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Strangers For a Moment

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Aiden’s seventeen when he comes out, and it goes more or less as he expected; his mum cries and says she’s proud of him, his dad brings up stupid questions over dinner, and his friends look at him like he’s crazy and ask if that means he doesn’t find Sophia Wardman hot.

All in all, Aiden figures, it could be worse.

And then the Headmistress calls him into her office and gives him a cup of tea and a pat on the shoulder and calls him Adrian like he hasn’t been going there since he was eleven, and he realises that the worst was really still to come.

“Adrian,” Ms. Michaels says, and continues before he can correct her. “I know that this must be a trying time for you, and I really think that you need the opportunity to talk to someone who understands.”

“Um,” Aiden says, because he’s not sure how he’s meant to respond.

“There’s a programme run by the local Youth Centre for just this kind of thing, and I really think you could benefit from it. I’ve sent a letter home to your parents to let them know, and I’ve given your name to a friend of mine who works there,” she says, and, okay, seriously, what?

“Sorry,” Aiden says, “uh, but what programme?”

“Oh,” she says, “mentorship. You’re assigned to someone who’s gone through the same things you are and they answer your questions and give you advice. That sort of thing.”

“Give me advice about?

“Well, declaring yourself homosexual of course,” she says, and Aiden feels his insides plummet to somewhere around his toes.

“Right,” he says, and the Headmistress smiles and passes him a piece of paper ripped out from a ruled notebook.

“Excellent,” she says. “Here’s the address and the time of your first appointment.”

“Thanks,” he says even though he pretty much means the opposite, and he can already hear Louis laughing at him.

“Good luck Adrian,” she says as he leaves. “I’m sure it will be very helpful.”

Aiden sort of thinks it sounds more like hell.

 

+

 

His parents, predictably, think it’s a great idea, which is why he finds himself standing outside the Youth Centre at seven o’clock on a Wednesday night wondering how people could be so sadistic as to believe that coming out wasn’t scary enough. He’s half tempted to do a runner, is actually wondering which bus he’d need to catch to get into town from here, when he realises someone’s standing next to him.

“You alright mate?” the guy says, and Aiden blushes and nods and twists his scarf around his hand all at once because he’s just that lame. The guy’s wearing a red check shirt and a hat that looks like it’s seen better days, and is smiling like he finds random teenagers staring up at a brick wall looking terrified every day. Maybe he does. He’s also kind of hot, but that’s the last thing Aiden needs to be thinking about right now.

“Come on,” the guy says. “I’m Matt, and I promise the big bad Youth Centre’s not actually going to bite.”

Aiden ducks his head and runs a hand across the back of his neck nervously before he says, “I’m Aiden.”

“Ah,” Matt says. “Aiden who’s not actually Adrian?”

Aiden blinks.

“Probably,” he says. “I don’t think my Headmistress actually has any idea who I am.”

Matt laughs and holds his hand out, and Aiden reminds himself for the second time in as many minutes that attraction is a hindrance he doesn’t need right now.

“Great,” Matt says, “then you’re actually here to see me anyway.”

“Oh,” Aiden says, and, yeah, oh.

“See,” Matt says, “it’s already less scary, right?”

Aiden doesn’t have the heart to tell him it probably just makes it worse.

 

+

 

Matt is really nice and not at all the kind of person Aiden had assumed he’d be dumped with. For one thing Matt sings and plays the guitar and knows every Hendrix track ever recorded, and for another he treats Aiden like a mate rather than a teenager nine years his junior. Which is really lovely except it doesn’t do anything to aid Aiden’s growing crush.

Matt’s hot, yeah, but he’s also awesome, and Aiden’s pretty much screwed. Not only is Matt a lot older than him, he’s also his mentor, and that just reaches new levels of inappropriate, so when Matt asks if he wants to go bowling – spend some time bonding outside of the Youth Centre - Aiden almost says no before he thinks fuck it, pining is underrated away.

Matt drives this crappy little beat-up Ford that has stickers all over the dashboard and paint tins sliding around on the back seat, but it also has an iPod lead and pretty good speakers, and Aiden finds that he’s a lot less awkward and tongue-tied when The Kinks are being played at top volume.

“So, uh, what got you into the whole mentoring thing?” he asks over Face to Face.

“My mum,” Matt says, rolling his eyes fondly. “She works at the Centre on weekends and she asked me if I’d help out sometimes. Actually, it wasn’t so much asked as guilted.”

“Cool,” Aiden says. “How many people have you mentored?”

