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The Pitiful Children

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“I'm sorry, but we can't continue to keep you two at our school.”

Jeremy and Michael sat sandwiched between their parents in the principal’s office. Michael shot a knowing glance over at Jeremy, who had tears forming in his eyes.

“What do you mean?” Jeremy's mother interjected. “What did they do that requires expulsion from the school?”

“Well,” the principal said, shifting in her chair. “There have been multiple student reports of these boys selling and taking drugs.”

Jeremy made a squeak of protest. “That's not true!”

“We've heard people talking about you taking some kind of drug called a… squip, Mr. Heere. They might be rumors, but we have a good reputation here at Middle Borough and we don't want to ruin that.”

“I mean- but- what about Michael?” Jeremy stammered.

The principal folded her hands together. “As you know, we have a zero-tolerance drug policy and Mr. Mell has been known to use marijuana.”

Michael shrugged, but Jeremy scoffed. “Off school grounds!”

Jeremy's mother put a hand on his shoulder. “Honey, I don't think you're really helping.”

“Off school grounds or not, there have been multiple reports of you two selling drugs and we can't continue to keep you at our school.” The principal smiled mechanically. “But we were able to offer you enrollment to the school in the next county over. It's a wonderful school and a short enough bus or car ride that you wouldn't have to move.”

Michael and Jeremy’s parents made eye contact with each other. “It seems like the best we can do,” Michael’s mother said. “What would we need to do to enroll them?”

“You just need to sign here and they'll be able to start attending school in a few weeks.”

The parents all nodded and individually signed the paper the principal brandished. With that, the two families left the principal’s office in silence.

“What on earth?” Jeremy’s mother yelled as soon as they were out of earshot of the principal’s office. “Selling drugs? Michael get back here, I'm talking to you too. Have you been selling drugs?”

“No!” The two boys said at the same time.

“Well then what was that?” Jeremy's mom said with a dramatic gesture towards the school.

“Remember earlier this year when I told you I ingested a supercomputer in the form of a pill to make me cool?” Jeremy’s mother nodded incredulously. “I assume that's what that was about. As for Michael, Michael’s just a stoner.”

“Hell yeah, I am.”

Jeremy’s mom massaged her temples. “Okay, fine. Jeremy, you're coming home and you're grounded until you start your new school. No talking to Michael, you hear me?”

Jeremy nodded. “Yeah. Um… bye, Michael. See you in a few weeks.”

Michael grinned largely and shut the door to his car. “Bye, loser!”

Jeremy's dad sighed. “I can't believe you got a expelled for selling drugs and you didn't even do drugs. God, I'm raising such a dweeb.”

~

Jeremy was disappointed with the new school. For the most part, it was exactly the same as all the others. It was a different building, of course, but in other ways it was exactly like every other school in the United States. Posters of clubs and events dotted the walls, students lounged between classes on any available resting space.

Jeremy walked through the crowded hallways, trying to find his new homeroom before the first bell rang. Room 483. That would logically be with the other 400s, right? Jeremy looked to his left. Room 225. Fuck.

A short kid with glasses slammed into his back, too busy with his loud conversation to notice Jeremy standing there. “You fell from a tree? What are you, like an acorn?” He laughed. Another student with a cast and a blue striped shirt chuckled weakly.

“Yeah, sure. Exactly like that.”

“Get out of the way, tree!” The kid shouted, playfully checking his shoulder.

“Trees are great, Jared.” The other boy said, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly. “I'm sure this guy’s great too.”

Jeremy's face flushed. “Uh… thanks.”

The kid, Jared, punched the other kid in the shoulder. “Come on, let's leave the freak alone. If I miss homeroom any more times my parents won't pay for my car insurance.” With that, the two boys walked off, chatting and laughing to each other.

Jeremy shifted his backpack on his shoulders, trying to forget about the large scribbled letters on the back. Nobody at this school knew what ‘BOYF’ meant and he wanted to keep it that way. Of course, as soon as Michael showed up it would all become obvious. Jeremy sighed and looked at the numbers scrawled on the back of his hand again. Room 483.

He climbed the stairs heavily, his posture horrible and his spine curling. Fuck the squip and his perfect posture. If there was one thing Jeremy didn't want to be at this school, it was cool. Finally, he found Room 483 after climbing almost every staircase in the building. The teacher was at the front with an attendance sheet, and all the kids were already in their seats. Jeremy tentatively opened the door.

“Hello! Jeremy Heere?”

Jeremy froze in the doorway. “Uh… I… present.”

A snicker from the back of the class. The teacher seemed oblivious. “Class, I’d like to introduce to your new homeroom member, Jeremy Heere. We have two new students at our school, Jeremy and Michael Mell, who both just recently transferred from Middle Borough High School. I'd like you to make them feel very welcome.”

A tall kid with long hair in the back of the class piped up, “Did you get expelled?”

Jeremy coughed. “Yeah.”

He smirked and put his feet up on his desk. “I heard you got expelled for selling drugs. That true?”

Jeremy stood in the doorway nervously, all eyes in the classroom on him. “Well… yeah.”

The kid in the back laughed. “Awesome! Got any weed for me?”

The teacher’s docile face morphed into one of terror. “CONNOR!” The rest of the class laughed. Apparently Connor was a troublemaker. Jeremy would have to be wary of him.

The teacher turned to Jeremy. “I'm Ms. Silver. You can sit down, if you want.”

Jeremy nodded stiffly and sat down in one of the front empty desks. Ms. Silver smiled and clapped her hands together. “Alright! As per our homeroom tradition, Mondays are reading days. Everybody take out your independent reading books and get imaginative!”

Jeremy looked around at the rest of the class to see if any of them also thought that the teacher was more fitted to teach kindergarten than high school. However, the rest of the class all had books out and were either reading or pretending to read as they stared at the page and whispered with the person next to them. Jeremy pulled out his small copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. Somebody next to him snorted something about ‘nerd books’ but Jeremy ignored him and started to read.

“Jeremy!”

Jeremy looked up to see Michael in the doorway of his classroom, a large smile on his face and his backpack dangling dangerously off of his shoulder. Without realizing it, he blushed and a smile split across his face. A rocky start to the day wouldn't mean anything if Michael was in his homeroom!

“Who are you?” Ms. Silver asked, looking up from her (probably a romance) novel.

“Michael Mell. I'm not in this homeroom, but I read the student handbook and it's not against the rules to go to somebody else's homeroom if you were at yours for attendance.”

Ms. Silver sighed. “Fine. There's a seat over by Zoe if you want it. Just… it's silent reading time, so you need to have a book.”

Michael reached into his bag and pulled out a battered Aquaman comic book. “Does this count?”

Ms. Silver nodded and looked down at her book. Michael sat down on the desk by some girl, probably Zoe, put his headphones on, and started to read.

A small headache started growing in the left temple of Jeremy’s head. Agitated, he rubbed his head with his palm and continued to read. The whispers around the room sounded like static, and the pain in Jeremy’s head continued to grow.

WORTHLESS

A sharp knife of pain, right in Jeremy’s forehead. A loud ringing mechanical note filled his head, and the static of the classroom was drowned out by the resonating C-sharp.

PATHETIC

Tears unwillingly started to form as the voice of the squip drilled into his head. Jeremy made an unwanted noise of pain, and everyone in the class turned to look.

PITIFUL

“Jeremy?” Ms. Silver’s calm voice barely scraped the surface of the grating noises in his head. “Do you need to go to the nurse?”

USELESS

“Jeremy!” Was Michael’s voice, along with the scraping of a chair being pushed back on the floor. Jeremy slid from his desk, curled up on the floor and clutching the sides of his head.

“Get a load of this,” one voice said from the back, “the freak’s freaking out!”

SAD

Jeremy could feel Michael’s hands on his shoulders, but could no longer see through the pain. Michael made panicked noises and spoke in terror-filled sentence fragments.

“Jeremy! Are you- What is it? Can you see- Is it the- JEREMY!” Michael roughly shook Jeremy’s shoulders, his voice choked with horror and the beginning of tears.

WASTE

Jeremy choked out another cry of pain, which only made Michael grow more frantic. The static and the ringing and the voices were louder than they had ever been.

Michael put his hands over Jeremy’s on the sides of his head. “I- I don't know what to do!”

Suddenly, Michael’s lips were on his, hasty and salty with tears. The ringing and the voices died away until all that Jeremy could feel was Michael.

And then Jeremy felt nothing.

Chapter Text

Jeremy woke up in what he assumed to be the nurse’s office. He assumed this because of the colorful posters about washing your hands and the kid puking in the trash can.

“Jeremy?” His eyes focused on a friendly-looking nurse sitting at the end of the uncomfortable cot he was lying on. “Can you hear me?”

He mumbled a reply, and the nurse smiled. “Can you see me?”

Jeremy nodded. “What happened?”

The nurse’s voice became stern. “You tell me, buster. We've never seen anything like that. The closest thing that I've seen to that have been in people detoxing from drugs like cocaine and heroin.” She flipped open Jeremy’s medical records and frowned. “So tell me, Jeremy. I only want what's best for my students. Have you been taking drugs?”

Jeremy squeaked out a no.

The nurse clicked open a pen, and it hovered ominously over the page. “Have you ever taken any drugs before?”

He hesitated. “Well… yes.”

She scribbled something down on his records. “Could you describe to me what happened?”

“I took e at a Halloween party sophomore year.”

The nurse looked up. “Ecstasy?”

Jeremy fidgeted with the hem of his cardigan. “Yeah.”

“And how did your body react?”

He winced, remembering the Halloween party last year. The Halloween party where Rich burned down the house. The Halloween party where Michael had a panic attack in the bathroom. “Uh… pretty badly.”

The nurse closed his folder and smiled. “Alright. I'd like to ask you more questions later, but for now you need rest. Since both your parents work, I can't send you home early, so you're going to have to stay here for the rest of the day. I can get a friend to bring you your stuff, if you want.”

Jeremy nodded. “I left my stuff in homeroom. Can you get Michael Mell to bring it to me?”

She stood up, prepared to leave. “Sure thing, sweetie. Any idea of where I could find him?”

“Check the bathroom.”

~

“Jeremy! Jeremy, I’m so sorry. I just- I didn't know what to do and you were freaking out and I was really scared and I couldn't think of anything to do and you always said that- I’m really really sorry and I hope this doesn't affect our friendship and I just want us to forget this and move past it even though I've wanted to do that for a long time but not like that and I feel terrible and it was in front of your whole class and I just… I’m sorry.”

The nurse looked at Michael incredulously. “Mr. Mell, he needs rest. If you're going to stress out my patient and waste away your school day yammering, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

Michael took a shaky breath and rubbed at the tears on his cheeks with his oversized hoodie sleeves. “I’m sorry. I'm- I’m fine.”

The phone on the wall beeped, and the nurse walked towards it. “I need to answer this. You two, be quiet.”

Michael sat down next to where Jeremy was leaning against the wall at the head of the cot. He slung Jeremy’s backpack onto the chair next to the cot, pointing at the bag and nodding. Jeremy smiled. The two sat in silence, refusing to look each other in the eye. “I’m sorry, but I need to leave.” The nurse said, slipping on a jacket and hanging up the phone. “My sister just had a baby! Don't stress my patient out while I'm gone, Mr. Mell. I've got my eye on you.”

“Oh, congratulations!” Michael said brightly, “and don't worry, I won't.” The nurse glared suspiciously at him and flew out of the room.

As soon as she was gone, Michael’s calm
smile shattered and he let out a small sob. “Jeremy…” he laughed weakly and curled his knees towards his chest, wiping away tears with his palm. “I was really fucking worried about you, man.”

Jeremy nodded. “I know.”

Michael looked at him, and Jeremy averted his eyes from his friend’s tear-stained face. “No you don't! I've only had one friend since fifth grade and that's you. I have one person that I can trust and that's you. There's only one thing in my life that makes it a life worth living and that's you! The last time I didn't have you there for me was last year when the squip took over, and we both know how that turned out.” Michael took a shaky breath. “Wait! Do you think that this was because of-”

Jeremy nodded. “I think it is. New setting, new people; this would be the perfect opportunity to take back control.”

“I don't think I'd be able to lose you, Jeremy.”

“But you did,” he responded, tracing patterns into the fabric of his jeans with his finger. “Last year. You lost me, but then you saved the day. You rescued me, man. You can rescue me again.”

In a sudden burst of motion, Michael grabbed a fistful of Jeremy’s cardigan, pulled it towards him, and pressed his lips onto Jeremy’s. It was all very uncomfortable, but also not entirely unpleasant. For the second time that day, Jeremy felt the cool press of Michael’s glasses on his face and the taste of tears on his lips. Jeremy’s leg was bent in the wrong direction and the corner of a cabinet was pressing into the small of his back, but he didn't care. For the first time, he didn't care about jeopardizing their friendship. Since seventh grade Jeremy had been fantasizing about this and for the first time his dreams were coming true. For the first time since he had met Michael on the kickball field in elementary school something good was happening, and he didn't want it to stop.

“Yo, guys, I appreciate you having like… a moment here, but I'm currently puking my brains out in a corner. So if you could like… not, that would be great.”

Michael pulled away from Jeremy and stood up. “Pukey weed boy is right. I need to get back to class. Jeremy- I'll see you around.” He grabbed his backpack and paused with a hand on the door handle. He turned to face the kid vomiting into the trash can. “And bro, you reek of marijuana. Trust me, I would know.” He shot a sad smile to Jeremy and then he was gone.

~

Evan didn't like new kids. He didn't necessarily have anything against them, per say, but they almost always ended up climbing the social ladder in three months, leaving Evan behind on the ground.

These kids seemed different, though. These kids didn't have a chance of becoming popular. They were the type of kids to just not fit in, to be just below average. Evan eyed one of the boys from his uncomfortable folding chair in the nurse’s office. He needed his daily medication, but the nurse was out delivering a baby or something. The only person who really knew where the nurse was was the boy, but all that he would do would mutter “I really fucked up” to himself every once in awhile.

Evan sighed and picked at the edge of his cast. He wished that Connor hadn't signed his cast. He wished anybody else could've signed his cast instead of the guy he'd had a crush on since freshman year.

“I’m Jeremy Heere,” the boy said. “What are you doing here?”

Evan looked up. “Oh! Oh, I’m- um, waiting for the nurse to get back. Do you know where she is?”

“She's delivering a baby. But like, why are you here? Do you need ice or something? Because I'm pretty sure if the nurse isn't here you can still get ice.”

“I need to take my pain medication,” Evan said, lifting his left arm halfheartedly. “You know, for my arm.”

The boy, Jeremy, bit his lip. “Oh. I don't think I can help you with that.”

Evan laughed. “Yeah, I think I'm just going to have to wait it out until she gets back.”

The kid nodded absently, then clapped his hands together suddenly. “Oh! What's your name? I knew that I had forgotten to ask you something. Agh, I’m really terrible at the whole ‘meeting new people’ thing.”

“Oh. Evan.” He paused. “Evan Hansen.”

“Don't go all James Bond on me, dude,” Jeremy said, standing up from the bed. He was surprisingly tall, something you couldn't really see due to his poor posture. “I’m stuck in here for the long haul. Freaked out in homeroom. You probably heard, I know how stuff travels in high schools. Your friends probably told you all about my little display of crazy.”

“Well, no.” Evan started picking at his cast again. “I'm not exactly… in the loop.”

“Consider yourself lucky. At my old school, this would've spread like a wildfire.” Jeremy flopped back onto the cot. “There was this bitch, Jenna Rolan, she loved to gossip. In five minutes flat the whole school would know about how Jeremy Heere went insane during homeroom and how he kissed Michael Mell and now he's totally dead and-” Jeremy sat up suddenly. “Fuck. You didn't hear that.”

“Didn't hear what?”

“That I… um, kissed…. Michael Mell.” Jeremy said, then threw his arm over his head dramatically.

“I don't know who that is,” Evan said, confused. “Should I-”

“Good!” Jeremy blurted. “Good. Don't go looking for him. I don't want to see him.”

“Oh- okay.”

“Hey, this might be super weird, but… I don't have anybody to sit with at lunch. Tomorrow, when I can leave this terrible nurse’s office, do you want to? Sit with me?”

“Oh! Yeah- um- I mean, sure.” Evan sputtered. “Do you want me to b-bring up your lunch from the cafeteria? I need to stay up here too to take my meds. It can be like… a cafeteria… trial run.”

Jeremy smiled. “Sounds great.”

~

Evan wasn't missed at lunch. It wasn't a surprise, usually he spent his lunch periods doing one of three things: eating with Jared, watching Connor from the corner of the cafeteria, or sitting alone in the courtyard under the large oak tree.

To say the least, nobody came asking after him. Jeremy and Evan ate their cheap cafeteria pizzas together in the nurse’s office. It was the type of calm lunch that Evan only really got alone in the trees.

“I'm not usually this quiet,” Jeremy said, licking dorito dust off his fingers. “I can be pretty energetic, you know? I think that he brings out loudness in me.”

“Who?”

Jeremy bit his lip and looked down. “Michael.”

“Michael who you kissed?” Evan asked, taking a sip of water.

“Yeah,” Jeremy said, “but don't get me wrong. I'm not gay or anything. I have a girlfriend named Christine from my other school and… I love her very much.”

“Who’s Michael?”

“My best friend.”

“So you kissed your best friend,” Evan said incredulously, “even though you have a girlfriend.”

“Christine.”

“Christine who you love very much.” Jeremy nodded, and Evan shrugged. “Do you love Michael?”

“No, I love Christine.”

“Your girlfriend.”

“Yes. Christine my girlfriend.”

“Who you love very much.”

Jeremy threw up his hands in exasperation. “Yes! Yes, Christine my girlfriend. What do you want from me?”

“I’m confused,” Evan said definitively. “I’m not an expert on relationships, but from what I know people who have girlfriends who they love very much don't go around kissing their best friends who they don't love at all. Some parts of your story aren't adding up.”

“Fine!” Jeremy yelled, standing up from the cot and towering over Evan. He could be very intimidating if he wanted to be. “Fine! I love Michael. I've loved him since seventh grade! I've wanted to kiss him for five years and I did today and I don't regret a second of it. Is that what you wanted?”

Evan was stunned into silence. “That was… more of a confession than I expected.”

Jeremy sat down on the cot with a resigned sigh. “I don't know what to do.”

“Talk to him!” Evan blurted. “I mean, I wouldn't be able to talk to him if it was me, but you seem like you'd be able to confront someone well enough.”

Jeremy mumbled an unintelligible reply. “I think the smartest thing to do would just… avoid him for a few days. Let it all blow over.”

“Listen, I've got to head out. I need to go to algebra and the nurse doesn't seem like she'll be coming back anytime soon.” Evan stood up and put his backpack on slowly, contemplating what to say next. “I think you're…” he sighed. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Jeremy.”

Jeremy looked down and played with the hem of his cardigan. “Bye, Evan.”

Evan left the nurse’s office deep in thought. He had met this kid just about an hour ago, and already he had admitted to being in love with his best friend. Maybe Jeremy was just an emotionally open person or maybe he should've more heavily considered taking that summer psychology course. Evan was too busy considering the semantics of reapplying for the psychology class to notice the tall sweatshirt-clad figure walking towards him until he smacked directly into him.

Evan looked up to see the face of the person he wanted to see the least. “Oh! Hey, Connor.”

“Hey! Just who I was looking for. It's Kevin, right?” Connor said, smiling at Evan.

“E-Evan.”

“Cool. So, what did you do over the summer?” He had something to say, Evan could tell. His easy smile didn't cover the nervous wringing of his hands and the way he played with the zipper of the backpack he had slung over his shoulder.

“I- I was a Junior Park Ranger,” he stuttered. “What do you want?”

Connor clapped and seemed to snap back to reality. “Oh! Yeah! You still have that plant kink, right?” Evan squeaked out a no, but Connor didn't seem to notice. “Great! So, uh, I got you something.” He set his backpack down on the hall floor, and pulled out a small tree. “It's a bonsai tree!”

Evan hadn't ever seen Connor smile as much as he was then. Connor shuffled his feet awkwardly and shoved the plant into Evan’s hands. “They gave it to me at therapy,” Connor blurted, after seeing Evan’s confused expression. “Something calming to do or look at when I'm stressed or some shit like that. Personally, I like getting high. But then I remembered you had a thing for trees…” he wiggled his eyebrows at Evan.

“Uh… thanks, Connor.” Evan said, turning the plant in his hands and ignoring the blush creeping up his neck. “I don't know where to put this?”

“Oh. I didn't really think of that,” Connor murmured, shoving his hands in his pockets. “I was just keeping it in my backpack.”

“That's really bad for it!” Evan cried, clutching the plant towards his chest. “It needs proper sunlight and watering schedules! Look at how wilted the leaves are! Did you even water it once before you gave it to me? You can't just disrespect innocent trees like this, you monster.”

Connor smirked. “That's most you've ever said to me and it was to call me a monster for not watering a plant.”

“Oh. I'm so sorry, I just- it just- sorry. I'm sorry.”

Connor patted Evan on the shoulder and slung his backpack back on. “It's cool. It was nice talking to you. Enjoy the plant, nerd!” He waved lazily, his smile fading into his usual scowl as he slouched away.

Evan was left alone in the hallway hugging a potted bonsai tree. With remnants of a smile and a blush still evident on his face, he made his way back to his locker.

Chapter Text

Michael was having a very shitty day. If there was one thing Michael was good at, it was blatantly lying to people. He didn't check into his homeroom, and he totally bullshitted that rule about attendance. Michael hadn't even looked at his schedule once, just texted Jeremy about his homeroom number and waited outside the door for five minutes until his entrance was believable.

Michael’s infiltration of Jeremy’s homeroom was going swimmingly until Jeremy had started freaking out and Michael, because of this, had kissed his best friend.

He hadn't planned to. Jeremy had fallen out of his chair and Michael had ran over to help him, because that's what you do when your friend is writhing on the ground. Soon, the teacher was calling the nurse/the principal/911, one kid was filming the whole debacle on his phone, and both Jeremy and Michael were sobbing.

Michael had panicked, and Jeremy looked like he was about to pass out. So naturally, his brain decided that the best thing to do was to kiss his best friend. Obviously.

Yeah, he was having a shitty day.

The lunch room was overall unimpressive. Aside from the obvious change of scenery, it was an exact copy of the cafeteria back at Middle Borough. The same terrible pizza, the same group of girls gossiping in the corner. Michael sat down alone. If Jeremy wasn't in the cafeteria, either he would sit by himself or wait for someone to come to him. He wasn't big on new people.

From his backpack he pulled out a small game remote, fiddling with the buttons as he mindlessly ate his lunch. It wasn't hooked up to anything and the original console had broken three years ago, but he liked to use the remote to calm himself down.

“That's a Sega Master System II, right?” A voice behind him asked. Michael turned around to find a short kid with glasses standing above him. “Didn't those get discontinued in 1994?”

Michael smiled. “‘92, actually.”

The kid sat down next to him and stuck out his hand. “I’m Jared Kleinman.”

Jared Kleinman knew about retro video game consoles. Jared Kleinman wouldn't tease him about his glasses. Jared Kleinman had a Pac-Man pin on his backpack and most importantly, Jared Kleinman didn't know that Michael had just made out with his best friend in the nurse’s office. He shook Jared’s hand. “Michael Mell.”

“What are you doing with a game controller in the cafeteria?” Jared asked, pointing at the remote.

“I use it for… um, concentration. Like those fidget toys people use? It calms me down.”

“Like a fidget cube,” Jared said, nodding, “but nerdy.”

Michael laughed. “Exactly.”

“Did you hear about what happened this morning?” Jared asked, leaning forward on his hand. “This kid started going nuts during his homeroom. He's been in the nurse’s office all day.”

Michael’s shoulders stiffened. “I… heard about it.”

“It was one of the new kids. Rough life, huh? First day at school and you end up spasming on the floor of your homeroom. Speaking of new kids, I've never seen you around.” Jared gasped. “Oh. Are you-”

“No!” Michael said a little bit too quickly. What had Jared heard? “That was my- friend.”

“Oh. Well, good. I'm glad you're okay. And I hope your friend gets better.”

