Scotty had already accepted his place at Berkeley when Benny got a full ride to UCLA. It was a baseball scholarship, which came as a surprise to exactly no one, except maybe Benny himself. And Scotty was happy for him, maybe happier than anybody, but that didn’t change the fact that he was going to miss Benny while he was up in Berkeley and Benny was in L.A.
On the day Scotty’s folks drove him up to school Benny showed up in his driveway, baseball cap pulled down low over his forehead and his scuffed sneakers kicking at the pavement while he waited around for Scotty to put the last of his luggage in the car. When Scotty finally ran out of excuses to put off the moment he had to say goodbye Benny stepped forward, then he grabbed Scotty and pulled him forward and hugged him harder than he’d ever hugged Scotty, even when Scotty actually managed to hit the ball during their high school games.
Scotty hugged him back just as hard, face pressed into the warmth of Benny’s neck and breathing in. If Benny noticed, Scotty figured he’d forgive him, because it would be at least a few months before Scotty saw him again, and that was a long time to go without his best friend in his corner.
“Don’t take any crap from any of those science nerds,” Benny said, the words warm against Scotty’s ear, and he squeezed Benny even tighter.
“I am one of those science nerds,” Scotty reminded him, and when Benny laughed and let him go, it was all Scotty could do not to drag him back again.
“I’ll see you at Christmas,” Benny said, one hand lifted in a wave as Scotty climbed into the back seat.
“Not if I see you first,” Scotty called out the window, then he turned in his seat to watch Benny laugh as they drove away.
Scotty wrote a couple times over his first semester, but between his class schedule and the hours’ worth of homework his teachers piled on him every day, he didn’t have a lot of time for keeping up with the guys back home. For his part, Benny sent him a postcard of the beach, the words ‘Greetings from L.A.’ printed across the bottom in sunset orange.
Just thought you should know what you’re missing, Benny wrote, his barely legible handwriting taking up most of the space on the back of the card. If Scotty ran his fingers over the letters for a second before he stuck the postcard up on his mirror, there was no one around to see him, so he didn’t feel that weird about it.
Still, he missed Benny all the time, and when he finally got home for Christmas he was so glad to see Benny waiting in the driveway for him that he was out of the car practically before it stopped. Scotty didn’t stop to worry about how it would look before he threw his arms around Benny, and when Benny hugged him back the same way he had the last time they saw each other, Scotty grinned against his shoulder and closed his eyes.
“Man, I thought you’d never get home,” Benny said, and his voice was soft like maybe he didn’t even realize he was talking out loud. Scotty’s heart skipped a beat anyway, and he wasn’t sure what it meant, exactly, but he just held on tighter and hoped Benny wouldn’t let go too soon.
“So how are the science nerds?” Benny asked later, when Scotty finally managed to escape his mother long enough to meet up with him at the sandlot.
Scotty shrugged, because school was fine, but the truth was he spent most of his time missing Benny. “Okay. How’s life as a big time college baseball star?”
Benny snorted a laugh and threw an arm around Scotty’s shoulders. “Not all it’s cracked up to be.”
He glanced over at Scotty, and when their eyes met Scotty’s heart drummed hard inside his chest. Benny’s smile faltered a little, eyes a little darker than they’d been a second ago, and Scotty swallowed hard and tried not to move.
He wasn’t sure what he was expecting Benny to do next, but before he could find out someone was calling their names, then Benny’s arm was gone and he was waving at the guys as they tore across the field on their bikes. The next thing Scotty knew he was at bat, hands sweaty for no good reason where he gripped the bat. Benny was smirking at him from the pitcher’s mound, and when he winked just before he tossed the ball, Scotty swung wide and missed by a mile.
“You’re out of practice, Smalls,” Benny said, lifting his glove to catch the ball without even looking. “Too much science, not enough baseball.”
Scotty let out a nervous laugh and didn’t bother telling Benny that his lack of coordination had nothing to do with science. “Yeah, you’re probably right,” he said, swinging the bat back onto his shoulder and hoping none of the guys could tell that it had everything to do with Benny.
“So we’ve got the same spring break,” Benny said later, after the guys had all gone home for dinner. They walked back to their neighborhood more slowly than usual, and even though neither of them had said anything, Scotty got the feeling Benny was just as reluctant to say goodbye as he was.
“Yeah, well, technically we kind of go to the same school,” Scotty pointed out.
Benny grinned, then he shook his head and let out a little laugh that made Scotty’s stomach feel tight. “Sure doesn’t feel like it.”