“Ah,” Matt says, looking sheepish. “Actually, you’re the first. Not many people come along. I think there’ve been one or two kids whose parents wanted them to stop smoking weed, but otherwise it’s mostly kids who think that being dumped is the end of the world.”

“Oh,” Aiden says, and he’s embarrassed to find himself wanting to smile at the thought of being Matt’s first mentoree. “So what do you do the rest of time?”

“I paint houses,” Matt says, “and when I’m not doing that, I’m in a band.”

“Yeah?” Aiden says. “You any good?”

“At playing or painting houses?”

“Painting houses,” Aiden says with a straight face, and Matt laughs.

“I’m not bad,” he says, and Aiden gets the feeling that’s up there with the biggest understatements of all time.

 

+

 

Aiden’s not entirely sure what he’d thought would happen when they got to the bowling alley, but being accosted by a guy with pink sunglasses and an accent didn’t rank high on the list.

“Nicolo,” Matt says, ignoring the way the other guy was flailing his arms around dramatically, “this is Aiden.”

Nicolo’s rant pauses as he turns to face him and Aiden feels kind of like he’s being judged.

“Hi,” Nicolo says eventually.

“Uh, hey.”

“He’s cute,” Nicolo says, turning back to Matt, and Aiden doesn’t miss the way Matt’s cheeks begin to flush.

“Oh,” Matt says, “no. Uh, Aiden’s the kid I’m mentoring?”

“Stop embarrassing them,” a beautiful woman wearing pearls and lace and looking out of place against the rest of the décor says softly as she joins them. “I’m Rebecca,” she says to Aiden with a small smile.

“Nicolo and Rebecca are friends of mine,” Matt says, and then glares jokingly at Nicolo. “Most of the time.”

“Yeah yeah,” Nicolo says, “are we going to bowl or not?”

“Come on,” Matt says, curling his fingers around Aiden’s shoulder as he points him in the right direction. “And don’t let Nicolo fool you; he’s actually pretty shit at bowling.”

“I heard that!” Nicolo says, and Aiden laughs because maybe this wouldn’t be as awkward as he’d thought it’d be.

 

+

 

Bowling is fun, mostly because only Nicolo seems to take it seriously, and Aiden finds himself relaxing more and more as the evening goes on. It doesn’t matter that he’s seventeen and here because someone else thought he needed help coming to terms with his sexuality, or that he’s only known these guys for a matter of hours and they’ve known each other for years, and it’s sort of really nice.

Matt keeps giving him a grin, like they’re in on their own little secret, and that’s nice too.

 

+

 

They tend to only spend a few minutes at the Centre each week before going on somewhere else – for coffee, to an amazing little record store Matt knows, to Tesco when Matt’s run out of milk and bread and anything of actual nutritional value – and they don’t talk about anything in particular so much as they just talk.

Aiden now knows that Matt’s band, Seven Summers, are laying down an album even though it means they’re all going to be completely broke afterwards, and that he wants to give up smoking but every time he tries he ends up smoking more from stress, and that he loves his dog possibly more than anyone else in the world except maybe his nephew.

Equally, Aiden’s told Matt all about how his five best friends are possibly in some kind of polyamorous relationship, that he’s known Liam the longest but is closest to Louis, that he loves singing but doesn’t know if he’ll ever be able to make an actual career out of it, and that he sometimes wonders if he’s not actually the most sane person in his life.

He doesn’t tell Matt that he fancies him.

There are just some things you keep quiet about.

 

+

 

Aiden’s birthday falls on a Friday and his parents insist on throwing him a party even though Louis’ already announced that he has top-secret plans in the works.

“It’s your eighteenth,” his mum says, “the family will want to come see you. And just think of all the presents.”

“Sure,” Aiden says and texts Louis Family party on birthday. You’d all better be there.

“Why don’t you invite your mentor? What’s his name? Matthew?” his mum continues, folding the washing, and Aiden hums in agreement.

“Wait, what?” he says when he realises what she’s said.

“Well,” she says, “you seem to be getting along well. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind popping in for a bit.”

“Uh,” Aiden says, “okay.”

“Excellent,” his mum says, eyes glittering, “he’s all you’ve been able to talk about for weeks. I think it’s about time I met him.”

 

+

 

“Uh,” Aiden says while Matt flicks through AC/DC records. “It’s my birthday on Friday and my mum’s insisting on throwing me a party, and she said I should invite you?”

Matt looks up, surprised, and Aiden really hopes he’s not blushing as much as he thinks he is.

“So your mum wants me to come?” Matt asks, frowning.