Michael smiled. “Thanks.”

“If you're new, do you think you're going to go to the prom? I wouldn't go, except I’m a senior and if you've been here for four years you pretty much have to go. But you just transferred.” Jared squinted at Michael. “And if you were going to go it would be a pain to bring your girlfriend to a prom at a different school.”

“Oh. Um- I don't have a girlfriend,” Michael said, a faint flush on his cheeks, “and I'm a junior. So…”

Jared rubbed the back of his neck. “Oh. Um… this is your first day, right? How was your day so far?”

Michael absentmindedly swirled the straw in his milk carton. God, what he would do for a slushie right now. “Pretty terrible.”

“What happened?” Jared asked, leaning on his hands. Michael glared at him incredulously. “Oh. Right. Forgot about that.”

Michael laughed, not because anything was funny but because that's what he did. “Yeah.”

“So…” Jared said, clearly trying to change the topic. “What are some interesting things that have happened at your school?”

Michael bit his lip and thought. “Once at a Halloween party one kid burned down a house and got sent to the hospital for like, a week.”

Jared snorted. “Really? Wow.”

“It was pretty intense.” He laughed sadly. “They hung up all these signs about it and there was a huge all-school assembly about not drinking and saying no to drugs.”

“I wish something like that would happen here,” Jared said wistfully, then jumped up and clapped his hands together. “Oh! Freshman year one of the bleachers broke during a football game and sent two kids to the hospital because they were making out under it!”

“I don't know,” Michael said thoughtfully. “I still think I win.”

Jared nodded. “I'm cool with that. Listen, do you wanna hang out after school? I illegally bought a copy of Soulchains III a week before the release date and I'm dying to play it with someone.”

If Michael went with Jared, how would Jeremy get home? He could take the bus, but that wouldn't be very pleasant. Then again, it wouldn't be very pleasant to sit in a silent car with someone who he had kissed. Twice. “Sounds great!” Michael said with a grin. “I can drive over to your house after school. I need to… run a few errands first.”

Jared smiled and stood up from the table. “I need to get to class. See you after school, Michael!”

~

Michael didn't have any errands to run. Not errands in the traditional sense of picking up a gallon of milk or returning a library book. What he was doing was stealing a shirt.

Michael checked the time again. 2:43. Good. Jeremy’s shift at the CVS ended at 3:00, so he had plenty of time to get in, get the shirt, and get out.

Michael didn't knock. Jeremy gave him a spare house key for his birthday two years ago, and he had used it liberally ever since. Michael climbed the stairs to Jeremy’s room, wincing as the step creaked under his foot.

“Who's there?” Jeremy’s dad’s voice yelled from the other room. Shit.

“Hey, Mr. Heere,” Michael said, his voice weak. “I'm just grabbing something I… forgot.”

“Oh. Okay.”

Michael sighed in relief and continued to Jeremy’s room. He pulled open the doors to his closet, staring longingly at the pictures taped on the wall. With a pang, he realized that the photobooth picture of Michael kissing Jeremy’s cheek (his favorite picture of them) had been taken down and was replaced by a picture of Christine. Michael dug through the messy closet until he found the shirt that he was looking for.

It was a pajama t-shirt with a picture of Darth Vader on it. Jeremy would probably go looking for it, but it smelled like him and Michael wouldn't be able to stay sane without any Jeremy for however long they were going to ignore each other.

Michael stuffed the shirt in his backpack and left the house as quickly as possible. Pausing to collect himself in his car, he pulled out of the driveway. He hummed softly to himself as he drove, some mindless tune he had heard on the radio.

Jared had gotten home well before Michael arrived, and the two settled in comfortably in Jared’s bedroom. Jared took a running leap onto his bed and tossed one controller to Michael, who just barely caught it.

“Let’s play some illegally downloaded video games!” Jared whooped.

“Gaming with an almost-stranger,” Michael noted. “Sounds like a band name.”

“I’d see them in concert,” Jared remarked with a laugh. “Gaming With An Almost-Stranger would probably have really cheap tickets.”

Michael snorted. “Hipsters.”

“Hipsters,” Jared nodded in agreement, “eating organic seafood and listening to music on vinyl.”

“Watch your tone!” Michael said, shoving Jared in the shoulder. “I listen to music on vinyl.”

“Well, that makes you a hipster,” Jared said, shrugging and laughing as Michael shoved him again. “I don't make the rules.”

Jared’s phone binged. “Evan, you little shit,” he said, reading the text, “I don't care if you got a new tree.” Another text. “Oh, shit. A tree from Connor Murphy.”

“Who's Connor Murphy?” Michael asked, leaning over to read Jared’s screen. “And why did he follow the name “Connor” with seven hearts?”

Jared groaned. “I shouldn't say.”

Michael elbowed him in the side. “Who's Connor Murphy?”

“He's our resident pothead-slash-angsty teen-slash-edgelord. Tall, wears black clothing, long hair. You might've seen him around. He's pretty hard to miss.” Jared shrugged. “And my friend Evan’s had a crush on him since freshman year.”

Michael wiggled his eyebrows. “That's some pretty juicy gossip.”

“Well, I shouldn't have told you that. Fuck.” He ran a hand through his hair nervously. “Forget I told you any of that.”

“Fat chance of that happening,” Michael laughed. “Imma carry this secret to the grave.”

“Fuck off.” Jared laughed, watching Michael out of the corner of his eyes. “Wait! Sing something for me.”

“What?” Michael sputtered, caught completely off-guard.

“I need to know something. Sing something for me.”

Michael took a deep breath and tentatively sang a few lines of the national anthem. “You happy?”

Jared jumped up and pointed at Michael accusingly. “I KNEW IT! You were the kid who sang the Pokémon theme song at the talent show in eighth grade, right?”

“Well, I was in seventh grade,” Michael responded, “but yeah. I was. It was a dare and probably the most embarrassing moment of my life.”

Jared leaned forward so that his face was hovering an inch from Michael’s. “Wanna be in a band?”

Michael not-so-smoothly leaned away from Jared’s face. “Depends. Who else is in it?”

“Nobody,” Jared admitted. “I've just always wanted to be in a band.”

Michael pondered for a moment then smiled. “I’m game.”

~

Apocalypse of the Damned was a terrible game to play alone. Jeremy had gotten back from his shift at the CVS earlier than expected, and immediately started dialing Michael’s number before hanging up quickly as it was still ringing.

The game was almost impossible in single player mode, and it was oddly quiet without Michael screaming profanities every time a zombie showed up on the screen. Normally when Jeremy was bored, he would call up Michael and masturbate, but… he wasn't talking to him. Fuck, this was hard. It was really depressing how much Jeremy’s life revolved around Michael.

Jeremy opened his laptop, going onto his new school’s website. Maybe they had after-school clubs or something. He wasn't big on clubs, but it wouldn't hurt to get some friends at this school.

It was a normal school website. Comic sans font, and a header with a cheesy quote over a mural painted in the eighties. The clubs were average as well. Volleyball, women’s field hockey, dungeons and dragons club, after-school drama, anime club, and the like. What caught Jeremy’s eye was a rough and out-of place looking link that said “WANT TO JOIN A BAND? HIT US UP” with a link to…. Michael’s email.

So Michael had joined a band. Michael was out making friends and forming bands and Jeremy was bored and contemplating jacking off just to pass the time.

Pathetic.

That’s what he was. Pathetic. Since elementary school Michael had been Jeremy’s entire life, and he didn't know what to do without him.

Jeremy sighed and flopped back on his bed, groaning as his phone started ringing next to his ear. He smiled when he heard what ringtone it was; some upbeat pop song he had chosen a long time ago. Christine’s ringtone.

Jeremy answered the phone with a grin. “Hey, Christine.”

“Hey, Jeremy!” She said brightly through the phone. “If you don't have homework or plans with Michael, do you want to go get fries or something? I'd love to hear about your new school!”

Jeremy sat up and pulled on a jacket. A date with Christine would be the perfect thing to distract him, right? And who could say no to fries? “Sounds great. I'll just… meet you there?”

Jeremy couldn't see it, but he could tell that Christine was beaming through the phone. “Awesome! See you at the diner, Jeremy!”

Jeremy smiled to himself and tried to ignore the nagging feeling that something wasn't right as he walked into town towards the diner he had been to hundreds of times. Diner dates with Brooke. Diner dates with Christine. Diner “dates” with Michael. Jeremy had pretty much memorized the menu by now, even though all of the teenagers ordered the same thing. Fries for two. It was the cheapest menu option, and the most romantic, if you could count diner food as romantic.

Christine was waiting outside of the diner with a copy of some script and muttering lines to herself. Her face lit up when she saw Jeremy approaching the diner. “Jeremy!” She squealed, running up and hugging him tightly. “How's the new school? Did you make any new friends? Is there a theatre program? Oh! I'm in the school play again, it's Much Ado About Nothing and I'm Hero! It's not the same without you, though. You would've been such a good Benedick. I've been rambling too long. Let’s go inside, okay?”

Jeremy laughed. “Let's get food first and then I'll tell you all the gossip.”

Christine walked inside with a skip in her step. They chose a booth in the corner, the same booth that they always sat in. Christine waved down a waitress, some senior at Middle Borough, who smiled and simply said “fries for two?”

Christine leaned forward on her hands once the waitress had left. “So. Tell me everything!”

Jeremy shrugged. “It was a normal school. I made a friend named Evan, he's pretty cool.”

“How were your classes?”

“Sometimes you sound like my mom, Christine.” Jeremy laughed softly. “I didn't actually get to go to any of my classes because I… um- passed out in homeroom and had to stay in the nurse’s office for the rest of the day.”

“What do you mean, pass out? Why did you pass out?” Christine said, biting her lip thoughtlessly as she frowned.

“I mean, I didn't exactly pass out. I more… started freaking out? I don't know how to describe it.”

“Was it the squip?” Christine whispered.

“Uh… yeah. I think so.”

Silence. The waitress delivered the fries with a smile, and the two sat together and ate their fries quietly.

Jeremy sighed. “I used to come here with Michael all the time.” Christine hummed in acknowledgement, not looking at Jeremy as she picked at her nails.

“Hey, do you think you could help me with my lines?” Christine said with a small smile. Jeremy knew that smile, it was the ‘something’s not right smile’. “I have my script here with me.”

“Oh… sure.” Jeremy muttered, grabbing the booklet.

“He is the only man of Italy,” she recited, “always excepted my dear Claudio.” Jeremy was staring blankly at the page, not taking in any of the lines. “Always excepted my dear Claudio,” Christine repeated. “Jeremy? Jeremy, what's wrong?”

Jeremy swallowed thickly. “I… I think I'm in lo-” his voice cut off with mumbles.

“Jeremy, what are you saying?”

“I think I'm in love with Michael!” Jeremy blurted, slamming his head on the table and looking up to Christine.

She shrugged and calmly picked up another fry. “I know.”

“WHAT?” Jeremy screeched, cursing himself for the squeak in his voice.

Christine laughed and ate a handful of fries, smiling with her mouth full of potato. “Oh, don't act like it isn't obvious. You've been crushing on him harder than Helena with Demetrius.”

Jeremy wrung his hands in a concerned manner. “But…”

“Seriously. I love you, dude, but if you have the guts to go after who you've been in love with for years, then do it. Don't be afraid to leave me behind. I'm pretty emotionally stable.”

“Are saying that I should break up with you?” He said. “I've wanted to date you since I was a freshman.”

Christine took Jeremy’s hands in her own. “And you've wanted to date Michael for longer than that. Don't act like it isn't true. As good of a Lysander you were, you're a terrible actor.”

“So…”

“Friends,” Christine said definitively. “We’ll still be friends. You're a great guy, Jeremy. You're just gay for your best friend.”

Jeremy laughed. “Well when you put it that way…”

Christine snorted. She had a wonderful laugh, full of joy and all-around adorable. Jeremy's mind couldn't help but wandering to Michael’s laugh, his infectious full-bodied laugh that you couldn't help but smile at. Christine took another fry. “So tell me about this Evan kid.”

~

 

It had been almost a week since Michael had seen Jeremy. He assumed that Jeremy had started eating lunch in the library and it would be easy enough to find him, but he didn't want to. It would be a stretch to say he was happy without Jeremy, but he was fine. Jared was a good friend and it was relatively easy to pretend he didn't sleep in Jeremy’s pajama shirt every night and that he hadn't cried multiple times over the week.

Jared was excited beyond belief for the auditions for the band. Jared, to Michael’s knowledge, didn't play an instrument, but Michael was able to mangle his way through internet tutorials on the keyboard due to his piano lessons in elementary school. Three people had emailed the two about auditions, and they didn't know how many people would see the posters they put up around the school and come without emailing. Michael wasn't optimistic, but Jared was bouncing off the walls.

They were going to hold the auditions in the chorus room, a small stuffy room on the lower floor of the school next to the band room. After school, Michael and Jared rushed to the chorus room and tried not to acknowledge the jazz band playing loudly next to them.

“The posters said to come at 3:00.” Jared said, looking at his watch. “And it's 2:47. People should start showing up soon.”

“Nobody might even show up, Jared. I mean, how many people are going to just up and join a mysterious band that doesn't even have a name. Our flyers were pretty sketchy. Wanna join a band? Just come down to the basement of the school after everybody leaves!” He said in a mocking voice.

“Oh, fuck off. After all, that’s what you did.”

The door opened tentatively. “Is this the chorus room?” A small voice said, and both Michael and Jared looked up with a smile.

“Yep!” Jared said cheerily. “Wait. Evan?”

The boy who had come in, Evan, grinned. “Hey, Jared.”

“I didn't know you… musicked. Do you sing?”

Evan shrugged. “I mean, yeah. But I can also play the guitar sort of well.”

“Wow,” Jared muttered. “I can't believe I never knew this. When did you learn how to play guitar?”

Evan rubbed the pack of his neck. “Zoe taught me.”

Jared nodded knowingly. “Hmmmm.”

Evan flushed red. “I'm not in love with Zoe!”

Jared snorted and clapped Evan on the back. “I know. You're in love with Connor.”

“What?” Came a voice from the back of the room.

“Connor!” Evan and Jared yelled, both with very different tones of voice.

Michael jerked a thumb towards where Connor was slouched in the corner. “Oh, so this is Connor.”

“What's that supposed to mean?” Connor said angrily. “You've been here for like, three days, you tiny Pac-Man weirdo. How do you know me?”

“People talk.”

“Whatever. Hey, Evan. How's the tree doing?” Connor heavily, like he couldn't be bothered to straighten his spine or pick up his feet as he walked. “Sorry for… not watering it.”

Evan attempted a glare but was betrayed by the smile on his face. “It's doing well. W-why are you here? Do you play an instrument?”

“A ton of them, actually,” Connor said, pulling his hair up into a messy ponytail. “A few years ago my parents decided that because Zoe likes jazz band so much that maybe music was the way for me to go. Like being a champion cellist would cure my depression or something. I can rock a killer flute solo, though.”

Jared nodded stiffly. “Impressive. Hello, Connor.”

Connor turned like he had just noticed Jared was in the room. “Oh. Hi.”

Michael cleared his throat. “I mean, do we want to hold actual auditions, or are we just going to gossip together?”

“There's still one more person coming,” Jared reminded him. “I want to wait until we're all here.”

Michael and Connor groaned. “I have things to do!”

“No you don't,” Jared said to both of them. “Let's just wait.”

So they waited. Jared and Evan went off to one corner of the room to ‘catch up’ or something, and Connor retreated to another corner and pulled out a joint. Michael made eye contact with him and pulled up the cuff of his jeans to scratch his leg. Connor noticed.

“Those are some nice… hot pink weed socks you have there, um-”

“Michael,” he replied. “Thanks. I wasn't going to wear them today, but they're my lucky socks, you know? I was going to leave the house and my dad was like- Jeremy?”

Connor looked at him, confused. “Who's Jeremy?”

Michael stood up, and Connor turned to see Jeremy striding towards Michael in an attempt at confidence.

“Michael!” Jeremy yelled. “I've got beef with you!”

“Do you mean beef,” Michael quipped, “or emotional baggage?”

Jeremy huffed. “More of the latter, but that didn't sound as cool. Listen. I came to audition for your band but also to apologize.”

Michael scoffed. “Apologize?”

“Yeah. I wanted to apologize for kissing you and-”

Michael interrupted Jeremy with a laugh. “Kissing me? Bullshit. I kissed you first both times. If it was up to you to do the kissing, I would probably still be a kiss-virgin.”

“That’s not a thing.”

“Shut up. You're not allowed to steal my thunder and go around telling people that you kissed me because I kissed you first.” Michael turned to the rest of the people in the chorus room. “You heard me! I kissed Jeremy first!”

“Yeah, we heard you,” Connor muttered, “along with the entire state of New Jersey.”

Jared rubbed the back of his neck nervously. “Now that we have that very awkward confrontation that was very uncomfortable to watch, we can start with the auditions, right?”

Michael laughed. “Oh my god. Fine. Why don't you tell me instruments you guys play along with if you sing. Sound good?”

“I just sing,” Jeremy said, sitting down next to Michael on a folding chair and being careful to not touch him. “You already know this.”

Michael shrugged. “I don't know, maybe you have hidden talents. Evan?”

“I play the guitar sort of well. And I sing a little.”

Jared snorted and punched Evan in the shoulder. “Hell no. You sing amazingly well.”

Michael nodded. “Okay, Jared, do you play any instruments?”

Jared grinned. “I’ll play the drums. That way people can know I'm good at banging.”

“Have you ever touched a drumstick in your life, Jared?” Connor asked with a sigh. “I can play drums. And the flute, cello, piano, electric bass, and the Irish tin whistle. Don't ask.”

“I mean, this seems like a pretty well-rounded group. Do you want to just call it a band now?”

“You mean, we aren't going to have auditions?” Jared sputtered. “That’s not how you do things!”

“I mean, I already know that Jeremy can sing, and you already know that Evan can sing.” Michael shrugged. “And if Connor knows how to play that many instruments there's a large chance he's good at at least one of them.”

Jared frowned. “I guess you're right.”

Michael turned to the other three. “Welcome to the band!”

“Do you even have a name?” Jeremy asked.

“Well, no,” Jared said, wringing his hands together. “We thought we could figure it out as a band.”

Connor sighed. “What type of music are we going to play?”

“We thought we could figure that out together too.”

“Of course you did,” Connor said. “I’m sure that my mom will be overjoyed that I joined an unnamed band that plays unknown music with a bunch of sexually frustrated gay children.”

“I’m only a junior!” Jeremy protested.

“That’s not a bad name,” Jared pointed out. “Sexually frustrated gay children. Has a nice ring to it.”

Michael smacked Jared across the head. “You were the one who wanted to start a band, you can't sabotage us from the get-go by naming us the sexually frustrated gay children.”

Evan stepped in between them. “Maybe… we can put off naming until later?”

Jeremy shrugged. “I'm cool with that. I'm not in a particularly creative mood right now.”

“Are you ever?” Michael laughed. “The last time you arted was in seventh grade when you painted that portrait of me. I still have it, it's really shitty.”

Jeremy’s face flushed. “Nobody here needed to know about the portrait, Michael. I still have yet to live that down.”

Connor coughed. “Can we like… not talk about your repressed sexual tension?”

Jared laid sideways on two of the folding chairs. “Draw me like one of your French girls, Jeremy.”

“Is it too late to quit the band?”

~

“I heard if you put a book on top of your head it improves your posture,” Michael said, grabbing Jeremy’s book and sticking it on his head. “People do it all the time. Princesses and shit.”

It was just twilight, and Jeremy and Michael were walking along the abandoned railroad tracks snaking through the town park. Flickering yellow lights illuminated the rusted-over tracks every once in a while, but for the most part the only light they got was from the moon.

Jeremy laughed. “I'm pretty sure that’s common knowledge. And last I checked, you're not a princess.”

“Who says?” Michael said with a pout. “I'm a pretty princess and my first order as the princess is that the princess gets all the kisses!”

Jeremy laughed and kissed Michael quickly on the cheek. This wasn't uncommon, twelve years of friendship brings with it a lot of platonic cuddles and kisses. For the first time in a long time though, both Michael and Jeremy’s faces were flushed red in the moonlight.

Jeremy grinned wickedly. “I challenge you to a posture duel. Walk on one of the train tracks with a book on your head until one of us falls off. Deal?”

Michael shook his hand. “Ladies don't start fights, but they can finish them.” He stuck a book on his head, thought for a second, then put his slushie on top of it. “Raising the stakes.” He hopped on the rail, wobbling a bit then straightening up. “I'm ready when you are, buddy.”

Jeremy grinned and jumped onto the other rail. “Let's do this.” With that they set off, walking gingerly along the train tracks.

Michael hummed softly. “Hey, Jer.” Without breaking his stride, he let loose a blood-curdling scream, making Jeremy fall off the rail. Michael whooped in victory. “Yeah! Take that, lowly peasant!” He yelled, taking the slushie from his head and throwing it at Jeremy, where it hit the ground beside him and splattered him with red liquid. “The princess reigns supreme!”

Jeremy doubled over in laughter, collapsing on the ground next to the train track. “I'm covered in slushie now, you dick!”

Michael put his hands on his hips and stood triumphantly over Jeremy. “That’s what you get for falling off the track~!”

Jeremy, from his position on the ground, looked up at Michael. The old street lamp flickered as it illuminated the train tracks from above. Michael looked positively radiant in the light, Jeremy thought. Positively beautiful in his dirty sneakers and his red hoodie he had worn since seventh grade. The light was too dim to make out the moles and freckles dotting his face and neck, but Jeremy had memorized them a long time ago. Michael still had the book on his head and was grinning down at Jeremy brightly.

“I love you.”

Now it was Michael’s turn to fall off in surprise, his torso landing painfully on Jeremy’s legs. “What?”

“I love you,” Jeremy said. “Continue to be my friend or not, but I'm in love with you.”

Michael rolled off of Jeremy's legs. “Well, fuck. You beat me to it. I was going to tell you how I loved you tonight. Way to steal my thunder, dick.”

Jeremy sat up and dusted the dirt off of his shirt. “So you love me too?”

“Um… yeah.”

“Okay…” Jeremy looked around absentmindedly, thinking to himself. “Wanna make out?”

Michael snorted. “You’re the worst, I swear to god.”

Jeremy crawled over to where Michael was lying. “That wasn't a no.”

“You're right,” Michael said, craning his head to look Jeremy in the eye. “It wasn't.”

“Wait,” Jeremy said, grabbing Michael’s arms and pulling him into a sitting position. “Sit up.” Slowly and awkwardly, he climbed into Michael’s lap so that both boys were eye to eye. “There. Prime kissing position.”

“You absolute fucking dork,” Michael laughed breathily, swiftly kissing Jeremy. “I don't know why I love you.”

Jeremy smiled against Michael’s lips. “Don't question it.”

Michael grabbed at Jeremy’s hair needily as he fluttered kisses along Jeremy’s jaw. “For all my years of fantasizing, I never guessed you would taste like cherry slushie.”

“That's your own damn fault, douchebag.”

Chapter Text

Jeremy and Michael were late to band practice. Evan didn't get frustrated easily, but Connor was angry enough for the both of them.

“We've been waiting here for like, half an hour. If they forgot, I swear to god.”

Evan was more quick to overreacting than to anger. “What if they were driving here and Michael crashed the car or something? I wouldn't want to be angry at a dead person, Connor.” Connor looked at Evan incredulously. “I mean, what if they were dead and you had to speak at their funeral? Then you would have to talk about how great they were but the only thing you can think about is how the last time you were talking about them was complaining about them being late to band practice!”

“Chill. Both of you.” Jared said from a folding chair, fiddling with the buttons on his watch. “They're not dead. They're probably stuck in traffic or something. Also, what makes you think that you would be invited to speak at their funeral? We've known these people for like, a week.”

“They could be dead!” Evan exclaimed, wringing his hands and pacing the chorus room floor. “W-what about that intersection by the CVS? There've been like… five accidents there!”

Jared snorted. “Five accidents? Wow. Straight up deadly.”

“All right, I'm calling Zoe.” Connor said tiredly, pulling out his phone.

