer narrows his eyes, and hits Ryan in the shin with his crutch.


In drama class the next day, Spencer maintains that his single crutch is enough to stop him from having to pretend to be a cloud in changing weather conditions. Ms. Elliot looks exasperated, but Spencer's not giving in. This whole thing is stupid and he is not joining in, even if it would mean being closer to Brendon, who is doing his best rain cloud impression and stomping around. Spencer thinks it is stupidly, ridiculously cute and imagines walking down the hallways holding Brendon's hand.

Spencer thinks his stupid crush is stupid, and he slides down in his seat so that no one can see his stupid lame smile. His crutch catches on the chair next to his, though, and he knocks a pile of papers down onto the floor.

"Pick those up, Spencer," Ms. Elliot yells, and Spencer grumbles under his breath and tries to explain to her that he is injured and has a hurt knee.

Ms. Elliot, Spencer is beginning to realize, has a heart of stone.

The pile of papers are copies of the Hairspray rehearsal schedule.

It's not like Spencer cares or anything, but he sneaks a copy into his bag anyway. Like, just because. It might be useful for his scenery painting or something.


Brendon's not supposed to be rehearsing after school. Spencer knows because he checked the schedule, and because he's lame and has had to repeatedly tell himself that he doesn't care that Brendon isn't going to be there.

So it's kind of a surprise when he leaves last period history class and Brendon falls into step beside him, grinning widely and offering him a piece of cherry candy.

"It'll turn my tongue pink," Spencer says, stupidly.

Brendon just sticks out his tongue and laughs. His tongue is all pink and bright and Spencer's kind of stuck looking at his mouth, and his lips, and he finds himself licking his own lips and thinking about maybe kissing Brendon and wondering if he'd taste like cherry.

"That's the good part," Brendon says, and grins.

"Okay," Spencer says, and takes a piece. He high-fives a couple of kids and waves back at some cheerleaders and answers some stupid question about the marching band, and thinks about Brendon's mouth and how he's got to spend the next two hours painting stupid scenery without him around to concentrate on.

His life sucks.

His life sucks so bad.

"So," Brendon says, changing his backpack from one shoulder to the other. "What are you painting today?"

Spencer blinks. "Um," he says. He wants to say some piece of crap scenery for your piece of crap musical but he's kind of pretty sure that Brendon doesn't actually think his production is a piece of crap, so he tries to keep his mouth shut. He can't think of anything to say that isn't that. "Some scenery, I guess," he manages, after a minute, and in his head he calls himself a tool eleven times in a row. It isn't enough. It's never enough.

"Right," Brendon says, nodding quickly. "Yeah. You want some help?"

Spencer stops walking, right in the middle of the hallway. Someone stumbles into his crutch and he shoots them a death glare. "You want to hang out and paint scenery when you've got an afternoon off?"

Brendon shrugs, and bites his lip. "Yeah? I mean." He shrugs. "I could go paint somewhere else, or whatever. I just thought—"

"No," Spencer says, sharply. "I mean. You can come paint with me. I guess."

"Okay," Brendon says, shouldering his backpack again. The strap's all broken and it keeps sliding down his arm. "Neat."


"Late again, Mr. Smith?"

Spencer doesn't even bother trying to explain this one.


"So," Brendon says. "A try is when you touch the ball down behind the line?"

"Yep," Spencer nods, trying to get the lid off the gray paint without jerking and putting too much pressure on his knee. "And after a try the flyhalf gets the chance to convert the try—"

"- which is when you try and kick the ball through the posts, right?"

"Yeah," Spencer says. "And it's five points for a try and two points for a conversion. And three for a drop goal."

"I knew that!" Brendon grins. "See, I remember from yesterday."

"Cool," Spencer says, and he can't help but grin back. He still can't get the lid off the paint. He can't have put the lid back on properly yesterday, because it's all dried and stiff and painted shut.

"Here," Brendon says. "Let me try."

"It's stuck," Spencer complains. "But you can try, I guess." It's not like Brendon's the flyhalf or anything. He won't be able to get the lid off if Spencer can't.

Brendon gets the lid off.

"I probably loosened it for you," Spencer says, petulantly.

Brendon elbows him. "Shut up," he says. "You want more candy?"

Spencer rolls his eyes, and holds out his hand.


Brendon's shoulder brushes Spencer's as he's standing up on his tip-toes, reaching up to paint the lid of the hairspray can.

Spencer bites at his lip and tries to paint in a straight line.


"So, he sent me these pictures of his cats, right?" Ryan says, barging into Spencer's bedroom without knocking and dropping his messenger bag on the floor by Spencer's bed. "Move over, fuck, how much space can one guy take?"

Spencer rolls his eyes. "You can knock, you know," he says, half-heartedly shuffling over and making space for Ryan on the bed. "I could have been doing anything in here. I could have been naked. Or jerking off."

"Yeah, no," Ryan says. "You only jerk off before you go to sleep, shut up. Anyway-"

"You don't know that," Spencer protests.

Ryan rolls his eyes. "Jesus," he says. "You want to fight about this? You only jerk off before you go to sleep. You like routine, everyone knows that. Can we get back to talking about my emails, now?"

"That is so not true," Spencer says. "I'm spontaneous."

Ryan blinks. "You are not. You're the least spontaneous person I know. You're totally lame."

"Am not," Spencer says, folding his arms.

"Okay then," Ryan raises his eyebrows. "Prove me wrong. When was the last time you jerked off at any other time than before you went to sleep?"

"I'm injured," Spencer complains. "Jerking off is less fun when it hurts."

"You fucked your knee up, not your dick," Ryan tells him, "fuck, you're such a loser. You want to hear about my email yet, or what?"

Spencer rolls his eyes. "Fine, whatever. Tell me about your stupid creepy emails from your stupid creepy stalker."

Ryan elbows him. "You're only jealous because you haven't got a creepy internet stalker of your own."

Spencer thinks about Brendon for a moment, and then shakes his head. "Fuck, yeah," he says, "Totally jealous. I wish I had some freak emailing me all the time. Can we share?"

"No," Ryan says, narrowing his eyes. "Get your own. I'm keeping mine."

Spencer groans, and buries his face in his pillow. "Okay," he says, rolling over. "I'm ready. Hit me with how awesomely amazing your big stupid internet crush is. Tell me how cute his cats are. I'm totally listening."

"Shut up," Ryan says. "His cats are totally cute. You want to see?"

"Um," Spencer says, carefully.

"Great," Ryan says. "Why isn't your computer on? Didn't you know I was coming over?"

Spencer just blinks, and leans over to switch his computer on.


"Spencer," Ms. Elliot calls him over on Friday, half way through the after school rehearsal.

Spencer slides off his stool and puts his paintbrush down. He barely needs his crutch anymore, so he leaves it propped up against the wall with his backpack and walks slowly over to the drama teacher. "Yeah?"

"Spencer," she says, sighing. "You do know you're not in detention anymore, right?"

"Uh-huh," Spencer says, and doesn't look at Brendon, who's running through the stricken chicken dance routine on stage and not looking at him, either.

"So you know that you don't actually have to be here."

"Yep," Spencer nods.

"But... you're here anyway?"

"Looks like it," Spencer says, folding his arms.

"Right," she says. "That's, well. Good. Carry on." She blinks. "You do realize this doesn't get you out of my drama classes, right?"

"Yeah," Spencer tries not to roll his eyes. "Awesome."

"I imagine the sentiment is reciprocated," Ms. Elliot tells him. "Go on, back to your painting."

Spencer sighs, and doesn't look over to where Brendon still practicing his dance.


Spencer has a whole five days without his crutches before he starts rehab on his knee. The first session is long, and really fucking hard work, and so painful he has to grit his teeth for most of the time he's in with the physiotherapist. Spencer's not afraid of hard work, and he's not afraid of getting hurt, either, or else he wouldn't have lasted five minutes on the rugby pitch. Still, he can't help but feel like he's been caught unawares with the rehab; it hurts so much and he just hadn't expected it. He just wants to be out on the field playing rugby, and being stuck in a room with a physiotherapist two afternoons a week and one fucking Saturday morning just isn't going to be the same at all.

It also means that he can't go to Hairspray rehearsals half the time, which is totally annoying because Spencer was really getting into that whole scenery painting thing.

"I thought this would have been the best news ever," Ryan says, sounding halfway to puzzled when Spencer tells him how often he's supposed to go. He's leaning up against the wall outside the rehab center, waiting for his dad to pick him up, his phone wedged between his shoulder and his chin as he roots in his bag for his iPod. Ryan's still at school, finishing up the arts magazine, and Spencer can tell Ryan's concentrating more on the magazine layout than he is on Spencer's pain and trauma.

"Yeah, well," Spencer says, and thinks about Brendon. He stretches his leg out, relaxing his knee.

"Hmm," Ryan says. "You're acting weird."

"Am not," Spencer says. "I just like painting, that's all."

"Uh-huh," Ryan says. "Is this like a cult, is that it? Have you been drinking the Kool-Aid?"

"No," Spencer shakes his head. "No Kool-Aid. Maybe I'm just bored."

"Bored enough to help me with lame emo poetry submissions?" Ryan asks, hopefully.

"Never that bored," Spencer tells him. "You should bring over the funny ones later, though."

"Can't," Ryan says, and Spencer can tell he's beaming. "I'm going on an Instant Messenger date. We're going to chat at seven."

"Oh my god," Spencer says in disbelief. "You're like a made for TV special. You know what happens now, right? The creepy old man who is lying about his age comes and kidnaps you, and at the end, when they've dragged your body out of the lake, there's a message on the screen about not giving any personal information out over the internet. It's a life lesson."

"You're a freak," Ryan says, affectionately.

"You won't be saying that when they're dragging your body out of the lake," Spencer says, darkly. "Don't tell him about where you keep your allowance."

"I think my fifty-seven dollars will be safe," Ryan rolls his eyes. Spencer's good at hearing when Ryan does that.

"Hmm," Spencer says. His knee hurts like a bitch. "You should text me when you're done. Or during, whatever. Otherwise I'll keep calling your dad to make him check you haven't been kidnapped." He hisses in a breath as he stretches out his leg. This whole thing sucks.

"You okay?" Ryan asks.

"Sure I am," Spencer says. "It just feels like someone dumped a ton of bricks on my leg, that's all."

"Dude," Ryan says.

"Yeah," Spencer says. "Just like that."

"You're getting better, right, though?" Ryan asks. "Like, this isn't forever."

"Uh-huh," Spencer says. "Wish it would hurry up and stop hurting, though."

"It will," Ryan says, confidently. "You want me to read out one of the lame emo poems? It'll totally make you laugh. And just think, at least you're not this person."

"I feel better already," Spencer says, rolling his eyes.

"Right," Ryan says, and starts reading.


"You weren't at rehearsal last night," Brendon says, at the end of drama class. "Not, like, you have to go or anything. It's okay that you don't, or whatever. I mean." He tails off.

Spencer shrugs awkwardly. "I had this thing. For my knee. Like, rehab."

"Oh," Brendon says, and he nods. "That sucks. Not the knee rehab, because I'm pretty sure that's good, but the not-rehearsal thing. Um."

"It hurt," Spencer tells him. "I'm pretty sure good things shouldn't hurt that bad."

"Huh," Brendon says. Then he smiles, elbowing Spencer. "You want me to go have a word? I've got a pretty mean right hook. Or, you know. I'm pretty good at boxing on the Wii."

"Yeah," Spencer nods. "Because that's the exact same thing."

"Sure it is." Brendon grins. "But, you know. I've got your back."

Spencer knows he might be blushing pink but he doesn't know how to stop. "Right," he says.


Spencer tells Ms. Elliot that he won't be able to paint scenery on Tuesdays or Thursdays, because of his physiotherapy.

She looks at him for a long moment before she nods. "Alright," she says.

He folds his arms, because she's watching him with something that might possibly be amusement. "I just like painting, okay?"

"Sure," she says, and to her credit and Spencer's relief, she doesn't look at the stage once. "It's okay to like, um, painting, you know that, right?"

"Yes," Spencer says, and tries not to sound withering. "Art is a totally worthy hobby, I know."


He taps his foot. "I've got giant hairspray cans to paint," he says, and Ms. Elliot sighs, and rolls her eyes.

"Fine," she says. "Go on."


"Lizzy Ford is a total skank," Spencer says, sitting down to lunch with a huge sigh and dumping his books on the table.

Ryan raises his eyebrows. "Uh-huh," he says.

"Like, a total ho," Spencer goes on. "I hate her."

Ryan blinks.

"Well, okay. Maybe I don't, you know, hate her. But she's kind of a pain, right?"

"Um," Ryan says, before Spencer cuts him off.

"She does that thing, you know that thing that girls do when they flick their hair. Like this-" Spencer flicks his hair, "and she like, giggles. Did you get me any lunch?"

Ryan looks pointedly at Spencer's complete lack of crutches. Spencer rolls his eyes. "Whatever. You hate her too, right?"

"Spence, I don't even know who she is. What did she do to drive you crazy?"

"Pfft," Spencer says. "She's playing Amber in Hairspray. She's totally annoying. She's like a preying mantis. If this was Buffy we could take her down." He brightens. "You think she might be an alien?"

"No," Ryan says, carefully. "I'm pretty sure she isn't. They've got tater tots again, if you go join the line quick they won't run out."

Spencer sits back down. "It's like, she practices being annoying. Do you think there are classes for that? I'm pretty sure Jackie and Crystal have been going too. They stole my flat iron."

Ryan eyes the lunch line. "I'm pretty sure they're running out of food, Spence. You should go get some, quick."

"No," Spencer says, "they're fine. There's a whole lunch period after this one, anyway. I think she's being this annoying just to spite me, what do you think?"

"Maybe," Ryan says. "I think it's a possibility."

"Hmmm," Spencer says. His stomach rumbles. "Tater tots, you said?"

Ryan just nods.


"My physiotherapist says I can start going back to rugby practice," Spencer says, as soon as Brendon comes over at the end of rehearsal. He waves his cellphone. "She's just called."

"Awesome," Brendon says, not meeting Spencer's eyes. He opens a packet of gummy worms and tips out half into Spencer's palm. "I guess that means you're going to stop coming to rehearsal, huh?"

Spencer blinks. "Uh," he says, because he hasn't thought that far. "I guess."

"Right," Brendon says, and stares down at his candy.

Spencer's shoulders droop. "I mean," he starts. "I don't think I can do all the tackling just yet. I'm pretty sure that's what she said on the phone. Maybe I can come to both, or something. For a while."

"Really?" Brendon's head shoots up, and he grins.

Spencer shrugs, and kind of grins back. "Yeah," he says, and eats a whole handful of gummy worms, all in one go.


am bored of painting, Spencer texts. Hate evry1.

U no u don't hav 2 b there right, Ryan texts back after a minute.

Spencer rolls his eyes. On stage, they're practicing the part where Brendon's character gives Lizzy Ford's character a ring and a kiss. Spencer narrows his eyes. Scenery wont paint itself, he texts. Neway am just waitin 4 u 2 finish up.

Hmmmmmmmmmmm, Ryan texts.


"So," Spencer says, hanging around the drama studio after rugby practice finishes. "So, they're going to play me on Friday."

Brendon just looks puzzled. "Um," he says. "Hey?"

Spencer rolls his eyes, and pushes his damp hair out of his eyes. He's just out of the shower, and he had to rush across campus so he could catch Brendon before the end of rehearsal. "At the game. On Friday. The rugby game? They're going to let me play a half."

Brendon relaxes into a grin. "Dude," he says, "that's really cool."

"I know, right?" Spencer grins, and yanks his backpack up so it's not falling over his shoulder. "And, like, well. You said ages ago you wanted to see a game, and now there's a game, so—"

Lizzy Ford walks right past them and waves. "Bye, Brendon," she says.

Preying mantis, preying mantis, preying mantis, Spencer tells himself, over and over.

"Uh, bye," Brendon says, and smiles.

Spencer thinks some very dark thoughts.

"Bye, Spencer," she says, and does that weird thing girls do, when they flick their hair and smile brightly all at the same time.

"Whatever," Spencer says, rolling his eyes and turning around so that he's facing Brendon. "So. The game. Are you going to come?"

Brendon bounces on the balls of his feet. "Sure," he says. "You think I've got time to make you that sign?"

Spencer shrugs. "I guess," he says with a grin. "I mean, if you get started now, you should have time to make it good."

Brendon just grins. "Is your dad picking you up again?"

"Nope," Spencer says. "I can ride my bike again. Cool, huh?"

"Cool," Brendon agrees, and walks out to the parking lot with Spencer.


"We've entered into a dialogue," Ryan says dreamily, sprawling across Spencer's couch the night before Spencer's rugby match.

Spencer blinks. "You talk about cat petting," he says.

"I know," Ryan says, "isn't it amazing? Kind of insightful, don't you think?"

"Yeah," Spencer says. "If you're a crazy man."

"It's like we've moved to the next level."

"Totally," Spencer says, edging away. "Mom," he yells, "Ryan's gone crazy."

Spencer's mom pokes her head around the living room door. "I'm sure he hasn't," she says. "You haven't gone crazy, have you, Ryan?"

Ryan shakes his head. "Spencer just doesn't understand love, that's all."

"Oh," her eyebrows raise. "Of course. Spencer, you just don't understand love, that's all."

"It's not love," Spencer points out, "it's insanity. Ryan's gone crazy. He never used to like cats, right?"

"Uh-huh," Spencer's mom says. "Cats. Okay. Um, well, Ryan was always a dog person, I always thought."

"I still am," Ryan says, stretching out so his feet hang over the end of the couch. "I just understand what it's like to want to pet a cat, now, that's all."

There's a long moment where nobody says anything.

"Okay," Spencer's mom says. "O-kay. I preferred it when you boys were swearing. You never know what you've got till it's gone."

"Now you've gone crazy too," Spencer says, petulantly. "Maybe it's a disease."

She flicks him with her tea towel. "Maybe it's time you set the table for dinner. Your dad's just finishing up in the kitchen. Do you want food, Ryan, or are you existing purely on a diet of love?"

Ryan scrambles to his feet. "No," he says, "food too."

"Sensible," Spencer's mom says. "Come on, Spencer, hop to it."

Spencer rolls his eyes. "You can't make fun of my knee anymore, I am fully recovered."

"Yeah, yeah," she says. "Set the table and shut up, Peg-leg."


"Game day," Spencer says, brightly, as he opens the front door.

Ryan rolls his eyes. "My favorite," he says, dropping his bike on Spencer's lawn and pushing past Spencer to steal some of Spencer's dad's coffee. "A whole day of people talking about how awesome you are," he goes on, ignoring Spencer's mom and dad in favor of the coffee machine. "It's like all of my dreams have come true."

"Well," Spencer's mom says, "at least he's got you to keep him grounded."

"I resent that," Spencer says, "I am totally grounded."

"Who's the king?" Ryan asks.

"I am," Spencer says, automatically. "Oh, shut up."


By the time third period rolls around, Spencer's hand hurts from having high-fived too many people in the hallways.