“No,” Aiden says, “I mean, yes. Um. If you’re free.”

“Do you want me to come?” Matt says, and Aiden busies himself looking through the Bowie tracks so he doesn’t have to look Matt in the eye.

“Yeah,” Aiden says. “I mean, only if you’re not doing anything.”

“I’m not doing anything,” Matt says, and Aiden can tell he’s smiling even without looking. “Tell your mum I’ll be there.”

“Cool,” Aiden says.

“Cool,” Matt echoes.

 

+

 

Aiden’s mum had been right about the presents, which almost made up for the fact that he has to spend forty minutes listening to his Aunt Carol’s stories about her Pomeranian’s.

Aiden hadn’t even realised they were dogs until she mentioned a trip to the vets, and he was kind of so ridiculously thankful that she wasn’t talking about collars in any other context that he let her show him pictures too.

“Aiden,” his mum says when he’s finally escaped and is wondering where the beer’s gone and also where Louis and the boys have gone and if the two are connected. His money’s on yes. “Matt’s here.”

“Oh,” Aiden says, knocking his thankfully empty plastic cup over. “Great. Cool. Um.”

His mum raises her eyebrows gleefully.

“He’s hot,” she says, and Aiden groans.

Mum!

“Well come on,” she says, grinning. “If you leave him alone too long your Aunt Carol might get her claws in him.”

“Did you know Pomeranian’s were dogs?” Aiden asks and then ignores her when she bursts out laughing. “Hi,” he says when he sees Matt, still wearing his coat and standing awkwardly by the door.

“Hey,” Matt says, smiling and his shoulders relaxing a little. “Happy birthday.”

“Thanks,” Aiden says, running a hand across the back of his head and trying to pretend his mum isn't still standing next to him grinning widely. “Uh, this is my mum.”

“Hi,” Matt says politely, and Aiden’s mum shakes his hand when he offers it.

“It’s good to meet you Matt,” she says. “I’ve heard so much about you.”

Aiden kind of wishes the ground would open up and swallow him whole, but thankfully there’s a crash from the back garden and the sound of someone swearing and his mum rolls her eyes before disappearing to make sure no one’s done permanent damage to her potted plants (or themselves).

“I bought you a present,” Matt says, handing over something from where it’s balanced between his arm and his body (and Aiden thinks he’s really become pathetic when he’s jealous of a gift).

“Thanks,” Aiden says.

His fingers shake as he pulls at the wrapping, and Aiden really hopes that it’s dark enough that Matt can’t tell.

Oh,” he says, looking down and the vinyl copy of Are You Experienced. “Wow.”

“You said you didn’t have it,” Matt says, and he sounds a little nervous, “and, you know, records are always better than CDs.”

“This is amazing,” Aiden says, resisting the urge to reach out and hug him. He’s not entirely sure he’ll be able to let go. “Thank you!”

“You’re welcome,” Matt says. “Uh, is there somewhere I can put my coat?”

“Yes,” Aiden says, “right. Uh, come on in and meet people. You might want to stay away from an older woman holding pictures of her dogs though. Just a warning.”

 

+

 

Matt charms everyone, and ends up talking DIY with Aiden’s dad for a good hour, which is both nice and slightly disturbing. Aiden spends most of his own party trying to simultaneously be a good host and not trip over his own feet every time Matt’s in his eye line which he studiously puts down to two aspects of his life colliding and not anything else.

Even the boys manage to be on their best behaviour which may have something to do with his mum cutting them off after their third beers, but Aiden appreciates it whatever, even if Niall does keep looking over at Matt and giggling into his cup.

“Hey,” Matt says, grabbing Aiden’s arm as he carries an empty sausage roll plate back into the kitchen. “I’ve got to head off.”

“Oh,” Aiden says, “thanks for coming. And, you know, thanks for my present.”

“It was fun,” Matt says. “Your family are good people.”

“Yeah,” Aiden says, “they’re pretty cool.”

“So, I’ll see you Wednesday,” Matt says, and he seems to be having an internal debate with himself before he leans forward and pulls Aiden into a quick hug. “Happy birthday.”

“Uh,” Aiden says, and he’s sort of still intensely aware of the way Matt’s body had been pressed against his own. “Cheers.”

“Bye,” Matt says, quietly, and Aiden can only wave like a twat as he leaves.

“So,” Louis says, flinging an arm around Aiden’s shoulders and tipping his bottle at the door, “he’s cute.”