“Why?” Evan asked, sitting down and trying not to think about the very real possibility that Jeremy and Michael might be dead.

“Because her friend, Elena… Amara… her friend Alana knows this girl Christine, who knows Jeremy. I don't know. It's the best I can do.”

“I've tried calling Michael,” Jared piped up from the corner. “He just won't pick-”

“Shut up, I'm on the phone.” Pretending to tune his guitar, Evan watched Connor. Did he always paint his nails black or was that new? Whatever it was, it was hot. “Hey, Zo. Do you by any chance know where these kids Michael and Jeremy might be? I know Alana knows them, but they're late to practice and we can't reach them.”

“I don't know. I'll stop by the chorus room and see if I can contact them, if that's cool. They're probably in traffic or something.” Zoe’s voice came out metallic and garbled through the phone.

Connor snickered. “That’s what I said, but Evan thinks they died. At least for once you're being smart.”

“Blow me, Connor.”

“I thought that was Brent’s job.”

“Fuck off, dickwad,” Zoe shot back, though she was laughing too hard to be serious. “At least I don't jerk off to the yearbook photos of people I’ve never met.”

“You agreed never to bring that up again.”

Zoe cackled. “I'm coming over, jazz band just ended. Fair warning: I'm wearing a strapless top. Tell Evan not to have a conniption when I walk in.”

Evan squeaked a protest. “I'm kidding, man. I knew you could hear me and I was feeling wicked. Alright. I texted Alana and she's trying to get to those guys. The chorus room is on the left, right?”

Without giving Connor time to answer, the door to the chorus room opened with a bang. Zoe put down her phone. “Hey. So who exactly are the missing persons of the day?”

Zoe was indeed wearing a sleeveless top, but Evan was more focused on the fact that it was really hot in the chorus room and Connor was pulling his hair up into a sloppy ponytail, which had no right to be as hot as it was, but also when did he get that tattoo? There were a lot of things Evan didn't know about Connor and he was determined to find out every single one of them.

“Michael Mell and Jeremy Heere,” Jared said with a yawn. “They had to go home to get their stuff and Michael was supposed to drive them back. They needed to be here,” he checked his watch, “forty-five minutes ago. Goddamnit.”

Zoe looked down at her phone, her hair shielding whatever emotion might be expressed on her face. “Alana says she can't contact them. Christine doesn't know where they are either.”

Jared hummed angrily. “I swear to god. If they're dead, I owe you all my leftover bar mitzvah money, Evan.”

“Keep your fifteen dollars, Jared.” Connor said, holding open the cheap plastic curtains and gesturing out the window. “They're here.”

After an awkward time to wait while the boys found the chorus room again, Jeremy and Michael stumbled through the door, clearly out of breath and looking remarkably disheveled.

“Finally!” Jared exclaimed, Not bothering to mask his exasperation. “We've been waiting forever!”

“Calm down,” Michael said smoothly, pulling cords and wires from his backpack and starting to set up his keyboard. “We got stuck in traffic.”

“Are those bruises?” Zoe asked, pointing to Jeremy.

“Oh, yeah. I um… bruise really easily, pale skin, you know?” Jeremy inspected his knees and elbows, which indeed did have remnants of bruises lingering on them. “I must've tripped or something.”

Zoe snickered. “No, man. On your neck.”

Jeremy’s face burned. Michael made a small choking noise and quickly turned to intensely stare at the keyboard. “Oh.”

“Let me guess,” Evan said, his face red with secondhand embarrassment. “Christine your girlfriend who you love very much?”

“Um- no. We broke up.”

“I guess you didn't love her that much,” Jared snorted. “What? I’m just saying.”

“Let’s not focus on the hickeys, okay?” Jeremy tried to say, but it came out more like “LET’SNOTFOCUSONTHEHICKEYSOKAY?”

Jared chortled. “That'll be pretty hard, man. Those things have more color than your entire wardrobe.”

“Shut up,” Jeremy mumbled, covering his neck with his hands. “Let's start practice.”

“Sexually Frustrated Teenagers, let’s play some sick beats!” Jared yelled, kicking his folding chair aside and tossing Jeremy a microphone. He dropped it.

Zoe leaned against the doorway. “I’m going to stay here until Connor drives me home. I hope you don't mind, Connor. If you do, I don't care.”

“Fuck you,” Connor said, pulling a pair of drumsticks out of his sweatshirt pocket. “What song should we play for my ugly sister?”

Jared shrugged. “I pass the song-choosing ball onto Jermy.”

“Jeremy,” he said with a confused look. “My name is Jeremy.”

“Okay, Jermy. You can pick a song or let someone else pick it.”

Jeremy sighed. “Fine. I'll pass to Evan because I know if I passed it to Michael he would pick some Bob Marley song again and I don't want to have to endure another rehearsal of nonstop Marley.”

Michael grinned. “That was a great rehearsal.”

“Whatever. Uh… Evan. Pick a song for us to play.”

“Oh. Um… I- Uh- somewhere over the rainbow?”

“Lame,” Connor sighed. “Whatever. Somewhere Over The Rainbow it is. You want me to break out my ukulele, Hansen?”

“You play the ukulele?” Jared asked incredulously. “Is there any instrument you don't play?”

“Like I said,” Connor said, spinning a drumstick, “my parents thought instruments would cure my depression. I was very depressed.”

“You don't play the guitar.” Evan mumbled softly. Connor turned to look at him.

“How did you know?”

“You… it was on that list that we made in tenth grade. Of things- of things we wanted to achieve. You wrote that you wanted to die and our teacher made you change it. So you said you wanted to learn to play guitar.”

“Oh. I- I didn't think anybody remembered that.” Connor said, moving closer to Evan.

He rubbed the back of his neck. “Well…. I did.”

Suddenly, the silence in the room was broken by the loud squeal of an air horn. Jeremy screamed. “Jared, what the hell!” Connor yelled.

“I'm not getting any younger here,” Jared said with a shrug, shoving the air horn back into his backpack. “Ain't nobody got time for your eye-fucking.”

Michael snorted from his place at the keyboard. “Oh, you don't get to laugh. We all know who you write your songs about.”

Michael blushed and Jeremy tried to choke back a laugh. “Got anything to tell me, Connor?” Zoe snorted from the door.

“Oh. Zoe. I forgot you were here,” Connor stammered.

“It's cool, bro. You know, I could teach you guitar if you want. I taught Evan.”

“Or- uh- I mean, I could teach you?” Evan added nervously. “I would have to learn some more stuff, but I mean- it would be fun. I guess.”

Connor almost smiled. “Thanks.”

~

Connor was worried. It wasn't an uncommon occurrence; many things in the world were worth worrying about. He had always worried about Zoe, about how his own awful self was probably ruining everything she loved. This was a new type of worry, though. He was worried about himself. For the first time, Evan was the source of his worry. Small, nervous Evan Hansen who played acoustic guitar and wore polos exclusively. What Connor was worried about was his terrible, awful, monstrous crush on Evan Hansen.

He was worried that he would lose a friend.

Which was new.

He had never really had friends before.

The whole ‘band’ idea wasn't supposed to work out. His parents saw the link on the school’s website and signed him up, claiming it would “do wonders” for his health and “expand his mindset”. Bullshit. He was planning on going, playing poorly, and putting it all behind him once he inevitably got rejected.

It didn't really work out that way. Jared Kleinman was there, the dick who spread rumors that he was going to blow up the school last year. The kissing kids from his homeroom were there, to his surprise. And Evan was there.

They were nice to Connor, the four of them. They made jokes and played stupid music and sang silly warmup songs together. It was almost like having friends.

Connor was thinking about this one day, as the five boys plus Zoe sang and tuned instruments and joked around. The sleeves of Connor’s sweatshirt itched, and he would've given anything to take it off. He wanted to take off the sweatshirt and show everybody in the room the scars and bruises lining his inner arms, to show them who he really was. He wanted to beg them to call him a freak, or a disgrace, or anything. He knew how to handle that. But he couldn't do that to them. Couldn't do that to Evan.

He was worried because part of him wanted them to like him.

The band was nice. Jared was fine, once you got to know him. Michael smoked with him before their rehearsals. Jeremy made fun of his hair and Connor would make fun of his Star Wars t-shirts. They liked him, and he liked them. Every once in a while he would make eye contact with Zoe, and she would smile at him sort of proudly. And he would almost smile back.

“You're a mystery, Connor,” Michael said one day as the two were passing a joint back and forth behind the school. “I mean, I've always worn my heart on my sleeve. Most people I know do. But you? You're an enigma.”

“AP English paying off right now, huh?” Connor snorted.

“See? Even that's a weird answer. You're not acknowledging my question, you're just sassing my use of the word ‘enigma’.”

Connor nodded. “I guess.”

“What's your damage, Heather?” Michael quipped. “What's the use of building walls? Even years of pining didn't do to me what you're doing to yourself.”

Connor was wildly aware that it was a hot day and that without thinking, he had pushed the sleeves of his sweatshirt up to his elbows. Pulling them down now would be too obvious. “I don't like to talk about it,” he muttered. “That's sort of the point of emotional barriers. Is to not have to talk about your feelings.”

Michael laughed. “Understandable. We should probably head in for practice. I'm just saying- I think Evan would be a good listener. If you were willing to talk.”

Connor’s face burned. “Fuck off, Michael.”

One of the small windows opened above them. “MICHAEL MITCHELL MELL!” Jeremy’s shrill voice squealed.

Michael shrugged. “Sorry, bro. Duty calls.” He winked at Connor and darted off, leaving him alone beside the school’s dumpster.

Connor shoved his hands in his pockets and slowly made his way inside the school. He liked the school after hours. It was clean and empty, the only noise the clicking of a teacher’s heels or the soft hum of a vacuum on another level. He liked the school during the daytime too, so long as nobody noticed him. He liked whir of the printers, the smell of popcorn from the teachers lounge, the rapid-fire Spanish Michael spoke to the lunch ladies.

Of course, it all fell apart if somebody saw him. If he said or did something wrong. Then the scratching of pencils was replaced with the yelling of teachers and the disappointed voice of the school guidance counselors. Then the scent of freshly printed paper and brewing coffee was replaced with blood and the alcohol smell of the nurse’s office.

Michael was right; he was a mystery. He tried to be. He painted his nails black and wore eyeliner and got a small tattoo of a tree at the nape of his neck. (Hey, everybody deals with pining in different ways.) Connor felt like if anybody tried to read into who he really was they would just be disappointed. The masks he wore were so much more interesting than the face beneath.

“Hey, Connor. I'm going to get a ride from Alana after jazz band, okay? So you don't need to wait around for me.” Zoe said from behind him. “Sorry for sneaking up on you like that,” she muttered, wringing her hands together. “I know you don't like surprises.

Connor’s heart sank. He had done that to Zoe. Too many times when he was younger he would scream at her for going into his room without knocking. Scare her until she learned to stay away. A broken family, that's what they were. It was all because of him.

Connor sighed and trudged the rest of the way to the chorus room, not bothering to revel in the quiet hum of the fax machine or the smell of pencil shavings. He just wanted to go home. Connor stopped walking, contemplating his options for a second. He could drive home. Zoe was getting a ride back from jazz band, and it's not like they needed him at the band. It's not like they wanted him.

Somehow, he kept walking. He knew the path to the chorus room by heart. Connor had sat alone in the chorus room as the jazz band played on in the next room over more times than he could count.The noises of people kissing caught his attention, but he kept walking. Whoever was making out in Mr. Sanford’s history classroom could be caught by somebody else. Two teachers talked about some student as they walked past Connor in the hall, but he could care less.

“Hi, Connor!” Evan greeted him cheerfully as he walked in the door. “You're early. Do you want me to… um- teach you some guitar chords? I mean, you don't have to if you don't want to, I guess. It's cool if you just- want to sit or something.”

Connor gave a small smile. “Teach me some guitar. That'd be cool.”

Evan grinned and pulled his guitar from the case, scooting his folding chair next to Connor’s. “S-so you hold it like this, okay? No- put your hand further up.”

Jeremy and Michael were late to practice again that day.

~

“This is weird now.” Michael said from the floor of Jeremy’s bedroom. For years they had had sleepovers like this, switching between who got to sleep on Jeremy’s twin bed and who slept in a sleeping bag on the floor.

Jeremy looked up at the glow-in-the-dark stars him and Michael had stuck on his ceiling in third grade. “Yeah. I mean, it's still fun but it's… weird.”

Michael sat up, his sleeping bag moving with him like a cocoon. “I feel like other friends who kiss would share a bed and, you know, make out during their sleepovers. We played video games and watched the Bee Movie.”

“Do you want to share a bed and make out, Michael?”

“I think that's what I'm saying,” Michael said with a laugh. “I'm not speaking in tongues here.”

Jeremy threw a pillow at Michael’s head, ignoring the headache blossoming in his temple. “Well, do you have any genius ideas on where to find a bed big enough for us to sleep and make out on?”

“The basement,” Michael said slowly. “We can set up blankets and pillows and shit and sleep down there.”

Jeremy bit his lip. “It’s not a bad idea…”

“Cmon, man!” Michael grinned, wiggling his way out of the sleeping bag. “Let's do it.”

“You know where the blankets are, Michael.” Jeremy paused, pulling a pillow over his head. “Imma lie here for a bit.”

Jeremy could feel the bed sink as Michael sat beside him. “You okay, man?”

Jeremy groaned in response.

Michael snapped his fingers. “Squip-induced headache. I gotcha, don't worry.” Jeremy shot Michael a thumbs-up from under the pillow. He could hear a fridge door open, and then a cold bottle landed directly on his stomach.

Jeremy sat up. “Ow! What the fuck?”

Michael pumped his fists. “Perfect shot! Mountain Dew Red for you, my love.”

Jeremy grabbed the drink and chugged it, wincing at the residue of pain in his forehead. “Thanks.”

“So what do you think triggered it?” Michael asked, holding Jeremy’s hand tightly in his own.

“I think it was you,” Jeremy said, rubbing the back of his neck. “I mean, don't get me wrong, I love you, Michael. I really do. It's just- me and you would be the exact opposite of what the squip would want.”

Michael frowned. “Well, what about you? Fuck the squip, What do you want?”

Jeremy kissed Michael. “I want you.”

Michael pulled Jeremy into a tight hug. “Good. Tell that stupid walking floppy disk to fuck off and help me in the basement.”

Jeremy smiled and pressed a quick kiss to Michael’s cheek. “I can’t wait to share a bed and make out.”

“You're such a dork, Jer.”

Jeremy stood up and grabbed an armful of blankets from the closet, dumping them on Michael’s head. “Get these down to the basement. I'll get pillows.”

Michael scooped up the blankets. “And snacks!”

He laughed. “And snacks.”

Jeremy loitered in the kitchen before heading into the basement, checking his phone for texts.

From Christiiine:
Hey Jeremy! How's school?

To Christiiine:
Can't talk now
Sleepover w/ M

From Christiiine:
;)

To Christiiine:
Gross

From Christine:
It's cool go have fun

From Michael<333:
Hurry up I'm hungry

From Michael<333:
( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

Jeremy put his phone down and laughed. Nothing had really changed between them except that now they made out between video game levels. It was the type of casual chemistry he had never really achieved with Christine.

From Michael<333:
COME DIWN YOIU FUCKER IM TIRED AMD HORNY

Jeremy made his way down the steps to his basement laden with chips and sodas, only to be greeted by Michael lying on a giant mass of blankets tangled on the floor. “Join me,” he mumbled into the blanket. “It's cozyyyy.”

Jeremy dropped the chips and fell next to Michael. “I’m never leaving.”

Michael threw an arm over Jeremy and pulled him towards himself until Michael was latched onto the taller boy’s back like a koala. “You smell like mango and chamomile,” Michael muttered into Jeremy’s hair, fluttering kisses on his neck.

“That's oddly specific,” Jeremy laughed. “It's probably my shampoo.”

“I love mango.”

“I love you!” Jeremy countered.

Michael snorted. “You little shit. That was so cheesy. Just let me enjoy the smell of your hair.”

“That's super creepy,” Jeremy said, twisting around to face Michael. “I don't sit around sniffing your hair.”

“Oh really?” Michael cocked an eyebrow. “What does my hair smell like?”

“Citrus, pineapple, and vanilla- that's beside the point. Anybody would know that.”

Michael laughed. “I don't even know that! Since when has my hair smelled like citrus, pineapple, and vanilla?”

“Since forever!” Jeremy protested. “You've used the same shampoo since seventh grade.”

“We're both such creeps,” Michael said, pressing kisses on every available space on Jeremy’s face. “I know literally everything about you.”

Jeremy smiled and squirmed away from Michael. “Stop being cutesy. I'm dating you for the kissing and your hot face, not your emotions.”

Michael pouted. “Mean.”

Jeremy laughed and sat up, grabbing the pile of snacks. “Stop being sappy and help me eat some damn peanut butter Oreos.”

“That I can do,” Michael said with a grin, “but I can't promise anything about the sappiness.”

Jeremy shoved Michael’s shoulder, making him fall into the pile of pillows. “Fuck off.”

“Never.”

Chapter Text

“Thank you so much, guys. I don't know what we would've done without you.”

Jared’s aunt was a terrifying woman. She was tall and freakishly thin with hair that never moved, like she was a walking doll or something. However, the band was being paid a lot of money to play at Jared’s cousin's bat mitzvah, so they smiled and nodded and pretended that she was the greatest person in the world.

“It's really no problem.” Jeremy said with a pleasant grin, being the most socially adept person in the group after his foray with the squip. “We probably wouldn't have been doing anything else today anyway.”

“Well, keep doing what you're doing. The kids love it!” She winked. “I'm going to go talk with Mrs. Goodman. Have fun, boys!”

They all sighed as she walked away. “I don't know how you survive holidays with that woman,” Connor muttered. “She's very intimidating.”

Jared shrugged. “Wanna meet my cousin?”

“Hell yes!” Michael said excitedly. “I want to know who I've been playing Taylor Swift for for the past three hours.”

Jared led the band over to where his cousin sat at a table with her friends, laughing and chatting together. “Hey, Sarah. Congratulations!”

“Thanks, Jared!” She beamed. “So who are these guys?”

“Oh! This is the band I told you about. Um- these are Evan, Connor, Michael, and this is Jeremy.”

“You guys were great! So…” she turned her attention to Jeremy. “You're cute. How old are you?”

“Uh- sixteen,” Jeremy squeaked out.

“That's super creepy, Sarah.” Jared laughed.

“No it's not. It's just three years. Wanna date me, Jeremy?”

“Um… no.”

Sarah frowned dramatically. “Why not?”

Jeremy’s face burned. “Uh… because- I, Um- I’m dating Michael.”

“Oh.” Sarah took a sip of her Coke. “That's a shame.”

Jared smacked Sarah playfully on the head. “Sarah. Stop being a creep.”

Sarah grinned and did a little shimmy in her seat. “Why not? I'm a woman, remember?”

Jared snorted. “Sure. We're gonna go back and play some more. Congratulations and stay away from my friends, perv!”

They could still hear Sarah laughing as they walked away. “That was a very uncomfortable experience,” Jeremy muttered softly. “At least I can cross ‘getting hit on by a thirteen-year-old’ off of my bucket list.”

Jared threw out an arm in front of Jeremy, who squeaked and stumbled to a stop. “Since when have you been dating Michael?”

“Like… a week?” Jeremy said, his voice shrill and his face red. “I don't know-”

“Nine days.” Michael grinned. “What? I've been wanting this dude forever, do you really think I'd just forget about this?”

Jeremy’s flush deepened. “That’s adorable!” He laughed, tousling Michael’s hair and kissing the top of his head lightly.

“Oh, that's so sweet I'm going to puke.” Connor groaned. “Get a room someplace far, far away from here.”

“Never!” Exclaimed Jeremy, capturing Michael in a tight hug and peppering his face with kisses. “I will never surrender to your heteronormative beliefs!”

“Stop it!” Michael laughed, his face red as he squirmed away from Jeremy. “And you pretend not to like the cutesy shit.”

Jeremy just held him tighter. “You're never getting rid of me, Michael!” He continued to press kisses along the side of his face as everybody (including Michael) laughed.

“Oh, shit,” Jared said suddenly. “Homophobic grandmother coming. Quick, act natural.”

It was too late for Jeremy to let go of Michael. She had already seen them, at least from a distance. In a flash of inspiration, he bent back and lifted Michael off of the ground.

“WHAT?” Michael screeched. “Jeremy! Put me down!”

“Absolutely not,” Jeremy said, his voice strained. “I'm holding you until the grandmother’s gone.”

“Hello!” Jared’s grandmother said with a smile. “Are you the band?”

Jeremy was usually the sweet-talker of the group, but he was currently sweating with Michael in his arms.

“It is, Nana. Have you talked to Sarah yet?” Jared asked. “We just talked with her.”

She hummed. “No, I haven't yet. Maybe after I talk to you boys I'll go congratulate her.” She turned to Jeremy and Michael and narrowed her eyes. “What are you doing?”

“I- wanted-” Jeremy stammered, but Michael jumped in.

“He wanted to show them how long he could hold me up for.”

“Oh,” she said, looking over the band once more. “Well, I’m off. Have fun, boys!”

Jeremy dropped Michael as soon as she had turned her back. “Jesus Christ,” Michael breathed. “When the fuck did you get that strong?”

“My… technological experience required me to do a lot of things. Pushups were one of them.”

Michael stood up and dusted himself off. “I guess I never noticed. It'd be pretty easy to hide muscles under that stupid cardigan you wear.”

Connor coughed. “Can we like… play some music? Actually, you know, do what we're being paid to do?”

“Does this mean you're going to be all coupley-cutesy from now on?” Jared groaned. “I don't think I'd be able to handle that.”

“We won't,” Jeremy laughed, “we promise.”

Michael grinned wickedly. “I can't promise you won't walk in on us fucking in the bathroom.”

“MICHAEL!”

~

“So it's true?” Evan asked Jeremy on the drive back from the bat mitzvah. “Are you dating Michael?”

Jeremy blushed and rubbed his neck, thankful that they were alone. Thank god they needed another car to transport the equipment. “Yeah.”

“I’m- I’m glad. Remember in the nurse's office when you told me you loved him?”

Jeremy laughed. “Yeah. Not my finest moment.”

“I wish I had the nerve to do something, you know? Michael had been crushing on you for years, so he made a move. Now you're dating.”

Jeremy wiggled his eyebrows. “Ooh, who do you have a crush on?”

“I don't want to tell you.” Evan sighed. “How did you know you loved him?”

“It's Zoe, right? You totally have a crush on Zoe.” Evan didn't respond, only blushed and looked directly out at the road. “Oh, it's totally Zoe.”

Evan coughed. “But… tell me. How did you know you loved him?”

Jeremy shifted slightly in his seat. “Um, okay. Deep topics for a car ride. I guess something just- changed one day? I never used to really… notice him. Like, he was just part of my life. Sort of the background. And then all of sudden it was like everything about him was just- interesting. You know? Everything he did was infatuating.”

Evan pondered this for a moment. “Was that it?”

“Way to dig into my personal life, Evan.” Jeremy laughed softly.

“Oh. I'm- I’m sorry.”

“It's fine, dude. Listen. It doesn't matter how I fell in love with Michael, it matters if you think you're in love. I'm sorry if this is cheesy as shit because I know it is, but do you feel in love?”

Evan bit his lip. “I don't know.”

Jeremy pointed out the window. “Turn there. Just… maybe get back to me later? Spend some time with the person and tell me how you feel.”

“I think I can handle that,” Evan murmured.

Jeremy laughed as they pulled into the school’s parking lot. “I don't know how I became your personal romance coach, honestly. I literally ended up with Michael because he kissed me when I had a panic attack and then I told him I was in love with him a week later.”

“An interesting first date story for your grandkids,” Evan grinned as he pulled his guitar out of the trunk of the car.

Jeremy rolled his eyes. “Sure.”

They hear a car door slam, and Jared came bounding out of the other car. “Sup! Get in any trouble in the ride home?”

Connor climbed out of the car slowly, stretched and slung his bag on his shoulder. “You have a shitty car, Jared. I don’t fit in the backseat at all.”