Scotty had no idea what to say that wouldn’t come out sounding way too much like ‘I miss you’, and even though he had a feeling Benny wouldn’t mind, he couldn’t bring himself to say it. So instead he just nodded, shoulder brushing against Benny’s as they reached the top of their street.
When they got to the corner Benny stopped, and when Scotty realized it he stopped and turned back to look at him. “What?”
“Spring break’s right in the middle of baseball season,” Benny said. “Which means I have to stay at school instead of coming home.”
“Oh,” Scotty said, his heart sinking at the thought of not seeing Benny again until summer. That was six months -- a whole entire half year -- and he wasn’t sure he could make it that long.
“Yeah,” Benny said, hand on the back of his neck and kind of rubbing, and Scotty had never actually been jealous of somebody’s hand before. “So I was thinking, you know, if you don’t have plans with the science nerds, maybe you’d want to come to UCLA and hang out. I’ll have to go to practice every day, but you could come watch if you want, and then we could hang out.”
“Oh,” Scotty said again, warmth rising up his neck and into his cheeks at the thought of a whole week...well, almost alone with Benny. “Yeah. Okay.”
“You think your mom’ll go for it?” Benny asked, and he actually sounded kind of nervous.
“Sure, I mean, we’re in college now. She can’t expect me to come home for every single break, right?”
Neither of them actually believed that, but Benny grinned anyway, arm sliding around Scotty’s shoulders again to steer him toward his house. “Good.”
They had to say goodbye again way too soon, but somehow the thought of a whole week with Benny during spring break made it a little easier for Scotty to go back to school. He spent the next three months distracted and unfocused and barely keeping his head above water in his classes, but the truth was he didn’t care all that much. He was good at science, but he didn’t love it, not the way he loved baseball and...well, Benny.
Admitting to himself that he loved Benny wasn’t so weird. They were best friends, after all, and they’d been practically inseparable all through high school. But it made the thought of staying in Benny’s dorm room with him for a whole week even more nerve wracking, and by the time spring break actually rolled around, he could barely think about it without wanting to throw up.
He caught a ride to L.A. with someone who’d posted on the ride board at the student union. It was a lot easier to make small talk with a stranger than try to get his folks to drive all the way up to Berkeley just to drop him off at UCLA, and anyway it was kind of nice, not having to talk about why he was giving up a week at home to stay in another dorm room with Benny.
He had a feeling his mom knew the reason already, but she hadn’t come right out and said it, and Scotty was planning to avoid talking about it for as long as he could. After all, there wasn’t even anything to talk about yet, so until there was, there was no reason to bring it up. Just the thought that there might be something to talk about at some point made Scotty’s stomach turn, and he had no idea if it was the thought of talking to his mother about his love life or the thought of having a love life that made him want to throw up.
The ride to UCLA took longer than he planned, thanks mainly to L.A. traffic, but Benny was standing on the sidewalk where he’d agreed to meet Scotty anyway, hands in his pockets and bouncing on his heels like he was having a hard time standing still. Scotty thanked his ride again and climbed out of the car, dropping his bag on the sidewalk and letting Benny sweep him into a tight hug.
“Hi,” he said when Benny finally let go, and he knew he was grinning like an idiot, but so was Benny.
“Hey. I thought you’d never get here.”
“Traffic,” Scotty said, gesturing vaguely in the direction of the highway as he watched Benny pick up his bag and swing it over his shoulder. A familiar arm slid around his shoulders, and Scotty let himself lean into Benny’s side as he steered them back in the direction of campus.
It was kind of weird, walking down the street in a strange city with Benny’s arm wrapped around him. It was one thing in their neighborhood; Scotty had always felt safe there, even before they knew The Beast was totally harmless. But this was a big city filled with strangers, and none of them knew Scotty and Benny and everything they’d been through.
They didn’t know how long Benny and Scotty had been friends, or the way Benny had had his back practically since the moment they met. They didn’t know how amazing Benny was, not just at baseball, but at being a best friend. But nobody seemed all that concerned about two college kids wandering down the street together, and after a couple blocks Scotty even managed to relax enough to enjoy the weight of Benny’s arm on his shoulders.
Benny’s dorm room looked pretty much the same as Scotty’s, not that he was all that interested in the accommodations. They’d spent the walk back to the dorm comparing notes on the semester, Benny going on about the baseball team and how hard it was to keep up with classes and practice, and Scotty trying to sound enthusiastic about studying biology and physics.