 

+

 

Louis’ top-secret plans involve a shit-load of alcohol and some cheesy Wotsits which is actually more organisation than Aiden expected there to be.

He manages to last until somewhere between his fourth and sixth beer before he starts talking about Matt, and it’s like he doesn’t want to but his brain won’t listen, and the worst thing is he’s pretty sure it has nothing to do with the booze.

“You have a crush,” Louis sings, and Aiden’s not entirely sure how it’s his birthday and yet he’s the most sober.

“I can’t believe you’re gay,” Niall says, shaking his head like it’s a foreign concept.

“You five still have sleepovers,” Aiden points out. “You build forts and sleep curled up on the floor beneath Batman sheets. You really don’t have room to talk.”

“You’re just jealous,” Louis says seriously and then proceeds to spill his beer all over a passed out Harry.

“What they both mean,” Liam says, seriously, “is that we’re totally supportive of you and your choices.”

“Exactly,” Louis nods. “Totally supportive.”

“Wait,” Niall frowns, “who has Batman sheets? I thought Harry’s were Spiderman?”

“You know,” Aiden says, “when you five finally announce your plans to buy a farm in the middle of nowhere and raise some chickens I’m going to remember this.”

“Chickens?” Zayn says, from where he’s blinking dazedly up at them. “Who has chickens?”

“We do,” Liam says, “when we live on a farm in the future.”

“Oh,” Zayn says, “okay. Prefer pigs though.”

“Seriously though,” Louis says, throwing Aiden another beer. “Full support. And also, if you ever need help wooing that older guy of yours, we’re your men.”

“I hate you,” Aiden says fondly, and Louis nods.

“I know.”

“No, really,” Niall says, “who has Batman sheets?”

 

+

 

Aiden’s kind of disgusted by how much he’s looking forward to his next mentoring session, and by the time he’s on the bus heading to the Youth Centre he’s grinning wide enough that the old lady next to him probably thinks he’s a freak.

He’s pretty much resigned himself to the fact that his crush on Matt has become something much more intense, and he doesn’t even care as long as he gets to keep hanging out with him, which is why he’s really not prepared for what happens when he walks into the room, humming under his breath.

“So,” Matt says, looking down at his jumper and brushing some dust off his sleeve, “I really don’t think you need to come along to these sessions anymore. Actually, I don’t think you ever really needed to come along,” and Aiden’s heart breaks a little.

“Oh,” Aiden says, “right, of course.”

“Don’t worry,” Matt says, offering him a weak grin, “I’ve sent your teacher a letter saying how well-adjusted you are.”

“Thanks,” Aiden says, even though he really just wants to throw himself at Matt and ask what he’s done wrong. “So, I’ll just go then.”

“Right,” Matt blinks, “oh, yeah, okay.”

“Bye,” Aiden says quietly, and he hopes the sound of his heart cracking in two isn’t actually audible.

 

+

 

“You know you’re being a total girl right?” Louis says when he opens Aiden’s bedroom door, tub of Ben & Jerry’s in one hand and The O.C. Season Four in the other. “Also, I want it put on the record that I am watching this show under duress.”

Please,” Harry says, throwing himself on top of the covers and elbowing Aiden in the neck, “don’t try and pretend Taylor’s not your favourite.”

“I have no idea what you mean.”

“He didn’t even have to rent it,” Zayn says, disgustedly. “It was in a box under his bed.”

“Right,” Louis says, “remember how we said we’d never mention that?”

Liam pats him on the back as he passes. “You bring on your own mockery.”

“Guys,” Aiden says from beneath his duvet, voice muffled, “remember how I’m heartbroken and sad? Can we leave off mocking Louis for being completely lame until later?”

“Yes,” Louis says, “let’s do that.”

“But it’s so much fun,” Harry whines, and dodges the spoon Louis throws at him.

“Come on,” Liam says, “it’s time to wallow in empathy and let Aiden know we love him. And for heavens sake, nobody bring up Marissa if they don’t want to hear Louis’ twenty minute rant on why Taylor kicks her arse.”

 

+

 

Aiden’s parents had frowned when he’d explained he didn’t need to go to his Wednesday sessions anymore, and then his mum had actually sat him down and asked him if something had happened between him and Matt before he could explain that no, he was apparently just really well adjusted and wasn’t that great, and they’d been really nice about the whole thing.

He doesn’t think they appreciated him snapping “Why couldn’t my childhood have been more traumatic?” at them though.

The boys have taken to using his room as their O.C. sanctuary, which was alright when he was spending most of his time sulking and miserable and not wanting to face society, but not so great when he actually feels like getting some fresh air, so now he just leaves them to it.