“That sounds like a you problem, honey.” Jared smirked, grabbing equipment from the trunk of Evan’s car. “Oh, and Jermy? You get to carry in the speakers. If you can deadlift Michael, you can lift the speakers.”

Jeremy shrugged. “Seems reasonable. How was the car ride?”

“Terrible!” Michael exclaimed. “Jared sang ‘Blood On The Pavement’ from Hairspray the entire time and Connor complained about his legs cramping from the lack of space.”

“If I'm going to blast show tunes, I'm going to want them to be about gory car wrecks!” Jared protested. “I bet your car ride wasn't much better. What'd you do, sit in awkward silence the entire time?”

Evan blushed. “No.”

“We talked about my love life.” Jeremy sighed. “I feel very emotionally connected to people right now, and it's weirding me out.”

Connor snorted. “He has a way of doing that.”

Evan flushed red again. “We should g-get this stuff inside. It's getting late and we're lucky enough the school was open on a Saturday.”

“Carry me inside, Jer!” Michael said, draping his arms over Jeremy’s shoulders.

“Come on, you promised not to be coupley.” Jared whined.

“First of all, this isn't any different than how we normally act,” Jeremy countered, pointing at Jared and shrugging Michael off of his shoulders. “And second, I can't. I'm the new designated heavy lifting guy, remember?”

Michael stuck out his tongue at Jeremy. “Fine. But know now that piggyback rides are added to the official list of boyfriend activities.”

Jeremy rolled his eyes and blushed. “I hate you.”

Connor sighed. “Let's just get this stuff inside. I want to go home and take a nap.”

“No fun,” Jeremy mumbled, wincing as he lifted a speaker. “Fuck. Clearly more push-ups are in order.”

“Whatever,” Connor said, unlocking the back door to the school and letting Jeremy pass into the chorus room. “I'm sure I'll have more fun sleeping than you will having sex with Michael.”

Jeremy laughed. “Fuck off. Hold the door open for me, will you?”

“Thanks for being the usher, Con-man,” Jared winked at Connor as he carried the drum set through the open door. “Good practice for your future job as a waiter at a hipster bar.”

“None of your insults are even good, Jared.” Connor grumbled. “Just give me my drumsticks so that Evan can drive me home and I can sleep.”

“Wait- I- what?” Evan sputtered. “Since when am I driving you home?”

“Since you live the closest to my house and I trust your driving skills more than Jared’s.”

Evan looked down as he hurried through the open door. “...fine.”

Jeremy sighed and set down the last speaker in the corner of the chorus room. “That's it for equipment.”

Michael grinned wickedly and ran across the room, leaping on Jeremy’s back. “Michael! My neck!”

“Oh. Sorry.” Michael shifted his arms around Jeremy’s shoulders. “Carry on!”

Jeremy linked his arms around Michael’s legs, hoisting him onto his waist. “You're really bad at this ‘don't be coupley’ thing.”

Michael kissed the top of Jeremy’s head. “I don't care.”

Jeremy laughed. “I think Evan does.”

Everyone turned to look at Evan, whose face was bright red. “I- um- what?”

Connor smirked. “I don't want to stick around when these two start fucking in the parking lot. Let’s go.”

“Onward, steed!” Michael exclaimed, “to my car!”

“Can I put you down now?” Jeremy groaned.

“Never.”

Connor winked at Evan. “Want a piggyback ride?”

It didn't seem possible for Evan’s face to become as red as it did, but it did. “I didn't think that that sentence could ever be considered sexual,” Jared snickered, “but here we are.”

Jeremy flushed and slammed the passenger door to Michael's car, leaving him on the ground. Michael sat up, dusted off his jacket, and paused before climbing into the car. “Bye, y'all. I'm off to suck Jeremy’s dick behind the 7-11.”

“MICHAEL!” Jeremy screeched from the car.

Jared chortled. “This would be a wonderful time for me to leave. See you later, guys. Make sure to tell me the answers for the math homework before tomorrow.”

Connor put his hands in his pockets and looked up at the quickly darkening sky, lingering next to Evan’s car. “It's a beautiful day.”

Evan smiled. “Yeah. I love the spring when all the trees are in bloom. There are over 60,000 known species of trees on Earth, and it’s a dream of mine to discover a new one.”

Connor hummed in acknowledgment. “That's a good dream. I just want to survive high school.”

“High school can be tough,” Evan said softly. “I don't think I’m going to make it out in one piece either.”

“I don't think you understand,” Connor laughed to himself, like he had a joke that only he knew. “I want to make it through high school without killing myself. So far it's life 2, Connor 0.”

“Oh.”

“That's what my parents said, too.” Connor opened the car door and slid in, jackknifing his knees up to his chest and not bothering to put on the seatbelt. “Let's go home.”

“Put on your seatbelt,” Evan said weakly, mostly out of habit. Connor didn't respond.

For a few minutes they drove in silence, Connor’s eyes gazing blankly out of the window. He either looked asleep or stoned, Evan couldn't decide. Maybe both.

Evan pulled the car to a stop at a red light, turning to look at Connor. His nails had been freshly painted black, although they already sported a few chips. Evan studied his face. Had Connor always worn eyeliner? He hadn't noticed it before, but he assumed the point of eyeliner was to accentuate the eyes while being subtle and oh god, Connor saw Evan creepily watching him.

“Take a picture, it'll last longer,” he mumbled before shutting his eyes and slumping down in the seat.

Evan flushed and turned back to the road. Why would he do something so… stalkery? Most people watch the red light when they stop, not their half-asleep car passengers. Now Connor would think he was a weirdo if he didn't already, even though everybody already thought he was a weirdo. Hell, he had told Connor his dream was to discover a new species of tree. Of course he was a freak.

He thought about what Jeremy had said about Michael, about how everything had intrigued him. He had always been intrigued by Connor. Everybody was. Connor was a mystery, and getting to know him only made Evan more curious.

Jeremy was onto something, though. It wasn't just wanting to get to know Connor better. Most people didn't stare at their friend’s hair for a socially unacceptable amount of time just because the way his hair moved when he played the drums was really mesmerizing, especially when he put it in a bun and every once in a while you could see the corner of a small tattoo on the back of his neck and okay, Evan was getting off topic.

Evan wished he could say something. Not even say anything specific to his feelings, just say something, anything to break the tangible silence that and settled over the car. He could feel Connor’s eyes on him as he drove, and Evan cleared his threat awkwardly.

“Take a picture, it'll last longer.”

Connor was silent for a second, then started giggling. It was soft, but it was there. Evan blushed and smiled. Connor really started laughing then, full-bodied, snorting laughter. Evan couldn't help it and joined in, forgetting himself and laughing along with Connor. Evan parked the car in Connor’s driveway, his face still red.

“Goodbye, Evan,” Connor said, his voice shaking and his face split into a wide grin. “Thanks for the ride.”

A window on one of the upper levels opened with a squeak and Zoe’s head poked out. “Connor? Where have you been? You've been gone all day and dad looks angry.”

Immediately, any remains of happiness on Connor’s face disappeared and was replaced with his usual expressionless scowl. “I’m coming. Thanks, Evan. I'll see you on Monday.”

Evan didn't linger; Connor’s cool tone had made it perfectly clear he was done with him. He couldn't stop thinking about Connor, though. When had Evan ever seen Connor laugh that much? Sure, he would throw a smirk or a chuckle when Jared made a bad joke, but for the most part he was… closed off.

Evan had never seen so much happiness in Connor’s face. It was pretty surreal. Connor was sullen and snarky, and then he was laughing.

God, his laugh.

Connor’s voice was surprisingly high-pitched, and his laugh reflected that. Evan would’ve given anything to have Connor laugh like that again.

Chapter Text

From Christiiine:
Jeremy, are you okay? I haven't heard from you in a while. How's school going? Please get back soon <3

From Tree Boy Evan:
Where are you?

From Michael<3<3<3:
Jer why aren't you in school

From Michael<3<3<3:
Are you sick? You'd better not have gotten me sick

From Michael<3<3<3:
Fuck man are you okay

From Michael<3<3<3:
Jer I'm worried please call me back

From Michael<3<3<3:
I can't get out of school today but just know that I love you and if you're not okay I'm going to come over and hug you so hard I swear to god

From Michael<3<3<3:
I love you Jeremy

~

Jeremy wanted to die.

Okay, maybe that was a bit overdramatic. Jeremy wanted to chisel his brain out of his skull until it shut up and he could have some peace and quiet.

Michael always said Jeremy was too extravagant. Michael said that he loved it, and Jeremy had believed him.

‘Oh, he totally hates that.’

Jeremy screamed into his pillow.

‘Somebody’s gonna call the cops. You do realize there are neighbors probably staying home from work, right?’

The squip was back. So far, he hadn't been bad, just smacked Jeremy across the head when he tried to masturbate and hassled him about how he made toast.

‘I'm helping you, Jeremy. Do you really think Michael loves you? Do you think any of the people in your silly “band” actually enjoy spending time with you?’

Jeremy groaned into his blankets. “Michael’s loved me for forever. I've loved him for forever.”

The squip laughed, a horrific noise that sounded like record scratches and radio static. ‘You idiot. He was horny and you were vulnerable. You're not in love, you’re gullible and you can't even see when you're obviously being played.’

Jeremy’s face fell. “You're lying.”

‘Why would I lie to you?’ The squip purred. ‘My goal is to help you, not hurt you. Now listen. Either put away your technology or block Michael. I'm not strong enough yet to alter you physically, so you have to do this yourself. Block Michael and listen to me.’

“No,” Jeremy muttered, “I won't do that to him again.”

The squid cocked an eyebrow.

“Listen. He was crushed, okay? I ruined my best- my boyfriend, and I'm not going to do that again. I'm not going to push him away.”

The squip laughed again. ‘Do you really think you mean that much to him? He has other friends. When you stopped talking earlier this year he went out and made new friends. You are completely inconsequential.’

“That's not true.” A tear traced its way down Jeremy’s cheek.

‘Why would I lie to you, Jeremy?’

“You did before.” Jeremy took a shuddering breath. “I’m not going to listen to you, I’m not going to do what you say, and I- I’m not going to push Michael away again.”

‘Oh, Jeremy,” the squip said, ghosting cold fingers over Jeremy’s shoulders. ‘I think you are.’

~

Jeremy didn't know what time it was when the doorbell rang. The day had passed in arguments and tears and wardrobe consultations. Jeremy rubbed his eyes and got up from his bed slowly. The doorbell kept ringing.

Jeremy opened the front door to be faced with a giant bear hug and a flurry of questions.

“Jer? Jeremy! Thank god you're okay!” Michael cried, disheveled and clearly distressed. “Oh, good, You got dressed. I was afraid you were having another one of your bad days and you never get dressed when you're having a bad day, and you know that's just allowing you to give into negative habits, and ohmygodjeremyIwassoworriedaboutyouIwasafraidyouhadkilledyourselforsomethingI’msogladyou’reokay!” Michael stepped into the house and closed the door behind him. “Are those my pants?”

Jeremy flushed red. ‘Lie,’ the squip urged him. ‘Tell him you bought them at the mall the other day.’

“N-yeah.” Jeremy looked down at the black skinny jeans he was wearing. “I think you left them at my house during a sleepover or something.”

“Oh. Cool. They look good on you. Did you eat anything today?”

“W-well I had some toast at breakfast…”

“Breakfast!” Michael exclaimed. “Jeremy, it’s 3:45! Sit down, I’m going to make you some eggs.”

‘He’s babysitting you. You're a burden to everyone, you know that? Michael could've been spending time with his friends instead of making you scrambled eggs like you're a toddler that can't manage to feed itself.’

“Shut up.”

‘You're a mess. Do you often take days off of school to wallow in your own pity? That's pathetic. You're pathetic.’

“Stop it!”

‘Who else do you know that starts the day watching porn? You're a joke, do you know that?’

“SHUT UP!”

Michael stopped humming and turned to look at Jeremy, worry etched across his face. “Oh- sorry? You- you usually don't mind…”

“No, not you.” Jeremy rubbed his temples. “I didn't realize I said that out loud.”

“Said that out loud?” Michael made an obviously fake smile. “Jer, you screamed louder than when Jenna accidentally pushed you off of the stage during Midsummer.”

Jeremy smiled weakly and turned away so that Michael couldn't see the tears forming in his eyes. “Jeremy? Please- say something.”

‘Repeat after me,” the squip whispered. ‘Everything about you is so terrible.’

“Everything about me- is just terrible.”

In less than a second, Michael was next to Jeremy with his arms around him. “You know that's not true. Stop, Jeremy, you're scaring me and you're hurting yourself.”

“Everything about me makes me want to die.” Jeremy said, choking back a sob.

Michael wrapped Jeremy in a tight hug. “Listen to me. If everything about you was so awful, would I be here right now?”

“You- you can't change me.” The tears were flowing freely now. “I'm a mess, you don't love me. I know it, you hate me and I- I know it.”

“Shhh,” Michael consoled, letting Jeremy rest his head on his shoulder as he cried. “Breathe. I love you. I love you so much, Jeremiah Beatrice Heere. Breathe.”

‘Look at him. He's really trying, isn't he? How sad. Nothing he can do will ever make you less of a cowardly piece of shit.’

Jeremy winced at the words. “You can fuck off, squip.” Michael hissed.

Jeremy lost track of what happened after that, Michael just kept holding him and tracing the scars on his back and telling him that he loved him, and the squip kept hurling insults and Jeremy kept crying. Jeremy could smell smoke from the eggs burning, but Michael didn't move.

Then Michael started to sing.

Jeremy didn't know what it was and he didn't care. Michael’s voice drowned out the squip’s constant noise and filled his head with folk lullabies that Jeremy knew vaguely but couldn't recognize. The tears stopped flowing and the voices in his head stopped ringing, and all that mattered were the notes Michael was singing, never wavering or stopping. The two sat on the couch in Jeremy's living room as the world went on outside without any thought to the gentle melodies filling the small room. Eventually, Jeremy fell asleep, his head in Michael’s lap and feeling miserable and content at the same time.

~

Jeremy’s dad got home at around 6:30, dumping a briefcase on the kitchen island and yelling “JEREMY! Are you home?” up the stairs.

From behind him on the couch, Michael shushed him. Jeremy’s head was on his lap, and Michael had been weaving intricate braids into his hair as he slept. “Jeremy’s had a rough day. I don't want to wake him up.”

“You're a good friend to him, Michael.”

Michael looked down at Jeremy and absentmindedly twined pieces of his hair through his fingers. “Y-yeah.”

“What happened?” Jeremy’s dad asked softly, sitting down on an easy chair across from the couch. “I got a call from the principal saying he didn't go to school today.”

Michael bit his lip. “Yeah. He- he wouldn't respond to any of our texts so at the end of the day I figured he wasn't sick and came over.”

“You would've come over even if he was sick, son.”

Michael laughed quietly, his thumb rubbing gentle circles into Jeremy’s shoulder blades, across the electrical scars he knew so well. “I guess you're right. I mean, it was unusual for him not to reply to any texts, so I came over to see how he was, you know? I was… afraid, I guess. I always think the worst of things.”

Jeremy's dad motioned for him to go on.

“I'm glad I did come over. He wasn't okay. He was wearing weird clothes, the type of clothes he hadn't worn since- since… he hadn't eaten since breakfast, and then he started talking about how- how he was terrible, and he started crying, and I just…”

Jeremy stirred in his sleep, and Michael looked nervous. Who knew what Jeremy would say in his sleep? Jeremy wrapped his arms around Michael's waist and buried his face in the fabric of his jacket. “Michaaaeeeellll… I love yooooouuu.”

Michael flushed beet red. “Mind explaining what that was?” Jeremy’s dad laughed. “Usually the things he sleep-mumbles are a lot less coherent.”

“Once I heard him talk about bread for like, ten minutes. It was adorable.”

Jeremy’s dad cleared his throat. “Do you love him?”

Michael blushed and made a small choking noise. “Uh- yeah? I guess? We- we've been dating for a week or so.”

“When were you going to tell me?” Jeremy’s dad asked incredulously. “Were you going to stay secret boyfriends forever?”

“Uh- maybe?” Michael nervously tugged on the strings of his hoodie. “I mean, I wanted to give Jeremy a say in the matter, you know? I wanted coming out to you guys to be a g-group matter.”

Jeremy hummed. “Good boyfriend.”

Michael flushed a deep crimson. “Jer! Were you awake this whole time?”

“Maybe,” Jeremy mumbled.

Jeremy's dad laughed. “Okay, boys. Michael, take Jeremy to bed so he can sleep more comfortably. I've got work to do. Oh- no more closing the door during sleepovers!”

Jeremy laughed groggily. “Damn. Way to ruin my sexy times, dad.”

Michael pulled Jeremy up into his arms, breathing heavily. “How do you do this? I've got like, 50 pounds on you.”

“I feel high. Am I high, Michael?” Jeremy giggled. “Remember that time you got me high? That was fun. I mean, it wasn't really, but it was still fun. I had better not be high, Michael.”

Michael dropped Jeremy onto his bed with a sigh. “Goddamn, dude. I'm never picking you up again. Do you want me to leave so you can sleep?”

“No.” Jeremy grabbed a handful of Michael’s hoodie. “Stay with me. I don't want him to come back.”

“Jer, is the squip back?”

Jeremy mumbled something pulled Michael on top of him by his sweatshirt. “Staaayyyyyyy.”

Michael laughed awkwardly. “Fine. But we're gonna talk about this tomorrow, okay?”

Jeremy nodded groggily. “Mmmkay.”

Michael sat next to Jeremy on his bed, until Jeremy pulled him down and wrapped his arms around his waist, burying his face in Michael's chest.

Michael smiled. They would talk about it tomorrow. For now, he had Jeremy and Jeremy had him. All you need is love right? Fuck that; Jeremy was under the control of a malicious supercomputer, but for now Michael had his arms around Jeremy as he smiled in his sleep, and Michael could almost pretend things were normal.

~

“Jeremy?”

Michael woke up alone. According to the alarm clock by Jeremy’s bed, it was 9:38; judging by his friend’s morning bird tendencies, Jeremy had probably been up for at least an hour.

The house smelled oddly sweet, but Michael couldn't pinpoint why. Jeremy had a surprisingly large collection of scented candles, maybe he had lit a few. Whatever it was, there were more important things than a good-smelling house.

Michael stretched and grabbed his glasses from where they had fallen off the bed. He wasn't wearing his jacket, but he assumed Jeremy had taken it overnight, as he did a lot. After running a hand quickly through his hair, he went downstairs in his jeans and a t-shirt.

Michael walked into the kitchen to be greeted by disaster. Every surface was coated in flour, and the counters in the kitchen were piled high with various ingredients and baked goods. A pile of egg shells covered the sink’s drain, and a container of what looked like baking soda had tipped off of the counter and was spilling onto the floor.

In the midst of it was Jeremy, pulling a tray of cookies from the oven and placing them haphazardly on an already full cooling rack. “Michael! You're up! Great. I've been awake since 4:13.”

Michael gaped at Jeremy, who looked clinically insane. He was covered in flour from head to toe, wearing Michael’s jacket with the sleeves rolled up. Jeremy’s hair was messier than he had ever seen it, like he had been running his hands through it all day. Which he probably had.

“I can tell,” Michael said, picking up the baking soda. “Jeremy, what the hell are you doing?”

Jeremy laughed, which just drove home his insanity. “Stress baking!”

Michael frowned and walked over to Jeremy and put a hand on his shoulder. “What are you stressed about?”

“Well, there's a supercomputer in my brain telling me I'm worthless and I'm covered in flour, which I hate the feeling of, and as soon as I start baking I can't stop which is a problem and I can't tell you how many containers of eggs I've gone through today. Do you want a cookie?”

Michael laughed softly. “Jer…”

“We have chocolate chip, snickerdoodles, ginger snaps, sugar cookies, and a tray of brownies.” Jeremy slouched onto the counter, rubbing his eyes. “I'm a fucking mess, Michael.”

Michael wrapped his arms around Jeremy, who leaned into the touch and slumped against Michael’s chest. “It's okay. At least your mental breakdowns aren't self-destructive or dangerous, you know? At least all you're doing is baking cookies.”

“I'm not talking about stress-baking, Michael.” Jeremy took a shuddering breath. “I just… he-he's telling me that you don't love me, a-and that you're manipulating me, but you're so… nice? And in love? And I- I don't know what to think.”

Michael laughed and pressed a kiss to the top of Jeremy’s head. “The squip can go fuck itself, you know that? Nothing that it says is true. I love everything about you, even your psychotic baking tendencies.”

Jeremy snorted. “Thanks.”

“Listen,” Michael said, holding Jeremy’s shoulders and studying his face. “I’m going to go to Spencer’s today and get the biggest pack of Mountain Dew Red I can. Okay?”

“Thank you, Michael.” Jeremy rubbed his eyes. “I- I’m going to sleep. Can you-” he gestured around the kitchen.

“Sure,” Michael grinned, kissing Jeremy quickly and shooing him upstairs. “Go sleep. You need it.”

Jeremy smiled lazily. “I love you, Michael.”

Michael grabbed a broom and winked at Jeremy. “I know.”

It took Michael approximately three hours to clean up the kitchen. The flour and baking soda had to be swept up, the dried batter had to be scrubbed off the counters, and an unbelievable amount of cookies had to be packaged into little Tupperware containers.

Michael stood back and surveyed the now-clean kitchen. In a sudden burst of inspiration, he put a handful of baked goods into separate bags and scrawled the names of his friends over the tops. He smiled and fist-bumped the Michael bag. “JEREMY!” He yelled upstairs, pausing until he heard the telltale groan and movement from above that meant that Jeremy had woken up. “GET YOUR SHIT AND CALL YOUR FRIENDS, WE’RE HAVING A MOTHERFUCKING COOKIE PARTY.”

Jeremy came stumbling down the stairs, bleary-eyed and disheveled. “A what?”

Michael gestured to the bags on the counter. “A motherfucking cookie party, Jer. What better way to use cookies than to eat them with friends?”

Jeremy rubbed his eyes and smiled. “That's adorable.”

“You're adorable,” Michael grinned, swatting Jeremy’s head playfully. “Now go get dressed, unless you want to make it a pajama party as well.”

Jeremy laughed. “Fine. I'll text everybody, you… do something. I don't know.”

Michael shot finger guns at Jeremy’s retreating back. “Alright!”

Michael was left alone in the kitchen again with nothing to do except stare at the huddled mass of bags on the table. “Don't look at me like that, Jake bag.” He jabbed a finger at the Jake bag, purely looking for something to distract him. “I know what you did last night. Don't laugh, Christine bag. I know you've been screwing the milkman as soon as Connor bag leaves for work in the morning.”

“A sex scandal? In my kitchen?” Jeremy appeared at the edge of the doorway with a smirk and a fake announcer voice. “Stay tuned to find out what Jake bag did last night.”

Michael grinned. “Hey, Jer.”

Jeremy reached up to get a glass of water from the cabinet and Michael didn't pretend not to notice the strip of skin exposed by the too-small t-shirt he was wearing. “You know, Jeremy,” Michael said slowly, “the combination of skinny jeans and a t-shirt from eighth grade suits you.”

“Really?” Jeremy responded with a laugh. “I always leaned more on the oversized cardigan side of things.”

“That's a shame.” Michael pressed a quick kiss to Jeremy’s lips and grabbed his hand, pulling him out of the kitchen. “Let's go bring up the beanbags from the basement.”

“You can't tease me like that!” Jeremy protested.

Michael turned around and stuck out his tongue and Jeremy. “Watch me.”

Chapter Text

Evan didn't know what a ‘motherfucking cookie party’ was, but he had nothing better to do than go over to Jeremy’s house and eat cookies. After a quick “I’m going to a friend’s house” to his mom, he was out the door to Jeremy’s house.

It was a fifteen minute walk to Jeremy’s house, but Evan didn't mind. He liked walking. He liked looking at the houses and thinking about who lived in them and what they were doing. They were probably eating lunch or out with friends, doing normal noon-on-a-Saturday things. However, Evan liked to spice things up a little. The old woman in the red house on the corner was writing a letter to her grandson who she hadn't seen in ten years. The man in the brick house next to the park was composing a violin concerto.