"You're still coming, right?" Spencer asks, anxiously.

Brendon stops pretending to be a snake curling around a tree trunk, and rolls his eyes. "Sure I am," he says. "I said I was, didn't I?"

"Yeah," Spencer says, lamely, "but-"

"Spencer Smith," Ms. Elliot yells. "Stop distracting Brendon unless you are actually going to do what I ask you, for the first time in forever, and pretend to be a snake."

"Lame," Spencer says, under his breath.

"And don't forget that I am not deaf," she tells him, "or, more to the point, stupid."

Spencer groans, and goes to hide in the corner with the spray paint.


Spencer tugs Ryan into an empty classroom at the end of lunch. "What if this is the stupidest idea ever," he says, "what if I get out there and can't remember how to play, or what if it hurts, or what if I get injured again—"

Ryan claps his hand over Spencer's mouth. "Don't be dumb," he says. He takes his hand away.


Ryan rolls his eyes and covers Spencer's mouth with his hand again. "I'm going to say this once and only once," he says. "So listen carefully, and if you ever bring it up again, I will deny it, okay? You are the flyhalf, Spence. You are totally fucking awesome and the whole school fucking loves you, and even if you go out there and screw up they won't hold it against you, because they love you. So stop being so fucking lame and get the fuck out there and see if anyone's made you any snickerdoodles."

"You're only friends with me because of the spirit boxes," Spencer says, petulantly.

"Yeah," Ryan says, rolling his eyes again. "That's it exactly. Because being the invisible sidekick is all I've ever wanted."

"Says you," Spencer says, and elbows him.



"That's not even a fucking word."

"Shut up and come raid my spirit boxes with me."

"Fine," Ryan says. "If you insist."


"Ryan," Spencer says, fifteen minutes before they're supposed to start playing. He's hyperventilating around the back of the locker rooms.

"Stop freaking out," Ryan says, into the phone.

"I'm not," Spencer lies. "I'm just—"

"Yeah, yeah," Ryan says. "Whatever."

"Where are you sitting?" Spencer asks, straightening his knee brace awkwardly.

"Front and center, with your mom and dad," Ryan says. "Your mom says to stop freaking out, too."

"I'm fine," Spencer lies.

"Sure you are," Ryan says. "Fuck—sorry Mrs. Smith—" in the background, Spencer can hear his mom saying, you should really call me Ginger. Spencer can also hear Ryan rolling his eyes.


"Oh my god, that weird kid's made you a sign."

"Brendon," Spencer says, kind of breathlessly. "His name's Brendon."

"Whatever," Ryan says. "Brendon's made you a weird-assed sign."

Spencer can't help but grin, biting his lip. "He did?"

"I think he's made it out of glitter." Ryan says, in awe. "It kind of sparkles."

"It does?"

"It does," Ryan says. "It's like a glitter ball of appreciation. Someone should take a picture."

"Maybe your creepy internet stalker can," Spencer manages, and tries to attribute the nervous beating in his chest to the upcoming game and not to Brendon and his stupid sign.

"Maybe," Ryan says. "But I'm pretty sure all the kids sitting by him are taking pictures on their cellphones, so."

"They are?" Spencer's chest tightens.

"Yep," Ryan tells him. "You should see it."

"Where's he sitting?" Spencer asks, peering around the corner to see if Zack or the others have missed him yet. "What's the sign say?"

"Spencer Smith I want to have your babies," Ryan says. "No, not really. I can't read it. Spencer Smith something something something. He's sitting by that line thing, the one in the middle."

"The half way line? Awesome," Spencer tells him, dryly. "You've cleared that right up."

"Shut up," Ryan says, "don't you have a rugby game to play? What are you even doing talking to me anyway? Shouldn't you be all manly hugging by now, or something?"

"Yeah, that's just what it's like," Spencer tells him.

"I know, I know." Ryan says. There's a pause. "Good luck."

"Thanks," Spencer says, and hangs up.


Brendon's sign says Spencer Smith in big, purple letters, and something else underneath that Spencer's not close enough to read. Brendon's holding it up and grinning, and Spencer can't help but grin back, biting his lip as the whistle blows and he makes the first kick of the game.


Spencer scores a try and converts it, straight off. He just dodges through a hole in their defense, and behind him, his teammates stop the defense from getting any closer to him than they already are. The cheers are stupidly loud as Spencer hits the ground behind the try line, and Spencer feels amazing.

He plays for the rest of the first half, scoring two drop-goals and making a really important tackle that stops the other team from scoring. Apart from that he spends most of the time running up and down the pitch and shouting, and it feels great. By they time half-time rolls around, they're up thirteen points to nine, and Spencer's back.

He goes off the field to cheers, and even when the nurse insists on spending twenty minutes poking at his knee before making him get showered and finally letting him out to see the rest of the game, nothing diminishes from the fact that he's the flyhalf again.

It feels amazing.


Brendon's hanging around outside the locker rooms at the end of the match, with his sign rolled up under one arm.

"Hey," he says, when Spencer sees him, and goes over. "Good game."

Spencer just grins. "How much of it did you actually understand?"

"All of it," Brendon says, airily. "I am a secret rugby geek."

"Sure you are," Spencer says. "And you made me a sign."

"I did," Brendon says. "Did you see?"

"Yeah," Spencer says, blushing pink. "But not up close, though."

"You want to see?" Brendon asks, biting his lip. "I could show you."

Spencer nods, and swallows loudly as Brendon unrolls his sign. It says Spencer Smith in big purple letters, like Spencer could see from the pitch, and then underneath it says you will win for sure.

He starts to laugh.

Brendon blushes bright red. "I've never made a sign for a rugby game before," he protests. "I didn't know what I was supposed to say."

"That," Spencer says, still laughing. "Just like that."

"Really?" Brendon brightens. "Because all these kids were laughing at it, and I figured I'd just got it wrong, but -"

Spencer takes a moment to remove himself from the situation so he can imagine punching all those kids in the head.

When he tunes in again, Brendon's bouncing on the balls of his feet and rolling up his sign again.

"So," Brendon says, "I heard there's like this, uh, after-game party."

"What?" Spencer says, as he spots his mom and Ryan coming over. "Oh, yeah."

"I was thinking," Brendon says, "maybe I could see you there later? Or, you know. Something."

"Yeah," Spencer says, distractedly, as Ryan elbows him painfully in the kidneys and his mom leans over and hugs him. "Mom," he says, trying to disentangle himself.

"Who's this?" his mom says, rolling her eyes and ruffling Spencer's hair, because she's been put on this earth to make Spencer's life more humiliating than it already is.

"Brendon," Spencer says, awkwardly, ducking away from her and her stupid hair-messing skills. "Mom, my hair."

"I'm making it better," she says, licking her thumb and reaching for him.

He ducks away again, and wonders why he hasn't died of embarrassment yet.

"My son is embarrassed by me," she says, as if she's admitting something wonderful. Spencer narrows his eyes. "It's nice to meet you," she says, leaning over and shaking Brendon by the hand.

Spencer is torn between wanting the ground to swallow him up and wanting to yell at his mom for getting to hold Brendon's hand first. Oh my god, he thinks, I am the lamest of the fucking lame.

"You made a sign," Ryan says, to Brendon.

"Ryan," Spencer hisses.

"Yeah," Brendon says, uncertainly. "Like, Spencer, do you want to keep it? I figured—"

Oh fuck, Spencer thinks. Behind him, Ryan's making a noise that sounds like he's trying to stop himself from laughing. Spencer hates him. "Sure," Spencer says, and it's not that his voice squeaks, as such. He holds his hand out and practically grabs the poster out of Brendon's hand. "We have to go," he says, quickly. "Like, now."

"We don't, do we?" Ryan asks, grinning.

"We do," Spencer says. "We have to go now."

"Right," Brendon says, awkwardly. "Well. I guess I'll see you later, then?"

"Yep," Spencer says, pushing Ryan away, "thanks for the sign."

"You're welcome," Brendon calls after them.


"He was nice," Spencer's mom says, when they get back to the car.

"Oh god," Spencer says, as Ryan starts to laugh.


Spencer, Ryan and Spencer's mom and dad go for dinner at the steak house over by the mall. Ryan smirks at him the whole time, kicking him under the table and grinning.

"Shut up," Spencer says, half way through his food.

"I didn't say anything," Ryan says, innocently.

"Ryan's got a creepy internet stalker," Spencer announces. "You should talk to him about his security and well-being on the internet."

"Ryan," Spencer's dad says, "is this true?"

Ryan glowers at Spencer. "They're not creepy, and they're not my stalker."

"I saw this movie once, about this kid who gave his details to this person they met online, and then they had to drag his body out of the lake," Spencer's mom tells him.

"You see?" Spencer says. "You see?"

"I see where you get it from," Ryan says, kicking him in the shin. "I'm fine," he tells Spencer's mom. "I'm fine, and no one is going to have to drag me out of any lake."

"I told him to keep where he keeps his allowance secret," Spencer says.

"Suck-up," Ryan hisses.

Spencer smirks, and tries not to think about Brendon's sign, rolled up safe in the trunk of his mom and dad's car.


By the time they get to the party, it's already going strong. Spencer spies Brendon in the front yard, leaning against the wall by the garage. "I'm just going to, um—" he says, vaguely pointing in Brendon's direction when Ryan starts heading towards the front door.

Ryan sees where Spencer's looking, and rolls his eyes. "You and me," Ryan says, "later on we're going to talk about how you've got a big gay crush on that weird kid—"

"Brendon," Spencer says, automatically.

"- a big gay crush on Brendon," Ryan says, "and how it is that you haven't actually told me yet."

"I'm telling you now," Spencer says, awkwardly.

"Hmmm," Ryan says. "This doesn't get you out of talking about it with me later, just so you know. All those weeks you've been hanging out with the drama club and pretending you hated every moment -"

"Stop reveling in how embarrassing this is for me," Spencer says.

Ryan just grins. "You've got a big gay crush," he says, "and you didn't tell me. You don't get to make any of the rules, here."

"He's really nice," Spencer says, lamely.

"Oh my god," Ryan says, "this is the best day yet. I must have been really, really good in a past life or something."

"Go inside," Spencer says. "Go inside and leave me alone."

"Fine," Ryan says, rolling his eyes. "Don't think you're not telling me everything later, anyway."

"Whatever," Spencer says, and shoves Ryan. "At least my big gay crush isn't fucking Quasimodo."

"You don't know he's ugly," Ryan counters, pushing him back. "He could be amazing-looking."

"Sure," Spencer says. "Because all really good looking guys hide behind their email address."

"Shut up," Ryan says. "I'm going inside. Go over there and be all lame with your big gay crush."

Spencer tries not to blush.


Brendon doesn't notice him until Spencer's leaning up against the garage wall next to him.

"Hey," Spencer says, biting his lip and trying not to smile too hard.

"Hey," Brendon says, grinning.

"How come you're not inside?" Spencer asks, and thinks about one day, walking down the school hallway holding Brendon's hand. He stuffs his hands into his pockets, just in case he does something stupid.

Brendon shrugs. "Oh," he says, "you know. I got hot in there, had to come out for some air."

"Okay," Spencer says. "You cooled down enough? You want to go inside?"

Brendon looks kind of unconvinced, but Spencer's the flyhalf. This party is practically in honor of him, and much as he likes Brendon, he'd kind of like to go inside and get clapped on the back and cheered and shit.

"Sure," Brendon says. "Yeah."

"Awesome," Spencer says and elbows him, just because.


The place erupts when Spencer walks in, which is possibly the best thing ever. All the cheerleaders are lining up to kiss his cheek and people are clapping him on the back and high-fiving him and welcoming him back to the team.

"It's like the black drapes have been lifted," Ryan says, leaning over and resting his chin on Spencer's shoulder. "The light is back in our lives, Spence, and it's all down to you. How are we ever going to repay you?"

"Fuck you," Spencer says, trying to shrug Ryan off.

"No, really," Ryan says. "I'm not sure I have words. Have you seen the pictures of you on the wall in the living room?"

"Tell me you're kidding," Spencer says.

"I'm kidding," Ryan says. "Except for that whole thing where I'm not. They've printed off your yearbook pictures and covered them in good luck messages. You should come see, it's like an art exhibition, but you're the art." He sighs, nostalgically. "I wish I was the flyhalf."

Spencer pokes Ryan in the side. "Shut up," he says.

"And," Ryan says, wriggling away from him, "you've lost your, um. Whatshisface."

"Brendon," Spencer says, exasperatedly, "his name's Brendon. And I haven't lost him, he's right here -" Spencer trails off, and looks around the crowded room. "I've lost him," he says.

"It was maybe the line of girls waiting to kiss you," Ryan tells him, "apparently that can put a boy off."

"Like you'd know," Spencer says. "At least Brendon's got a name."

Ryan narrows his eyes. "Seriously," he says. "That was kind of dickish."

"Well," Spencer says uncomfortably, "okay."

"You should probably go find him," Ryan tells him. "I'm just saying."

Spencer sighs, and rolls his shoulders, pushing through the kids back towards the door into the hallway.


He finds Brendon in the kitchen, desultorily poking at a jug of something that looks like Coke and probably isn't.

"I lost you," Spencer says, awkwardly.

"I went to get a drink," Brendon says, "you think this is Coke?"

"Probably not." Spencer tugs open the fridge and pulls out a can. "This is, though. Sealed, too. You want?"

"Is that the last one?" Brendon asks, and Spencer peers in the fridge.

"Looks like it," Spencer says.

"You want to share?" Brendon offers, tapping at the ring pull.

Something inside of Spencer contracts. He feels all warm. "Yeah," he says. "Thanks."

"That's okay," Brendon says.

"Where's the fucking alcohol," someone yells, pushing into the kitchen and bumping into Spencer's shoulder. "Spence, that is a fucking can of Coke. Don't tell me you're not mixing it up tonight."

"Pain meds," Spencer lies. "Fuck with my head."

"Dude," the guy says, and Spencer can't remember his name. Paul, maybe. Friends with someone on the team. It might even be his house. "That fucking blows."

"You're telling me," Spencer says. He seems to remember that Paul's a dick. He can't quite remember why, but his friend, Terry something, he was in Spencer's Biology class, sophomore year. Spencer didn't like him much then, either. "Still—"

"Hey," the guy says, leaning past Spencer and poking Brendon in the shoulder, "it's the kid from the drama club. I thought we said you could only stay if you sang us a song?"

"Um," Brendon says, awkwardly.

"Uh," Spencer says, pushing Paul's arm away. "What the fuck?"

"You should sing us a song," Paul says again. "Come on, you like to sing, right?"

"He doesn't like to sing for you," Spencer says, angrily. "Back the fuck off."

"Spencer," Brendon says. "It's okay."

"No," Spencer says, "seriously. Back off, and leave him alone."

"Come on, we're only teasing," Terry says. "He's a drama kid. He should entertain us, or whatever."

"Yeah, how about no," Spencer says, pushing Terry away. There's a moment where the sound kind of just rolls, and then there's just - quiet.

"What the fuck, Spence?" Paul asks, confused.

Spencer shrugs. "It's pretty simple, I think. Don't fucking mess with Brendon, okay?"

Zack's standing in the kitchen doorway, his arms folded. Paul and Terry take one look at Spencer, and one look at Zack, and back off.

"Fine," Paul says. "Whatever."

"You okay?" Zack asks, in a low voice, when they've disappeared out into the hallway.

"Yep," Spencer says tightly.

"How about you?" Zack asks, to Brendon.

"You didn't need to do that," Brendon says, fiercely. "I had that covered."

Zack puts his hands in the air and backs away.

"Yeah, but no," Spencer says, ignoring Zack.

"Yeah," Brendon says. "You really didn't need to do that."

"They were fucking with you," Spencer tells him. "Now they won't."

"Awesome," Brendon says, "good job. I should go."

"Brendon," Spencer says, genuinely confused, "what the fuck?"

"It's fine," Brendon says, "Mom's picking me up anyway."

"No," Spencer says, "I don't get it. What did I do?"

"Nothing," Brendon says, tiredly. "It's fine, everything's fine. This is just how I imagined tonight going."

"Brendon—" Spencer really doesn't have a clue.

Brendon hands Spencer the can of Coke. "You should finish this," he says. "It's the last one. I'll see you on Monday, or whatever."


"Well," Ryan says. "That went well."


Spencer still doesn't get what he did wrong.


"Hi," Spencer says, outside the drama studio on Monday morning.

"Uh," Brendon says, "hi."

"You left pretty quickly on Friday," Spencer says, awkwardly. "I never got a chance to say thank you for my sign."

"Yeah, sorry," Brendon says. "I had to go meet Mom."

"Okay," Spencer says. "But, you know, if I did something—"

"We should get inside," Brendon interrupts, "because I think we're already late."

"Oh," Spencer says, "right."


Brendon ducks out of class early.


"I thought you had rugby practice today?" Brendon asks, at the end of school.

"I did," Spencer says, brandishing a paintbrush uselessly. "I do, I mean. I told the coach my knee was hurting."

"Isn't that pretty stupid?" Brendon asks. "Like, you might not get to play if he doesn't think you're fit?"

Spencer shrugs, but he has to stop himself from running right out of the drama studio and down the hallway to practice. "Doesn't matter," he says. "Not this once."

Brendon looks bewildered. "So, you came to rehearsal instead?"

"Yeah," Spencer nods. "Is that so hard to believe?"

"Uh-huh," Brendon says. "What are you doing here?"

Spencer shrugs. "Don't know," he says, instead of saying I've come to see you, which is totally lame. "I'm sorry about Friday. Ryan says I was kind of a douche."

Brendon nods. "Kind of," he says. "Sorry I was so lame."

Spencer shakes his head. "You're not lame."

"No," Brendon says, "but yeah."

Spencer swallows. "I don't think -" he starts.

"Brendon!" Ms. Elliot yells. "If you've quite finished."

"Sorry," Brendon bites his lip, and darts back onto the stage.


Spencer runs out of things to paint and rehearsal still isn't over. He hides in a seat in the corner, out of view of Ms. Elliot, and slides his phone out of his pocket when it buzzes with a text.

u kissed n made up yet?

fuck u, Spencer texts, eloquently.

am in the parking lot, Ryan texts, hurry up.

u go, Spencer texts. Ms. Elliot's let everyone else go home, and on stage, she's working on the choreography to Ladies' Choice with Brendon. Am going 2 hang around here.


Lamer, Spencer types, and flips his phone closed. Brendon drops to his knees and slides across the stage, and Spencer stifles an actual groan.


"What are you still doing here?" Brendon asks, when he's finally finished up.

Spencer shrugs. "Waiting for you," he says, and deliberately doesn't blush, not even when Brendon stops short and stares at him, a smile curving across his face.

"Yeah?" Brendon says. He looks really happy.

"Yeah," Spencer nods, pointing at three large bundles of papers on the floor by the stage. "What are they?"

"Flyers, I guess," Brendon says. "We always have tons printed up but there are still seats free. You'd think kids would want to come and see the school musical, right?"