He doesn’t intentionally go to places he’s been with Matt but apparently his brain and his legs aren’t sharing memos because he’s flipping through the racks in Matt’s record store before he’s even aware of what he’s doing, and he knows he shouldn’t be surprised to see someone he recognises, he just wishes he didn’t feel a sudden rush of disappointment at it not being the right person.

“Hi,” Rebecca says, looking as pretty and shy as always, “I haven’t seen you in a while.”

“Yeah,” Aiden says awkwardly. “I don’t need to go to mentoring anymore, so…”

Rebecca nods. “Yeah, Matt said.”

“So,” Aiden says, “Uh, how are you?”

“Good,” Rebecca smiles. “Yeah, great. And how about you? I hear you’re eighteen now.”

“Yep,” Aiden says. “Officially an adult.”

“So that means you’ll be able to come to Matt’s next show then?” Rebecca says, and Aiden feels momentarily blindsided.

“I’m not sure he’d really want me there,” Aiden says eventually, shaking his head, because it doesn’t matter how much he likes Matt, he’s still just some kid Matt mentored as a favour to his mum.

“What?” Rebecca says, frowning. “Of course he would.”

She gets a pen out of her purse and writes an address on the back of a receipt and Aiden likes Rebecca so he takes it even though there’s absolutely no way he’s going to use it.

“You should come,” she says. “Matt smiles more when you’re around.”

“Uh,” Aiden says, because, really, how’s he supposed to respond to that?

Rebecca smiles at him once more, sweet and knowing, as she leaves, and Aiden really wishes she weren’t so nice because now he sort of feels like if he doesn’t go puppies and rainbows and Christmas will all hate him.

“How is this my life?” he says to himself, staring down at the little piece of paper clutched between his fingers.

“That’s the big question, man,” the hippie dude looking through the George Harrison records says. “That’s the question.”

 

+

 

Aiden goes to the gig.

“So,” Louis says, “am I here for moral support or to kick some arse?”

“You’re here because you’re the only one who’s eighteen,” Aiden says, and wonders if it wouldn’t have been a better idea to come alone after all.

“We could have a snog by the bar if you want,” Louis says. “Make him jealous.”

“I’m not snogging you, Louis.”

“Oh come on,” Louis says, “you’re no fun. Liam would.”

“That’s because Liam’s afraid if he doesn’t do everything you say you’ll post pictures of him in his underwear on the internet again,” Aiden points out, and Louis hums in agreement.

“Still,” he says, “if it turns out Matt’s actually got some hot, rich, businessman boyfriend or something then the offer to help you save face is always on the table.”

“Thanks,” Aiden says, rolling his eyes. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

The bar’s small but fairly crowded, and Aiden can’t make out much in the dim lighting but he’s pretty sure he doesn’t recognise anyone yet. He rationally knows that he doesn’t look out of place – jeans and a dark t-shirt are pretty standard for anywhere – but he still feels itchy in his own skin.

Louis gets them both beers to nurse even though Aiden made him promise that he wouldn’t let him get drunk until after everything had fallen to crap, and they find a spot near the centre of the room to get a good view of the stage.

And then Matt’s there, only feet away from him, and Aiden’s missed him with his checked shirts and his big glasses and the way he smells like cigarettes and shower gel and Matt, and the way his chest tightens actually hurts.

The band’s good, great even, and Aiden hadn’t expected them to be anything else, but it’s still strange to hear them live, to hear Matt’s voice and know that he’d been right.

“Wow,” Louis says, and Aiden can only nod.

He thinks, somewhere around the fifth song, that Matt spots him in the crowd, but the lights are bright and he’s immediately looking elsewhere, and it’s probably all in Aiden’s imagination but he can’t focus on the rest of the set anyway.

“So,” Louis says, when the band’s walked off and the room’s abuzz with chatter, “they were great.”

“Yeah,” Aiden says. “Look, let’s just get out of here.”

“You sure?” Louis frowns. “Shouldn’t you at least find that Rebecca chick?”

“No need,” Rebecca says, and she’s smiling brightly at them, looking stunning in a sparkly dress. “Hi!”

“Uh, Rebecca,” Aiden says, “hi. This is Louis.”

“Hi.”

“I’m so glad you came,” Rebecca says, leaning forward to be heard over the noise. “Matt said he didn’t think you would.”

“Oh,” Aiden says. “Well, we were just off anyway-“

“No,” Rebecca says, “don’t be silly. He just thought you might have ‘better things to do’.”