Evan almost walked right past Jeremy’s house.

It was a boring-looking house, in his defense. Not like the yellow house with blue shutters on the left or the brick house with an orange door to the right that Evan was pretty sure was Michael’s house.

The only reason why Evan didn't walk right past Jeremy’s boring white-with-screen-door house was because as he walked past, Jeremy came darting out the front door and up a tree.

“Hey, Evan!” He called out from his perch in what looked like a crudely made platform in the large oak tree. “Feel free to go inside, but be warned that Michael will probably think you're me and he will try and kiss you. Maybe ring the doorbell first.”

“W-what are you doing in that tree?”

“Hiding, duh.” Jeremy bit his lip. “Michael was chasing me around the house throwing chocolate chips at me.”

“Sounds… fun.”

“You can go in, just give Michael some warning. You're the first person here.” Jeremy heard a noise in the house and scrambled behind a tree branch. “Don't give away my hiding place.”

Evan made his way to the front door, knocking and saying “It’s Evan!” as loudly as he could, which wasn't that loud.

“Hey, Evan!” Michael said cheerily, picking a chocolate chip out of the bag he was brandishing and popping it in his mouth. “Welcome to our first annual motherfucking cookie party. Jeremy’s in the tree fort, right?”

“Um… n-no.”

“Yeah, he is.” He leaned over Evan’s shoulder and threw a chip out the door where it hit the windshield of the Heeres’ car. “YOU CAN’T HIDE FROM ME, I HELPED YOU BUILD THAT FORT.”

Evan stood awkwardly on the front stoop clenching and un-clenching his clammy fists until Michael stopped yelling at Jeremy and told him to “come on in, bro”.

Inside the house, Evan stood awkwardly in the hallway as Michael explained the house. Most of Evan’s life was spent standing awkwardly, he realized. There wasn't really anything he could do now, though. “The bathroom’s down that hall, and the kitchen is just on your right if you need more cookies. There are cups in the cabinet above the stove and you can get water from the sink or the fridge. If you want milk because we're eating cookies, that's in the fridge. Cool?”

“You… really know your way around.” Evan said nervously. “I mean, you know where everything is? Is that weird t-to point out?”

“Well, I've been friends with Jeremy for twelve years. You'd think I would learn where things were in his house.”

Evan laughed awkwardly. “Y-yeah. I guess.”

Michael shoved a paper bag with ‘Evan’ written on it into his hands. “These are your cookies, but there are always more in the kitchen. Don't be hesitant to get more, Jeremy literally made over a hundred cookies. Now we just have to wait in the living room until everybody else shows up.”

So Evan sat on the Heeres’ white leather sofa, not touching anything and trying to take up as little room as possible. After a few minutes of awkwardly looking around the living room, the doorbell rang and two girls Evan didn't recognize were ushered in by Michael.

“Hey! I've got cookies for you- one second-” he grabbed two bags and gave them to the girls. The blonde one grabbed a cookie out of hers and smiled. “Make yourselves at home.”

“Why is Jeremy in the tree outside?” The brunette asked, lifting one eyebrow and stealing the blonde one’s cookie.

“He's still out there? Damn. Usually he comes in after a few minutes. One second. Evan, introduce yourself to these girls.” He was out the door, going to attempt to coax Jeremy out of the tree.

Evan stood up and tried to wipe the sweat off of his hands onto his pants. “H-hi. My name’s Evan. Hansen. Evan Hansen.”

They laughed, though not meanly. “My name’s Chloe Valentine,” the tall brunette said. “This is Brooke Lohst,” she jerked a thumb to the other one.

“Hey,” the blonde, Brooke, greeted him warmly. “How do you know these nut jobs? I don't think you go to Middle Borough, do you? I mean, I used to date Jeremy, so I sort of got roped into the squad. I can't imagine befriending either of the boyf riends by choice.”

“W-what’s boyf-”

“Have you seen their backpacks?” Chloe asked, squeezing in next to Brooke on an easy chair. “When Jeremy and Michael stand next to each other the backpacks spell ‘boyfriends’. Rich decided to write it on them before they got together.”

“T-that sounds like bullying,” Evan offered shyly.

“It kind of was,” Chloe said with a laugh. “But they got together and now it's sort of an inside joke.”

“What embarrassing story are you telling Evan?” Jeremy entered the living room with a laugh, holding Michael’s hand in his own. “You'd better not tell him about the hair dye, Brooke.”

Chloe snickered. “Not yet, but that's a good one. I was simply telling the tale of boyf riends.”

“Oh.” Jeremy looked like he had said too much. “Uh- forget about the hair dye incident. Nothing happened with hair dye. Ever. What's hair dye? Who told you that hair dye exists? Whoever it was, they're a liar.”

Michael rubbed Jeremy’s shoulder. “Jer, I don't think you're helping your case.”

Evan felt confused and out of place. He felt like an extension on an inside joke, an afterthought on a previously standing friendship. All that he could hope for was for Connor or Jared to show up soon so that they could talk about jokes of their own. Then again, they didn't really have inside jokes. It wasn't like Jared was going to chummily bring up “oh Connor remember when I said you looked like a school shooter? Good times.”

Evan's thoughts were interrupted by the ring of the doorbell. Michael went off to fetch the next batch of arrivals, and Jeremy sat down on the couch next to Evan.

“Where did you get these cookies?” Evan asked him, looking inside the bag.

Jeremy laughed and ran a hand through his hair. “I made them. I… have a bad habit of stress-baking? I baked these all this morning.”

Brooke looked up with her mouth full of cookie. “What? I never knew about this.”

“Yeah.” Jeremy wrung his hands. “Insane, I know.”

“I mean, at least you aren't… cutting or something,” Evan interjected. “It could be worse.”

“That's what Michael said!”

“What did the local gay say?”

Evan looked over to the doorway where a short, muscular boy was perched on a taller boy’s shoulders. “I'm Rich.” The short boy patted the other’s hair. “This is Jake.”

Jake shook his shoulders, causing Rich to grab onto his hoodie in terror. “Let me introduce myself, dickbag.”

“I can kill you twenty different ways, you fuckface.”

Jake smirked and dumped Rich onto an empty beanbag and jumped on top of him, ignoring the squeak of pain from the smaller boy. “Way to die number one,” Jake said, holding up a finger, “smothered by your boyfriend.”

Evan laughed along with the rest of the kids, just with a lot less passion. The doorbell rang again, and Michael gave an exaggerated sigh and stood up to greet whoever came next.

Evan didn't even hear him come in, but when Brooke greeted the newcomer with “I love your hair!” Evan could guess who it was.

Connor looked as… Connor as ever. Evan wasn't sure if Connor wore the same thing every day or if he had a hundred copies of the same clothing. Black hoodie, black jeans, black nail polish. Same enigmatic, beautiful Connor. Connor surveyed the room with the barest hint of a smile before sitting on a chair next to the couch. He crossed his arms and gave a small wave to Evan. “I'm Connor Murphy.”

Everybody looked around at each other, wondering if the newcomer would say anything else. When Connor leaned back in his chair and crossed his legs in a defensive manner, everybody seemed to back off. “This is Brooke,” Michael said, pointing to each person in turn, “this is Chloe, Rich, and Jake.”

Awkward silence engulfed the room again. Everybody racked their mind for any escape, whether a conversation topic or an excuse to leave. “Oh!” Brooke exclaimed, startling everyone. “Did I tell you that my brother got into law school?”

“No!” Jeremy said, leaning forward in his chair attentively. “Anthony?”

“Yeah! He got a great score on the SATs and was accepted into Penn State.” Brooke smiled proudly. “He's really smart.”

For the first time since his introduction, Connor spoke up.

“Must've been adopted.”

Brooke stared at Connor for a solid ten seconds before bursting out laughing. “This dude!” She gasped through gales of laughter. “Where did you find this one?”

Even Connor grinned. “That wasn't meant to be a joke.”

“Well, it was damn funny,” Brooke announced before standing up and getting more cookies from the kitchen. “Maybe next time phrase your insults differently.”

Brooke squeezed down into the chair she was sharing with Chloe and stretched her legs over the other girl’s lap. “We should do karaoke!”

“I would rather die,” Chloe groused.

Brooke planted a kiss on her cheek. “Rough life, Chlo.”

Rich whooped from underneath Jake. “Hell yeah, I love karaoke!”

“No, weaklings.” Michael stood up dramatically and stood on the coffee table in the living room, much to Jeremy’s chagrin. “Truth or dare.”

“We can't play truth or dare without Jenna,” Jeremy protested, lifting Michael off of the table and setting him on the floor. “She's the queen of truth or dare.”

“Well, you don't need to wait much longer,” Chloe said, pointing out the window. “She's here with Christine.”

Michael squirmed out of Jeremy’s arms and ran to the door. “I don't know why he's the host,” Jeremy sunk into a chair. “This is my house.”

Michael came back with two girls in tow. “Aight! These lovely ladies are Christine Canigula and Jenna Rolan. Now we can play truth or dare.”

Jenna smiled wickedly. “Ooh, we’re playing truth or dare? I want in.”

“D-do we have to?” Evan stammered, shrinking under Jenna’s maniacal gaze.

“Absolutely!” Christine butted in, clearly trying to redirect Jenna’s attention. “It can't be a teen party without truth or dare!”

Evan sighed. “I'm not going first.”

“Fine,” Jenna groaned, dragging out the word dramatically. “Jake, how about you?”

“Dare.”

Jenna tapped her chin. “Uh… do twenty push-ups while reciting the preamble to the U.S. Constitution.”

Jake snorted. “Where do you come up with these?”

“The depths of my mind are vast and infinite, Jakey-D. There's no limit to where it reaches.” Jenna swatted Jake on the back of the head. “Now get cracking!”

Jake dropped to the floor and began to do push-ups, the goofy smile of someone being publicly embarrassed spreading across his face. “We the people, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility…”

Michael looked on in shock. “This is impressive.”

Rich smirked. “This is hot.”

Jeremy shushed them. “Shut up, I have a history test on Tuesday.”

“...do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Jake got up off of the floor and dusted his pants off with a grin. “Good?”

Rich scooted over on the beanbag to make room for Jake and high-fived him as he sat down. “Bangin’ job, dude.”

Jake snorted. “Alright. Um… Brooke. Truth or dare?”

“Truth.”

Jake thought for a second before asking, “Favorite Disney movie?”

“Lame,” Brooke scoffed. “Enchanted. Connor, truth or dare?”

Connor looked shocked. “Me?”

“You're the only one named Connor here, buddy.”

He frowned and picked at his nail polish. “Dare.”

“Hurdle the couch.”

Connor looked up at Brooke, confused. “What?”

Brooke smirked. “You heard me; hurdle the couch.”

“I'm wearing skinny jeans!” Connor protested.

“Even better.”

With an exaggerated groan, Connor got up from his chair and shooed Evan off of the couch. “Fine. But I'm going to get hurt.”

Connor took a deep breath and took as big of a running start as he could in the small living room. He planted a hand on the back of the couch and propelled himself over it. Everyone in the room held their breath. At the last moment, his foot caught on the back and slingshotted him face-first onto the ground.

Everybody in the room let out an “ooooh…” as Connor picked himself off the floor.

“Happy now?”

Evan grabbed Connor’s jaw and turned his face towards, frowning as the other boy winced. “Your nose is broken.”

“How do you know?” Connor asked, touching his nose gingerly.

“I worked as a Junior Park Ranger over the summer.” Evan laughed without emotion. “I saw a lot of broken bones. Michael, do you have any ice?”

“Uh… Yeah. Um- Jeremy, get some ice.”

Jeremy punched Michael in the shoulder and stood up to get ice.

Evan frowned. “You need to go to the hospital, you might have a concussion.”

“No, I'm fine!” Connor protested, freezing as a drop of blood fell into his open mouth. “Yeah, let's go to the hospital.”

“You can't leave before Jared gets here!” Jeremy said, tossing Evan a plastic baggie of ice.

“Yeah,” Connor said, mainly to Evan. “Jeremy, truth or dare?”

Jeremy fidgeted for a second before deciding. “Dare.”

“Show us your scars.”

Jeremy blanched. “W-What? How did you find out about that?”

“You were talking to Michael about them one day.” Connor took a bite of a cookie. “Complaining that your scars hurt like Harry fuckin’ Potter.”

Jeremy took a deep breath. “F-fine. I'm not- I’m not trying to hide anything.” Jeremy took off the t-shirt he was wearing and turned so that his back was facing the group. “Feast your eyes.”

Jeremy’s back was a latticework of feathery lightning-bolt shaped scars up his spine, branching out at his shoulders like a twisted tree. Evan took a sharp breath.

“Holy shit,” somebody muttered.

“Michael and my therapist are the only people who've seen them.” Jeremy smiled sardonically. “I also have smaller ones on my wrists.”

Connor whistled. “Damn, Potter.”

“Electrocution scars. Fun, I know.”

“Fuck. Mine never did-” Rich started, then slapped a hand over his mouth. “You know what I mean.”

Brooke crept forward and trailed her fingers along one of the scars. Jeremy recoiled at the sudden touch, but softened once he realized what was happening. “Sorry, Jeremy,” Brooke breathed, “but… holy shit.”

“What the fuck is going on?” Jared’s voice from the doorway announced.

Jeremy jumped and turned to where Jared was standing. “Oh. Uh- hey, Jared.”

Jared surveyed the crowd. “Who do we have here?” He asked, collapsing down on the couch next to Evan. “Holy fucking shit, Jeremy. What the fuck is that?”

Jeremy scrambled to put his t-shirt on, and ended up putting it on backwards. Michael snickered but didn't say anything. “It doesn't matter. Evan, weren't you going to take Connor to the emergency room?”

That snapped Evan out of his reverie. “Oh. Yeah.”

Connor stood up with Evan. “Let's go before I pass out from blood loss.”

“Wait, why is Connor going to the emergency room?” Jared asked after them. “I have so many questions.”

Evan grabbed Connor’s elbow and led him out the door, Connor following blindly behind him with the paper towel-wrapped baggie of ice and both hands pressed to his face. “Can we take your car?” Evan asked, madly aware of his hand on Connor’s arm.

“Mhmm,” Connor mumbled. “The keys are in my pocket.”

“D-do you want me to-”

Connor nodded. “It's in my left pocket. Just grab it.”

Evan’s face burned red, but he stuck his hand into Connor’s sweatshirt pocket and fished around old wrappers until he pulled out the car keys. “O-Okay. I've got it.”

Together they climbed into Connor’s beat-up car; Evan took a deep breath and started to drive.

“Gah, shit.” Connor looked down at the paper towels that were now soaked in blood. “I broke my nose when I was seven but I had forgotten how fucking bloody it is.”

Connor pressed the ice back to his nose and looked out the window. Evan couldn't help but look at him out of the corner of his eye, despite being caught staring last time he was in this situation.

“Thanks.”

Evan started and fixated his gaze on the road. “F-for what?”

“Driving me to the ER.” Connor smirked. “What did you think, Hansen?”

“Don't ‘Hansen’ me… M-Murphy.”

Connor snorted. “Don't you dare.”

“Sorry.”

“Did you really need to apologize for that?” Connor asked, smirking out the window.

“Oh. I guess not. Sorry.”

“Great job,” Connor said, pressing a finger to his nose and wincing.

Evan turned into the parking lot of the emergency room, parked the car, and after a second of awkward waiting, he dropped the keys into Connor’s lap.

Connor shoved the keys in his pocket and scowled. “Gee, thanks.”

Evan smiled. “Just- just go inside and make sure you're not concussed.”

Evan loitered in the car for a few seconds after Connor got out. Not thinking about anything or doing anything, just… sitting there. Processing the day.

“Come on, Evan. You can't just sit in my car forever.”

“Oh. Yeah, sorry.” He unbuckled his seatbelt and slowly got out of the car.

Connor started walking as soon as he shut the door. “I might actually be dying of blood loss. Of all the ways I've fantasized about dying, broken nose is not in my top ten.”

Evan managed a weak chuckle and followed Connor into the building. Connor was ushered into an open room when they entered, and Evan had no choice but to sit in the waiting room and think. Or wait. Do whatever you do in waiting rooms.”

Connor fascinated him. Not only in the obvious physical ways; he had waxed poetic about his hair and eyes more than enough times in his journal. There were things about him that were so intriguing, so contradictory, so worth thinking about.

The way that he held back from laughing too much and then cracked jokes and teased people casually like everybody else. The way that he held himself in such a sad way, but his eyes seemed always lit with thought and curiosity. The way he threw around the idea of death like it was something simple. Like something that Evan hadn't been pondering and lying awake about for the past five years.

Evan couldn't remember the last time he had driven a car. It terrified him, having someone's life and his own in his hands. The last time he had sat behind a wheel was probably to get his driver’s license. However, he had jumped in the car and offered himself up for Connor just to… to be with him? To spend time with him? To show him how good of a friend he was?

Connor confused Evan, and he didn't like it. Connor made Evan impulsive, somehow. His deepest fears were laid before him and Connor took them like a magician’s cards spread on a table. He didn't have Connor’s phone number, he realized. That would be the goal. He would get Connor’s phone number and text him “hey” like a normal person and pretend he hadn't agonized about what to write for ten minutes beforehand. Somebody put a hand on his shoulder and Evan jumped.

“Chill, man. It's me.” Connor appeared next to Evan with a fresh baggie of ice pressed to his face and a white paper bag in his hand.

Evan jumped up to face him and wiped his sweaty palms on his pants. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” Connor nodded slowly. “Just a fracture. They straightened my nose and gave me some acetaminophen for the pain.”

“How can you pronounce that?” Evan said, smiling. “Do you have a secret life as a pharmacist or something?”

Connor smirked. “They made me repeat it, like, five times. So I could tell my parents what it was.” He laughed dryly. “Like hell am I telling my parents. Larry probably wouldn't even let me take it. Like I'm gonna overdose on pain medication for my broken nose.”

Evan nodded emotionlessly. “Yeah.”

“I swear, one attempt with pills and suddenly the only medication you can take is good old walk-it-off-icillin. You know?”

Evan couldn't say that he did know. “N-not really?”

Connor grinned and led Evan out towards his car. He climbed into the passenger seat and paused with his hand still of the key in the ignition. “Can I show you something?”

Evan’s heart stopped. Only two things could come out of this: Evan would get kissed by Connor or Evan would get murdered by Connor. His head was screaming at him to say no, that Connor was shady and did drugs and has probably committed multiple felonies and that the people back at Jeremy’s house would miss them. “S-sure.”

Connor grinned and tore out of the parking lot. “S-shouldn't you put on a seatbelt?” Evan stammered, heart pounding. “You're going kind of fast.”

“To hell with that.” Connor’s eyes had a wild light in them. “I'm probably going to die soon anyway, why not live a little before I go?”

Yeah, Evan was definitely going to get murdered. Connor’s posture was stiff, his face was flushed. However, his face was a picture of peace. At that moment, Connor didn't have problems. Evan had a hunch that Connor felt that if he drove fast enough his mind couldn't catch up to him. Evan felt like that sometimes, except he didn't have a car to drive or a bike to ride. All he had was an empty bedroom and music to drown out anything and everything.

Connor veered off of the main road onto a narrow, bumpy, and altogether terrifying dirt road framed by forest. The afternoon sun shone through the leaves and illuminated the path, bringing light to the patches of purple wildflowers on the path. Of all places to be murdered, this was not the most unfavorable.

Connor haphazardly parked the car next to a rusted-over metal fence blocking out acres of overgrown trees. He got out of the car, slammed the door, and took a deep breath. Evan stared at him, leaning against the car door with his head tilted up to the sun.

“Where are we?” Evan asked, looking around at his surroundings.

“Huntington Orchard,” Connor answered, his eyes tightly shut.

“B-but that closed down years ago. I can't even remember the last time I came here.”

Connor hummed and smiled. “I love this place.” He opened his eyes and scanned the trees. “I love the moldy apple trees. I love the seclusion. I love these stupid purple flowers.”

Evan bent down and plucked one up from the ground. “Native wisteria. Commonly found in eastern and south central U.S.” He looked at Connor, who had closed his eyes again. “S-sorry. You probably don't want to hear this.”

Connor motioned him to keep going.

“Um… in Buddhism the wisteria represents humility, which is s-sort of ironic because its vines are super aggressive and are known for taking over gardens.” Evan paused and thought. “Chinese wisteria causes headaches.”

“I'll keep that in mind.” Connor motioned for Evan to follow him into the woods. “Can you climb this fence?”

“Uh… p-probably?”

“Great.” Connor jumped up and latched onto the chain-link fence, swung his leg over it and dropped down to the ground. “I might be able to catch you if you fall.”

Evan looked up at the fence. It wasn't much bigger than trees he had climbed before, and Connor could catch him if he fell on the other side. It was just like the cargo net in gym class. If Connor, who had never participated in gym activities could climb this fence, then he could too. Evan took a deep breath and began to climb.

Before he knew it, Evan was safely on the ground and Connor was clapping to the left of him. “You good?” He asked, a smile spreading across his face. “Let's go.”

Just like that, Connor was off, running through the forest and expertly dodging branches and stumps he seemed to have memorized. Which he probably had.

Evan ran after him, tripping and stumbling over roots and logs. He panted as he struggled to keep up with Connor, but he couldn't lie. Watching Connor masterfully dart through the trees was sort of… invigorating. Like he could run farther and faster than he thought he could.

Suddenly, the walls of trees subsided and Connor and Evan burst out into the open. Huntington Orchard looked like what Evan imagined heaven looked like. A large, open field framed with trees and dotted with wildflowers. Neat rows of apple trees stretching out to infinity in the distance. An endless expanse of sky above them. Connor spun around once and dropped into the grass.

“It's beautiful,” Evan breathed.

Connor patted the grass next to him, and Evan sat down. “Isn't it?”

“I can't believe…” Evan trailed off, his fingers trailing patterns in the air. “The last time I was here I must've been, what, three? Four?”

“My dream,” Connor said, “is to remake this place. Clean up the trees, make some benches. Maybe build a stage. I want to be able to make other people as happy as this place has made me.”

“I-I think half of the charm is the abandonedness of it.” Evan paused. “You- and me- and this place are a perfect match, I think. If two lonely places come together they can make something that almost feels like home.”

Connor hummed and stood up. “Walk with me.”

Evan dutifully followed. If he wasn't going to be murdered, then the only other option left was to be kissed by Connor, and he wasn't eager to stop that from happening.

Evan felt his phone buzz, probably a text from Jeremy wondering where he was. Evan could only focus on the sun on his face and Connor’s hand in his. He had no idea how that happened, but he enjoyed the feeling. He like walking hand in hand with Connor and talking about whatever came to mind.

“Those blue ones are called roundlobe hepatica,” Evan said, picking a flower from a patch of blue. “They're my favorite.” With a smile, he took the flower and tucked it behind Connor’s ear. Connor laughed. “Blue is a good color on you. It brings out your eyes.”

Connor touched the flower and smiled. “How cheesy.”

“I- you don't have to keep it.”

Connor smirked. “Don't be ridiculous. I'm going to wear it forever.”

Evan looked at him. Connor stared back. Connor’s eyes were blue with a spot of brown in the corner of his right iris, something that Evan recognized as heterochromia from Jared’s eyes. Evan was right, blue was his color. Connor leaned forward and studied his face, his thoughts indecipherable. Evan’s breath hitched. This was it; he was going to be kissed. Or Connor had a knife poised behind his back and was preparing to stab him, but that didn't seem very realistic.

Connor’s mouth parted half a centimeter, and Evan’s body seemed to lock in place.

“Let's go to the apple trees.”

Evan couldn't deny the rush of disappointment that flooded his body, but he let himself be led to the neat rows of rotting apple trees and didn't complain when Connor grabbed his wrist and pulled him along faster.

The two walked and talked, and every once in a while Connor would just gently graze the flower with his fingertips as if he was making sure it was still there.

As the sun began to set, they started to walk back to Connor’s car. Connor ambled slowly through the forest, dragging his feet in the dirt and savoring the last rays of afternoon sun. Evan tripped over a root and fell to the ground, and Connor had laid down next to him. They looked up at the canopy of leaves above them, not talking. Just lying there enjoying each other's company.