He looks genuinely perplexed and Spencer can't find it in himself to point out that coming to see the school musical is totally and completely lame, and Spencer's only seen everything Brendon's ever been in because Ryan's always been determined to review every show himself. "Um," he says, "right."

"I'm going to start handing flyers out tomorrow," Brendon goes on, earnestly. "Maybe if I start early, more kids will buy tickets."

"Right," Spencer says, again. "Um. I could help, if you want?"

Brendon blinks. "You mean it?" he asks.

No, Spencer thinks, this is the most embarrassing thing I've ever done. "Sure," he says, trying not to picture Ryan's look of horror. "Tomorrow, right?"

Brendon just beams, and Spencer's breath catches in his chest.


They stand in the parking lot for a while, talking about Weezer and All American Rejects and Fall Out Boy. Brendon seems to harbor the same kind of crush on Patrick Stump that Ryan has on Pete Wentz, which is kind of cute if only because it means that Brendon spends ten minutes leaning up against the bike racks talking about Patrick's vocal range while Spencer nods a lot and looks at Brendon's mouth.

Then it turns out that Brendon doesn't own any Rejects albums and has never heard any of Weezer's earlier stuff except for Buddy Holly, and Spencer can't quite believe it. He's a secret Weezer obsessive, and maintains the unpopular opinion that Pinkerton is their best album. He spends another ten minutes explaining how and why Pinkerton has some of the best songs Weezer has ever done, and how he'd totally like Rivers Cuomo's babies, except for how they would be super-weird and everything. Brendon's grinning a lot and in the end Spencer trails off.

"What?" he asks, sulkily.

"Nothing," Brendon says, laughing. "You're just, kind of fierce, that's all."

"Am not," Spencer says. "Who said so?"

Brendon just laughs. "I should go, I guess," he says.

"Why?" Spencer asks, before he can stop himself. "You have somewhere you need to be?"

"Um," Brendon says, "no. But, don't you have to get home?"

Spencer shrugs. "I guess," he says. "But you could come over and borrow some Weezer albums. You know, if you want." He can feel himself blushing red. He bites his lip.

"I'd need to call Mom," Brendon says, slowly.

"We could make smoothies," Spencer says, "if my sisters haven't destroyed the place."

Brendon nods, swallowing. "Okay," he says. "Great."


They walk back to Spencer's place, Spencer wheeling his bike along beside him. By the time they get home, Spencer's got a whole list of CDs he wants to lend to Brendon.


"Mom!" Spencer yells. "Brendon's over."

"Living room," Spencer's mom yells back. "Bring him in."

Spencer rolls his eyes. "Sorry," he says. "She's like, kind of weird."

"I can hear you," she calls. "Just because I'm your mom doesn't mean I'm also deaf."

Spencer groans, and pushes into the living room, waving his hand towards the couch.

"Mom, you remember Brendon, right? Mom, Brendon, Brendon, Mom. There are my sisters, over there. We're going upstairs, okay?"

"Wait!" his mom calls. Spencer rolls his eyes again, but stops. "Your dad's making burgers, boys. Brendon, would you like to stay for dinner?"

"Mom," Spencer says, blushing red again.

"Shush, Spencer. I'm asking Brendon, not you."

"Um," Brendon says. "I'm a vegetarian."

"Okay," Spencer's mom nods. "We've got some bean burgers in the freezer, we could put them on the barbecue too?"

Brendon darts a look at Spencer. He looks pink. "Um," he says, eloquently. "If Spencer doesn't mind, then—"

"Spencer doesn't mind," his mom says, briskly. "I'll go tell his dad. He's been making smoothies too, although they're probably pretty strange. He likes to engage his imagination when it comes to the blender. You might want to say no to anything that's got chili in."

"Sorry," Brendon says, softly, after she's left the room.

"No," Spencer says, awkwardly. "I don't mind."


They eat out on the deck, Brendon and Spencer and Jackie and Crystal and Spencer's mom and dad. Brendon's burgers have been cooked in tinfoil, and he unwraps them messily, piling them into burger buns with lots of ketchup and extra tomatoes. Spencer watches him, watches him pile his burgers high and then squash them down with the heel of his hand, helping himself to handfuls of fries from the large bowl in the middle of the table. Jackie and Crystal are bickering about some TV show that Spencer's never watched, and Spencer's mom's asking Brendon too many questions.

"Mom," Spencer says, after she's asked Brendon about what his favorite class is. "Stop asking him really stupid stuff."

"It's not stupid, it's interesting," she says. "Now, Brendon, ignore Spencer, and finish up telling me about drama class."

"Ms. Elliot's really cool," Brendon says, shooting a sidelong glance at Spencer. "She lets me hang out in the drama studio at lunch, and she's a really great teacher. She does these really awesome warm-ups where we all pretend to be clouds and stuff, it's a really good way of relaxing into it."

"Hmm," Spencer's mom says. "Is this the same Ms. Elliot who teaches you drama, Spencer?"

"Maybe," Spencer says, poking at his burger.

"And, um," she clears her throat, "does Spencer have to pretend to be a cloud, too?"

"Mom," Spencer warns.

"He refuses," Brendon says, with a grin. "He sits in the corner and texts Ryan instead."

"He does, does he?"

"It's really stupid," Spencer says, petulantly, as his mom raises her eyebrows at him. "I would make a really stupid cloud."

"Hmmm," she says. "If I get called in to see your Guidance Counselor one more time, Spencer Smith, there will be trouble."

Spencer rolls his eyes and offers Brendon more fries.


After dinner, Jackie and Crystal take over the living room so that they can watch 13 Going On 30 and shout thirty and flirty and thriving at the screen whenever Jennifer Garner does. Spencer's seen that movie more times than he would ever admit to, but he just ducks his head and says no when they ask him if they want to watch it with them.

"We're going upstairs to listen to music," Spencer says, lamely, and stomps upstairs.


Brendon ends up with a pile of CDs fifteen cases high by the time his dad's due over to pick him up.

"You have to listen to them all," Spencer tells him, adding another Rejects CD to the pile. "And you have to listen to Pinkerton tonight."

"We already listened to it," Brendon protests.

"I don't care," Spencer says, "that was here. You have to listen to it on your own and I swear you'll think it's the best. I mean, you liked it, right?"

"Well," Brendon says, "yeah."

"Right, then," Spencer says. "Okay."

"Okay," Brendon says.

Outside, Brendon's dad honks his horn.

"I should go," Brendon says. He stands up, awkwardly balancing his huge pile of CDs.

"I should get you a bag," Spencer says, tugging open his closet and rooting through his shelves until he finds his messenger bag. "Here," he says. "You should take this."

"What," Brendon says, "no, it's okay—"

"Shut up," Spencer says, and holds the bag open so that Brendon can put the CDs into the bag. "Now you won't drop them."

"Yeah," Brendon says, and suddenly Spencer realizes how close they're standing.

Brendon licks his lips.

Spencer can see Brendon's freckles. "Um," he says, awkwardly.

"My dad's waiting," Brendon says, after a moment. "I should go."


"Right," Spencer says, when they're down by the front door. "Thanks for coming over."

"Yeah," Brendon says, "it was neat."

"So," Spencer says, fiddling with the door handle. "I guess I'll see you in the morning, then?"

"Yeah," Brendon nods. "Bye, then."

"Bye," Spencer says, lamely, and pretends like he isn't skulking on the porch until Brendon's car has disappeared around the corner.


"Shut up," Spencer says, when he hands Zack a flyer for the school production of Hairspray.


"Not a fucking word," Spencer tells Ryan, handing him a whole handful of flyers. "Go and stand over there and catch people coming out of the library."

Ryan, to his credit, doesn't say anything. He says nothing pretty loudly, though.


"Shut up," Spencer says, as the whole varsity rugby team files past, each with their hand out for a flyer, "shut up, shut up, shut up."


By the end of the day, the whole pep squad are wearing Hairspray pins.


Brendon looks kind of amazed. "Spencer," he says. "Spence, people are coming to see my show."

"Well," Spencer says, awkwardly. "Yes."

"They're coming to see me, on stage."

"Uh-huh," Spencer says. Wasn't that the point?

"Because of you," Brendon says, beaming.

"They'll all see how awesome you are, now." Spencer says, quickly. He doesn't meet Brendon's eyes. "Shut up," he finishes, lamely. "I have to go."

"Right," Brendon says, "yeah."


"Okay," Ryan says, at the end of class, "if I don't make fun of your big stupid gay crush soon, I'm going to explode."

"It's not stupid," Spencer protests.

Ryan points at the Hairspray pin on Spencer's backpack.

"Um," Spencer says. "Okay. Meet me after practice."

"Excellent," Ryan says, gleefully. "You're such a loser."


"Your big gay crush is so stupid," Ryan says, dropping his school bag on the floor and sprawling across Spencer's bed.

"You big gay crush is more stupid," Spencer says, nudging at Ryan with his knee so that he moves over and there's room on the bed for both of them. "At least mine has a name. Yours could still be the janitor."

"He's not the janitor," Ryan says. "And before you ask, I just know."

"Hmm," Spencer says. "Any closer to figuring out who he is?"

Ryan shrugs. "His birthday's coming up. He's getting a wide-angled lens for his camera."

"All the better for taking candid pictures of you with," Spencer says, rolling onto his side and poking Ryan in the thigh. "Not creepy at all."

"Shut up," Ryan says, lazily. "It doesn't feel creepy."

"Well," Spencer says, "that's alright then."

"I think he's a senior," Ryan says. "Sometimes he says stuff... I don't know. Like he's getting ready for college. He asked where I'm going to be on his birthday, so he could take a picture of me. I said he'd have to tell me when it was, first."

Spencer shrugs. "Don't you think it's kind of weird, that you still don't know his name?"

"I guess," Ryan says. "Don't you think it's weird how you're totally in love with that weird kid and you never even told me?"

"His name's Brendon," Spencer says, again. "And I'm not totally in love with him. I just—" he tails off. "I didn't not tell you."

"Yeah," Ryan says, "you did."

"I didn't know what to say," Spencer says, after a minute. "I'm not—this isn't what metrosexuality was in the nineties, or whatever. It isn't a game. It's just. I like boys, Ryan. I like this boy."

"Yeah," Ryan says, "I know."

"I really like him, Ryan," Spencer says, in a small voice. "I kind of think he's really amazing."

"I know," Ryan says, softly. "I know."

"Fuck," Spencer says. "I'm so lame."

"I know that, too," Ryan says, and he grins. "I've always known that part."

"Fuck you," Spencer says, punching Ryan in the arm. He feels all weird inside, and his hands are shaking. He's just come out, and it's this huge, momentous moment in his life and it's happened in his bedroom and he didn't plan this. He didn't plan any of it.

"You okay?" Ryan asks.

"Kind of," Spencer admits, shrugging a shoulder. "I didn't think—" he stops. "Fuck," he says, and he bites his lip. "I'm gay, Ryan. I'm gay."

Outside his bedroom, his mom drops a basket of laundry.


Spencer scrambles to his feet, his heart beating loudly in his chest. "Mom?" he says, his mouth dry. His bedroom door isn't closed properly, and he pulls it open.

His mom's in the hallway, laundry all over the floor, the basket down by her feet. She looks really pale, and her eyes are wide. "Spencer," she says.

"Mom," Spencer says, "did you—" he doesn't know what to say. "Were you listening?"

"I didn't mean to," she says, haltingly.

"But, you heard," Spencer manages. There's a buzzing in his ears. "You heard what I said."

"I, uh," his mom shakes her head. "Spencer," she says, again, and she starts to cry.

"Mom -" Spencer tries to speak, but he can't.

"I should, uh," Ryan says, awkwardly. "I'll um, call you."

Spencer doesn't say anything, just moves out of the way so that Ryan can slip out and down the stairs. The front door goes a moment later.

His mom wipes at her cheeks with the back of her hands. "How long?" she asks.

Spencer doesn't know what she's asking. "I don't know," he says. "A while." His eyes prick with tears, because this is his mom, and secretly he'd never been scared about how his parents were going to react, because his parents are awesome. He doesn't want to be proved wrong.

"Okay," she says, and she's still crying. Spencer's never seen his mom cry, not ever. He feels like his heart is breaking; his chest is tight and it hurts.

"Mom," Spencer says. He holds his hand out, but she avoids his touch. He hurts.

"I can't—" she says, and she takes a step back, bumping into the wall.

Spencer watches as she goes into her bedroom and closes the door.


"Mom," he says, knocking on her bedroom door. "I made you a drink. And I picked up the laundry."

He can hear her crying.

She doesn't answer, and he leaves the drink by her closed door, and goes back downstairs into the kitchen.


"What's going on?" Jackie asks, hanging around the kitchen door. Their dad's just got home; he's upstairs.

"Nothing," Spencer says, shortly. "Go away."

"It's my kitchen too," Jackie says. "I can get a drink if I want."

"Get lost," Spencer says, and his voice shakes. "Just get lost."

"Spencer—" Jackie says.

"Get the fuck out," Spencer bites out, and Jackie's lower lip wobbles.

"I don't know what's going on," she says. "Mom's crying."

"I know," Spencer says, and he really does. He knows. "Just, go away, will you?"

She turns on her heel and disappears down the hall.

Spencer can hear her crying, too.


There's a text from an unknown number on his phone. It says, hi ;) weezer r awesome, ur rite. mom says do u want to come over on saturday? were havin tacos.

There's another one, too. this is brendon by the way.

Spencer deletes both messages and presses the heels of his hands to his eyes.


"So," his dad says, from the doorway.

Spencer's sitting on the kitchen counter, kicking his heels against the cupboard doors.

"You know your mom hates it when you sit up there," his dad says.

Spencer shrugs. "I think she already does, anyway."

"Spencer -"

"Whatever," Spencer says, and doesn't cry.

"She doesn't hate you," his dad says. "Neither of us do."

"Yeah, whatever," Spencer says again.

"She doesn't," his dad reiterates. "It was just a shock for her, that's all. And for me."

Spencer nods awkwardly, and looks at his feet.

"She'll be okay," he goes on. "Just give her some time to get used to the idea."

Spencer swallows, and doesn't say anything.

"So," his dad says, uncomfortably. "Boys, huh."

"Uh-huh," Spencer says, and wills the ground to swallow him up.

"Fine, good. Yeah. So. Do you, um, have a boyfriend?"

"Dad," Spencer blushes bright red. When he looks up, his dad is bright red too. "No."

"Mom said there was a boy," his dad goes on.

"He's not my boyfriend," Spencer says, quickly. He sort of wants to die.

"But, you, um, want him to be?"

Spencer shrugs, and thinks about holding Brendon's hand in the hallways. "I guess," he says.

"Okay," his dad says. "Good. That's good."

Spencer bites his lip. "Mom—"

"She'll come around," his dad tells him. "It was just a surprise, that's all. A shock."

Spencer nods, and looks at the floor again.

"Everything will be alright," his dad says. "I promise."

"Uh-huh," Spencer says, nodding quickly. Tears prick at his eyes, and he wipes them away with his hand.

His dad sighs, and pulls Spencer into a hug. "They will," he says. "Promise."


Spencer spends the rest of the evening in the kitchen with his iPod on, so he can't hear if his mom's crying.


"Come on," his dad says. "Bed, Spencer."

It's almost midnight.

"Can't sleep," Spencer says, automatically. His eyes hurt.

His dad sighs. "I'll make you a drink, then you need to go to bed, okay?"

"How's Mom?" Spencer asks, before he can help himself.

"She'll come around," his dad says, and Spencer nods.


"Are you asleep?"

"I'm not now," Spencer mumbles, grumpily, opening his eyes.

His mom is sitting by his bed. She looks tired and tear stained, the light from the hallway sneaking in through his door and across the carpet.

"Oh," Spencer says, swallowing. He glances at the clock, it's just past three. He can't have been asleep long.

"I just—" she trails off, and she leans in and smoothes Spencer's hair away from his forehead. "I wanted to say sorry," she says, softly.


"When you have kids," she says, "you make all these promises to yourself about how you're going to be the best mom in the world, and it doesn't matter what problems your kids come to you with, you'll be okay with them and you'll say all the right things and your kids will grow up to be really good, well-adjusted adults. But it doesn't work like that, and sometimes I'm not a very good mom and sometimes I let you down. Like tonight," she says, and Spencer can't help it, he knows he's crying. "Like tonight, I wasn't a very good mom and I let you down."

"You didn't," Spencer manages, even though she did. She really did.

"I did," his mom says, "and I wanted to come tell you that I'm going to try harder, in future, and I'm sorry I reacted like that. I should never have eavesdropped, either."

"The door wasn't closed," Spencer says, awkwardly. "It's okay."

"You're a good kid," she says, "the best."

"I'm gay," Spencer says, softly. "I like boys."

"I know," she says, stroking his hair. Spencer doesn't bat her away, for once. He's tired, and he closes his eyes.

He falls asleep with her sitting beside him.


In the morning, Spencer sits out on the front step with his school bag and waits for Ryan to come by.

"Hey," Ryan says, nudging his bike into Spencer's mom's flowerbeds. "You ready?"

"Uh-huh," Spencer says, nodding, and gets his bike.

When they're out of sight of Spencer's house, around the corner and by the park, Ryan tumbles off his bike and grabs Spencer's sleeve. "Fuck," he says, and hugs Spencer so hard it hurts.

"Yeah," Spencer says, and hugs back.


They skip first period and hide out in the arts magazine office, eating muffins and not saying much. Spencer kind of feels better, after.


"Hey," Brendon says, at the beginning of drama class, coming over to where Spencer's sitting. "So, I, um, sent you a text last night but maybe I didn't get the number right, or something, because you didn't reply, so, I just kind of wondered, because my mom was asking—"

Spencer looks up from where he's tiredly kicking a can of paint. "Hey," he says.

Brendon watches him for a moment, and then sits down next to him. "You okay?" he asks.

Spencer nods, slowly. "Yeah," he says. "Sorry about not replying."

Brendon elbows him. "It's alright," he says. "You want to come over on Saturday and have tacos?"

"Yeah," Spencer says, and something eases a little in his chest.


Ryan's waiting for him outside of the drama studio, leaning up against the wall and looking bored.

"What are you doing here?" Spencer asks.

Ryan shrugs. "Figured I'd come meet you," he says. "Come on, lets get lunch and I'll let you talk about how cute Brendon is, for like, five whole minutes."

Spencer just smiles. "I'm going over to his house on Saturday, we're going to have tacos."

"Uh-huh," Ryan says, rolling his eyes.

"His mom's invited me," Spencer says. "What do you think that means?"

"That's he's as big a loser as you are," Ryan says. "You think they'll have pizza today? I really want pizza."

"Five whole minutes, you said," Spencer says, poking Ryan in the side.

Ryan just wriggles away. "I didn't mean five exclusive minutes. We can talk about other stuff at the same time. Like, what we're going to have for lunch." They wander around the corner and Ryan bumps into someone. Spencer recognises him from around; he's a senior who plays in one of the bands that usually set up at the after-game rugby parties.