“Right,” Aiden says, and then as if he needs to clarify, “I didn’t.”

“Of course not,” Rebecca says cheerfully. “Speak of the devil!”

“Hey Becs,” Matt says, pulling her into a one-armed hug and grinning when she wrinkles her nose at him.

“Get off,” she says, playfully. “You’re all sweaty.”

“You love it,” he laughs, and Aiden feels small and lost and like he should probably try and slip away now before Matt looks at him and that’s that.

Matt looks up and it’s too late.

“Hi,” Matt says, ducking his head to run his hand across the back of his neck.

“Hey,” Aiden says, and he’s pretty sure he’s pulling a stupid face but he can’t actually help it.

“And hullo,” Louis says, and then shrugs when everyone looks at him. “What?”

“Come on,” Rebecca says, “Louis is it? You can buy me a drink.”

“Well,” Louis says, wiggling his eyebrows ludicrously, “if you insist.”

“Just remember you’ve got four husbands who’ll be very upset with you if you come home drunk and smelling of perfume,” Aiden calls, and laughs when Louis flips him off until he realises that it’s now just him and Matt and, yeah.

“How’ve you been?” Matt asks, and Aiden’s a little gratified that he’s not the only one looking awkward.

“Fine,” Aiden says, “good. School, you know?”

“Yeah,” Matt says, frowning.

“You?” Aiden asks, and thinks it’s just as well Matt’s avoiding his eyes as much as he’s avoiding Matt’s because at least they can be lame and uncomfortable together.

“Good, yeah,” Matt says. “Been playing a bit more.”

“You guys were great,” Aiden says. “Really.”

“Thanks,” Matt says, “and thanks for coming. I know Rebecca can be pretty persuasive, but still.”

“No,” Aiden says, “I wanted to.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Aiden says, “I mean, I’ve never heard you sing before.”

Matt tugs at his ear and offers him half a smile. “I hope it wasn’t too much of a let down.”

“No, you’re amazing,” Aiden says, passionately, and then wonders if it would look too weird if he proceeded to bang his head against the countertop.

“Oh,” Matt says, and Aiden thinks he might actually be blushing, and he has no idea what to do with that. “Cheers.”

They stand in silence for a bit, and Aiden’s never felt so awkward in his life. At one point it looks like Matt’s going to say something but then he shuts his mouth and continues avoiding Aiden’s eyes, and Aiden’s actually worried that if he stands here much longer he’s going to say or do something incredibly embarrassing.

“I should probably save Rebecca from Louis,” he says, and he hopes the general volume of the room masks the squeak in his voice. “I’m worried he might have convinced her to marry him by now.”

“Sure,” Matt says, “yeah. Bye.”

“Bye.”

“Please tell me that entire conversation wasn’t actually made up of you both stuttering awkwardly before you could run away,” Louis says when Aiden catches up with him at the bar.

Aiden shuts his eyes.

“Shit,” Louis says, “you’re even worse at this than I thought you’d be.”

“Can we please go home?” Aiden says. “You can talk about whatever TV show you want, just, let’s go.”

“Yeah,” Louis says, seriously. “Of course. Come on.”

Outside, the cold air hits him like a wall, and he pulls his jacket tightly around himself, hugging his arms against his chest. They’re almost at the bus stop when a voice calls his name.

“Hey,” Matt says, catching up with them, and Louis has the decency to pretend to look at timetables and not at the way Aiden’s eyes have lit up. “I know that you don’t- I know things are kind of weird now we’re not doing the whole mentoring thing anymore, but do you maybe want to go for a coffee anyway?”

Aiden bites his lip and thinks about the hours he spent under his duvet and the amount of ice cream he single-handedly managed to consume like a bad movie cliché, and he doesn’t know if he can do this, if he can be Matt’s friend when he wants to be so much more, but Matt’s looking at him with wide eyes, his hands in his pockets and his shoulders hunched forwards, and Aiden doesn’t know why his brain even tries to pretend that he won’t take anything he can get.

“Okay,” he says, and Matt lets out a deep breath.

“Wednesday?” Matt asks, and Aiden nods. “I can pick you up from school if you want?”

“Sure.”

“See you then,” Matt says, and he reaches out his hand and then stops, pulls it back and walks away, and Aiden’s left wondering what just happened.

“Well,” Louis says when Matt’s out of sight, and Aiden shakes his head.

“Don’t.”