“You know,” Connor said slowly, breaking the silence, “right here, with you, there's nowhere else I'd rather be.”

Evan smiled. “Me too.”

Chapter Text

Me too.

What the fuck, Evan Hansen.

Two words. Apparently that's all it took to make Connor’s hopelessly gay ass fall in love with Evan.

Me fucking too.

Connor drove himself home after dropping Evan back off at the ‘cookie party’. He said his head hurt, which was bullshit, but Evan believed him. He felt bad for lying to Evan, for some shit reason. He felt bad for going straight home and not even trying to be friendly with those kids. Some of them seemed pretty nice, like Brooke, who dared him to jump over the couch. Or like Rich, who had a bisexual pride bracelet and liked to insult people in a friendly way.

In the driveway of Jeremy’s house, Evan had asked for his phone number and when he asked why, stammered out something about a “band group chat?”. Nonetheless, Connor had grabbed a pen from his car and scribbled his number on the back of Evan’s hand. As Evan opened the door to the house somebody yelled out “DUDES, EVANESCENCE IS BACK!” over the blaring of the Neon Trees. Connor couldn't deny that he wanted to go in the house and laugh with the rest of them, but he couldn't. He wanted to go home and take a hot shower and try not to think about the events of the day as he scrubbed dirt that didn't exist off of his body.

Connor was denied that solace as soon as he stepped in the house, where he was cornered by his mother.

“Where were you today?” She asked, worry and disappointment evident in her voice.

Connor tried to shove past her, but she blocked the way. “With friends.”

“Who are they? Do we know them?” Cynthia’s voice relaxed, but her posture made it clear that Connor wasn't going anywhere.

“Probably not. Some of them were from the high school over in Metuchen, so you wouldn't have seen them around.” Connor sighed. “Can I go upstairs?”

“What were you doing with them?” She asked, her words casual but her voice sharp. “Don't tell me you've gotten caught up with those druggie kids again.”

“No,” Connor mumbled. “But one of the kids smokes weed and there are three same-sex couples and at least seven of them have mental disorders. Oh, and Evan was there.”

Cynthia put her hands on her hips. “Connor, don't get smart with me. I'm trying to help you. Tell me, what were you doing with these kids?”

Connor felt his signature Connor-Murphy-the-freak anger bubble up within him. “First you tell me that I need to make friends and now you're interrogating me because I spent a day with some new kids!” He clenched his fists behind his back and took deep breaths like Evan did when he got panicked. “You want to know what we did? We ate cookies and played truth or dare. Then I went to the fucking park with Evan and we graffitied shit and smoked drugs like the fucking psychotic hooligans we are!”

He stormed upstairs, highly aware that soon someone was going to come knocking and yell at him for yelling at his mother. He slammed his door behind him and fell face-first onto his bed, wincing as his nose hit the mattress. A soft knock came from the door, different from the loud banging of his dad’s knock. Zoe.

“Come in,” he mumbled into his pillow.

Zoe tentatively opened the door. “I heard you yelling at mom. What was that about?”

“None of your business.”

“Oh.” Zoe sat down on Connor’s desk chair and spun back and forth. “How was hanging out with the band today?”

“How did you know?” Connor looked up to where she was sitting.

“I asked Evan where you were.” Zoe caught a glimpse of the orange pill bottle sticking out of his pocket and slapped a hand over her mouth. “Connor, what is that?”

Connor sat up, shrugged and plunked the small bottle on his nightstand. “Meds.”

“Are they… tell me you're not-”

“No!” Connor cut her off. “It’s pain medication. I broke my nose.”

Zoe snorted. “Sorry, but how? I thought my brother was too cool to break bones like a mere mortal.”

“Fuck off, Zoe.” Connor’s lips twitched into a small smile.

“Evan told me you went to the orchard,” Zoe said, continuing to spin in the swivel chair. “Did you?”

“You're going to make me sick, Zo.” Connor laughed. “Yeah. He drove me to the emergency room and I drove him to the orchard.”

“Weird trade-off,” She grinned. “I would think you'd suck his dick as payment.”

“Eat a dick.”

Zoe cackled. “I'll leave that to you.”

“Go die in a hole.”

“Eat shit.”

Connor threw a pillow at Zoe, and she stopped laughing for a second as she put her hands up defensively and froze. Connor’s heart dropped. Suddenly, every memory of him throwing pencils and rocks and chairs at Zoe came flooding back. Every memory of Zoe screaming as he pounded at her locked door, every memory of Zoe going to ‘emergency slumber parties’ and his mom pretending to give him a stupid chore and locking him in the basement.

Zoe laughed nervously, but the moment of ease was shattered. “See you at dinner, Connor.”

Connor fell back onto his bed and stared up at the ceiling. His bedroom ceiling was plastered with those plastic glow-in-the-dark stars that he had put up in sixth grade, except there were gaping holes without stars and scratch marks on the ceiling above his bed and his desk where he had tried to tear them down in a fit of rage in eighth grade. He had climbed onto his bed and desk and ripped down the ones above them but had been too short to reach the rest. It had annoyed him to no end when he was younger, but now it just made him sad.

Connor sat up and started to brush his hair out of his face when his fingertips brushed against something tangled in the hair behind his ear. It was the flower, crumpled and torn, but the small blue wildflower nonetheless. Connor smiled to himself. He had forgotten immediately what they were called, but he placed the flower next to the pill bottle on his nightstand anyway. Connor sighed. He really was hopeless; pining after Evan Hansen. Short, tree-loving, anxiety-ridden Evan Hansen. The absolute mess of a person that was Evan Hansen. But then again, Connor was a bit of a mess himself. Maybe that was half of the appeal.

~

Cynthia had made another disgusting dinner.

This was nothing new. It seemed every night Connor’s mother churned out a new casserole in seemingly endless combinations of spinach, eggplant, cauliflower, and beans. Every night the rest of the family pushed the ‘food’ around on their plates and snuck granola bars up to their rooms.

As usual, Connor sat quietly and waited to be excused. Nobody acknowledged him or asked him about his day, which he was fine with. It wasn't like he would answer. Instead, Connor entertained himself by replaying the events of the day over and over again in his head.

“So she's running for student council again this year,” Zoe was saying, but Connor was only half listening. “We're hoping she wins but she's been beaten by Jonathan Bank two years in a row.”

“This is… Amanda, right?” Cynthia asked, taking another piece of mystery casserole.

“Alana.”

Cynthia nodded artificially. “She seems like a wonderful girl. You two just be great friends.”

Zoe took a sip of water and “mmhm”ed around the drink.

“Connor, why don't you invite Evan over sometime?”

Connor snapped back to reality. After them pretty much ignoring him all meal, his mind had wandered to the orchard and Evan and how close he had been to Evan before he had pulled away and ruined the moment. “I'm sorry, what?”

“You should invite Evan over for dinner sometime.” Zoe and Connor made eye contact. “You and Zoe certainly talk about him to each other enough, but we've never met him.”

“Yeah,” Zoe snickered. “What's he like? Do his eyes really sparkle in the sun like you say?”

Connor reached over the table and smacked Zoe on the head.

“Connor!” Cynthia exclaimed. “Apologize to your sister.”

Zoe stuck her tongue out at him.

“Sorry, Zoe. Why don't you tell me about Alana? I'm deeply intrigued in her seven Girl Scout awards.”

“Fuck you.”

“Zoe!” The two teenagers laughed. “This is unacceptable behavior, both of you. Connor, I want you to ask Evan to come over for dinner sometime tomorrow at school. Capisce?”

“Fine,” Connor muttered, “but I can't promise he won't start crying.”

“We’re not mean,” Larry said, taking a bite of food. “He should have no reason to cry.”

Connor smirked. “Tell that to his anxiety.”

The table was silent. Larry cleared his throat, preparing to say something, but Zoe interjected with “Hey Connor, was a girl named Brooke at Jeremy’s house today?”

“Yeah,” Connor looked at her, grateful for the diversion. “Why?”

“She's in Alana’s Girl Scout troop. They were going to have a meeting today but she didn't show. She texted me to text you to text Jeremy to text her, but I don't think you ever got the message.” Zoe sat back, tapping her fingers on the table.

“Do you know this Brooke girl?” Larry asked Connor, lifting one eyebrow. “Is she pretty?”

Connor glared at the table and shrugged. “I guess. She's dating a girl named Chloe, I think. They acted very couple-y.”

“You never know,” Cynthia pushed. “Girl friendships are a lot closer than guy friendships. What were you doing with Brooke?”

Connor pushed his chair out from the table and picked up his plate. “I told you, we ate cookies and played truth or dare.”

“Is there anything you aren't telling us?” Larry said, something indiscernable edging his voice.

“Jesus, I think you'd like it better if I did sleep with Brooke!” Connor exclaimed in exasperation. “She's an acquaintance at best. I met her today for like, half an hour. I swear, you'd rather have a prostitute son instead of a gay one!”

“Don't say that, Connor.” Larry scolded. “You know that's not true.”

“I was never really interested in boys at your age, but I didn't turn out gay,” Cynthia said with disappointment in her voice. “You still have plenty of time to change.”

“If you ever need tips about girls,” Larry said finitely, “you can come to me.”

“Thanks, but I've got one crush and I think I can handle him myself.” Connor spat, and stormed upstairs.

“Connor?” Cynthia breathed, pushing back her chair and standing, but not making a move towards her son. “Connor!”

“FUCK OFF!” Connor yelled from upstairs, followed by the slam of a door.

Larry shook his head. “I don't know what to do with him.”

Zoe glared at him. “Maybe you can-”

“I don't want to hear it, Zoe.” Cynthia snapped. “It is not your job to tell us how to be parents.”

Zoe scowled and angrily speared a mushroom.

“Let's change the topic to something lighter,” Cynthia smiled artificially. “Tell us more about Amanda, honey.”

“Alana.”

~

Connor hated his room. He hated his house, he hated his parents, and he hated himself. Everything in his room was too small, because when they first moved into the house he chose the small room because he thought it was ‘cute’. Now, instead of being a cute room, it was a prison. He loved Zoe’s room, with its baby-blue walls and high ceilings and large windows overlooking the backyard. It made you feel like you were in a sky palace, sort of. Like you lived in the clouds. All Connor got was beige walls and one crappy window over the garage. The only perk of that was that it made it very easy to sneak out, because his feet easily hit the garage roof if he sat on the windowsill. His bed was too short for him and his feet hung off the edge. The zebra-print swivel chair Zoe got for him some birthday years ago that he secretly loved hurt his back to sit on.

He hated that his parents knew he was gay but didn't believe him. He hated that they thought he was attempting suicide for attention. Above all, he hated that he was gay and that he was attempting suicide at all.

If only he was like Zoe, the perfect daughter, the poster child of sucking up to parents. Zoe who was on the yearbook committee. Zoe who doodled stars on her jeans. Zoe who had friends.

Connor sighed and curled into fetal position on his bed, trying to conjure up a single happy thought from the tidal wave of darkness on the precipice of crashing down on him. A single happy thought.

Me too.

Of course Evan was the first thing he thought of. Of course his brain immediately conjured up the image of the one person who was pushing Connor’s life to the edge.

His mind seemed stuck on repeat as it played those two words over and over without fail.

Me too.

The way Evan said them, slightly breathless and in rapture of the world he was surrounded with. Like he was about to cry but at the same time like he was smiling so wide it hurt.

Me too.

The way he looked when he said them, his face flushed and his hair windswept from running. His eyes gleaming and his posture more relaxed than Connor had ever seen it.

There was no denying it, something had happened to Connor at the orchard. Maybe the rotting apples had poisoned his brain or something.

He needed to leave, to get out of his too-small room and clear his head. He needed to smoke or something.

Without a thought otherwise, Connor grabbed his stash of weed hidden under his mattress and slipped out his bedroom window onto the roof. The night air was cool, and Connor tied his hair up in a sloppy bun to keep it from falling in his face. Connor leaned against the wall of the house and closed his eyes.

There was a light breeze, and the sounds of dogs barking and light music playing was just white noise in suburbia. Someone was grilling and the air was thick with the scent of wood smoke. Connor sat against the house, not smoking; the baggie of weed rested in his lap, untouched.

Larry would probably find him eventually, but Connor knew he would relish his dinner alone with his normal wife and his normal daughter. Then he would go watch some baseball game while Cynthia did the dishes. Connor had at least an hour to himself, minimum. Connor hugged his knees to his chest and pulled the hood of his sweatshirt over his head, reveling in the warmth of his own body heat. The air was starting to get colder, and soon winter would be well underway.

“Connor?”

Connor looked up and scanned the street for the source of the noise, wincing when he saw who it was. Of course Evan was standing at the foot of his driveway with a takeout bag in hand. Of fucking course.

Evan brightened and grinned up at him. “It is Connor! I can't escape you, huh?”

“Because that's who I am,” Connor muttered. “Someone to escape from.”

“N-No!” Evan stammered. “T-that's not what I meant! I just- we saw each other earlier t-today, and I was thinking t-that you know? I keep b-bumping into you? I'm going to leave now.”

Connor sighed. “It's cool. I get what you mean.”

“Are you… smoking?”

“Not currently,” Connor said offhandedly, gesturing to the plastic baggie on his lap. “But maybe later. The night's still young.”

Evan took a deep breath, like he was steeling himself for something. “C-can I… come up?”

“What do you mean?”

“Join you. On the roof.” Evan wrung his hands. “I've always wanted to know what it would be like to smoke weed.”

Connor laughed. “Dude, I’m not going to get you high on the roof of my garage. That's a recipe for disaster, and I doubt my parents would like their dinner interrupted by a mysterious teenage boy plummeting past the window.”

“Oh.”

“You can come up, though. Do you… need a ladder or something?”

“N-no. I can climb it, I think.” Evan studied the garage wall and bit his lip. “If I climb up the… left side, I think I can use the window to get up.”

“As long as you don't make too much of a racket and get my parents suspicious, go right ahead.” Connor moved to the edge of the roof. “I can help pull you up from here.”

Evan closed his eyes, rolled his shoulders, and walked to the side of the garage. He gripped the top of the window frame and with a quiet grunt, heaved himself up so that he was parallel to the wall. Connor couldn't help but gape as his fingers curled around the edge of the roof and suddenly, Evan had lifted his torso above the ridge. He hovered there for a second, feet dangling in thin air.

“C-Connor? Some help?”

“Oh!” Connor grabbed Evan around his torso and leaned back to pull Evan onto the roof. Evan swung his legs over and found a foothold on the gutter before scrambling to meet Connor where he was sitting. “Good job, man.”

Evan rotated his wrist and winced as it popped. “It wasn't that difficult.”

“Shit, dude. I don't know.” Connor whistled. “I didn't know you had it in you.”

Evan laughed awkwardly. “Y-yep. That's me. Climbing things, smoking drugs, and having sex. I'm just a cool guy like that.”

Connor lifted one eyebrow.

“Yeah, you're right.”

Connor lifted the baggie of weed. “Wanna be cool and smoke some drugs?”

Evan’s face contorted into something unreadable. “N-no thanks.”

“Cool.” Connor shoved the baggie in his pocket and stared up at the sky. Evan still crouched nervously by the edge. “Dude, move in. You're going to fall off.”

Evan scooter over until he was pressed against Connor’s side. Connor was very aware that the other boy was holding his breath, waiting for a response, but when Connor didn't react he relaxed his posture and let out a sigh.

The two sat in silence, their arms and hips pinned next to each other as they watched the sun set over the expanse of trees and houses. “I've always wanted to see the sunset on the beach,” Evan said suddenly. “I've seen it from high up, like in trees and… on your roof, but I've never seen it on an open place on the ground.”

“Sunset on the beach, smoking weed. Cool.”

Evan looked at Connor quizzically.

“I’m compiling a mental Evan Hansen bucket list.” Connor shrugged. “It'll make birthday presents easier.”

“I mean, I have one written down,” Evan said, wringing his hands. “I just don't have it with me.”

“You have a bucket list written down somewhere?” Connor snorted. “I've never met anyone who has a bucket list written, even my grandmother with one foot in the grave.”

“Well, I like to h-have things on paper. It feels more secure.”

“Okayyy,” Connor laughed softly, and Evan blushed in spite of himself. “But I fully expect you to text me this bucket list of yours some day.”

“Well, what about you?” Evan asked. “What’s on your bucket list?”

Connor ticked off wishes on his fingers. “Go to the beach and eat lobsters. Learn to sail. Write a book about how fucked up life is. Kiss a guy in front of my whole extended family as an official coming-out.” He shrugged. “None of that’s ever going to happen, though.”

“Don’t say that!” Evan exclaimed, grabbing one of Connor’s hands in his own. Connor fought a blush and failed miserably. “You can do all of that, I’m sure. I would go with you to the beach and eat lobsters and watch the sunset. I'd read your book and recommend it to all my friends. Hell, I’d even be willing to kiss you in front of your entire extended family is that’s what it takes to help you achieve your dreams.”

Evan recoiled and pulled his hand away from Connor’s like it had burned him as he realized what he had said. “I mean-”

“Connor?”

A new voice, this time from inside. Larry. Shit.

“You've got to get off.”

Evan looked panicked. “How?”

“I don't know!” Connor hissed. “You're the miraculous tree boy, master of climbing. I'm just a skinny weakling who failed gym class!”

“I can’t go down the way I came,” Evan said, scanning the area, “but I might be able to get into that tree from here.”

“Then do it!”

Evan took a deep breath, and with a final, mournful look at Connor, leapt off of the roof and latched onto the oak next to Zoe’s window. “I’m going to come down in the neighbor’s yard,” he whispered, shimmying down the trunk. “Nice talking to you!”

Not five seconds after Evan had disappeared into the quickly darkening night, Larry wrenched open the window and dragged Connor back into his room.

“You know I don't like you going up there!” He berated Connor, slamming the window shut and yanking down the blinds. “You could fall and die!”

“Good,” Connor muttered.

“Don't get smart with me. I heard voices out there. Who were you talking to?”

Connor smirked. “Nobody. I was watching gay porn.”

Larry glared at him and stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind him. “Don't think your mother won't hear about this!”

Chapter Text

“MOTHERFUCKING HOLY SHITNUGGETS! WE’RE IN MOTHERFUCKING BUSINESS, M’DUDES!”

Jared pranced into the cafeteria with his phone held high above his head, cell phone policies in school be damned.

Jeremy paused to look up at him with a fork of macaroni and cheese hovering over his tray. “What’s going on?” He asked warily, giving Jared a suspicious look.

“We,” Jared made a large gesture to the band assembled at the cafeteria table, “are going to perform at intermission during the Middle Borough school play!”

“That's amazing!” Jeremy exclaimed, before his smile fell. “Wait. I’m in the play.”

“Sorry to say this, but you're replaceable, Jermy. Everyone here can sing at least remotely well.”

Jeremy pouted and Michael rubbed his shoulders. “Rough life. I can cover for the vocals, if you need. I think our ranges are close enough.”

“Dope.” Jared sat down at the cafeteria table and stole a french fry off of Evan’s tray. “I wasn't planning on going to see the play, but I mean, now I have a reason to.”

“Is watching me make out with Christine not reason enough?” Jeremy said with a laugh. “We’re hot stuff, me and her.”

“Jeremiah, you are a taken man!” Michael punched Jeremy in the forearm. “I am looking forward to the play, though.”

“It's in the Middle Borough auditorium, right?” Evan asked.

Jeremy nodded. “Yeah.”

“It's pretty cool how you're sticking with the theatre department at Middle Borough even though you go here now.” Evan rubbed the back of his neck. “I don't think I'd ever join theatre, much less theatre at another school. Too stressful.”

Jeremy laughed. “It's not bad, because I already have friends there. We've got history!”

“History,” Michael repeated incredulously. “Like the hair dye incident?”

Jeremy slapped a hand over Michael’s mouth and quickly recoiled. “Did you just lick my hand?”

Michael grinned. “You weren't complaining when I-”

“SO DO YOU THINK YOU’RE READY FOR THE SHOW?” Evan cried, quickly shutting down the interaction. “THAT’S A WHOLE LOT OF LINES.”

Jeremy glared at Michael and wiped his hand off on his jeans. “I guess.”

“What do you mean, you guess?” Connor interrupted.

“I don't know,” Jeremy shrugged, “but I think I'm ready.”

~

“I'm not fucking ready, Christine!”

Christine rubbed Jeremy’s back as he panicked backstage. “None of us are, Jeremy. You're not alone. We’ll all fail together.”

“How is that supposed to be comforting?”

Christine laughed. “I guess you're right. I'm not the best at comforting people.”

Jeremy took a deep, shuddering breath. “I should’ve ran over my lines at lunch. I don't remember anything and my throat’s killing me and I have to sing up there in front of everyone and then we have to make out and I love you like a sister so that's super awkward and-”

“Chloe! Come help calm down Jeremy!”

Chloe sauntered over to where Jeremy was huddled in the corner. “What's wrong?”

Christine bit her lip. “Stage fright.”

“Oh.” Chloe awkwardly put a hand on Jeremy’s shoulder. “Michael’s gonna be in the audience, right?” Jeremy nodded. “Just remember this. Make sure to give Michael a performance that makes him want to fuck you at the end of the night. You're a suave dude in the play. Don't play to Christine, play to Michael. Cool?”

Jeremy laughed. “You're the worst, Chloe.”

“It wasn't bad advice,” Christine noted. “The part about having sex with Michael was a bit unnecessary, but the rest of the logic was sound.”

“See? I have good advice.” Chloe pulled Jeremy up and straightened the suit coat of his costume. “Now I'm going to get your sorry ass over to makeup so you can look hot for your boyfriend.”

“What about your makeup?” Jeremy asked suspiciously, eyeing her neon eyeshadow and bright red lipstick. “Don't you need to look hot for your girlfriend?”

“First of all, I can do makeup by myself and I'm gonna deal with that after I deal with you.” She cuffed Jeremy on the side of his head. “Second of all, I don't need makeup to look hot for my girlfriend, you eye-bags pimple-having bitch.”

Jeremy laughed and Chloe aggressively sat Jeremy down into the desk chair they had repurposed into a makeup chair. “Okay. I'm just going to do basic concealer and foundation, mascara, and maybe some bronzer if you turn out to be as deathly pale as I think you will. Sound good?”

Jeremy nodded. “Alright. I'm sorry if you're not okay with people touching your face, but if you are you shouldn't’ve joined theatre.” She grabbed Jeremy’s jaw in her hands and started to cover what felt like his entire face with a paint-like substance. “I'm putting primer on your problem areas to even out your skin,” Chloe said offhandedly.

“It feels like you’re painting my entire face,” Jeremy mumbled. Chloe stepped back, studied his face, lifted one eyebrow, and went back to work.

“Your whole face is a problem area, Jeremy.” Chloe laughed. “Now I’m going to put foundation over this and some setting powder so that it stays and doesn't stain Christine’s clothes when you get down and dirty.” She twisted his face this way and that as she dusted light powder onto Jeremy’s skin and talked around the eyeliner pencil in her mouth. “I'm trying to walk you through this so that hopefully you can do this by yourself for future plays. Sound good?”

Jeremy twisted away from her to look in the mirror next to him. “Holy shit, I look like a ghost.” However pale he was, there was no denying that his skin looked better than it had since… sixth grade. Whenever he had started getting pimples. The bags under his eyes were completely gone, and although he looked like a ghost, he looked like a ghost that got plenty of sleep.

“I'm not done yet. God.” Chloe took hold of his face again, and with a flurry of countless more creams and powders and a terrifying mascara brush, Jeremy was done. “There. Feast your eyes upon… yourself.”

Jeremy turned to himself in the mirror again. “I… no longer look dead. Thanks, Chloe.”

Chloe nodded and grabbed her makeup box. “No problem. Maybe next time when you need me to do your makeup, skip the panic attack. ‘Kay?”

Jeremy touched his face in disbelief. Was this what he would look like if he got enough sleep? Or maybe actually used the acne creams his dad got for him?

Christine slapped him on the back as she passed where he was sitting in the chair. “C’mon, Jeremy. We're starting the pre-show ritual. You look good, by the way.”