"Um," the guy says. "So, Ryan, there's a party—"

Spencer cocks his head to one side and narrows his eyes. Hmmm, he thinks.

Ryan just rolls his eyes. "Yeah. And?"

"Nothing," the guy says. "Thought you might want to come, that's all."

Ryan blinks. "Why?" he asks.

"No reason," he says.

Spencer thinks the guy's shoulders slump as he walks off, flip-flops loud against the tiles. Spencer's trying to remember his name, but it won't come to him. "Ryan," he says. "Um—"

"Well," Ryan interrupts, "that was kind of weird. Do you want to hurry up at all? There'll be no pizza left if we don't get there soon."

Spencer just blinks, and follows Ryan down the hallway.


Spencer bikes over to Brendon's on Saturday. He takes a big bag of cookies with him, in his backpack, and another six CDs he's pretty sure Brendon's never heard before. When he gets there, Brendon opens the door and grins.

"Spencer Smith," he says, and tugs him inside. "Mom, Dad," he yells, "Spencer's here."

Brendon's mom is really nice, and she has Brendon's smile and dark hair, and she takes Spencer into the living room and offers him some juice, and a plate of cookies. Brendon's dad comes and sits down with them, and he has graying hair and a wide smile. He asks Spencer about playing rugby and what he wants to do at college. Spencer sort of wants to die, but they're actually kind of nice, if a little weird.

Brendon just sits on the edge of the couch and grins at him, breaking a cookie into four and getting crumbs all over the carpet.


They eat tacos in the dining room, and Brendon laughs a lot and makes jokes with his dad. Spencer eats so much food he thinks he might have to undo the top button of his jeans, and then there's ice cream for dessert. Spencer gets extra sprinkles because he's the guest, and Brendon pouts a lot and pretends to be mad until his mom relents.


After they've eaten they go upstairs to Brendon's room.

Spencer stands in the doorway and stares. "What happened?" he asks, staring around. "Did a tornado hit?"

"Ah," Brendon's mom says, coming upstairs and sighing. "A boy after my own heart. See if you can't get him to clean every now and again, huh? I'm sure that room had a floor when we moved in here."

Brendon just rolls his eyes and sweeps a pile of school books and clothes off his bed and onto the floor.

"When did you last clean?" Spencer asks, gingerly kicking a pile of clothes out of the way.

"I'm too busy and important for cleaning," Brendon says, airily. He sprawls across his bed and grins. "Come sit down, Spencer, and stop staring at my stuff."

"Hmmm," Spencer says, and perches very carefully on the edge of the bed. Before he knows what he's doing, he's mentally cleaning Brendon's room, making rooms on the shelves for Brendon's school books and his CDs and sorting out his laundry.

Ryan says that Spencer is kind of obsessive. Spencer is inclined to agree.

"You're not even listening," Brendon says, after a while.

"How do you even know what's clean and what isn't?" Spencer asks, toeing another pile of clothes.

Brendon shrugs. "Sniff it and see, I guess."

Spencer blinks.

"What," Brendon says, "you want to clean my room now?"

"Um," Spencer says. "Kind of?"

Brendon rolls his eyes.


"I'm not sniffing your clothes, Brendon," Spencer says, twenty minutes later. "Clean stuff in that pile, dirty stuff in that pile."


"Is that a pizza box in your closet?"

"Maybe," Brendon says.


"You should have friends over more often, Brendon," Brendon's mom says, bringing them up more juice and some snacks, and some trash bags that Spencer takes with a grin.


"You are so weird," Brendon says. "Can we listen to music yet?"

Spencer rolls his eyes, and makes Brendon fold his clean clothes and put them away in the closet.


"So," Ryan says, "you went around to his place and you cleaned his room? Is that right? Like, I'm not making that up out of my head or anything?"

"It was really messy," Spencer says.

"Uh-huh," Ryan says. "So you cleaned up. That's perfect. That's amazing, that's like, the greatest thing I've ever heard."

"He'll be able to find stuff now," Spencer says, awkwardly.

"Yeah, because that was his intention when he invited you over," Ryan says. "Spencer, you are so lame. There isn't even a word to describe how lame you are."

"His mom liked me," Spencer says, petulantly. He kicks his feet together.

"Yeah, because what everyone wants in a boyfriend is someone their mom approves of."

"Shut up," Spencer says. "He is not my boyfriend."

"Well," Ryan says, "not anymore. Not after you made him sort his laundry instead of making out with him. In his bedroom. On his bed."

Spencer blinks miserably. "You think there might have been making out?"

Ryan cocks his head to one side. "He's kind of just as lame as you are, so probably not. But, you know, maybe."

"Huh," Spencer says, and feels kind of stupid.


They're in Spencer's back yard, lazily sprawled across the grass, listening to Ryan's iPod until the battery runs out.

When it goes dead, Spencer sighs. "You want to come inside?" he asks, because Ryan hasn't been inside since Spencer's mom and dad found out.

Ryan shrugs his shoulder. "I'm okay here," he says.

"Mom misses you," Spencer says, "I'm pretty sure of it. She likes your stupid hats."

"I like my stupid hats," Ryan says, "except for how they're not stupid."

"Dad came home with this pile of books," Spencer says, after a while. "They're all called stuff like, So Your Kid Is Gay. It's really stupid, he keeps putting his glasses on and reading them instead of watching the TV. They're all bookmarked."

Ryan rolls onto his side. "That's good, right?"

"It's embarrassing," Spencer says. "Like, he probably knows more about being gay than I do."

Ryan blinks. "That's... weird."

"I know, right? Weird." Spencer picks at the grass. "And Mom, well. I think she reads them too. She's kind of hugging me a lot."

"She was really upset," Ryan says, without meeting Spencer's eyes. "I didn't like that much."

Spencer swallows. "She heard you, too," he says, softly. "She doesn't just know about me."

"I know," Ryan stares up at the sky. "You think she'll be upset with me, too?"

Spencer shrugs. "She's not crying anymore. Mom says it was the shock. That she didn't expect it. "

"Don't know why she was surprised," Ryan says. "You talk about Brendon all the time."

"Do not," Spencer says.

"Do too," Ryan says. He presses the toe of his sneaker against Spencer's ankle. "So, you don't think she'll be, like, upset with me?"

"She's not upset with either of us, I don't think," Spencer says. "She's just upset."

"Huh," Ryan says.

"She'll probably hug you a lot," Spencer says. "I think she's really trying."

"I never figured her for someone who'd have to try," Ryan says, after a minute.

"No," Spencer says. "Me neither. Dad thinks that's why she's so upset. She didn't expect it either. She's kind of upset at herself."

"This sucks," Ryan says.

"Yeah," Spencer rolls his eyes. "You want to come inside?"

"I guess," Ryan says, and sighs.


Spencer's late for drama class on Monday morning; Ms. Elliot rolls her eyes at him and Spencer shakes his head.

"Detention," he says, before she can, "I know, I know."

Brendon grins at him from across the room, and Spencer can't help but grin back.


"I hate everything," Ryan says, slumping down at their table in the cafeteria. "I hate everyone and everything and more than anything, I hate my creepy internet stalker."

"Hmm," Spencer says, and concentrates on rearranging his burger so it looks slightly more appetizing. "Um, oh dear."

Ryan rolls his eyes. "You could sound at least vaguely interested, Spence."

"This is my interested face," Spencer tells him. "Can't you tell?"

"No," Ryan says, petulantly. "He hasn't emailed me in days. Days, Spencer."

"Maybe his internet's broken, or something," Spencer says, squeezing out a ketchup sachet onto his burger. "Or maybe, maybe he's just broken up with you."

Ryan looks pained. "No way. I haven't done anything. He can't break up with me like this. It's not fair."

Spencer rolls his eyes. "When was the last time you heard from him?"

"Thursday," Ryan says, sighing loudly. "Thursday morning. He was telling me all about his cats and I sent him all these pictures of mugs from some art gallery in London, really cool ones, with cats on them."

Spencer chokes on his burger. "What?"

"I sent him pictures of mugs," Ryan says, patiently, "with cats on them."

"Oh my god," Spencer says. "Oh my god, you didn't."

"I did," Ryan says. "I think he liked them. He told me he did, anyway."

"It's like I want to savor every moment of this conversation, so I can replay it over and over," Spencer says. "After you totally freaked the fuck out and turned into the weird kind of person who sends their weird internet boyfriend pictures of mugs with cats on the side, what happened then?"

"Stop enjoying my total misery," Ryan says, poking Spencer in the side. "We talked about his birthday," he goes on, "and then we had to go to class so we said we'd email later, and now I've been dumped, Spence, I've been cyber-dumped. I'm the most miserable guy who ever lived."

"Have you tried emailing him?" Spencer asks, admiring his newly re-styled burger.

Ryan groans loudly and drops his head to the table. "I'm such a freak," he says, in a muffled voice.

"There, there," Spencer says, in a comforting manner. He pats Ryan on the back.

Ryan kicks him. "I've emailed him, like, twenty times. No. Ten. Maybe. He's going to think I'm such a loser."

"To be fair, Ryan," Spencer says, contentedly, "he probably already thinks that. You remember the part where you sent him pictures of cat mugs, right?"

"Nrgh," Ryan says. "Hate, hate, hate."

"Want to come hand out Hairspray flyers after this?" Spencer asks. "It might take your mind off your heartbreak."

"Why aren't you more sympathetic?" Ryan grumbles.

"Because he hasn't emailed you in four days," Spencer pointed out. "That's like, one long weekend away, or whatever. You'll probably go check now and he'll have sent you fifteen stupid messages telling you how your cat mugs are the greatest thing that ever existed and he wants to marry you and have your creepy internet babies, and all this pain and suffering will just be a distant memory, and I'll have wasted good energy trying to make you feel better."

Ryan narrows his eyes. "You're the worst best friend ever."

"Yeah," Spencer says, biting into his burger. "So, you going to come help with the flyers?"

"Nope," Ryan says, resolutely. "You can be a loser all by yourself. I'm going to go check my email."

"Fine," Spencer says, rolling his eyes. "See if I care."


Spencer doesn't have enough flyers left, so he goes back to the drama studio to grab another handful.

He finds Brendon sitting on the stage with a Tupperware box of sandwiches in his lap, reading a book and listening to his iPod.

"What are you doing here?" Spencer asks, standing right in front of Brendon so that Brendon notices him.

"Eating my lunch," Brendon says, tugging out his earbuds. "And reading my book. What are you doing here?"

"I ran out of flyers," Spencer says, waving his last remaining few flyers at Brendon. "And I meant, really, why?"

Brendon shrugs. "I always eat my lunch here. Ms. Elliot lets me, because she's kind of awesome."

"Hmm," Spencer says, and feels shitty. "Ryan's deserted me because his creepy internet boyfriend has dumped him, so do you want to come keep me company while I bug people into coming to see your show?"

"Sure," Brendon says, and wolfs down the rest of his sandwich.


Spencer stands at the entrance to the cafeteria and bugs everyone into taking a flyer. It does mean he has to suffer the indignity of being clapped on the back over and over and whooped at and high-fived, but these are all things that Spencer is kind of willing to put up with, as flyhalf.

"I'm the flyhalf, don't you know," Spencer says, when there's a momentary lull.

Brendon rolls his eyes. "No way."

"No," Spencer says, "I am. I try to keep it quiet, but, you know. Sometimes people find out."

"Uh-huh," Brendon says. "That must be hard for you."

"The hardest," Spencer admits. A couple of kids come out of the cafeteria, and Spencer hands them both a flyer. "You should come see the show," he tells them, "Brendon's pretty awesome in it."

Brendon blushes pink.


"Come have lunch with us," Spencer says, later in the week. He gathers up his iPod and his phone and his notebook.

Brendon stops stacking chairs and stares at him. "What?" he says, like he didn't hear.

Spencer raises his voice, in case Brendon's deaf or something. "Lunch," he says, slowly. "Come and have lunch with me and Ryan."

Over the other side of the room, Ms. Elliot very carefully stops stacking chairs and stares at them. Spencer doesn't look at her, because she's weird.

"Ryan's stupid internet boyfriend has still broken up with him," Spencer goes on, quickly, "he's driving me crazy. Save me, come on. I think he's started writing emo poetry again, I saw him edging the pages of his notebook with black sharpie."

"You didn't," Brendon says.

"Well," Spencer admits. "No. But he might be doing that right now and you should come save me from the Crazy."

"Okay," Brendon says. "Sure."

"Good," Spencer says. "Come on."


Ryan's wearing black eyeliner and poking at his lasagna in a desultory manner.

"Hi," Spencer says, brightly. "Brendon's having lunch with us."

"I am destined to be alone forever," Ryan says, morosely. "Do you think it was the cat mugs? Do you think he didn't want a mug with a cat on it?"

"I think it probably was the cat mugs," Spencer agrees, sitting down. "Say hi to Brendon, Ryan."

"Hi," Ryan says, without looking up. He stabs at the lasagna with his fork. "Do you think things would have been different if I hadn't sent him the links?"

"Ryan sent his internet boyfriend pictures of mugs with cats on them," Spencer tells Brendon, "as a genuine attempt at seduction. It's really funny."

Ryan kicks him under the table, but Spencer can tell his heart isn't in it.

"Uh-huh," Brendon says, and pulls his Tupperware out of his backpack. "You want a sandwich, Spence? Mom always makes me too many, in case I lose any."

Spencer blinks, and even Ryan looks up. "In case you lose any?"

"Yeah," Brendon says, pulling another tub out of his bag and sliding it across the table. "Sometimes they don't make it all the way to lunch. You want, um," he checks, "cheese, or cheese and tomato?"

"Cheese and tomato," Spencer says, awkwardly, and doesn't meet Ryan's eye.


"Hey, guess what?" Brendon's wolfed down both his sandwiches, and is eating a stick of celery and sucking on a juice box at the same time. "We've already sold more tickets for Hairspray than we did for the show last year. How cool is that?"

"Awesome," Spencer says, although he'd been to see The King and I last year with Ryan, and the auditorium had only been a third full, so selling more didn't exactly mean much.

"Yeah," Brendon says, enthusiastically. "And kids keep stopping me in the hallway to tell me they've got tickets."

"That's really great," Ryan says, nodding and kicking Spencer over and over under the table. "How great is that, Spence? Really great, huh?"

"Shut up," Spencer says, "Brendon's talking."

"I'm not," Brendon says.

"You are," Spencer says. "Shut up, Ryan."

"You want some cookie?" Brendon asks, breaking it carefully in half and offering it to Spencer.

Ryan makes a choked sound from across the table, and Spencer steps on his foot.

"Sure," Spencer says. "Thanks."

"And there's still time for other people to get tickets," Brendon goes on, "because we're not on until next week." He shrugs, eating his cookie quickly. "I mean, you could get a ticket, or something. If you haven't yet. Like, if you wanted to, or whatever. You don't have to."

Ryan chokes.

"Ryan," Spencer says, levelly, "shut up."

"Spencer's already got tickets," Ryan manages, ignoring Spencer. He's gone all pink from trying not to laugh. Spencer hates him.

"Well," Brendon says, after a moment. "That's good. What night are you coming? I could, you know, wave from the wings or something."

"Better question: when isn't he going to be there?" Ryan suggests, shuffling his chair away so that Spencer was too far away to punch him.

"You're coming more than once?" Brendon asks, wide-eyed.

Spencer shrugs, and clears his throat. "I painted the scenery, you know," he says. "I have a close personal relationship with the scenery. I'm coming to see the scenery."

"Right," Ryan agrees, "he's coming to see the scenery. He's done nothing but complain about that the stupid fucking scenery for the last couple of months and now he's coming to spend an entire week staring at it. That's totally normal, right?"

"You sent your internet boyfriend pictures of cat mugs," Spencer says, in a voice that does not squeak, "and he dumped you, so shut up."

"Low," Ryan says, shaking his head and looking grumpy. "And he likes cats. He said he liked the cat mugs."

"It's really cool that you're coming," Brendon says, ignoring Ryan and grinning at Spencer. "That's really neat. You can come hang out backstage, if you like."

Spencer nods. "Okay," he says, and feels warm inside. He kicks Ryan, just because.


"Has anyone in this locker room not bought their Hairspray tickets yet?" Spencer yells, before practice.

Grumpily, Zack holds up his ticket. "I'm going," he says, rolling his eyes.

"And me," Brent says.

"Awesome," Spencer says, smiling brightly. "But I want to see proof. Everyone hold their tickets up, please."

"Fuck you," Brent grumbles, unzipping his backpack and holding up a battered ticket.

"School spirit, guys," Coach tells them, leaning against the doorway, and clapping his hands, "they come to your pep rallies, you go to their shows. That's how it works."

"You got yours yet, Coach?" Spencer asks, grinning. "How many did I put you down for?"

Coach rolls his eyes. "You put me down for three," he says. "And make sure you're not the kind of idiot who's gotten me tickets for game night."

Spencer blinks, and checks the game schedule pinned to the wall.

The last night of Brendon's show clashes with Spencer's next rugby match.


Ryan slumps down at their lunch table and drops his head in his hands. "Urgh," he says. "Urgh."

Spencer ignores him in favor of mushing up his mac and cheese with his fork. "If you mush it up enough, you can't tell it had that weird crust thing," he says. "And the crunchy bits aren't so obvious."

Ryan makes a face. "That's disgusting."

"It's this, or mystery meat," Spencer says, shrugging his shoulders.

"I'd rather die," Ryan says. "In fact, I think I'm going to. I'm so miserable."

Spencer rolls his eyes. "Still dumped, huh?"

"Yep," Ryan says, miserably. He's swathed in eyeliner and stupid hats. "I'm miserable and I'm going to die alone."

"Well," Spencer says, "at least you'll have your cat mugs to remind you of how much of a loser you were. You ordered him one, right?"

Ryan narrows his eyes. "It was going to be a birthday present," he says. "I paid international shipping charges for that shit."

"Aw," Spencer says. "That's kind of cute."

"I hate you," Ryan says. "You are enjoying my misery. My abject misery."

"Only a little bit," Spencer admits. "Hey, you want to come over and watch a crappy movie tonight after practice? I'll let you pick. We can watch one where everyone dies, if you like."

Ryan perks up. "What, really? You won't complain?"

"I didn't say that," Spencer says. "But I won't make you turn it off."

"You're the best," Ryan says, elbowing him.

"Yeah, yeah," Spencer says. "I know."

"Where's, you know, whatshisname?" Ryan rolls his eyes and points at the empty seat at their table.

"You know his name, dumbass," Spencer pokes him in the side. "He's at a costume fitting. Dress rehearsal's tonight. And you only just noticed he wasn't here?"

"I try and block out you being disgusting with your boyfriend," Ryan says, airily.

"He is not my boyfriend."

"Yet," Ryan says.

"Yet," Spencer agrees, going red. "And we are not disgusting."

"Oh, come on," Ryan rolls his eyes. "You feed each other tater tots. Kids were trying to impale themselves on their forks so they didn't have to watch any longer. I threw up a little bit in my mouth."