“Fine,” Louis says, and then drops down onto the bus stop bench. “So I’ve just started watching the E4 reruns of Gilmore Girls…”

 

+

 

Aiden freaks out a grand total of twelve times at school on Wednesday, and is only stopped from going home sick by Harry and Niall physically holding him into his seat during English Lit.

“We’re under orders,” Harry says, trapping Aiden’s hand against the table. “Louis says that we’re to do everything in our power to stop you running away.”

“Yeah,” Niall says, “and also that you’re a pussy and need to grow a pair.”

“I hate Louis,” Aiden tells them. “Have I mentioned that?”

“A few times,” Harry says, completely unfazed. “What’s the big deal anyway? You like this guy; isn’t a date a good thing?”

“It’s not a date,” Aiden says, looking around the room and hoping that everyone else is too busy with Anthony and Cleopatra to be paying them any attention.

“And therein lies the problem,” Niall says, nodding, and Aiden really, really needs new friends.

By the time classes are over Aiden’s little more than a ball of hyperventilating anxiety, which is never a good look.

“For fucks sake,” Louis says, glaring at Aiden despairingly. “Remember, if it fails epically we can always go make out wherever he’ll be.”

“Wait,” Liam says, frowning, “what?”

“Still not going to snog you Louis,” Aiden says, but he feels a little less like he’s going to throw up.

Matt’s car’s already outside the school gates when Aiden gets there, and Matt’s smoking a cigarette and leaning against the boot and looking as gorgeous as ever, and it’s only when Zayn says “Okay, I get that he’s attractive, but do the girls really need to stare like that?” that Aiden remembers he’s supposed to be moving.

Zayn’s right; every girl that walks by Matt is giving him the once over, and Aiden would find it hilarious that Matt doesn’t even notice except he still sort of feels like he’s going to faint.

“Shoo,” Louis says, pushing Aiden’s shoulders. “Seriously, if you don’t go over there right now and be a man then I’m taking back my BFF bracelet.”

“Wait,” Sophia Wardman says from behind them, Geneva and Esther by her sides. “You know him?”

“That’s Aiden’s boyfriend,” Harry says, and doesn’t look remotely apologetic when Aiden glares at him.

“He’s not my boyfriend,” Aiden says, and he can feel himself blushing.

“Yeah, yeah, go get him tiger,” Louis says. “I mean, this has been fun but now I’m just getting bored.”

“Good for you,” Esther says as she walks past, and, yeah, so Aiden’s now pretty sure that this is going to be all over school tomorrow which is just great.

“Good luck,” Liam says, and then acts like an actual friend and steers the guys in the opposite direction, and Aiden should really spend more time with Liam. Liam’s not detrimental to his mental health.

Matt sees him when Aiden’s about two cars down and waves with one hand as he puts out his cigarette.

“Hi.”

“Hey,” Aiden says, and opens the passenger door when Matt nods at it.

The drive into town isn’t technically long but Aiden can feel every second of it ticking by achingly slowly, and even The Doors can’t distract him from his nerves. Aiden takes Matt’s lead and doesn’t talk even though his brain desperately wants to start babbling on about anything to try and at least pretend this isn’t awkward as hell, and the silence doesn’t help divert Aiden’s attention away from the fact that Matt is right there.

The coffee shop is relatively busy but Matt heads towards their regular table near the back to dump his coat before joining the back of the queue, and Aiden sits down and twists his fingers around a paper serviette until he gets back.

“Here,” Matt says, sliding Aiden’s latte across, and Aiden only lets himself think he remembers my drink before he reminds himself that it hasn’t been that long since they were last here, even if Aiden’s emotional clock would say otherwise.

“So,” Aiden says, “did you want to talk about anything in particular?”

“No,” Matt says, stirring too much sugar into his Americano and biting his lip. “I just- I missed you.”

“Oh,” Aiden says, and then, “wait, what?”

“Look,” Matt says, “I know it’s weird, okay? I mean, I’m nine years older than you, and you’re still in school, and I was your mentor for fucks sake, but I just. I really missed you, and I was hoping that if I promised to try and get over it that you’d maybe still want to hang out sometimes?”

“No, seriously,” Aiden says, “what?

If Aiden’s not mistaken – and he really, really hopes he isn’t – Matt has maybe just confessed to having feelings for him, feelings he doesn’t believe are reciprocated, and fuck, if he isn’t careful this was going to turn out like one of Louis’ bloody TV shows.

“So this whole thing,” Aiden says calmly, and he’s really kind of impressed with himself, “has been because you like me?”

“Um,” Matt says, looking at Aiden’s right ear. “Yes?”