Jeremy fought a blush. “Thanks. I’ll be there in a second.”

He stood up, and with a final glance to the mirror to make sure all his costumes looked good and a ‘make Michael want to fuck you’, he headed into the empty computer lab where they always had their pre-show ritual. When he got into the lab, Mr. Reyes was already leading the cast in a rendition of “bumblebee tuna” as a warmup.

“Jeremy! Our lovely expellee-slash-convict. Nice of you to join us five minutes late.” Mr. Reyes clapped his hands again. “Alright. Five “I am a cow”s, please.”

They went through vocal warmups and facial exercises, tugging awkwardly at costumes and flapping shirts to ward of sweating through their clothes before the end of act one. “Do you feel better?” Christine hissed to Jeremy as they filed backstage.

“Yeah,” Jeremy grinned. “I'm gonna make this stage my bitch.”

They high-fived and Christine winked at him. “I'll see you at act two, hot stuff.”

Jeremy laughed softly and shuffled in his place. “Break a leg!”

“Good evening Metuchen, New- EVERYBODY PLEASE DIRECT YOUR ATTENTION TO THE STAGE!” Mr. Reyes yelled from in front of the curtain. Christine smiled widely and jumped up and down in excitement. “Thank you! As I was saying, good evening, Metuchen, New Jersey!”

Halfhearted cheering. “I'll take it!” Mr. Reyes said, his cheeriness strained. “Please enjoy our production of The Curse Of Love, an original musical written by yours truly! Thank you!”

Christine grabbed Jeremy’s hand and gave it a quick squeeze before straightening and shuffling quickly to her opening position.

The curtains opened on the stage. Jeremy kept his focus steady as he gazed into the bright spotlights. As he stepped forward and started to sing, he couldn't help but inspect the audience. It was a pretty full house, and at closer glance Jeremy could see the band minus himself sitting in the front row. Connor had drumsticks stuck in a messy bun, and Evan had his guitar resting between his legs. Jared was wearing a t-shirt that said “ART IS DEAD”, but sitting next to him Michael had a sign taped to his chest reading “ART IS ALIVE IGNORE HIM”. He saw Jeremy and flashed him a thumbs-up.

The first act was a whirlwind of songs and dances and forgotten lines, and intermission came just in time. The cast funneled off into the dressing room, chattering loudly and fanning under their pits.

“WE WERE GREAT!” Christine yelled to the assembled cast. She gathered her skirts and stood on a chair, preparing to make a speech. “We might have had a few mishaps, and Brooke, we have safety pins and mediocre sewing skills to help you fix your dress; we made mistakes, improved lines, and stumbled during dances. However- drumroll please- THE AUDIENCE LOVES IT! They're so responsive! Keep doing what you're doing and keep the energy up!” Christine whooped and jumped off the chair in a cloud of petticoats.

“I just don't know how I'm supposed to kiss you in front of everyone.” Jeremy told her as she touched up her makeup. “In front of my boyfriend!”

Christine smirked. “Just think back to last year when you had that awful crush on me.”

“Ugh. I really was the worst, wasn't I?” Jeremy chuckled. “I think once I saw you spray yourself with febreze to ward off ‘stage stench’ that was about the end of it.”

“Hey, the febreze trick works!” Christine protested. “It doesn't matter. Wanna sneak into the wings and watch your band?”

“Hell yeah!” Jeremy grinned.

Christine grabbed Jeremy’s wrist and pulled him through the hallway into the wings, dodging techies and offering the occasional “hey” to a teacher. The wings were small and they had to crowd at the very end of it to peer out of the crack between the curtain and the wall. The band had set up in front of the stage, and Michael was in the middle of giving a very awkward introduction.

“We are… um, actually, we don't have a name. Um… skipping that bit.” Jared whispered something in his ear. “Okay! Uh- on keyboard and singing is me, Michael Mell. Jared Kleinman singing backup vocals and harmonies. Connor Murphy is playing the drums and Evan Hansen is on guitar. We have another member, Jeremy Heere, but he's currently in the play right now. He's not… Heere.”

Connor played a percussive sting.

“Nice. Thanks, Connor.”

Christine elbowed Jeremy. “I can see why he's not in theatre.”

“So… Yeah. Um, enjoy, I guess. And keep an eye out for Jeremy in the play.” Jared whispered something again. “Okay. We're going to play music now.”

Someone in the crowd cheered as Connor played the opening to a song Jeremy had played thousands of times before. Jeremy couldn't suppress a smile as Michael started to sing.

Christine raised one eyebrow. “He has a good voice. He could do theatre, you know. He just has to get over the awkwardness.”

“Like I did.”

Christine laughed and playfully shoved him. “Like we all did.”

Jeremy smiled at her and turned his attention back to the band. They were really playing their hearts out. Although Jeremy was happy to be in the play, he did feel a pang of sadness to not be with the band in their first actual performance. Evan had a huge smile on his face and Connor looked happier than Jeremy had seen him in a while. He had to admit, they owned the stage.

Christine put a hand over her heart and faked a sniffle. “My children all grown up.”

“Since when are we your children?” Jeremy protested. “Michael and I are the only ones who aren't older than you!”

“Hey, I got you guys together. If it weren't for me, we'd still be going on shitty dates while you reminisced about hanging out with Michael.” Christine elbowed him. “Now I just need to help guitar and edgelord drums admit their feelings and embrace the rainbow.”

“Evan and Connor?” Jeremy looked at Christine incredulously. “No. They'd never get together. I mean, I don't think they're gay…”

“Look at drum’s feet,” Christine pointed out. “The zipper on his boots has slid down. He's wearing rainbow socks, dude.”

“Oh.”

“We should probably get back to the dressing room,” Christine said, standing up and smoothing out her skirts. “You done ogling your boyf?”

Jeremy stuck out his tongue at her and stood up. “Fine. I need to brush my hair anyway.”

The music faded into the background as they walked into the dressing room. Christine immediately grabbed a handful of bobby pins and escaped to the nearest mirror, leaving Jeremy standing awkwardly in the middle of the room.

“Tall-ass!” Rich grabbed Jeremy’s shoulder with a grin. “Michael’s pretty good, huh? Middle Borough represent!”

“Y-Yeah.” Jeremy rubbed the back of his neck. “How’s Jake?”

“He's good.” Rich stood in silence for a few seconds. “Awkward conversations like this sometimes make me miss the squip, you know?”

“Yeah!” Jeremy laughed. “I know it's terrible, but I miss having a supercomputer telling me what to do. And of course, when it resurfaces it's more interested in regaining power than helping me in social situations.”

Rich chuckled. “Yeah. I feel you, man.”

The lights flickered, and everybody in the room looked up from there conversations to the light fixtures above them.

Jeremy smiled at Rich. “I'm gonna get in place for act 2. Nice talking with you, man.”

Jeremy took one last look in a mirror before heading back onstage. The band was wrapping up, and thankfully Michael wasn't talking this time.

“That was our last song. Okay, we're going to let you enjoy the rest of your play,” Jared was saying. “Thanks for being such a great audience!”

Jeremy let out a sigh of relief. At least one person he knew wasn't a total social failure.

There was a scuffle in front of the stage, and then the curtains were opening on Jeremy standing center stage. Chloe’s voice echoed through his head. Don't play to Christine, play to Michael.

Jeremy could see him sitting in the front row wearing his “ART IS ALIVE IGNORE HIM” sign and a huge smile. Don't play to Christine, play to Michael.

Jeremy took a deep breath and started to sing.

~

“Can I kiss you?”

Christine sauntered across the stage and laid a hand on Jeremy’s chest. “Please.”

With careful and practiced motion, Jeremy placed his lips on Christine’s without passion or emotion. Christine brought a hand up to his face and cradled his cheek while discreetly pinching his ear.

Chloe's voice told him to play to Michael.

Jeremy mentally took a deep breath and steeled himself against any awkwardness that would follow, deepening the kiss with Christine. He had kissed Christine before; they did date for a month, after all. This felt… different. Hundreds of people watching them make out on stage.

“What about Valencia?” Christine said against his lips.

Oh. Right. What was his line again?

“Forget Valencia.”

Christine smiled and wrapped an arm around Jeremy’s back.

Somebody in the audience whooped and yelled out “SCREW YOU, VALENCIA!” Jeremy was pretty sure it was Jared.

Jeremy smiled and twined his fingers through Christine’s hair like Mr. Reyes had told him too over and over during rehearsals. This was the last scene in the show; he had to make this count. “Right now, all that matters is us.”

~

The curtains parted once more for curtain calls, and Jeremy whooped and cheered as his friends stepped forward to take their bows. The band was playing a song over them, and the cast was subtlety moving to the beat. When he stepped forward into the spotlight hand in hand with Christine, a wave of cheers and applause greeted him.

Michael paused his singing to shout out “YEAH, JEREMY! YOU CRUSHED IT!”

Jeremy took his bow, and waited for Christine to curtsy before hugging her warmly. The curtains closed once more and the house lights flickered on.

Christine squealed and jumped in place, grabbing Jeremy’s forearms with a huge grin. “WE DID IT!”

Jeremy laughed. “We really did, didn't we?”

“Jerry!” Brooke screeched across the stage, running over and high-fiving. “You and Christine, oh my god!”

“You were great too, Brooke!” Christine said. “Hey, I wanna go talk to Chloe. Jeremy, go shmooze with the parents for me while I get out of this damn corset.”

Jeremy winked and gave her a thumbs up.

“You're a lifesaver, dude. Honestly. If I have to stay in this dress any longer I might pass out. Brooke, can you help me out of this?”

With a final hug, Jeremy was pushed out of the throng of cast members pushing to get into the dressing rooms and into the crowded auditorium. Almost immediately, parents and teachers swarmed around him, attacking him with compliments and questions and shoving programs in his hands for him to sign.

“Jeremiah!” A voice yelled from behind him, and Jeremy turned around to have a short and pudgy older woman wrap her arms around his waist before reaching up a considerable distance and putting her hands on his shoulders to hold him at arms-length.

“H-hey, Aunt Linda.” Jeremy said as she studied his face. “How'd you like the show?”

“Oh, it was just wonderful. Wonderful, I tell you. You and that Christine girl were great!” Linda smiled and tousled his hair. “Are you… you know, together?”

Jeremy laughed. “No! I mean, we actually did date for like, a month. We broke up mutually and now we're just friends.”

“Well, I certainly hope you have a girlfriend now and that she doesn't mind you kissing onstage. You're a teenager, now is the time to get out and date people! That Brooke girl, she was nice. Are you dating her?”

Just then a pair of arms were flung around Jeremy’s shoulders, making him stumble to catch the weight of the flying tackle/hug. “JEREMY! THAT WAS AMAZING! You're such a good singer and you have such good chemistry with Christine I'm almost jealous, dude.” Michael grabbed Jeremy’s face. “You look so pretty, bro! Make sure Chloe does your makeup every day. Im going to go wait in the car because the crowds are making me anxious, okay? Bye!” He kissed Jeremy’s cheek and disappeared into the crowd.

“What a strange boy!” Linda laughed. “Do you know him?”

“Uh, yeah.” Jeremy ran a hand through his hair. “I'm dating him.”

“Wait, what?” Linda protested.

Jeremy backed away quickly from Linda. “BYEAUNTLINDAI’MGOINGTOGOGETCHANGED!” He blurted, running towards the dressing room.

Rich confronted him as he turned the corner. “That was pretty impressive. I wish I had family-dodging skills like that.”

Jeremy laughed. “Fuck off.”

“Save it for your aunt, dude.”

“Is the cast party at your house again this year?” Jeremy asked, pulling off his suit jacket and button-down before slipping into a loose Star Wars t-shirt.

“Hell yeah, it is. If you want, you can invite your fancy friends from your fancy new school.” Rich shrugged. “I'm sure people wouldn't mind, since we met them at the cookie party. They were pretty cool, even if Connor did break his nose.”

Jeremy sighed. “I still feel bad about that.”

“Don't be, man. I'll see you at my house in half an hour, cool?”

Jeremy shot him finger guns. “Cool.”

“Never do that again.”

~

Rich’s house was already buzzing with activity when Michael pulled his car into the driveway. Granted, Jeremy had sidetracked Michael on an empty road with well-timed kisses and flirtatious glances, but they weren't that late.

Jeremy opened the door to a game of ‘never have I ever’ already in process. Surprisingly, Jared, Evan, and Connor were already there, so Jeremy could assume Rich gave them the all-clear to come to the cast party before Jeremy had left.

Connor and Evan had two fingers down each, whereas Jared only had one finger left.

“Never have I ever… gotten strep throat,” Brooke supplied, and almost everyone put down a finger. “Ooh! The original gays are here! Now we can play that variation I was talking about.”

“What variation, Brooke?” Michael asked suspiciously.

“Okay. Everybody pick a partner. It's easier if it's someone you're comfortable with.” Soon, the partners were formed: Michael and Jeremy, Brooke and Chloe, Rich and Jake, Evan and Connor, and Jared and Christine because Jenna had opted not to play. “So how you play is you sit like… two or three feet from your partner, facing each other. Then Jenna will say things like in never have I ever, and if you have done them you have to scoot closer to your partner. The game ends when someone literally cannot move any closer to their partner.”

Christine leaned in to whisper in Jared’s ear. “Don't try anything.”

Jared smirked. “I’m gay.”

“Okay!” Jenna announced from her perch on the couch once all the pairs were in place. “First one, here we go. Move forward if you have committed a crime. Uh- squips don't count.”

Michael, Rich, Chloe, and Connor moved towards their partners. Jenna whistled. “Wow, we've got a lot of felons here. Can you tell us what they were?”

Michael shrugged. “Illegally downloading music.”

“Arson,” Rich said casually.

“Slashed an ex’s tires.” Chloe picked at her nails.

Connor crossed his arms. “Drugs.”

“Okay!” Jenna laughed nervously. “Uh… move if you have gone skiing.”

Jeremy, Jake, and Chloe moved closer.

“Alright… move if you have had sex with your current significant other.”

Nobody moved except for Michael and Jeremy.

“Wait, what?” Rich snorted. “Are you telling me Jer-man here lost his virginity before college? Wild.”

“I masturbated as part of my morning routine for years, Rich. Do you think I’m going to hold out once I get into a loving, committed relationship?” Although he attempted cool confidence, Jeremy’s face burned bright red.

“TMI, Jer.” Jenna leaned forward on her hands. “I do want the dirt, though. Who topped?”

Jeremy looked like he wanted to melt into the floor. “JENNA!”

“We switch,” Michael answered, burying his head in his hands. “Are you happy now?”

“Who initiated it?” Jake butted in. “You know, the first time.”

“J-Jake! I- don't- that's not…” Jeremy spluttered before sighing and hiding his face in a pillow. “I did.”

Chloe cackled. “Jeremy! You horny son of a bitch! Why didn't you try any of that with me?”

“Because he was dating me!” Brooke retorted, shoving Chloe. “Jeremy’s a gentleman.”

“One last question.” Jared said. “Michael. Was it good?”

“Oh my fucking god.” Michael clutched his stomach, doubled over, and fell onto the carpet. “He's killed me. I'm dead. Jeremy, I hope you wrote my eulogy.”

Jeremy laughed. “Hey, you can't deny. I'm pretty sexy.”

Michael looked up at him and squinted his eyes. “Sure.”

“OKAY!” Jenna interrupted. “Let's move on before we break up the original gays. Move if… you've cried or flirted your way out of an awkward situation.”

Almost everyone moved. “Alright. Um… move if you've ever made money performing on the street.”

Connor and Brooke moved closer. “Connor?” Jared snorted. “What, were you an unpaid Hot Topic model?”

“As a matter of fact, I danced.” Connor glared at Jared. “I needed money to pay for a cab.”

Jenna laughed. “I’ll hold you to that later. Move if you've walked in on a friend in the shower.”

Jeremy, Michael, Brooke, Christine, and Jake moved forward. Michael and Jeremy were close enough to high-five each other.

“I'm willing to believe that most of y'all were polite and left the room apologizing profusely,” Jenna said and gestured to Michael and Jeremy, “but I refuse to believe you two did anything but ogle.”

“Bro,” Michael laughed, “you don't know the half of it. I pulled back the curtain while Jeremy was taking a shower to ask him where the sodas were.”

“That's very sad and pervy. Let's keep this game going!”

So the game went, people shifting forward and high-fiving or kissing when they got close enough. Jeremy ended up in Michael’s lap and Brooke had cozied up next to Chloe to braid her hair while the game played on. The game ended with Connor and Evan uncomfortably close, their knees and foreheads pressed together.

As soon as Jenna announced the end of the game, they sprang apart, eyeing each other warily. Jeremy groaned and wrapped his arms around Michael’s torso. “But I’m comfortable!”

“Fine.” Rich stood up and threw a bag of chips at them. “But if you move any closer to each other you will literally having sex in the middle of my living room.”

Michael laughed. “We’re not the problem. Evan and Connor looked like they wanted to rip the clothes off of each other the whole time.”

Evan flushed beet red, and Connor looked down at his nails, his hair falling tactfully in front of his face. “Jealous, Mell?”

Michael smirked and pressed a kiss to Jeremy’s jaw, making the other boy laugh. “You wish.”

Chapter Text

“We’re all going to die one day.”

Connor nodded. “Okay. Your point is…”

Evan leaned his head on the dashboard of Connor’s car and waved his hand around drunkenly. “I don't know. You're going to die someday and I want to… do stuff with you before you do.”

Rich had ended the cast party by breaking out his parents’ alcohol stash, and Evan, being too awkward to turn anything down, got absolutely hammered after two beers.

“Just to clear some stuff up, I am not a prostitute. Don't know what you heard.”

Evan giggled. “Not that kind of stuff. Although…” he paused and thought for a second. “I mean fun friend stuff. Like go to the movies and bake a cake and have sleepovers and stuff.”

“I don't know if you noticed,” Connor smirked, “but we're not Jeremy and Michael. We don't do that type of shit.”

“Exactly!” Evan gesticulated wildly. “We need to do that stuff. Most of the time when we get together it's deep dramatic woods moments and angsty teen drama and I’m not saying that I don't like it; I like to be close to you and be with you and spend time with you but I feel like we could be better friends, you know? Instead of weird sadness-slash-mental illness buddies.”

Connor hummed and looked out at the road.

“Are you taking me home?”

Connor laughed. “Yeah. It's pretty late, buddy. You need to sleep.”

“I wanna go to your house,” he drawled, dragging out the last word and reaching to grab Connor’s arm. “I wanna sleep with you.”

“Reminder: not a prostitute.”

“Nooooo,” Evan slurred. “I just want you to hold me. I just wanna be close to you.”

“I'm going to drop you off at home, Evan.” Connor hid his blush. No fair that he got roped into driving home the flirty drunk!

Evan pouted. “I like you, Con. You're a cool guy. I love your hair and your face and the way your cheekbones are. You're nice to look at.”

“Ooookay!” Connor grinned tight-lipped. “Well, it looks like we're at your house. I will walk you to the door, but I will not accompany you inside because I fear for my life and/or innocence.”

Evan pushed open the car door and stumbled out of the car, giggling the whole way. “Walking is weird. Has walking always been this weird?”

“C’mon.” Connor held Evan’s shoulders and half carried him to his front door. Evan slumped against the building as Connor opened the door. “Go to sleep. Ask your mom for some Advil tomorrow morning.”

“G’night, Con-Con.”

Connor grimaced and turned back to his car. “Good night, Evan.”

Connor ignored Evan grinning at him through the door as he walked back to his car. He ignored the thump that came from inside the house and the loud laughter that followed.

Connor wished he could go back to when he didn't feel. When he was numb to the world. It was strange; Connor had spent so long wishing he was normal and that he would process his emotions like a human being and now he would pay anything to not feel. He would give whatever it took to not feel the stirring in his gut whenever Evan touched him. He didn't like the sinking feeling he got when Evan talked about their friendship.

Connor Murphy was in love, and he hated the himself for it. He wanted to punch somebody. Wanted to bitch-slap Evan for being so fucking great and pure. Wanted to punch his parents for raising him like a freak. Wanted to fucking deck himself upside the head for being a freak.

Connor sat in his car in silence, breathing heavily with his eyes closed and his fingers pressed against the pulse point on his neck. Trying to forget the fact that part of him wanted that steady rhythm to stop.

“You're fucked, Connor,” he muttered. “Evan is a friend. A nice, innocent, straight friend. If he has a type, you can assume it's not school-shooter psychopath.”

With a final sigh, he started the car and pulled out of Evan’s driveway. Connor’s phone buzzed with an incoming call from Evan.

“I'm driving, Evan. You of all people should respect road safety, mister put-on-your-seatbelt.”

“I can't sleeeeep.”

Connor ran a hand through his hair. “Shit, Evan. I can't help you with that. Drink some warm milk or something.”

Evan hummed. “Maybe. I love you, ya know? G’night, Con-Con!”

“Don't call me-” the call ended before Connor could finish his sentence.

Connor sang to himself to keep his mind occupied as he drove home. Why was he the designated driver? Oh, right. He was the only person living in the area who wasn't a fucking lightweight.

Connor turned off of his headlights as he pulled into the driveway and entered his house through the back door. If there was one way he didn't want his parents to find him sneaking into his house, it was at 1 am and tipsy. He winced as the stairs creaked beneath his feet, but other than a snore and the squeak of his parents’ bed, the house was quiet.

As he crept toward his bedroom, Zoe’s voice stopped him outside of her room.

“Hey, Connor,” Zoe said, her voice bogged down with sleep. “Where were ya?”

“I was at a cast party.” Connor leaned against the doorframe and crossed his arms. “What are you doing up?”

“Mom wants us to go to church tomorrow. I'd find some way to get out of the house.”

Connor snorted. “We haven't been to church since Christmas three years ago!”

“Yeah.” Connor couldn't see, but he could tell Zoe did her signature ‘mom’s a freak’ shrug. “I don't know. I'm having brunch with Alana, say that you're going on a breakfast date with Evan or something.”

Connor rolled his eyes. “Fuck off. Thanks… for the heads up.”

“You got it.” Connor could hear the creak of the bed as she laid back down.

“And go to sleep!”

~

Connor woke up to three voicemails from Evan. The first entailed Evan regaling his days as a junior park ranger, and Connor would be lying if he said he didn't listen to it four times. Listening to Evan ramble was just too fucking cute, and listening to a very drunk Evan babble was a lot more favorable than listening to his parents bicker over the breakfast table. The second was just footsteps and breathing, punctuated halfway through with what sounded like Evan getting a drink of water.

The third was Evan warbling “I Wanna Be Loved By You” by Marilyn Monroe over the noise of a TV playing quietly in the background. Connor saved that voicemail under the guise of future blackmail.

“CONNOR!” Larry yelled up the stairs. “COME HELP YOUR MOTHER WITH BREAKFAST!”

Connor groaned and slunk downstairs into the kitchen. “Help me set the table, Connor,” Cynthia said with a forced smile. “You know, I was thinking of going to our old church today. What do you think of that?”

“Oh, uh- well, the band is going to… go out for breakfast before practice.” Connor grabbed a pile of plates and distributed them on the table, avoiding his father’s gaze. “Just tell the priest I killed myself and couldn't make it to the service.”

Larry harrumphed. “I think a stern talk with a priest could do you some good, Connor.”

Connor grabbed his drumsticks and car keys. “Ooookay! I'm going to leave now.”

Larry grumbled into his newspaper.

Connor started his car and loitered in the driveway, debating where to go before heading out to the most logical place he knew how to get to. Jeremy’s house.

It was only nine in the morning, so it wasn't a surprise when the door opened five minutes after he rang the doorbell to reveal a very sleepy and pajama-clad Jeremy.

“Who is- Connor!” Jeremy rubbed his eyes and opened the door to usher him in the house. “What're you doing here?”

“Jeremy?” Michael came down the stairs sans glasses and (shockingly) red jacket. “Who is it?”

“It's Connor,” Jeremy responded, stretching and running a hand through his hair. “Sorry, but why are you at my house at nine on a Sunday?”

“My mom wants us to go to church and I needed somewhere to escape to.” Connor shrugged. “This seemed to be the most logical place.”