"Shut up," Spencer hisses. "Your brain just makes stuff up. When did we feed each other tater tots?"

Ryan raises an eyebrow. "What was Friday?"

"He'd never had a cafeteria tater tot!" Spencer protests. "I let him have some of mine, so what!"

"You see?" Ryan says, darkly. "You see. Oh my fucking god, what the fuck is that noise?"

Spencer shrugs. Over at one of the tables by the window, a crowd of seniors are whooping and clapping someone on the back. "Chill out," he says. "It's just someone's birthday or something. Are you trying to turn into the Grinch?"

"The Grinch hated Christmas, dumbass," Ryan says. "Those seniors are just annoying. Can't someone do anything about them?" He looks around the cafeteria expectantly, then swivels back around in his chair so quick he knocks his book off the table. "Whose birthday?" he asks. "Spence?"

Spencer shrugs his shoulders. "Dunno," he says. "I can't see. There's a big party at the weekend, though. Don't know whose place it's at. I'll find out."

"Do," Ryan says, looking fierce.

"Okay," Spencer says, "okay."


Spencer's late out of practice after school, and he's even later once he corners Zack and asks him whose party it is this weekend. Ryan sends him text after text, have u found out yet? and im outside waitin 4u hurry up.

Spencer rolls his eyes and texts back, am just findin out now, shut up.

When he finally gets his shit together and goes to find Ryan, he's really late. So late that Ryan's abandoned any pretence at waiting for him on the steps by the front doors, and is lying on top of the wall by the bike racks, looking maudlin.

"You're pining," Spencer says, climbing up and sitting down next to him.

"Am not," Ryan says, miserably. "Did you find out?"

Spencer shrugs. "Party is at Tom Conrad's," he says, "but that's not whose birthday it is, that's all I got."

"You suck," Ryan says. "What use is it, having the flyhalf as my best friend if you can't even find out whose birthday it is today? You suck."

"Yeah," Spencer says, rolling his eyes. "A thanks would have worked just as well."

"Shut up," Ryan says. "Crap, is our English paper due tomorrow?"

"Yeah," Spencer says, "you need to bail on watching movies?"

"No," Ryan says, "I just need to go back and get my notes out of my locker first, that's all. Come with me?"

Spencer rolls his eyes again. "Come on, then. Loser."


"Hurry up," Spencer says, tapping his foot and looking grumpy.

"Shut up and hold my books, okay? I can't find my stupid notes."

Spencer sighs loudly and holds his hands out. Ryan is upending his locker onto the floor, bundling notes into Spencer's hands and tipping handfuls of old ball point pens on top.

"How have you managed to lose them already?" Spencer asks, in disbelief. "We had them, like, yesterday."

"Shut up," Ryan says, "just because you're stupid and weird and organized. Everyone hates that about you, you know."

Spencer just rolls his eyes and lets Ryan load him up with papers.

"Maybe I left them in the arts magazine classroom," Ryan says, finally, after he's dumped the whole contents of his locker all over the hallway.

"Huh," Spencer says, "maybe, we should have checked there first, huh?"

"Shut up," Ryan says, elbowing him, "and help me get all this stuff back in here."


"Maybe we should just set up camp in here, or something," Spencer says, lying down on the table in the arts magazine classroom as Ryan roots through his drawers. "Think how much more time you could spend here if we just stopped going home altogether."

"Shut up," Ryan says, throwing a scarf at Spencer's head and kneeling down so he could look under the desk. "Ha, got them."

"Excellent," Spencer says, dryly.

Down the hallway, a door slams.

"I'm just saying," a voice says, loudly, from down the hall towards the music rooms, "that you're kind of lame about your cats."

"I am not," a second voice says, coming closer towards the arts magazine classroom. "They love me and I love them, that's all."

"Loser," the first voice says, lazily. "A new wide-angled lens and you're taking pictures of your cats? What the fuck."

Ryan freezes. "Spence," he whispers. "Spence."

Spencer swallows, and slides off the table, trying to peer around the doorway and see who it is. Ryan clambers noisily over the desk and bites his lip as Tom Conrad and the guy who asked Ryan to his party walk by, hands in their pockets, guitar cases slung across their backs.

"That's Jon Walker," Ryan manages hoarsely, as Tom and Jon wander down the hallway and around the corner. The doors swing shut behind them, and Ryan sinks down onto the desk. "Jon Walker," he repeats.

"Dude," Spencer says, wide-eyed. Now he remembers the name of the guy who asked Ryan to his party. "Jon Walker's your creepy internet stalker?"

"He might not be," Ryan says, desperately. "Maybe he's just some other senior who takes a lot of pictures and has a new wide-angled lens and takes pictures of his cats and is best friends with Tom Conrad who's hosting a party this weekend, the same week as my creepy internet stalker's birthday."

Spencer lets out a long breath. "Fuck," he says. "He's not Quasimodo."

"Well," Ryan says, shaking his head, "no. Fuck, I got dumped by Jon Walker."

"It might not be him," Spencer says. Jon Walker is one of the popular seniors, a laidback music kid who wears flip-flops and plays in a band that Ryan semi-regularly reviews. He's cute and funny and smart but Spencer's never hung out with him. The music kids and the rugby kids run in separate spheres; they go to the same parties but Spencer can't remember ever doing more than nodding at him and his friends. They've certainly never spoken.

"I called his band lame and mediocre," Ryan says miserably, slumping down at the desk. "I said they were derivative."

Spencer hums. "Uh, well," he says, awkwardly, patting Ryan on the shoulder. "You've said worse."

"Not about someone I wanted to date," Ryan says. "I sent Jon Walker pictures of mugs with cats on them. Oh god, I want to die."

"It might not be him," Spencer says. "We don't know that he's the one who's been sending you all these emails. Why wouldn't he tell you his name?"

"I'm going to check the subscription list for the arts magazine," Ryan says, fiercely. "Maybe whoever's been sending me all those emails is a subscriber. That makes sense, right?" he looks at Spencer, biting his lip. "It can't be Jon Walker," he says, waiting for the computer to boot up. "I mean, it can't be. He's—" he tails off. "I turned him down," he says, miserably. "He asked me to his party and I just said no."

"Check the list," Spencer says, rubbing Ryan's shoulder. "It might give us a clue."

"I turned him down," Ryan says again. "He's amazing, and I didn't even notice when he invited me to his birthday party."


Jon Walker's name is the thirtieth name on the list of subscribers to the arts magazine, one of the only students' names aside from Ryan and Spencer's. If it weren't for the fact that an ex-student had bequeathed a sum of money to the school for the purpose of the arts magazine, which the school pledged to equal every year, Spencer knows they would have closed it down years ago. Most of the other subscribers are parents or ex-students.

Ryan drops his head to the desk and groans.


"Since when did my parents subscribe to the arts magazine?" Spencer asks, as they unlock their bikes.

Ryan rolls his eyes. "Since always," he says. "Well," he amends, "since I became editor, anyway."

"How did I not know this?" Spencer asks, shouldering his back pack.

"Because you're stupid and annoying," Ryan says fiercely.

Spencer sighs, and rubs Ryan's shoulder, awkwardly.

"Jon Walker," Ryan says, miserably, and leans into Spencer's hand.


Ryan spends the next two hours sprawled across Spencer's bed looking pitiful.

"Maybe it wasn't the cat mugs, Spence," Ryan says, ten minutes into Batman Begins.

Spencer presses pause. "What?"

"Maybe he didn't internet-break-up with me because I sent him pictures of lame cat mugs. Maybe it was because I acted like I didn't want to go to his party. He hasn't emailed me since then."

"Uh," Spencer says. "Maybe."

"I knew he liked the mugs," Ryan says, brightly, rolling onto his back. "I knew they weren't lame."

"The cat mugs will always be lame," Spencer tells him, nicely, because someone has to.

"I'm going to get him back," Ryan tells him, ignoring Spencer's eye roll.

"How are you going to do that?"

"I'm going to do something amazing," Ryan says, airily. "I just haven't thought of it yet, that's all. Dude," he pokes Spencer in the side. "Why have you paused the movie?"

Spencer groans and flops back down onto the pillow.


Spencer gets a text message half way through the movie. He glances across at Ryan, who is scribbling down a list in his English notebook—a list that looks nothing like the paper they're supposed to be handing in in the morning—and opens his phone. The message is from Brendon, and it says, dress rehersal really bad :(((((( ur scenery v awesum tho, didnt fall over once!

He ducks his head to hide his grin, and pockets his phone. He waits five minutes before texting back.

why did it suck? my scenery is totally awesome, i no.

Brendon replies immediately, it just did. send gud luk 4 2moro. were sold out!

sold out, amazing, Spencer texts. u will b awesome 2, dont worry.

r u comin 2moro?

y, Spencer types. He can't think of a single other sensible thing to say.

"Stop texting your boyfriend," Ryan says, without looking up.

"How did you know I was texting Brendon?" Spencer asks. "And he's not my boyfriend."

"Yeah, yeah," Ryan says, poking Spencer in the thigh with his pencil. "Stop being gooey. You're ruining the movie."

"You're not even watching the movie," Spencer protests. "You're making some lame plan to win back Jon Walker!"

"I'm taking over the centerfold in the arts magazine," Ryan tells him. "I'm going to show him how awesome it would be to date me."

Spencer blinks. "You're not, like—" he stops, and twitches. "You're not going to photograph yourself naked, or anything, right?"

"Fuck, no," Ryan says, rolling his eyes. "That's a stupid idea. Fuck, you're not allowed to have ideas anymore, not if they're this stupid. Shut up."

"It was a possibility," Spencer protests.

"No," Ryan says, "it wasn't. How lame is Katie Holmes in this movie?"

"Totally," Spencer agrees. "Remember when we watched all those Dawson's Creek DVDs?"

"No," Ryan says, shaking his head, "that never happened. Stop making up embarrassing shit."

Spencer rolls his eyes. He and Ryan had spent the spring break two years ago watching Dawson's Creek DVDs and making up smoothie recipes. It had been fun. "You cried when Jen died," Spencer says.

"That was you," Ryan says, exasperatedly. "Anyway, shut up. We're talking about me. And Jon Walker."

"Sorry," Spencer says, and flicks open his phone when it buzzes. Brendon's written, rly glad ur gonna b there. c u 2moro x

Spencer feels all warm inside, right down to his toes.

"Spencer," Ryan flicks him in the forehead. "Stop thinking about your stupid lame boyfriend, and think about mine instead. Only think about how mine is totally not stupid and lame."

"He's also not your boyfriend," Spencer points out, grumpily.

"He will be," Ryan says, "once he's seen my awesome centerfold."

Spencer makes a very relevant and totally reasonable sound in his throat, which only vaguely sounds like a growl.

Ryan kicks him in the ankle.


Spencer wakes up in the morning to a text message from Ryan. It says, am at school, u shud come join me + bring coffee n muffins.

His alarm clock reads 6:15 in bright red numbers.


"You're crazy," Spencer says, an hour later.

"Shut up," Ryan says, concentrating on the computer screen, "did you bring me coffee?"

Spencer rolls his eyes and slides a thermos across the desk. "Dad sent you some of his."

"Your dad is amazing," Ryan says, gleefully unscrewing the lid and pouring himself a cup. He doesn't pour one for Spencer, and Spencer's left rolling his eyes and reaching for the flask.

"What are you doing?" Spencer asks, after he's taken a gulp. He tugs up a chair and elbows Ryan out of the way. "Let me see."

"Get off," Ryan says, elbowing him back. "You're such a dick."

"You should show me," Spencer says, "so when you get suspended, and everyone asks why, I can just tell them. It'll save time in the long run."

"Yeah, yeah," Ryan says, poking him in the thigh. "I'm going to win Jon Walker back."

Spencer rolls his eyes, and stares pointedly at the frankly shitty picture of a coffee mug Ryan's got up on the screen in front of them.

"Um," Ryan says, after a moment. "The camera on your phone is better than the one on mine, can I borrow it?"

"No," Spencer says, with a bright smile.

"Give it to me," Ryan says, making a grab for Spencer's bag.

"No, seriously." Spencer says. "It'll mean more if it's all your own work."

"Dick," Ryan says, and pouts.

Spencer just grins.


Spencer detours down past Brendon's locker on the way to homeroom, just to check.

His locker is brightly decorated, with a sign saying break a leg, Brendan! pinned to the middle.

Spencer grins and resolves to go find the pep squad at lunchtime, to say thanks. And maybe tell them how to spell Brendon's name.


"Spencer Smith," Brendon says, barreling into him at the beginning of drama class. "I have spirit boxes."

"Uh-huh," Spencer says, "cool, huh?"

"The coolest," Brendon agrees, bright-eyed. "You want a cookie?"

"Sure," Spencer says, and Brendon sits down next to him, tugging open his glittery spirit box and offering Spencer the choice of the cookies inside. His thigh is pressed up against Spencer's, and Spencer can't concentrate on anything but how close Brendon's sitting.

"These ones are good," Brendon says, picking out one with chocolate chips. "You want to share?"

"Hmm?" Spencer manages. "Uh, yeah, cool."

Brendon grins and nods, breaking the cookie in half.

Spencer has cookie crumbs on his jeans; he looks down and sees how their thighs are pressed together.

"Boys!" Ms. Elliot barks. "If you've quite finished."

Brendon just grins and leaves his spirit box on the chair beside Spencer.


"Lend me your phone," Ryan pleads, after Spencer's picked out his lunch and come to sit back down next to Ryan.

"No," Spencer says, brightly, unwrapping his sandwich. "Not a chance."

"Come on," Ryan begs. "Think what a good thing you'd be doing. I'm your best friend, Spence. Don't you hate seeing me sad?"

"No," Spencer says. "You pining over your internet boyfriend is the funniest thing that's ever happened."

Ryan just attempts to look pitiful.

"Fine," Spencer relents, after a minute of Ryan affecting more and more miserable expressions. Ryan beams. "Tell me exactly what you're planning and I'll think about it."

"Cruel," Ryan tells him, kicking Spencer under the table.

"That's the deal," Spencer says, shrugging his shoulders and popping the seal on his juice box. "Take it or leave it."

"Fine," Ryan says, grumpily. "So, I'm going to take all these pictures, like Jon does, but with messages on them, and I'm going to put them on the centerfold, and then I'm going to email him the page and attach a picture with me in and I'll have this sign and it'll say, come on a date with me, Jon Walker. And then he'll date me. Shut up, it's totally lame, I know."

"Pretty lame," Spencer agrees. "And you take terrible pictures, and it'll be totally humiliating."

"I know," Ryan says, slumping in his seat.

Spencer rolls his eyes. "Here," he says, and slides his phone across the table. "If you're going to humiliate yourself, I should at least help."

"You're the best," Ryan says, sarcastically.

"I know," Spencer says, nodding. "It's an affliction."


Brendon turns up half way through lunch, bearing another spirit box and grinning a lot.

"Here," he says, passing the box across to Ryan, "Spencer says you like snickerdoodles."

Ryan blinks a lot, and very carefully draws the box closer. "You have snickerdoodles?" he asks.

"Uh-huh," Brendon says. "Someone got the pep squad to decorate my locker and make me spirit boxes."

Spencer spends some quality time carefully studying the remains of his sandwich.

Ryan snorts, and kicks Spencer under the table.

"You like them, right?" Spencer asks, awkwardly, without looking up.

"Best thing ever," Brendon says, nodding quickly. "Here, I saved you another cookie."

"Cool," Spencer says, and doesn't meet Ryan's eye.


"Are you nervous?" Spencer asks, coming to find Brendon about half an hour before the show's supposed to start.

"Me?" Brendon shrugs his shoulders, and bounces on his toes. "No. I mean," he shrugs again, rolling his shoulders. "I guess. Yeah."

"It'll be awesome," Spencer says, awkwardly, meaning you'll be awesome.

"You don't think anyone will laugh, right?" Brendon asks, anxiously. He's half dressed as Link already, in a pale blue suit and tie for his first scene in The Corny Collins show. His hair's all gelled down and twisted up at the front. "Because we're kind of sold out, and we're never sold out."

Spencer very carefully doesn't think about punching anyone who laughs. "It's going to be great," he says. He swallows quickly. "You'll be great."

"Okay," Brendon says, fiddling with his tie. "Okay." He tugs at the knot, biting at his lip. "Can you—" he starts to ask. "No, it's okay."

Spencer swallows. "No," he says, "I can help."

He stands in front of Brendon and neatens up his tie, trying not to concentrate on how close they're standing, or the pale skin under his jaw as Brendon tips his chin up to give Spencer more room. His hands don't shake.

"There," he says, but he doesn't move away.

Across the room, Ms. Elliott claps her hands. "Anyone who isn't supposed to be here, out, now," she yells.

"I'd better go," Spencer says, narrowing his eyes towards Ms. Elliott, who doesn't take any notice, probably on purpose. Ms. Elliott totally doesn't recognize Spencer's genius.

"Yeah," Brendon says, awkwardly.

"I could—" Spencer trails off. He doesn't know what to do with his hands. He stuffs them into his pockets so he doesn't do something stupid like try and hug Brendon or whatever. He's totally lame. "I don't know. I don't know what happens afterwards. I could come by?"

Brendon nods quickly. "That would be cool, I think," he says, carefully.

"Awesome," Spencer says, and he knows he's all pink. Blushing is so stupid. Everything is stupid. This stupid musical is stupid.

"Spencer Smith," Ms. Elliott yells. "I can still see you, you know."

Spencer rolls his eyes. "I know, I know, you're not blind. I get it."

"Spencer," Ms. Elliott warns. "Don't think I can't put you in detention, just because we're out of school hours."

Spencer holds his hands up. "Right, okay, I'm going." He shoots a quick look at Brendon, and suddenly he's all pink again. "Break a leg," he says, without looking at Brendon, and before he knows what he's doing, he's holding up his hand for a high-five.

Brendon beams, and claps his hand against Spencer's. "I'll see you afterwards," he says.

"Uh-huh," Spencer says, and shoves his hands back in his pockets as he leaves.


"Where have you been?" Ryan hisses, when Spencer makes everyone in their row stand up so he can sneak into his seat, a couple of minutes before curtain up.

"Outside," Spencer says, shrugging. He doesn't need to tell Ryan he's been talking to Zack to make sure no one's going to cause any trouble.

"Uh-huh," Ryan says. And then, "How's your boyfriend?"

"How's yours?" Spencer retaliates, and elbows Ryan in the side.

"Urgh," Ryan says, and slumps in his seat.


Brendon is amazing. Spencer can't look at anyone else the whole time Brendon's on stage. He taps his fingers during all the scenes where he's supposed to be interested in what's going on with the rest of the show, when Brendon isn't there for him to look at. He makes faces at Lizzy Ford whenever she's on stage as Amber, and when she has to kiss Brendon he makes a sound in his throat that has Ryan snorting with laughter.

"Shut up," he says, blushing red.

"He's only got eyes for you," Ryan tells him, in an undertone, "so stop being jealous."

"I'm not jealous," Spencer says, quickly.