The longer he was away from Benny the harder it was to focus on school, and he knew how pathetic that was, but knowing it hadn’t changed it any. The truth was that he just wanted to be wherever Benny was, while they were in college and then later, wherever Benny’s future took him.
Scotty knew what his folks would say if they heard him say it out loud. They’d tell him not to be stupid, that he could be friends with Benny and still live his own life. Only somewhere along the way Benny had become his life, and his only real worry was what Benny would say if Scotty said it out loud.
He was distracted all through dinner, then the tour of campus Benny insisted on. It felt a little like he was delaying the moment when they found themselves alone in Benny’s dorm room again, with no roommates around to interrupt and no parents to call them home for the night. Not even the comforting warmth of Benny’s arm, which seemed to be magnetically attached to his shoulders, was enough to stop the nervous tremor in his stomach.
Scotty nodded distractedly as Benny pointed out some building -- the library, he was pretty sure -- and when the hand on his shoulder squeezed, he flinched and looked over.
“What’s with you today?” Benny asked, and if Scotty didn’t know better, he would have thought Benny sounded a little hurt. “Usually you like all this education stuff.”
“I do,” Scotty lied, because the truth was that he didn’t care about the library, but if it was important to Benny, it was important to him. “It’s just been a long day. With the drive and all.”
He could tell Benny didn’t believe him, but he let it go anyway and steered them back in the direction of the dorm. It wasn’t all that late, but Scotty mumbled an excuse about getting ready for bed anyway, then he grabbed his toothbrush and his pajamas and disappeared down the hall to the bathroom. He locked himself in a stall and changed his clothes, and when he came out again he spotted Benny standing at a sink, clad in a pair of grey sweatpants and a sleeveless undershirt and brushing his teeth.
Scotty swallowed at the sight, cheeks flushing as he dragged his gaze away from Benny and headed for the sink where he’d left his own toothbrush. He could feel Benny’s gaze on him as he brushed his teeth, and he wished suddenly that he’d brought something less dorky to sleep in than a pair of striped pajamas.
“Your mom pick those out?” Benny asked, raising an eyebrow when Scotty glanced over at him, and now he was really blushing.
He nodded and spit into the sink, then he rinsed his toothbrush and ran a towel over his mouth. And he wasn’t embarrassed, because they were just pajamas, but the way Benny looked at him made his skin feel too hot and too tight all at the same time.
“Red’s your color,” Benny said, fingers lingering on the cuff of Scotty’s sleeve for a second, and maybe he was talking about the pajamas, but he could just as easily have been talking about the flush in Scotty’s cheeks.
A second later Benny let go of him, and Scotty took a deep breath and willed his blush to subside as he followed Benny out of the bathroom and back to his dorm room. When they got there Scotty sat down on the bed Benny’s roommate had vacated for the week, because he had no idea how he was going to sleep in the same room as Benny, but he was willing to spend the whole night pretending if it meant he could avoid embarrassing himself any more for one day.
Only before he had the chance to say he was tired and he was just going to call it a night, the mattress dipped and Benny settled down next to him, thigh pressed against Scotty’s and a hand reaching out to rest on Scotty’s arm.
“What gives, Smalls? Come on, you can tell me.”
“I’m fine,” Scotty lied. For a second he pictured turning into Benny, pushing forward and pressing his lips against Benny’s, just so he’d finally know what it felt like. He wasn’t even sure how long he’d been wondering; forever, it seemed, maybe even before he knew that was something boys did together sometimes.
“Come on, Scotty, I know you,” Benny said, shoulder bumping Scotty’s as he leaned in, and Scotty closed his eyes for a second and breathed out to try to steady his pulse.
“I just...I miss you so much,” Scotty whispered, and before he could talk himself out of it, he slid his hand up to close around Benny’s where it was still resting on his forearm. He caught Benny’s fingers and slid them between his own, hands resting on Scotty’s thigh and when Benny didn’t pull away, Scotty ventured a glance in his direction.
Benny was watching him, eyes dark the way they had been that day on the baseball field, back at Christmas when they’d seen each other again for the first time in months. And Scotty knew what it meant now, knew it and wanted to cry with relief.
Benny’s free hand landed on his cheek, easing Scotty forward until he could feel the warmth of Benny’s breath on his lips. “Yeah, me too.”