“You’re an idiot,” Aiden says, and Matt’s eyes snap to his.

“What?” he says, frowning, and Aiden can’t help the laugh that bubbles up his throat.

“You’re an idiot,” he repeats, grinning widely. “I thought this whole thing had been because you didn’t like me.”

“No,” Matt says, “no, I like you a lot, too much, and I’m making a complete idiot of myself, aren’t I?”

“Yes,” Aiden says, “but only because you’ve apparently failed to notice that I’ve been ridiculous about you since we met.”

“Oh,” Matt says. “Wait, really?”

“Really,” Aiden says, and his cheeks are actually starting to hurt. He’s pretty sure the elderly couple sitting behind Matt think he’s crazy.

“Okay,” Matt says, and now he’s smiling too, and Aiden’s missed that. “But, no, you’re still in school. This is totally wrong.”

“I’m eighteen,” Aiden points out, “and you’re not my mentor anymore, and besides, I’m off to Uni in a couple of months and then I’m pretty sure it’s in the rules that I do every inappropriate thing in the book.”

Matt looks like he wants to laugh, but there’s still doubt creeping in at the corners of his mouth. “You’ve only just come out,” he says, and Aiden rolls his eyes.

“If you think you’re the first guy I’ve fancied then you’re going to be disappointed,” he says. “I’ve known I was gay since I was twelve, it’s just everyone else that didn’t.”

“This is insane,” Matt says, but his face is clear of any uncertainty, and Aiden’s pretty sure that means he’s won.

Which, fuck.

“Yeah,” he says. “Want to go back to mine and make out while watching crappy TV? We can kick the boys out of my room and everything.”

Matt looks like he wants to say no, to point out that he’s actually a genuine adult, but then he just shrugs his shoulders and laughs.

“Yeah,” he says. “Okay. Besides, I wanted to ask your Dad about wiring.”

“Oh God,” Aiden says, and he’s too happy to sound anything but affectionate, “you’re going to be one of those boyfriends, aren’t you?”

“You mean the sort who your parents potentially love more than you? I hope so. That way maybe they won’t shoot me for touching their eighteen year old son,” Matt says, and then he’s reaching out a little unsurely and tangling his fingers with Aiden’s, and Aiden can only squeeze back and hope he doesn’t walk into anything because the only thing he can see is Matt.

 

+

 

Aiden’s parents hadn’t been remotely surprised to find Matt walking down the stairs behind Aiden when they got home from work, even when he looked extremely well kissed and his shirt buttons were done up wrong, which only cemented Aiden’s theory that they actually were the most awesome ever, especially when they only made fun of him a little when he found it physically impossible to let Matt go long enough for him to leave, and he only managed it when Matt promised to give him a lift to school in the morning.

“You know we’re being watched right?” Matt says, and Aiden hums and goes back to exploring the skin beneath Matt’s jaw with his lips. “No, seriously, I’m pretty sure your entire school is staring at us right now. I think those girls are taking pictures. No, wait, is that Louis?

“Fuck,” Aiden says, giggling against Matt’s neck. “I should probably go.”

“I’ll pick you up later,” Matt says. “Bowling.”

“Do you think we can distract Nicolo enough to actually win?”

“Probably not,” Matt says, leaning forward so the words are pressed against Aiden’s mouth. “But it’s worth a try.”

Mister Grimshaw,” Ms. Michaels says, sounding hilariously outraged, and Aiden has to rest his head against Matt’s chest for a few seconds to compose himself.

“Shall I introduce myself?” Matt says, giggling. “Hi, I’m Adrian’s mentor. As you can see he’s well and truly come to terms with his sexuality?

“Shit,” Aiden says. “Why do I have to go sit through lessons?”

“So you can graduate and get into Uni and then I won’t feel so dirty.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Aiden says, leering at him in a way he’s sure looks ridiculous. “Isn’t ‘dirty’ half the fun?”

“Go,” Matt says, “before I change my mind.”

Aiden kisses Matt again, one more time, and he can’t believe he gets to do this now, that he actually has a boyfriend – a hot, talented, older boyfriend – who he can kiss whenever he wants to, and then he groans as he pulls away and heads through the gates, only looking back to wave at Matt when he’s far enough away that he won’t be tempted to forget about school altogether.

“So, things went well with your boyfriend then?” Esther says as they head into History five minutes later, Aiden’s cheeks still flushed and his t-shirt hanging crookedly over his collarbone.

“Yeah,” Aiden says, and he doesn’t think he could stop smiling if he tried. “They went great.”