"Uh-huh," Ryan says, still laughing, and Spencer can tell he's rolling his eyes.


At the end of the show, Spencer slips out of the row and tells Ryan he'll meet him out by their bikes.

Ryan just rolls his eyes. "Don't be too long," he says. "I've got better things to do than sit around and wait for you two to get your act together."

Spencer flips him off.


"Can you believe it? People liked it," Brendon says, laughing. He's changed back into his jeans, his Link suit jacket hung up on the rail by the door. He's folding his pants up, sliding them onto the hanger too.

"See," Spencer says, sliding his hands into his pockets. "See how easy it is to hang up your clothes?"

Brendon just laughs at him. "You're totally weird, Spence," he says.

Spencer shouldn't blush, but he does anyway. "You too," he says, lamely. "I'd better go," he says. "Ryan's waiting out front."

"Oh," Brendon says. "Sure. Okay. I'll see you tomorrow?"

"Count on it," Spencer says.


"I told him to count on it," Spencer says, as soon as he sees Ryan. "He said he'll see me tomorrow, and I said count on it. Shoot me now, Ry, fuck."

Ryan just laughs, and doesn't stop even when Spencer elbows him in the side.


Ryan wakes him up with another text, one that says, u shud bring me coffee. am in early again. c u in a while?

Spencer pulls the pillow over his head and refuses to look at the clock.


"This is the last time I'm doing this," Spencer says, handing Ryan the thermos and folding his arms. "Do you know how fucking early it is?"

"Sure I do," Ryan says. "The press deadline is lunchtime, though, so I need to get the centerfold layout done before class starts."

"You going to let me see anytime soon?" Spencer asks, pulling up a chair and unwrapping a packet of muffins. He nudges them closer to Ryan.

"It's lame," Ryan tells him. "I know it's lame. You don't have to tell me that."

"Okay," Spencer says, carefully. "How about I won't tell you that, and you let me look anyway?"

Ryan shrugs. "I guess."

"Okay," Spencer says again, and reaches for the mouse.

There are four pictures, none of them particularly well shot. The first is of a tiny cat pencil-top, battered and bruised with the paint rubbed off the ears and the tail. It's resting on a piece of paper, and Ryan's written in sharpie underneath, I'm better with words than pictures.

"Yeah, you are," Spencer says, with a grin.

"Spence," Ryan warns.

Spencer just rolls his eyes and clicks to the second picture. It's of the school quad, taken from the arts magazine window. Spencer recognizes the view, he's spent enough time staring out of it, waiting for Ryan to finish up. There's a piece of paper stuck to the window, and Ryan's written, I really like you across it in black pen.

"Okay," Spencer says, and clicks to the third. It's a birthday card, the old one that's been pinned to the bulletin board for as long as Spence can remember. Ryan's stuck a post-it to the front, though, and written, happy birthday. I'm sorry I missed it. "Ryan—" Spencer starts.

Ryan shrugs his shoulders and doesn't look at him. "Look at the last one."

Spencer nods his okay.

The last one is a picture of a page in a magazine; there's a Starbucks mug in the center, and Ryan's written, we should get coffee sometime.

"Ryan," Spencer says, awkwardly.

"It's lame, I know," Ryan says. "Do you think it'll work? I'm going to finish up putting them all on the centerfold and call the page Dear Jon Walker or something. I don't know. Then I'm going to email it to him with a picture of me, holding up this sign." Ryan slides a piece of paper across the table. It just says, come on a date with me, Jon Walker.

"Ryan—" Spencer says again.

"Shut up," Ryan says, quickly. "I know, okay? But I've got to try and he's not answering my emails."

"Totally brave," Spencer says, softly.

Ryan looks up. "You think?"

"Yeah," Spencer says.

"Okay," Ryan says, after a moment, "move out of the way so I can finish up."


"You're coming again tonight, right?" Brendon asks hopefully, at the beginning of their history class. Mr. Boulthard is still out in the hallway, so there's a couple of minutes before class starts. Spencer's texting Ryan under the table, typing, yes ill still talk 2 u when every1 is laughing @ u. same as everyday. loser.

"Sure," Spencer says distractedly, trying to finish his text. He presses send, and then looks up, shrugging his shoulders. "I could even come say hi, before. You know. If that's okay or whatever."

Brendon nods quickly, and tugs a packet out of his pocket. "Yeah. I mean. That would be okay with me."

"Cool," Spencer says, awkwardly.

"Here," Brendon says, handing Spencer the packet. "I didn't see you at lunch, but I saved you half my cookie."

Spencer tries to think of something sensible to say. "Um," he manages. "Thanks?"

"That's alright," Brendon says. "I know you like them, so."

Spencer nods and spends the rest of the class staring at the back of Brendon's head instead of the board.


"You know what's strange?" Spencer's mom asks, as they all sit down to an early dinner, and she passes Jackie and Crystal their plates, "That this whole family is going to see Hairspray this evening, but you won't sit with us."

"Seats are numbered, Mom," Spencer says, wolfing down his food and rolling his eyes. He doesn't want to be late. "I didn't even know you guys were going when I got my ticket."

"We always go to the school musical, Spencer. Ever since you started at that school. Twice a year. For two years. Did you forget? Do you have amnesia?"

"Whatever," Spencer says, rolling his eyes again. His mom thinks she's so funny. "I'll come see you at halftime."

"The intermission, Spencer."

"Yeah, whatever. I'll see you then."

"Hmm," his mom says. "Don't think we're sharing our musical snacks with you if you don't come say hello."

Spencer's head shoots up. "You've got snacks?"

"Oh yeah," his mom says. "Dad picked them up earlier. Think of us, won't you, when you're sitting by yourself with no extra-special snacks of your own."

Spencer narrows his eyes and thinks very dark thoughts. "I have an emergency Snickers bar," he says, loftily. "I have no need for your snacks."

"All the more for us, then," his mom tells him, and passes him more potatoes.

Nrgh, Spencer thinks, and tries to eat faster.


"You should tell your friend good luck," Spencer's mom says, as Spencer's trying to rush out of the house.

"What?" Spencer blinks, toeing on his sneakers.

"Your friend," his mom says. "Brendon. You should tell him good luck from us."

Spencer swallows awkwardly. "It's break a leg, Mom," he says. "In the theatre it's break a leg."

"So it is," Mom tells him, ruffling his hair. "Make sure you tell him that, okay?"

Spencer nods quickly, and makes a run for the door. He doesn't want to be late backstage.



Spencer freezes, already up and out of his seat and halfway down the aisle. He'd tried to sneak out before the lights were fully up in the auditorium, when people were still clapping and he could have successfully left without having to say hi to anyone's parents.

But apparently the world hates him, because not only is he being cornered by parents, he's being cornered by Brendon's parents. There is nothing in the universe worse than this moment. They will know he has the stupidest crush in the world on their son. They will know and Spencer will die of embarrassment, and it will be awful.

"Hey," he manages, plastering on his politest smile. "Hi Mrs. Urie, Mr. Urie." There's an awkward silence where he contemplates what else to say. There must be something. He's not completely stupid, except for how he quite clearly is.

"Hello, Spencer," they say, and then they both smile at him.

He is not prey, he tells himself. They are not predators and he is not prey. He knows that somewhere in the ether, Ryan is laughing at him. He also knows that somehow, this is Ryan's fault. It always is.

"Um," he says, eloquently, "Brendon was really good tonight."

"Thank you," Mrs. Urie says, patting him on the arm. "We're very proud of him."

"Brendon tells us that you're the one behind getting the rest of the student body to come along and see the show," Mr. Urie says, "handing out all those flyers."

Spencer thinks frantically for a way to prove it isn't so. "Um," he says again, "yes?"

"That was very kind of you," Mrs. Urie says, nicely.

The only thing that could possibly make this any worse would be if his parents showed up and joined in.

When Spencer looks up, his mom and dad and Jackie and Crystal are all standing right behind Brendon's mom and dad and looking for all the world like they want to be introduced.

Spencer decides he's probably cursed. He's got to stop thinking.

"Hi Spencer," they chorus.

"Hi," Spencer says, awkwardly. "Um, these are my parents." He waves his hands across at his parents. "This is Brendon's mom and dad."

There's a whole lot of hand shaking and laughing and smiling and Spencer spends some quality time wishing he were anywhere but here.

"We were just saying, weren't we, Boyd—" Mrs. Urie nudges her husband, "we were just saying how great Spencer's been, handing out flyers and getting all these kids here tonight. They're sold out, you know, and they've never been sold out before. Brendon's really grateful."

"Oh," his mom says, eyeing Spencer carefully. Spencer studiously avoids her gaze. "Spencer's very good like that."

"We were going to take Brendon out for ice cream to celebrate," Brendon's mom says. "Would you like to come with us, Spencer? If that's okay with your mom and dad. I'm sure Brendon would like to say thank you for all your support."

Spencer makes a noise that sounds a little like a squeak. "Um," he says. He wants to die. "Okay."

"Great," Mr. Urie says.

"We'll see you later on," Spencer's dad says, and Spencer's pretty sure he's laughing at him, "you have fun now."

Spencer thinks some more very dark thoughts.


Spencer's been past this place about a thousand times, but he's never been inside before.

"They have forty-nine different flavors," Brendon tells him, pointing towards the ice cream counter as they crowd into a booth with Brendon's mom and dad. The seats are cracked and red, and the whole place is kind of scruffy, but Spencer's sold by the idea of forty-nine flavors.

"Amazing," Spencer says, staring at the menu.

"We've been coming here since the kids were real little," Brendon's dad tells Spencer, as Spencer tries not to think about how close he and Brendon are sitting, squashed into a too-small booth with only one ice cream menu for the two of them to share. "When Brendon was little he wanted one scoop of everything, and he would never pick."

"Dad," Brendon says, rolling his eyes. "Stop telling Spencer embarrassing stuff about when I was a kid. He won't hang out with me anymore if he thinks I'm a loser."

I probably would, Spencer thinks, then resolves never to tell anyone he thought that, ever, ever, ever.

"That's not embarrassing," Brendon's dad says, laughing. "If you wanted embarrassing—"

"Dad," Brendon says, tightly, and ducks his head so he's staring at the menu.

"When I was a kid I'd only pick strawberry," Spencer says, quickly, before Brendon's dad can say anything else. Brendon's tapping at the table top uncomfortably. "Like, it meant Mom and Dad could never get Ben and Jerry's or anything, because I wouldn't eat it. I was kind of annoying, probably."

"But you like other flavors now, right?" Brendon asks, looking up from the menu. He looks scandalized at the thought of Spencer's childhood ice cream habits. Spencer is scandalized by his childhood ice cream habits, though, so.

"Yeah," Spencer says, and he wonders if Brendon's still wearing some of his stage make up. He can't make out his freckles. "But back then I didn't." He sends Ryan imaginary text messages in his head, snd hlp, am in horror movie with bdens mom and dad. Ryan doesn't reply.

"I'm having mint choc chip and butter pecan and rocky road and vanilla fudge ripple," Brendon says decisively, rubbing his palms against his thighs. He nudges Spencer with his elbow. "What are you having?"

Spencer nudges him back, pressing his arm against Brendon's for a moment. "Vanilla fudge ripple," he says, deliberately staring down at the menu, "with cherry."

"Awesome," Mr. Urie says, rubbing his hands together. "I'll go order."

Mrs. Urie excuses herself to go to the bathroom, leaving Brendon and Spencer by themselves.

"Sorry," Brendon says, quickly. "They probably dragged you here."

"No," Spencer says. "No, they didn't."

"Oh," Brendon says. "Well. Thanks for coming."

"The show was really good tonight," Spencer tells him. He wants to say, you were really good tonight. "And you didn't suck." Close.

Brendon smiles, biting his lip. "Good," he says.

"Good," Spencer echoes, and he finds himself smiling too, smiling and trying to ignore the butterflies in his stomach.


"Come on," Ryan says, catching Spencer by the elbow as he comes out of drama class. He's late out because he'd hung around helping Brendon stack the chairs before Brendon had to rush off to rehearsal. "Hurry the fuck up."

"What the—" Spencer starts, attempting to shoulder his backpack as Ryan tries to drag him down the hallway. "Where the fuck are we going?"

"Language, Mr. Smith," Ms. Elliott calls, coming out of the drama studio behind Spencer and catching the end of their conversation. "Do you want to be put back in detention?"

"No, Ms. Elliott, sorry, Ms. Elliott."

"Suck-up," Ryan tells him, elbowing Spencer in the side as they go around the corner.

"Do you want to have to go and explain to Coach why I can't go to practice the day before a game?" Spencer protests. "Because I'm pretty sure that's a conversation I don't want to have. But, you know. You can if you want."

"Yeah, yeah," Ryan says, rolling his eyes. "You're the flyhalf, I get it."

Half the kids in the hallway around them start to cheer, and another few clap Spencer on the back. Spencer beams, because it's always nice when people recognize his genius.

"Oh my god," Ryan shakes his head. "I hate you so much."

"Hate you more," Spencer says, high-fiving three guys in a row. "You're just jealous because no one wants you to be their king."

"I don't believe in the monarchy," Ryan says, airily. "Vive la revolution."

"Whatever," Spencer says. "Want to stop by my locker and see if anyone's left me any spirit boxes? I totally understand if you don't want to eat my snickerdoodles, because they're not the food of the revolution—"

"Oh, shut up," Ryan says.

They double back on themselves so they can go by Spencer's locker.


"What are we looking for, anyway?" Spencer says, leaning over Ryan's shoulder as the computer boots up.

"The first magazine proof is due back from the printers," Ryan says, double-clicking on his internet explorer icon. "I'm going to send it to Jon."

"I thought the proof was a paper copy, not something you could email," Spencer says, looking through his bag for anything that might resemble food. Their detour past Spencer's locker had proved fruitless, and Ryan hadn't been willing to stop for lunch before they hit the arts magazine office. He's pretty sure he's got an emergency Snickers bar somewhere. He hadn't eaten it at Brendon's show the night before, so it should really be in his bag somewhere. He tips his books out across Ryan's desk.

"They send a pdf, normally," Ryan says, logging into his email. "Let's look at the centerfold."

"Sure," Spencer says, piling his books up neatly and emptying his pockets. His Snickers must be somewhere. Chocolate bars do not just disappear.

"Spencer," Ryan hits him in the arm. "What's more important, me or some stupid chocolate bar?"

"Um," Spencer says, carefully.

Ryan narrows his eyes, and tugs Spencer down on to the seat next to him. "Shut up and look," he says. "This is important."

"Okay, okay," Spencer says, rolling his eyes. "I'm paying attention."

Ryan nods, and starts to scroll through the pages on the screen, until they get to the centerfold. In the top corner, it says, Dear Jon Walker..., and then across the double page spread are all of Ryan's crappy photos. It looks different to when Spencer saw them before, when he was just scrolling through a folder of pictures. It looks bigger.

"Fuck," Ryan manages, slumping down in his chair. "Oh fuck, I'm such a fucking loser."

"Uh-huh," Spencer says. "You could delete it if you wanted, send it back to the printers with a different centerfold. Fill it with stupid emo poetry or something, instead."

Ryan bites his lip. He stares at the screen for a while. "No," he says, finally. "I'm going to send it to Jon." He shrugs. "This is the worst idea ever, right?"

"I don't know," Spencer says. Ryan's his best friend and he's also totally fucking brave. "You've had some pretty lame ideas."

"Yeah," Ryan agrees. "Right. Stay while I attach this stupid picture of me asking him for a date?"

"Sure," Spencer says, nudging Ryan's knee with his own. "Let me see."

Ryan sighs, and double clicks on a file on his desktop. It's a badly shot self-portrait, and Ryan's half in and out of the picture, kind of blurry and indistinct. His sign is pretty clear, though, plain printer paper with: come on a date with me, Jon Walker scrawled across in black sharpie.

Spencer watches as Ryan attaches the file to his email, and writes in the subject line, to Jon, please read, thanks, Ryan. He presses send, and they watch while the status bar edges towards 100%.

"Fuck," Ryan says again. "Fuck, fuck, fuck."

Spencer slides his newly re-discovered emergency Snickers bar across the desk, nudging it towards Ryan. "Here," he says.

Ryan nods, and eats it all in three bites.


"Hey," Brendon says, when Spencer shows up in the drama studio before the show that night, "I asked Ms. Elliott and she says you can watch from backstage if you wanted to. Because you helped with the scenery and everything."

Spencer stuffs his hands into his pockets and risks a glance across at their teacher. Ms. Elliott suddenly looks very busy indeed. "Um—"

"I mean, you don't have to," Brendon says, quickly. "I just thought—"

"No," Spencer says, equally quickly. "I mean, yes. Cool."

"Neat," Brendon says, and he grins. "We can hang out."

"Awesome," Spencer manages.


Ryan must be manning a constant vigil by his computer, texting Spencer every four minutes to tell him that Jon still hasn't replied. Spencer kind of feels bad slipping his phone onto silent just before Brendon's show starts, but he's pretty sure that Ryan's tragic heartbreak will still be there at halftime—the intermission, Brendon tells him exasperatedly, rolling his eyes across the hall at Spencer a few minutes before the curtain's due to go up.

"If I see you with that phone out during the show, Spencer Smith—" Ms. Elliott warns him, hurrying past him with a clipboard and a headset.

"It's in my pocket!" Spencer tells her, waving his phone in the air.

"It had better be," she calls after her, rushing around the corner.

"It is," Spencer says, checking his messages. There's one from Ryan, which just says am going 2 die alone. Spencer texts, its gud ur stayin positive and presses send.

"Spencer," Ms. Elliott yells.

"Okay, okay," Spencer rolls his eyes and shoves his phone in his pocket. Brendon comes over again, grinning and waving his arms in the air. Spencer ducks his head to cover up the fact he can't stop smiling. He's in so deep, it's ridiculous.

"Tonight is going to be great," Brendon tells him, beaming. "You're going to be like, my lucky charm or something."

"Uh-huh," Spencer says. "Cool."

"Cool," Brendon echoes, bouncing from foot to foot.

"So," Spencer manages.

"Yeah," Brendon says. "Cool. Right. See you later?"

Spencer nods. He knows he's blushing. "Yeah, later."


It's really cool hanging out by the side of the stage. He can see the audience if he stands far enough back, and it sounds different from back there. He can hear all the kids on stage moving around, and up close he can see their stage make-up. He can even see Brendon sweat when he dances, and when Brendon comes off stage, he winks at Spencer and grins.

Spencer grins back and tries not to look too lame. Everyone knows that winking is a totally obvious way of flirting.

The butterflies in his stomach are back.

He narrows his eyes at Lizzy Ford when she comes off stage, and ignores her when she says, Hi Spencer and flips her hair. He still doesn't like it when she kisses Brendon on stage, she's got a predatory look in her eye. Spencer wonders whether he should warn Brendon, so that Brendon can try and avoid her. It's in his best interest to avoid all preying mantises, and Spencer's probably doing him a favor. When he texts Ryan to ask him what he thinks, Ryan texts back, ur a dumbass n a loser. no no no no no. And then a minute later, actully, do what u want its funny to watch.