He wasn’t sure who moved first. Maybe it was Benny, or maybe Scotty finally lost the last shred of control over his emotions and pressed forward, lips parting against Benny’s and sighing into the kiss. Benny’s hand slid into his hair, tilting his head just a little to fit their mouths together like he’d been thinking about this for as long as Scotty had.
Benny’s arm slid around his back, easing him onto the mattress until Scotty was stretched out underneath him. The whole time Benny kept kissing him, lips parted and breathing hard through his nose like he was afraid to let go, even for a second. Somehow Scotty’s arms found their way around Benny’s neck, tugging him close and sliding a leg over Benny’s thigh to hold him there.
A groan escaped Benny and his hand landed on Scotty’s thigh, pulling his leg even further up and dragging a moan out of him. Still he kept kissing Scotty like he was making up for lost time, and Scotty knew exactly how he felt.
“Benny,” he murmured, but the sound was swallowed by the kiss, and he knew if they didn’t stop soon he wouldn’t be able to. Scotty dragged his mouth away from Benny’s, forehead pressed against his shoulder and he realized for the first time that he was rocking against Benny. “Benny...”
“Yeah,” Benny said, then, “okay,” and a second later he was rolling off Scotty to stretch out next to him, arm across his waist to hold him close. They were both breathing heavy, Benny’s head pressed against Scotty’s shoulder and Scotty’s gaze fixed on the ceiling above him. He wasn’t sure how long they stayed that way: a few minutes, maybe, or possibly an entire lifetime. All Scotty knew was that Benny was warm and solid and holding him like he was afraid to let go, and the last thing Scotty wanted to do was get away.
“I’ve been thinking,” Scotty finally said, turning until he could see the top of Benny’s head. When he spoke Benny pulled away from his shoulder, pushing up on one elbow to look down at him. When he leaned in and brushed a kiss across Scotty’s lips, Scotty let him, his hand coming up to rest on the arm still wrapped around his waist.
“Yeah?” Benny said, warm against his mouth and even that was enough to make Scotty forget what he’d been talking about.
“I’ve been thinking...about...about my major,” Scotty said, leaning up to brush his lips across Benny’s before he could remind himself why it was a bad idea. Benny kissed him back, fingers curling around the edge of his pajamas like he was working hard not to push for more. “About changing it, I mean. To journalism.”
“Really?” Benny asked, voice clearer now, and he pushed up to look down at Scotty. “I thought you wanted to be a doctor.”
“My mom wants me to be a doctor,” Scotty answered, reaching up with his free hand to touch Benny’s jaw. “I...I just want to be with you.”
“Scotty,” Benny murmured, voice a little rough, and Scotty expected him to pull away, to back off and make up some excuse about why Scotty should go back to Berkeley and forget about him. Instead Benny pressed forward again, lips brushing Scotty’s before he pulled back just far enough to press their foreheads together. “You know how long I’ve been waiting to hear you say that?”
Scotty didn’t point out that Benny could have said it himself any time, that there was no reason he needed to wait around for Scotty to admit it first. But he didn’t feel like arguing about which one of them was braver, just like he didn’t feel like arguing about what he was supposed to do with his life. All he wanted was for Benny to want him around as much as Scotty wanted to be around.
“UCLA has a really good broadcast journalism program,” Scotty said. “Better than Berkeley’s, even.”
“Yeah?” Benny said, pulling back until he could really look at Scotty. “You mean it? You’d really transfer here?”
Scotty nodded a little too emphatically, hands on Benny’s shoulders to tug him back down. He turned on his side to face Benny, reaching up to bury his fingers in Benny’s hair. “Yeah, I mean, I’m not going to ask you to give up your scholarship.”
Benny shook his head and pressed forward, lips brushing Scotty’s again. “I would, you know.”
Scotty let out a sigh and pressed forward, kissing Benny hard this time. They both knew Scotty would never ask him to leave UCLA and his entire future, but the fact that he would -- that he’d just been waiting for Scotty to ask -- made it a lot easier to think about leaving Berkeley and the future his mom had been planning for him for so long.
“But will it be okay?” Scotty said, his hand on Benny’s face to trace the curve of his cheek. “With the baseball team and all?”
Benny turned his face into Scotty’s touch, eyes closed for a second before he looked down at Scotty again. His hand slid under Scott’s pajama top until he found skin, palm pressed flat against his back to drag him closer.
“Since when do I care what anybody thinks?” he asked, and when he grinned, Scotty couldn’t help smiling back. It wouldn't be that easy; Benny knew it as well as Scotty did, but as long as they were both willing to try, Scotty could believe they'd be okay.