Spencer isn't inclined to think that Ryan is the best person to ask for advice about how to woo someone (he thinks, mugs with cats on them, oh my god), but he sort of thinks Ryan might be right on this one, so he resolutely keeps his mouth shut and just nods when Brendon asks if he's enjoying being back stage.

"You should come stand here again tomorrow," Brendon says, excitedly, once the curtain's gone down for the final time and they've all done a curtain call. People are swarming all around them, half in and out of costume, talking loudly and hugging. Spencer moves over to by the wall, where there are less people. Brendon follows, still talking, "That show was totally awesome, it was probably because you were right here."

Spencer can't tell if Brendon's pink cheeks are because he's all hot and sweaty, or because he's blushing. It doesn't matter much, anyway.

"Um," Spencer says, awkwardly. "I can't come tomorrow. I've got a game. I think Coach is going to let me play the whole match, so I can't make it."

Brendon's face falls, but only for a moment. He smiles again, but Spencer's been watching Brendon for kind of a long time and this one isn't real.

"That's okay," Brendon says, quickly. "The whole match, huh? That's really cool."

"It is," Spencer says, because it is, it really is. He loves playing rugby. Playing a whole game is what he's been dreaming of ever since he hurt his stupid knee in the first place. He's really excited about it, but that doesn't stop him wishing that the game was any other night but tomorrow. He doesn't know what to say. "Sorry," he manages.

"No, honestly, that's fine," Brendon tells him, too fast. "Like, you've spent too much time here anyway, the whole week, how awesome has that been? And it's a pain I can't go see the game. It's really stupid, because I totally know all the rules to rugby now. I would have known what was going on and everything."

"More than anyone else, then," Spencer says. No one at school really understands the rules, Spencer knows this. Their whole team knows that, but rugby is the school sport for reasons that Spencer is grateful for but doesn't fully understand. They don't play football and they don't play basketball and so the school rallies around them and treats them like kings.

Brendon shrugs. "Still would have liked to have gone."

"Yeah," Spencer says. His face feels hot.

"Yeah," Brendon echoes. They're still standing by the edge of the stage, but there aren't as many kids hanging around any more. They're kind of by themselves. Brendon's still in full costume. "I should, um, go and change, I guess."

"Okay." Spencer feels all weird inside as Brendon walks away. Crushes are the stupidest thing ever, he thinks, and resolves to stop thinking about holding Brendon's hand in the hallways before he dies of lame.

Brendon turns around. "Um," he says, tapping his hand against the wall. "There's, like, an after-show party tomorrow? And you were a part of this, um, painting scenery and everything, so you should come."

"I can't," Spencer says, even though going to a party with Brendon sounds like fun. "There's a rugby party. You should come to that, though, that'd be cool. We could hang out."

"There's a rugby party after every game," Brendon says, quickly. "But only one after-show party. You should come to that instead."

"I'm the flyhalf," Spencer tells him. He has responsibilities, he's pretty sure of that. Anyway, at the rugby party, everyone will cheer him and stuff. He's the flyhalf, and people will want to high-five him and stuff. "I have to go."

"You're the scenery painter too," Brendon tells him, obstinately. "You're not just the flyhalf. Rugby isn't everything."

It is, Spencer thinks. He shrugs, and doesn't smile. "I already said I'd go," he tells Brendon, even though it isn't true. It's expected he attend, though, probably. Brendon should come with him. Spencer wants to hang out. "Come on," he says, because Brendon's a drama kid and it's okay that he doesn't think rugby is as important as acting or whatever. "It'll be fun. We can make fun of everyone when they get wasted and fall over."

Brendon looks angry. "I can't," he says. "I have plans already. You should too, you were part of this too." He looks like he might stamp his foot. He shrugs, and just looks miserable. "You sure you won't change your mind and come?"

"I can't," Spencer says, again. He could, but he wants to go to the party where people cheer him. Brendon should come to his party.

There's a pause. Spencer thinks he should feel bad. Instead, he's just kind of pissed.

"Fine," Brendon says, after a minute. "I have to go get changed."

"Fine," Spencer echoes, grumpily. The party won't be any fun without Brendon there. "Whatever."

"I guess I'll see you, then," Brendon says.

"Yeah," Spencer says, and tries not to stomp off. "See you."


"He's such an idiot," Spencer says, kicking the wall by his bike. He'd called Ryan as soon as he was out of the auditorium, pushing through the few remaining kids in the hallway until he was outside and could rant in peace.

"You're the idiot," Ryan says. "You know that, right?"

Spencer narrows his eyes at his phone. "I am not. He wouldn't come to my party, he's the dumbass."

"It's not your party," Ryan says, tiredly. "I bet you don't even know whose party it is. You just turned down a date. He asked you to go to a party with him. That's a date. You fucked up."

"Did not," Spencer says. "Shut up."

"Did," Ryan says.

"Did not. Anyway, your boyfriend doesn't even want to talk to you, so. Shut up."

"Fuck you," Ryan says. "Maybe he's busy. Maybe he hasn't checked his email."

"I guess," Spencer says, doubtfully. Spencer can't imagine not checking his email. He always has new facebook requests from kids who want to be his friend. He's building an empire of minions, and soon he will be their king.

"He's a senior," Ryan says. "He's busy, that's all."

"Check to see if he's updated his facebook profile," Spencer suggests, struggling with his bike lock. "Fuck, I want a car. See what his status says. If it says I don't want to date Ryan Ross, you know you're fucked."

"Maybe he just doesn't want me," Ryan says, softly. "I mean, that's a possibility, right? He's dumped me once already."

"Ryan—" Spencer says, rolling his eyes. "That wasn't a real break-up. You weren't even dating."

"You want to come over?" Ryan asks, after a moment. "My dad's out. We could just hang out."

"Sure," Spencer says, even though he hasn't got long before curfew, and he hasn't been home yet because rugby practice ran late. "We could just watch TV, or whatever."

"Cool," Ryan says. He sounds sad, and Spencer feels kind of bad. And kind of like he wants to punch Jon Walker in the face. He hates everyone, just because.


Friday is game day, and normally Spencer likes game days better than any other day, but this game day is really fucking shitty. His mom's pissed at him for getting home late from Ryan's the night before, and when he tries to leave for school his bike has a puncture, so he's both late and covered in oil. Ryan's miserable and monosyllabic, and because Spencer's late to school, there isn't even the normal line of kids waiting to high-five him and wish him luck for that night's game.

Drama class sucks, too. Spencer's late to class because of all the kids stopping him in the hallways, and Ms. Elliott gives him a detention before he's even managed to get through the door to class. She won't take it back, even when Spencer points out in words of one syllable that he's the flyhalf and it's game day.

She rolls her eyes and says that he can make up his detention on Monday, if rugby is so important to him, which isn't fair, because it isn't Spencer's fault that people are proud of their school team and want to wish him luck.

It only gets worse because then Ms. Elliott wants him to pretend to be an alien seeing a high school for the first time, which is the stupidest idea Spencer's ever heard. Then Ms. Elliott tells him that if he doesn't want to flunk out, he has to start participating.

Spencer seriously wants to die. He rolls his eyes and grumbles under his breath, but all Ms. Elliott does is give him a narrow eyed look, and doesn't send him to the principal's office or anything. Even that would be preferable to embarrassing himself in front of the whole drama class.

Today is a bad day, Spencer thinks, putting his arms in the air and pretending to have eyes on the end of stalks. It's a bad, bad day.

It turns out that being made to pretend to be an alien is pretty terrible, but everything is suddenly a hundred times worse when he realizes that Brendon's kind of avoiding him. He tries to catch Brendon's eye, but Brendon's always looking someplace else, and when he goes over to say hi, Brendon's suddenly super-busy talking to people or stacking chairs or suddenly having to be somewhere that Spencer's not. Brendon had said hi, and he'd sort of managed half a wave, earlier, but really, he's not talking to Spencer, and Spencer feels really, really crappy.


When he joins the lunch line after class, there are no tater tots, no pizza and the thing that's labeled lasagna looks more like macaroni and cheese. He gets a text from Ryan to say he's too busy with the arts magazine deadlines to come meet him for lunch, and Brendon's busy doing something that isn't eating with Spencer, so Spencer's left grumpily picking out a sandwich and stomping off to wait in line to pay.

He texts Ryan back as he's waiting, Bden not talking 2 me.

Cos ur an idiot, Ryan texts back. Go 2 his party, dumbass.

Spencer stuffs his phone back in his pocket, and tells himself he's not replying because he's next in line.

He hates eating lunch by himself, so he's half inclined to try and sneak past the hall monitor so he can go bug Ryan in the arts magazine office, but Zack waves him over and wants to talk about rugby instead. They talk tactics, loudly and argumentatively, only stopping when people come over to wish them luck for tonight. They start to argue about whether the scrum is any stronger now that the forwards have been practicing together more often, and they're half way to agreeing when Ryan rushes in, barging past the lunch line and heading in Spencer's direction.

Spencer rolls his eyes, because Ryan's smiling. Ryan hasn't smiled since he accidentally sent his internet boyfriend pictures of mugs with cats on them, so something must have changed in the last few minutes.

"He replied," Ryan says, grinning so hard that Spencer's kind of genuinely worried his face might crack. "He emailed me back and he wants to meet me, like now."

"Hmm," Spencer says. "Where? Make sure it's someplace crowded, and if he offers you candy just say no really firmly, and walk away without looking back."

"Dick," Ryan says, happily. "He replied. I think he actually wants to date me."

"Well," Spencer says, offering Ryan half of his sandwich, "that's good, right?" He means it, apart from how Brendon's pissed at him and that sucks.

"That's the best," Ryan says. "He didn't think I was lame!" He stops, and then corrects himself. "Or, you know, he does and likes me anyway."

Spencer just rolls his eyes. "Welcome to my life."

Ryan punches Spencer loosely in the arm. "Fuck," he says, "I'm so late."

"What are you doing here then?" Spencer asks.

Ryan just bites his lip.

"Go on," Spencer says, shoving him. Ryan grins. "And if you get there and it's the janitor instead, just run like fuck, okay?"

"Dick," Ryan tells him, but before Spencer can reply, Ryan's rushing off across the cafeteria and out into the hallway, not even bothering to keep an eye out for the hall monitor.

"Dude," Zack says, from next to Spencer. "That's kind of gay, right?"

"Pretty much," Spencer agrees, pulling his phone out of his pocket. He types, remember u can get pregnant ur 1st time, and presses send. Then he types another, gud luck.


Spencer doesn't see Ryan for the rest of the day, and apart from a text that says, !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!, he doesn't hear from him either. At the pep rally Ryan's conspicuous by his absence, and Spencer can't find Brendon's face in the crowd, either.

This is turning into the worst game day ever.


It doesn't get better. Even the rugby game is kind of mediocre. Spencer's mom and dad are in the crowd, but Ryan isn't sitting with them. They win the game, but only by three points, and in the locker rooms afterwards everyone's kind of lackluster.

Spencer's kind of overwhelmed by his own lameness; he remembers Brendon's sign from last time and kind of wishes he'd been here this time, with another stupid sign for Spencer to sigh over. Spencer's so stupid. There isn't even a message on his phone from Brendon. He sighs, and clicks on the one from Ryan. It says, congrats. Ur the king :) don't go 2 the wrong fucking party, dick.

Spencer just sighs again and stuffs his dirty clothes into one of the giant laundry baskets by the door.


"Where the fuck are you?" Ryan demands, as soon as Spencer picks up his phone.

"Rugby party," Spencer says, miserably.

"You total dick," Ryan says. "What are you doing there?"

"I don't even know," Spencer says. He's hiding out on the back porch, cradling half a cup of beer he doesn't even want. "Where are you? These things are only fun if you're here."

"I'm at the drama club party," Ryan tells him. "Where you should be."

"Is Brendon there?" Spencer asks, after a moment.

"Spencer," Ryan says, softly. "You're at the wrong party."

"I know," Spencer says. He knows.

"Fuck," Ryan says, "You're an idiot."

Spencer knows.

He hangs up.


"You're still at the wrong fucking party," Ryan says, as soon as he picks up the phone.

"Am not," Spencer says, jogging up the driveway. "Brendon's still here, right? Where is he?"

Ryan sighs. "Where are you?"

"Outside," Spencer says, trying to straighten his shirt.

"He was in the kitchen, last I saw," Ryan says.

"Okay," Spencer says. He's all kinds of nervous, because Brendon's important to him and he's screwed up. Plus, he kind of thinks this might be it.

"You're a dick," Ryan tells him again, helpfully.

"Yeah," Spencer says. "You think he'll like me again if I say sorry for that?"

"Maybe," Ryan says. "You could try, at least."

"Yeah," Spencer says again. "I'll come find you, after."

"Sure you will," Ryan says, and hangs up.


Spencer finds Brendon leaning up against the wall by the fridge, talking to a couple of girls that Spencer recognizes from their drama class and Hairspray.

Brendon doesn't notice him at first, not until Spencer's nudged past the crowd of kids by the punch bowl and he's standing right by him.

"Hey," Spencer says, awkwardly.

"Hi," Brendon says. "What are you doing here? I thought you had better places to be?"

"Um," Spencer says, "no. My mistake. Can we, uh, go somewhere?"

"No," Brendon says, obstinately. "I'm talking." He looks fierce, and Spencer feels really bad.

The two girls he's talking to eye Spencer with interest. Spencer smiles at them, hoping that they'll take the hint and disappear. After a long moment where they smile back at him and no one says anything, Spencer relents and says hey. He has no idea what their names are, and he's pretty sure that they won't settle for a high five, which is usually what he does when he doesn't know what the hell else to do.

"We'll come back later," one of them says, after another minute.

"You don't have to," Brendon says, lamely. "You can stay."

One of them blinks. "No," she says, looking pointedly between Brendon and Spencer. "We'll go."

"Bye," Spencer says, loudly.

Brendon just rolls his eyes and leans back against the wall, folding his arms. Spencer waits for Brendon's friends to make their way across the kitchen, whispering to each other and looking back over their shoulders. Spencer waves.

Brendon folds his arms and leans back against the wall. "So," he says.

"So," Spencer says, brightly. "It turns out I can be a dick sometimes."

Brendon makes a face. "Yeah," he says. "I could make you a button."

"I picked the wrong party," Spencer says. "I picked the wrong party and I was an idiot."

"No one's making you stay," Brendon says, tightly. He toes at the kitchen floor with his sneaker.

Spencer feels confused. "No," he says, quickly. "I'm at the right party now. I just—when you asked me, last night. I picked the wrong party then." And earlier this evening too, he thinks, but doesn't say anything.

"Yeah?" Brendon asks.

"Yeah," Spencer says. "It turns out that not only can I make the wrong decision, I can be kind of a dick about it too. Who knew?"

Brendon just nods, and doesn't look at him.

Spencer's shoulders deflate. "I'm really sorry," he says, softly.

"That's okay," Brendon says. "You're here now. You should say hi to some people, or whatever. We could probably get them to form a line."

Spencer doesn't know what the hell he's doing. The silence is awkward and long, and Brendon's still not really looking at him. "I'd rather just talk to you," Spencer says, "if that's okay."

Brendon shrugs awkwardly.

Spencer feels really shitty. "Sorry I couldn't be there tonight," he says, finally.

"That's okay," Brendon says. "You had a game."

"I know," Spencer says. "But, you know. I wanted to be there. And, um, I really am sorry for being a dick about coming here tonight."

Brendon nods, slowly. "You should try being less of a dick, sometimes. That'd be cool."

"Yeah," Spencer says. "Sorry."

"Did you win?" Brendon asks, after a moment.

"The game?" Spencer nods. He picks at the seam of his jeans with his finger. "Yeah, ten—seven."

"Did you score?" Brendon asks. He's tapping his fingers against the side of the fridge. He must have washed all his stage make-up off, this time; Spencer can see his freckles. He sort of wants to touch them, or count them, or join them up with his thumb or something. Then he wants to smack himself around the head.

"There was a try," Spencer tells him, quickly, "and I scored the conversion and a drop goal."

"That's pretty awesome, right?"

"Kind of," Spencer says, neglecting to point out that he scored most of the points for his team. Trying to be less dickish is hard. "I bet you were pretty awesome too, though."

"We were good tonight," Brendon says. "It was a good show."

"You're really amazing on stage," Spencer says, awkwardly. He doesn't meet Brendon's eye.

"Yeah?" Brendon says, softly.

"Yeah," Spencer says. He feels like an idiot. He can't think of anything to say other than I really like you. He kicks his heel against the wall a couple of times. When he looks up, Brendon's looking at him; they watch each other for a long moment, and then Spencer shrugs his shoulders. "I really like you," he says, finally.

Brendon's eyes widen. "You mean—" he starts. He looks confused.

Spencer swallows. "I mean," he says, and he knows he's blushing, and speaking too quickly, and being lame, "that I'd kind of like to kiss you sometime."

"What?" Brendon asks, carefully. "Like a dare?"

"No," Spencer says levelly, staring at a fixed point just to the right of Brendon's head, "like a boyfriend." His knees are actually going to give out. He's been tackled in rugby games so hard that he couldn't breathe once he'd hit the ground, but none of them were anything in comparison with this. Absolutely fucking nothing.

Brendon makes a high-pitched sound. "Spence—" he starts. His voice catches and there's a moment where they just stare at each other, wide-eyed. Spencer thinks, lame, lame, lame, lame, lame over and over. Brendon bites his lip and reaches for Spencer's wrist, tugging on his sleeve. "Come on," he says, and drags Spencer through the kitchen and into the hallway and out into the yard.

They don't stop until they're standing in the shadows by the edge of the grass, around the back of the garage.

"Say that again," Brendon says, shakily.

Brendon's still holding on to his sleeve. "I want to be your boyfriend," Spencer says, because he's said it once already, and he can't be any more nervous than he was the first time. "I mean, if you want to, that is."

"Like a secret boyfriend?" Brendon asks, after a minute.

"No," Spencer says, biting his lip. "Like, boyfriend, boyfriend. Like, hand-holding in the hallways. I kind of like you a whole lot."

"In a boyfriend kind of way," Brendon repeats, slowly. He's fiddling with Spencer's sleeve, rubbing his thumb against the cuff.

"Yeah," Spencer says, awkwardly. He's pretty sure Brendon doesn't even realize he's stroking Spencer's wrist.

"You're the flyhalf," Brendon tells him, as if Spencer might not have remembered.

Spencer refrains from rolling his eyes. "Yes," he says, patiently. "But I hear I'm pretty good at painting scenery, too. Just so you know."

"Who said you were any good?" Brendon smiles. "I never said that."

"Shut up," Spencer says. Brendon's still holding on to Spencer's sleeve, and Spencer pulls away, biting his lip. He reaches for Brendon's hand, tangling his fingers in Brendon's. His hand is hot. "I'm an awesome scenery painter, and I want to kiss you. Is that okay?"

"Um," Brendon manages. He looks pink, but he doesn't pull away from Spencer's hand.

"Like," Spencer says, awkwardly. "If you don't want to. That's okay. We don't have to." He doesn't know what to do; he's holding Brendon's hand and he doesn't know how to stop.

Brendon shakes his head quickly. "No. I mean. I want to."

Spencer's heart is beating ridiculously loudly; it's stupidly obvious how nervous he is.

"So," Brendon says, uncomfortably, squeezing Spencer's hand.

"Yeah," Spencer says, and he leans in quickly and presses his mouth to Brendon's. He cups Brendon's cheek in his other hand as he kisses him, closed-mouthed.

Brendon makes a happy sound in his throat, humming against Spencer's mouth. Spencer feels it right down to his toes, a tiny shiver of joy. He wants to laugh, but then Brendon's tumbling forwards, wrapping his arm around Spencer's waist and stepping on Spencer's toes.

"Spencer," Brendon says, happily, and then he's leaning in for another kiss and this one's different, Brendon's mouth opening beneath his, and there are tongues and too much spit. It's kind of beyond fantastic, and Spencer wants to kiss until he can't even think anymore.

Spencer backs them up until Brendon's pressed against the garage wall, and then he leans in again and catches Brendon's mouth in another kiss, Brendon making tiny, breathless sounds against Spencer's mouth. Spencer runs his thumb across Brendon's jaw as he kisses him again, and Brendon groans and tugs him closer.

They kiss until they're both red-cheeked and cold and breathless, until Brendon starts to shiver and has to curl into Spencer's side. "That was okay, right?" Brendon asks, as Spencer awkwardly sneaks his arm around Brendon's shoulders. "Because, you know, totally my first time."

"Uh-huh," Spencer manages, because forming words is beyond him. He kisses Brendon's temple instead, because he thinks he might be allowed to do that now, and his skin tingles with the realization. "Yeah," he tries, "you were awesome."

Brendon just hums contentedly. He has one arm around Spencer's waist; Spencer doesn't remember him doing that. He's also shivering, because it's pretty late, and cold out.

"You want to go back inside?" Spencer asks. He's still kind of nervous.

"Depends," Brendon says, not looking at him. He doesn't pull away, though. "Do we have to pretend this didn't happen?"

Spencer shakes his head. His heart is beating really loudly again, and his stomach feels like it's doing somersaults. He pulls away from Brendon's hug, and reaches for his hand instead. "No," he says, and he is surprised his voice doesn't shake. He grabs Brendon's hand and squeezes, looking down at the ground.

"I kind of have a crush on you," Brendon tells him. "Like, the biggest crush ever."

"Yeah," Spencer says. "Me too. On you, I mean."

"Does this mean I'm your boyfriend?" Brendon asks, carefully, after a minute of Spencer staring industrially at the ground and holding Brendon's hand.

"Pretty much," Spencer says, awkwardly, looking up. "If you want."

Brendon bites his lip. "Yeah," he says. "That'd be cool." His eyes are bright.

Spencer starts to smile, and he doesn't think he can remember how to stop.


"So," Spencer says, as they stand hand in hand in the entrance to the living room with everybody at the party staring at them, "this isn't awkward."


"I hate you," Ryan says loudly, barging past a group of girls who are mostly staring at Spencer holding Brendon's hand. "Also, this is Jon."

"Hi," Jon says, waving his drink at them.

Spencer blinks, because Jon is drinking beer out of a mug with cats on the side. Spencer shoots Ryan a glance, and Ryan beams at him, mouthing told you so and folding his arms.

"I like your mug," Brendon says, and, "I'm Brendon."

"It was a gift," Jon says, and when he catches Ryan's eye, he smiles, lazy and warm.

"Hmmm," Spencer says. "Ryan?"

"Jon and I are dating now," Ryan says, happily. "I gave him his cat mug. Jon says he doesn't mind that I missed his birthday. I'm going to go with him to his party tomorrow night."

"Um," Spencer says, "good?"

"Spencer and I are dating too," Brendon says, brightly. "And he's going to try and be less of a dick from now on."

"Awesome," Ryan says. "How's that working for you, Spence?"

Brendon nudges him with his elbow, and grins.

"Pretty well so far," Spencer says, and squeezes Brendon's hand.


"So," Spencer says, when they're waiting out front for Brendon's mom to come pick him up, "I guess we should go on a date."


"This is a huge mistake," Spencer says, desperately, as soon as Ryan picks up the phone. "This is stupid and I should just call and cancel, right?"

Ryan says, "You are a total fucking idiot, and if you call and cancel we are no longer friends, and I am not kidding, okay?"

"You don't mean that," Spencer says, miserably.

"No," Ryan says, "yeah."

"I've got nothing to wear," Spencer says, sullenly kicking at his closet. "I can't go on a date when I've got nothing to wear. A date to a rollerskating rink, oh my fucking god."

"Rollerskating," Ryan repeats, slowly. "How the fuck did you end up arranging to go rollerskating? I thought you were just going to go get ice cream?"

"Yeah, well," Spencer says, rolling his eyes. "I just called him up and said we should go to that new place, by the rollerskating rink, and I didn't even get any further because he was really excited about going rollerskating. How was I supposed to say no to that?"

"You're dating a total dork," Ryan says, laughing.

"He's a dork and we haven't even gotten as far as the date yet," Spencer says. "We might not. I'm going to call and cancel."

"Stop saying that," Ryan tells him, "or else you might start to believe it. Stop pretending like this isn't the greatest thing that's ever happened to you."

"He's a dork," Spencer says.

"And you dream about holding his hand," Ryan says, and Spencer knows he's rolling his eyes. "Don't even try and pretend like you don't."

"Maybe," Spencer says, shiftily. "What are you doing?"

"Hanging out with Jon," Ryan says. "We're watching movies. We're going to go to his party later."

"Fuck," Spencer says. "You're such a dick. Why didn't you say you were with Jon?"

"Because," Ryan says. "You wanted to talk, so."

"I'm going," Spencer says. "Go make out with your boyfriend."

"Go make out with yours," Ryan says.

Spencer hangs up, and flops backwards onto his bed. "I'm such a loser," he says, and thinks about kissing Brendon again.


"Are you sure I can't have the car?" he asks, for the fifth time.

Dad rolls his eyes. "Only if you want to stop doing whatever it is you're going out to do to go pick your sisters up. It's up to you."

Spencer thinks about it. "What time?" he asks.

"Five," he says. "from the dance studio."

"That's miles away," Spencer complains. "When's Mom due back?"

"After dinner," his dad says. "You want to tell me why you're so desperate for the car all of a sudden?"

Spencer shrugs. "Me and Brendon," he says, "we're going out. I just wanted the car, that's all."

"Oh," He's making a lasagna, and he stops spooning the sauce into layers. "Like, a date?"

"No," Spencer says, quickly. He shrugs. "Well. Kind of. Yeah."

"Okay," his dad says. "That's good, right?"

Spencer sort of wants to die. "Yeah."

"He's a nice boy," his dad tells him, as if Spencer didn't already know.

"I know," Spencer says, and rolls his eyes.

"Where are you going?" he asks.

"Rollerskating," Spencer says, really fast. He tries not to go red.

His dad tries to hide his smile. "Rollerskating, huh?"

"Stop laughing, Dad, it's totally not funny."

"It kind of is, kid."

Spencer groans, and covers his eyes. "I know. I'm going out on a date with a total dork."

"Have you got enough money?" his dad asks. "To pay for him?"


"I'm just asking. You want to make a good impression. He's a good kid."

Spencer blinks. "I've got some," he says, finally. He's got about enough to get into the rollerskating place and maybe have a milkshake afterwards. His parents are pretty good about giving him a reasonable allowance, he's just pretty good at spending it, too.

"This isn't going to happen every time, okay?" his dad reaches into his back pocket for his wallet.


"You like him a lot, yes?"

Spencer swallows. "Kind of a lot, yeah."

"Well then," his dad says. "Take another twenty dollars and get him ice cream, or something."

Spencer folds the two ten dollar bills into his wallet. "Thanks," he says, awkwardly. He gets to the door before he turns around. "You think Mom'll be mad?" he asks.

His dad looks up. "Mom loves you," he says. "She's trying really hard."

"I know." Spencer does. "I just—I don't want her to be upset, that's all."

"Go and have a good time with your date, Spence, and stop worrying about Mom. She wants you to be happy."

"Okay," Spencer nods. "Okay."


He's early, which is stupid, because he knows how long it takes to get to the milkshake place on his bike, and the rollerskating rink is right by it. Still, he's early, so he locks his bike up and tries to ignore the urge to unlock it and ride on home. He texts Ryan, fuck fuck fuck what am i doing, ry—and tries to look nonchalant as he stands by the door and waits for Brendon.

man up, Ryan replies. Then, straight off the back of that one, 333333333.

Spencer just rolls his eyes and tries not to look desperate.

Brendon is five minutes late, which is just late enough that Spencer's started to think he's been stood up.

"Sorry, sorry sorry sorry," Brendon says, skidding his bike to a stop. "I thought I could get Mom's car but she wasn't back in time and I had to take my bike."

"Not having a car sucks," Spencer says, as Brendon stumbles off his bike and locks it up next to Spencer's. "I can't wait until my birthday."

"When's that?" Brendon asks, kneeling on the floor and fiddling with his lock.

"End of summer," Spencer says. "Mom and Dad are getting me a car for senior year. I keep trying to get them to give it to me early so I've got it for the summer, too."

"Cool," Brendon says. "Mom's going to let me have hers next year. It's kind of lame, though. A purple minivan."

That is lame, Spencer thinks. "Cool," he says, awkwardly.

Brendon looks up and grins. His smile's kind of amazing, wide and bright. "It's okay," he says. "I know it's lame. But it's a car, right?"

"Yeah," Spencer agrees, although he thinks he'd rather die than have a purple minivan.

"Um," Brendon says, standing up.

"Yeah," Spencer says again. He doesn't know what to do with his hands, and he doesn't know how to lean in and kiss Brendon hello, so he doesn't. "I guess we should, um, go in?"

"Cool," Brendon says, again, and grins.


There's something weird about Spencer's skates, so they sit and wait for a few minutes by the side of the rink as the assistant sprays down another pair of boots and fiddles with one of the wheels. Brendon's already got his on; he's sitting beside Spencer but he keeps moving his feet backwards and forwards so that the wheels make noises against the floor.

They don't touch, but when Spencer puts his hand down on the bench between them, Brendon's little finger brushes Spencer's. The stereo system is playing Britney Spears at ear-blasting volume.

They both stare straight ahead and Spencer decides he should have gone home while he still could have, because this is the worst experience of his entire life.


It's kind of different when they get out on the rink, though. There are tons of little kids circling the outside of the rink, but Brendon pushes through them and out into the middle, where there are less people. He circles Spencer, skating backwards.

"Oh god," Spencer says, rolling his eyes, and wobbling back and forth as he gets used to being up on skates again for the first time in years, "you're good at this, too."

"I'm good at everything," Brendon says, sunnily. "You want to race?"

Spencer just laughs. "Fuck, yeah," he says, and Brendon grins.

They race around the middle, twice around and back into the center to finish. Brendon's in the lead from the get-go; he's stupidly good at this. Spencer thinks back to him and Ryan, taking up skateboarding when they were in junior high; they'd taken most of a summer just figuring out how to avoid breaking any bones. Brendon can probably do flips and everything. Spencer is better at things that don't involve balancing.

"I win!" Brendon says, throwing his arms in the air. Spencer can't stop quickly enough and they bump into each other, breathless and laughing. Spencer slips and Brendon catches his elbow; they're not fast enough and they both end up on the ground.

"Ow," Spencer says, awkwardly.

"Baby," Brendon grins, clambering to his feet. He offers his hand to Spencer to help him up; Spencer grabs on and then they're left standing too close to each other in the middle of the rink, still holding hands.

"Um," Spencer manages, pulling away, "maybe you could show me how to skate backwards and do that spinning thing."

"Awesome," Brendon says, and spins around in a circle.


"So, that was kind of fun, huh?" Brendon shrugs his shoulders at him as they slide around a table at the milkshake place next to the rink, into one of the booths up at the back. A waitress hands them a menu each.

Spencer can't help but grin. He's on a date with Brendon, and okay, so they're not holding hands or kissing now, but last night they were and when Spencer asked him if he'd be his boyfriend, Brendon said yes. "Yeah," he says, and bites his lip when Brendon smiles back at him. "We should get ice creams," he says, "I'll pay."

"My dad gave me money," Brendon says decisively. "I'll pay."

"Mine too," Spencer admits. "Want to get milkshakes too?"

Brendon grins.

Spencer bites his lip and stares at the tabletop and moves so that his hand is brushing Brendon's.

Brendon doesn't look at him, just curls his fingers into Spencer's, and they're holding hands under the table, just like that.


They end up riding their bikes around the park, because Spencer doesn't know how to say that he wants to cycle back to Brendon's house and kiss him goodbye on the porch.

"We should have brought bread for the ducks," Brendon says, when they get to the pond.

Spencer blinks, because his first thought when he goes on a date is always to make sure he has bread for any unscheduled duck feeding. "Um," he says. "Yeah."

"Ducks are cool," Brendon says, grinning and clambering off his bike. He leaves it on the grass and goes to lean over the edge of the pond.

"Yeah," Spencer says, uncertainly. He is sort of ridiculously charmed by Brendon's enduring lameness. He wants to hold hands with him and everything. He doesn't, though, he just leans his bike against a tree and stuffs his hands in his pockets as he goes to stand next to Brendon.

"No, really," Brendon says. "You remember when Ms. Elliott made us pretend to be ducks?"

"No," Spencer says. He deliberately doesn't remember anything about drama class, apart from Brendon.

Brendon just rolls his eyes. "There was kind of a lot of quacking," he says. "You looked like you had a headache."

"Oh," Spencer says, remembering. "Yeah. I remember."

"That was cool," Brendon says, like that was the whole point of the conversation.

Spencer just blinks.

Brendon slips his hand into Spencer's, and Spencer thinks that maybe that was the point instead.

He looks down at the ground and keeps holding on.


"You can't hate drama class," Brendon tells him after the ducks have swum away, and they're left standing by their bikes and pretending like they're not holding hands. "No one hates drama. Only stupid people hate drama class."

Spencer shrugs. Brendon's hand is really hot in his. "Pretending to be a cloud is lame."

Brendon rolls his eyes. "Pretending to be a cloud is only the warm up. Drama class is awesome, you should give it a chance. Maybe you'd like it."

"Yeah," Spencer says, swallowing. I like you, he thinks. "Maybe."

"So," Brendon says, awkwardly.

Spencer thinks about kissing Brendon the night before, pressed back against the garage wall; he swallows again and leans in, quickly, for a kiss. Brendon picks that very moment to bend down, and Spencer misses Brendon's mouth, catching his forehead instead.

Spencer jerks backwards, pulling away from Brendon's hand, and contemplates throwing himself in the pond, just to see if it takes. Brendon's looking at him, wide-eyed. That was a grandma kiss. He just tried to kiss Brendon and missed. This is the worst moment of his whole entire life. He can't ever tell Ryan because Ryan will tease him about his humiliation for the rest of forever. He wants to call Ryan up now, just because. He fights the urge to run away and hide. "Um," he manages. He's bright red.

"Spencer Smith," Brendon says, all in a rush, and he leans over and presses his mouth to the corner of Spencer's mouth.

Spencer makes a tiny sound in his throat, but Brendon doesn't move away.

"Spence," he says, breathlessly, fuzzy against Spencer's mouth.

I really, really like you, Spencer thinks, and runs his hands down Brendon's arms, his fingers circling Brendon's wrists, stroking back up again until he has his arms around Brendon's shoulders.

Brendon just kisses him again, stepping up onto his toes and clutching at Spencer's shirt. "You're kind of super lame," Brendon tells him.

"I am not," Spencer says. He touches at Brendon's cheek with his fingertips, because he likes doing that. His thumb rubs at Brendon's jaw. "You are," he says, petulantly.

Brendon rolls his eyes. "Are you going to kiss me again any time soon, or what?"

Spencer ducks his head. "I'm building up to it," he says, because he is lame.

"Almost done?" Brendon asks.

"Kind of," Spencer says, and before he can change his mind, he pulls Brendon even closer and kisses him.

Making out is even more awesome this time around. They stumble backwards until Brendon's pressed up against a tree and Spencer can run his fingers through Brendon's hair, cupping his chin as they kiss. Brendon keeps making these sounds, tiny whimpers against Spencer's mouth, and everything's ridiculously hot and Spencer couldn't stop even if he wanted to. Brendon's hands keep stroking down Spencer's sides, and then they're in the small of Spencer's back and Spencer's the one making a helpless noise as Brendon touches Spencer's ass for the first time.

Brendon just laughs at Spencer's squeak of surprise, and it feels fuzzy and good, so Spencer kisses him harder, pushing even closer and kissing him until they're both breathless and pink-cheeked. He pulls away, resting his forehead against Brendon's, and huffs out an embarrassed laugh.

"Making out is awesome," Brendon tells him earnestly. He still has his arms around Spencer's waist, and he slides his hand down until it's resting on Spencer's ass again. "You have a really nice ass," he goes on to say, as if that's a totally normal thing to come out with.

"Um," Spencer says. "So do you?"

"Uh-huh," Brendon says. "You can totally touch it if you want."

"Okay," Spencer manages, and he gets as far as resting his hand on Brendon's hip before he loses his nerve.

Brendon makes a face. "Um," he says. "That is not my ass. Did you even take biology classes?"

"I'm getting there," Spencer says, carefully, because Brendon's mouth is kind of distracting, and he wants to kiss him again. "I'm working up to it."

"You can work quicker, if you want," Brendon tells him. "Honestly, my ass is right here."

"Did anyone ever tell you you're kind of bossy?" Spencer asks.

"You're kind of slow at this," Brendon says. "Grab my ass, Spencer."

Spencer rolls his eyes, and reaches around so he can palm Brendon's ass. "Better?" he manages, because seriously, fuck. Brendon's ass is kind of amazing.

"Totally," Brendon nods, licking his lips. His mouth is red and wet, and Spencer can't help it. He ducks his head and presses another kiss to Brendon's mouth, sliding his tongue along Brendon's lip as Brendon hums his approval.

"So," Spencer says, a few minutes later. "You want to come out with me again sometime?"

"Oh," Brendon says, grinning. "I was just going to ask you."

"Awesome," Spencer manages, and Brendon laughs and kisses him again.


"So," Brendon says, as Spencer locks his bike up on Monday morning before school, "you said something about holding my hand in the hallways."

Spencer stands up, shouldering his backpack and grinning. Brendon's standing behind him, biting his lip. "Yeah," Spencer says. Across the parking lot, Jon's taking pictures and Ryan's rolling his eyes a lot and trying not to laugh. "You okay with starting now?"

"Sure," Brendon says, and holds out his hand.

"Awesome," Spencer says, and tangles his fingers with Brendon's. "Come on, then."