Jeremy pondered this. “I guess that makes sense. Do you want pancakes? Michael said he wanted pancakes.”

“I bet that's not the only thing he wanted,” Connor smirked. “But yeah. I can help you with pancakes if you need me to.”

Michael snorted. “You little shit.”

“I've easily got five inches on you, suave man.” Connor followed Jeremy into the kitchen. “Where's your jacket?”

“One, it’s too hot to wear a jacket and cuddle someone and have a blanket on top of you. Two, contrary to popular belief, I don't sleep in the thing. Three, Jeremy has it. He took it off when he went downstairs.”

“Oh, so you think wearing Michael’s jacket is telling and the fact that you must've fallen down three flights of stairs on your neck to acquire that amount of bruises isn't?”

Jeremy flushed and ducked his head into a cabinet and pulling out a bag of chocolate chips and tossing it to Connor. “Make sure Michael doesn't throw them at me.”

“He's sensitive,” Michael said, half joking, and patted Connor on the back.

“What’s sensitive, his emotions or his skin?” Connor laughed.

Michael shrugged. “Both.”

“T-that’s not true!” Jeremy stammered, face red. “I have… very thick skin. In both meanings of the term!”

“Miah, I could give you a hickey right here to prove my point but given our present company, I think the array you already have is proof enough.”

“Miah?” Connor asked, opening the bag of chocolate chips and taking a handful.

“Jeremy likes nicknames.”

Connor winked at Jeremy. “Kinky.”

Jeremy swatted at the both of them with a dish towel. “Fuck off.”

Michael hopped onto Jeremy’s kitchen counter. “Why are you here again?”

“My mom wanted to go to church and I needed to get out of the house before they cornered me into some conversion therapy bullshit.”

“I feel you,” Jeremy shrugged. “My mom made me go to temple every week until my bar mitzvah.”

“You were such a little shit after your bar mitzvah,” Michael remisced. “Every time I did anything you would say some shit like ‘who’s the man here?’ and I absolutely hated you.”

Connor smirked. “For good reason.”

“Hey!”

Michael pulled a skillet from a cabinet underneath the sink and placed it on the counter next to Jeremy. “Cook away, Miah.”

“Am I just your personal chef now?” Jeremy asked with a laugh, smacking Michael with a dish towel.

“Among other things.”

Connor mimed throwing up. “This is so horribly domestic. I’m going to puke.”

“Whenever my mom sees us she always makes sure to say ‘you can't get married for two more years, guys!’” Michael grinned. “Even my fucking mom ships it.”

“Now we just need to get my parents’ permission and we'll be all set to elope.” Jeremy turned away from Connor and Michael to make the pancake batter. “Stop distracting me so I can make your goddamn breakfast.”

Michael pouted. “Fine. So, Con-man, how was driving home Evan’s drunk ass?”

Connor rolled his eyes. “Ugh. Evan’s like… a weird, truthful, sappy drunk. I had to remind him twice that I wasn't a male prostitute.”

Michael snorted. “Really?”

“I mean, he wasn't making moves, but I had to set some boundaries.” Connor shrugged. “I mean, for the right price-”

Michael threw a chocolate chip at Connor, where it got stuck in his hair. “I don't think Evan’s really the type to shell out a hundred dollars to fuck a crappy JD impersonator.”

Connor fished out the chocolate and threw it back at him. “You never know. I have a surprisingly strong sex appeal. Jeremy, would you fuck me?”

Without turning away from the griddle, Jeremy forced a “hell no” between giggles.

“Okay, maybe Jeremy’s the exception.” Connor crossed his arms. “I did, however, get a drunk voicemail of Evan singing Marilyn Monroe over a background of Antiques Roadshow.”

“Wait, what?”

“So I got three voicemails from Evan overnight. One was a pocket dial, one was him waxing poetic about trees, and the other was him singing I Wanna Be Loved By You while the TV played.” Connor shrugged. “I swear Evan knows more about tree species than he does about himself.”

Michael laughed. “That's perfect.”

“You don't know real comedy until you hear Evan Hansen yell ‘THE ONLY ANTAGONIST HERE IS DEFORESTATION!’ into the phone.”

Jeremy set a plate of pancakes on the kitchen island and slumped down into a chair. “I’m so fucking tired and he's back. Use a fork, Michael. I know for a fact you weren't born in a barn.”

“Who's back?” Connor asked, taking a pancake. “If you want me to leave, I can.”

“It's… complicated. You're fine.” Michael said unconvincingly. “Jer, red?”

Jeremy nodded and took a bite of a pancake. Michael reached into Jeremy’s fridge and pulled out a bottle of, surprisingly, Mountain Dew Code Red. Jeremy grabbed it and chugged half the bottle.

“I didn't know they sold that anymore.” Connor stared at them in suspicion. “What's going on?”

“Jeremy has a… very rare mental issue? And Mountain Dew Red helps?” Michael tried, his face giving away the blatant lie.

Jeremy blinked a few times and closed the bottle. “He buys it in the back room at Spencer’s Gifts.”

“I didn't know you could get that shit anywhere. Color me impressed.” Connor shrugged. “I wish that I could magically cure my problems with Mountain Dew.”

“Well, it's not really a cure…” Jeremy muttered under his breath. “I don't know what I would have to do for a full shutdown.”

Connor frowned. “Just don't kill yourself without me, buddy.”

Michael laughed awkwardly. “Okay! Let's not talk about suicide while we're eating these amazing pancakes!”

“These pancakes aren't really the only things keeping me alive, Michael.”

“Okay, fine.” Michael crossed his arms. “House rule: no talk of offing yourself at the breakfast table.”

Jeremy snorted. “You can't make house rules, it's not even your house.”

“That just makes you sound like acquaintances.” Connor dramatically waved a pancake-laden fork in the air. “House rule: no saying anything that implies Jeremy and Michael aren't married.”

Michael stuck his tongue out at Connor.

“How’s your nose?” Jeremy cut in, nonchalantly pushing Michael’s tongue back in his mouth.

Connor raised an eyebrow but elected to ignore it. “Healed pretty well, no thanks to Brooke.”

Jeremy laughed. “I dated her for like, two weeks, and she broke my finger once. I think she has a habit of breaking other people’s bones.”

“That's a… troubling habit. I think nail biting would be preferable.” Connor frowned. “And I had never broken a bone before. Way to ruin my perfect streak.”

Michael snorted. “Murphy’s law.”

Connor gestured to himself. “I’m the definition of Murphy’s law.”

Jeremy sighed. “That's really fucking depressing.”

“I'm really fucking depressed.” Connor crossed his arms. “Does that go against the house rule or…”

“I mean, you're not directly talking about suicide…” Michael contemplated this. “I think you're fine.”

Jeremy looked uncomfortable. “Wanna… play video games?”

Michael grinned. “Hell yeah! Wait, we only have two-players.”

“I can just watch,” Connor assured them. “You play your games. I'll be fine.”

Jeremy didn't seem convinced. “If that's okay with you…”

“I swear, it is. I feel bad for invading on your domestic morning-after thing anyway.”

“We didn't have sex!” Jeremy protested, his voice cracking horrifically.

Connor raised an eyebrow.

“We… cuddled and watched 90s sitcoms!”

Michael smirked. “Then we had sex.”

Jeremy flushed and shoved Michael off of his chair. “Go find us a game, shithead.”

Michael attempted and failed twice at getting up off the ground before Connor grabbed his arm and pulled him up. “Sure thing, hot stuff.”

“I'm going to puke.” Connor rolled his eyes. “I hate you both.”

Michael grabbed Connor’s arm and dragged him into what he assumed was Jeremy’s basement. Two beanbags were set up in front of the TV, and Michael surveyed the setup for a second before clearing the stacks of video games off of an old couch. “Now you can have a clear view of the TV over our heads!” He bit his lip. “Unless you want to sit next to us, then I don't know what to do.”

“No, it's fine. This is great.” Connor sat down on the couch and looked at the pile of video games on the floor next to his feet. “That’s… a lot of games. How long have you been playing video games with Jeremy?”

Michael smiled softly. “Since second grade.”

“That's adorable.” Connor put his feet up on the sofa and jackknifed his knees in towards his chest. “I had this great friend in elementary school named Kaitlyn. We had a little two-person book club, and we would stay in the library during recess. Then she moved to Arizona in sixth grade and… I never really got back on my feet in terms of friends.”

“I'm sorry,” Michael said, his voice laced with nervousness, like he didn't know whether Connor would snap at him. Connor didn't really blame him. “I can't imagine middle school without Jeremy.”

“Yeah, well I survived.” Connor picked at his nail polish. “Barely.”

Michael frowned but didn't press the topic. “How… how's Zoe?”

“She's great, like always.” Connor shrugged. “She’s playing lead guitar in the jazz band, I think, and she's dating a great girl.” He laughed emotionlessly. “Maybe all my luck is being funneled into her.”

“Hey, you met us! That's pretty lucky, right?”

Connor shrugged. “Don't get me wrong, I love you guys, but sometimes I want to be more than an accessory on a previous friendship.”

Michael nodded. “I get that. It took me a while to get comfortable with Jeremy’s friends from the shows at school. But they were nice, and now we're all bros. Besides, without you, who would play the ‘ba-dum-tss’ thing whenever I make a bad joke?”

Connor smiled. “It's called a percussive sting, dipwad.”

“Asshat.”

“Shithead.”

“What’s going on, motherfuckers?” Jeremy cut in, holding a pile of snacks in his arms.

“None of your beeswax,” Michael retorted, grabbing a bag of Doritos and collapsing on a beanbag.

They both looked at each other for a second before Jeremy yelled out “PLAYER ONE!” Michael laughed and Jeremy flashed him a shit-eating grin.

“I don't know why we still do this,” Michael punched Jeremy’s arm. “We do the same thing every time.”

“I know, but it makes me feel superior.” Jeremy shrugged. “Apocalypse Of the Damned, cool?”

“Hell yeah. Connor, you down with pixel zombies?”

Connor smiled weakly. “Sounds good.”

Michael whooped and flipped a half-drunk bottle of Sprite, which would've been cool if he'd actually managed to land it instead of sending it rolling off towards the stairs, sending Michael to go chase the bottle. Connor pulled out his phone and tried to tune out the cheesy video game music and Jeremy’s constant screaming.

He didn't really have anything to do on his phone. He mostly just opened and closed apps absently, waiting for something to happen.

Every once in a while Michael would yell something in a language Connor didn't recognize, and Jeremy would fire back something equally unintelligible.

Connor jumped as his phone buzzed to life, his screen flashing with “EVAN!!! CALLING”. Connor, after almost dropping his phone out of shock, picked up and plugged his other ear so as to block out the zombie noises.

“Evan?” Connor heard a groan on the other side of the phone.

“I just woke up and my head hurts.”

“Oh my fucking god. It's, like, noon. Go take some Advil and eat something, jesus christ.”

“Where are you? I hear sci-fi music and Tagalog.”

“Is that what that is?” Connor snuck a look at Michael, who was loudly swearing in multiple languages. “I'm at Jeremy’s house.”

Evan was silent. “Can you come over?”

“What?”

“I-I mean, you don't have to. It's just m-my mom’s at work and you seem to know what you're doing, and I-I’m lonely and you don't have to-”

“No, no, I can come over,” Connor cut him off. “I'm just watching the gays play video games.”

“O-oh,” Evan cleared his throat. “Thanks.”

“No problem. I'll be over in a few minutes.”

“Where are you going?” Jeremy asked without looking away from the screen.

“Evan wants me to come over,” Connor said, tucking his phone in his pocket. “I hope that's fine.”

Michael smiled. “That's cool. Have fun!”

Jeremy shot Connor what could only be only described as the human equivalent of ‘( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)’. Connor rolled his eyes.

Michael shot a zombie on screen. “Go take care of your sick, dying boyfriend. We'll find a way to cope without your presence.”

Connor stuck up his middle finger at the two and headed out of the basement.

“You're welcome for sheltering your emo ass,” Jeremy called after him. “‘Thank you, Jeremy! Everybody loves you, Jeremy!’” He griped, putting on a fake voice and waving his arms around mockingly.

Michael laughed. “Who is this Everybody and why are they making moves on my boyfriend?”

~

Evan was a hot mess. Maybe he was just a plain mess, but he was at least a hot mess to Connor.

Connor had no idea how Evan had destroyed himself so thoroughly after two beers. Either Evan was the biggest lightweight to walk this earth or he really was a woodland pixie that had gotten mixed up in a high school and never escaped.

Connor found Evan on the couch in his living room with a bag of frozen shrimp on his face and a rerun of Hannah Montana playing on the TV. He was wearing a worn-out t-shirt from the library’s 2014 summer reading program and boxers with leaves on them, which was the most Evan-esque pajamas Connor could possibly imagine.

“Evan? You awake?” Connor got a groan in response. “It's Connor.”

“H-hey,” Evan said, his voice muffled by the shrimp. “How’s it going?”

“How's it going for you? You're lying on your couch with a bag of shrimp on your face watching Hannah Montana. That doesn't look good.”

Evan sat up and rubbed at his eyes. “My head hurts.”

“Have you eaten anything?” Connor asked, leaning against the wall and picking at his nails.

Evan bit his lip. “No.”

“Shit, Hansen, that's probably why. Want me to make you toast or something?”

Evan shook his head. “You don't need to do that for me. I can handle it myself.” He stood up with a bit of difficulty and beckoned for Connor to follow him into his kitchen. “Why were you at Jeremy’s?”

“I needed to get out of the house.”

Evan looked down at his hands but didn't push it. “I-I've been thinking about the orchard.”

Connor’s heart skipped a beat. This was when he was going to say that he knew that Connor had tried to kiss him but had backed out and that he didn't want to be near him ever again. Connor had been dreading this for weeks.

“I was thinking about what you said there, about wanting to rebuild it? I think that's a great idea.”

Connor fought to keep the joy off his face. “Really?”

“Y-yeah. It's a beautiful space,” Evan paused like he had rehearsed this, “and I think it would be amazing to bring it back to its f-former glory.”

Connor smiled. “Well, let’s do it!”

“What?”

“Let's do it!” Connor wasn't holding back now, he was grinning wider than he had in months. “We have to do a community service project for the school anyway. Why not do this?”

Evan looked overjoyed. “You really want to do it?”

“I mean, it was my dream in the first place,” Connor laughed. “I wouldn't have told you about it if I wasn't serious about doing it.”

Evan laughed too, but didn't take his eyes off of Connor, as if waiting for the moment when he would back out and leave. He jumped and averted his eyes when his toast popped up, turning around quickly to grab it out of the toaster.

There was silence in the kitchen while Evan prepared his toast. Connor wasn't sure if it was an awkward silence or a more comfortable silence. Neither of them spoke and neither of them needed to.

Evan sat down on the couch that he had, only minutes prior, been sprawled out on with a bag of shrimp on his head. He patted the place next to him, and Connor took the invitation to sit. Evan bounced his leg up and down nervously.

“How was driving me home last night?” Evan asked tentatively. “Did I say anything stupid?”

Connor grinned. “You said a lot of stupid stuff. Do you not remember?”

“I mean, I do, but I don't remember every single thing I said. I can't even remember that normally.”

Connor thought. “You said you wanted to bake cakes and have sleepovers and do friend stuff with me. You also called us sadness-slash-mental illness buddies.”

Evan’s face was red. “Oh god.”

“I had to remind you twice that I wasn't a prostitute. I was driving you home and you said, and I quote, ‘I wanna sleep with you’.” Connor laughed. “You also called me a ‘fun guy’.”

“That is by far the worst.”

“Agreed.” Connor smirked and glanced at Evan, who was still very flushed. “You left me three voicemails: one was a pocket dial I think, one was you talking about trees, and the third was you serenading me with ‘I Wanna Be Loved By You’ by Marilyn Monroe. Is that enough stupid stuff?”

“I am so, so sorry.” Evan took a sheepish bite of toast.

“Don't be, it was funny.”

Evan laughed weakly. Even half asleep and disheveled, Evan was pretty much the prettiest person Connor had ever seen. Which wasn't saying much, considering Connor went through life with his head down and his eyes averted.

Connor was very aware of Evan watching him. Years of ridicule and stares had trained him to know when people were looking at him. However, for once he didn't mind. Evan wasn't staring cruelly or waiting for him to make a fool of himself. Without looking at Evan, Connor leaned back on the couch and tied his hair up. Connor wanted Evan to see the tree tattoo, but he couldn't fathom why. He wouldn't even know what to say if Evan asked him about it.

“Is that a tree?”

Shit. The plan worked. Connor looked up to meet Evan’s eyes. “Weeping willow.”

Evan smiled. “It's pretty.”

“Oh, uh- thanks.”

Evan did that thing where he stared into Connor’s eyes not in a personal way, but in the way that you would look at the eyes in a painting as if deciphering each brushstroke and new color. “Do you have any other tattoos?”

Connor couldn't look him in the eye. Instead he focused on the soft curve of Evan’s collarbone, on the constellations of freckles dotting his neck and shoulders. “Um- yeah. I have one on my hip. It's a quote from Haruki Murakami. “Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it.”’

Evan’s expression was unreadable. “Do you believe that?”

Connor was taken aback by the question. “What?”

“I-I mean you would have to find some r-resonance with the quote to get it as a tattoo, but do you believe it?” Evan had started to wring his hands as he talked, and he had finally broken his eye contact with Connor. “Do you think death is the end?”

Connor placed his hands over Evan. “I don't believe that. When you die, the world doesn't just keep moving on. You have a ripple effect on the people you meet. Even as a corpse, you still hold some sort of power. Your death might end the narrative for you, but you can impact people even more dead as opposed to alive.”

Evan just looked at Connor’s hands over his. “Dead people don't have power.”

“That's not true.” Connor bit his lip. “What do you think makes people wear black after funerals? Respect. What makes people avoid stepping over graves? Fear. Face it, skeletons rotting in the ground have just as many lines in a story as the people walking above them.”

Evan looked down, took a deep breath, and wrapped his arms around Connor in a desperate embrace.

Connor was terrified. He was wildly aware of the tears on Evan’s face soaking the fabric of his hoodie, and he had no idea what to do. Tentatively, he raised his arms to reciprocate the hug. Evan stayed in his arms, crying quietly as Connor held him close.

“I'm… sorry,” he said softly.

“No,” Evan murmured into Connor’s hair. “Thank you.”

Chapter Text

It turned out that renovating an orchard took a lot of work. First of all, Connor and Evan had to meet with and talk to the director of parks and recreation in their town, and with the combined efforts of their subpar social skills it almost wasn't terrible.

The parks and rec director, Ms. Marks, seemed overjoyed that people, especially “such nice teenagers like you”, had interest in the orchard. She very carefully avoided the fact that they technically broke into the property in order to go there, and the boys were happy they didn't have to defend their illegal actions with the flimsy excuse they had made up in the car.

“In order for you to restore Huntington Orchard for full use by the public, you would need to clear out dead trees and plants, clean up rotten apples, cut the grass, and possibly plant new trees. This could take a while.” Ms. Marks eyed the two incredulously from her desk. “Are you sure you're up to the task?”

“We have a lot of friends and a lot of time,” Connor said. “I'm sure we can handle it.”

“If you're really confident,” Ms. Marks smiled, “this sounds like an amazing project, and I'm so happy there are teenagers who take interest in nature.”

Connor and Evan forced pleasant grins. “Thank you. Is there any way that you would be able to pay for lumber if we wanted to build benches or something like that?”

“Oh, of course. Don't worry.” She stood up and shook both boy’s hands, smiling demurely. “I wish you best of luck with this project.”

“Thank you.” Ms. Marks disappeared into an office, and Evan and Connor let out relieved sighs.

“That wasn't bad!” Evan grinned. “I don't think I've ever had such a good social interaction with a stranger.”

“I mean, you barely said three sentences.” Connor joked, holding the door open for Evan as they left the community council building. “What will you do for your vows if you get married?”

Evan smiled and blushed. “Hopefully I'll marry someone like you who can do all the talking for me.”

Connor tried to ignore his comment and focused intently on his car keys. “Do you think our friends will really want to renovate an orchard?”

“I don't know.” Evan bit his lip. “But it's worth a shot asking.”

Connor hummed. “Want to call everybody and then go back to the orchard to scope it out ourselves?”

Evan leaned his head against the car window. “Sounds good.”

Connor started the car and threw his phone to Evan. “You call them, I've got to drive.”

Evan fumbled with his phone for a few seconds before voices started streaming out of the car’s speakers.

“Connor?”

“What's up, canoe?”

“Hey, Connor.”

Connor cleared his throat and looked at Evan. “Hey, guys. So me and Evan want to renovate this orchard outside of town. What we need is a bunch of people to do stuff like planting trees and cutting grass and shit. You up for the task?”

“That sounds like a great idea!” Christine’s voice exclaimed. “And it's Evan and I, not me and Evan.”

Connor rolled his eyes. “Anybody else?”

“Michael and I can help,” Jeremy said. “You don't get a say in this, Michael.”

“Sounds fun!” Brooke cut in. “When will we do it?”

Evan pointed out the window. “Native wisteria!”

Brooke coughed. “What?”

“O-oh. What about… Wednesday after school?”

There were mumbles of approval from the other line.

“So it's a plan,” Connor said. “We'll meet at Huntington Orchard Wednesday after school.”

“Okaymeetustheregoodbye!” Evan blurted and hung up the phone quickly.

“What the fuck, Hansen?” Connor said with a snort.

“I-I didn't want Jared to make any mean comments.” Evan shyly handed Connor his phone. “And it looks like we're here anyway, so I guess I hung up just in time.”

Connor rolled his eyes. “Whatever.”

Evan got out of the car and crouched down to inspect the flowers. Connor got the feeling that Evan wanted to say something, but instead he knelt on the ground next to Evan and poked a small hole in the dirt with his fingertip.

“Were you still a plant kid when you were little?” Connor asked, avoiding Evan’s eyes. “I was a dinosaur kid, believe it or not.”

Evan laughed. “N-no. I was a truck kid.”

“I can't picture that.”

“Yeah, I… grew out of it.”

Connor hummed. “Want to vault the fence with me?” He stood up and held out a hand to help Evan up. “It hasn't gotten any taller since last time.”

Evan brushed the dirt off of his hands. “I-I think I'll be fine.”

Smoothly and almost masterfully Connor quickly scaled the tall chain-link fence and leapt down, only stumbling slightly as his feet connected with the ground. Evan carefully grasped the chinks in the fence and hoisted himself over the edge. He climbed down the way you go down a ladder: slowly and tentatively and avoiding looking down at all costs.

Connor crossed his arms. “Step one, figure out an easier way to get in.”

Evan pointed to a spot on the fence that looked to be a locked entrance gate half concealed by bushes. “If we can break that padlock, we should be able to g-get in.”

“Holy shit,” Connor marveled. “I've been coming here for years and I've only just noticed that.”

“W-would you be able to break it?” Evan asked, gesturing to the padlock and rubbing the back of his neck.

Connor stepped forward to inspect the gate. “I think so. I'd need a rock and we would have to clear the plants away.”

“You always struck me as someone to know how to pick a lock.”

Connor opted against glaring at Evan and going off on him and instead let his softer, lovey-dovey side take control. “I've had a lot less experience jimmying locks than I have smacking things with rocks.”

“O-oh.”

Connor took a deep breath and closed his eyes. “Try not to think about yourself as a teenage delinquent, Murphy,” he muttered to himself. “Evan wasn't trying to offend you.”

Evan made a panicked sort of squeaking noise. “I am so, so sorry. I didn't mean- I mean, I don't think you're- is this a bad day for you? I can go, or-”

Connor silenced him by resting a hand on Evan’s shoulder. “I’m fine,” he said, not too convincingly. “Help me get rid of this plant shit.”

Evan stammered out some pitiful excuse of an answer.

Connor and Evan got to work ripping plant matter out of the chain-link fence, which turned out to be backbreaking labor. That was to be expected when you pit two non-athletic teenage boys against the forces of labor over the years. Normally, Connor would've put his hair up, but right now he was thankful for the way it covered his face.

Evan worked quickly and carefully, weaving the vines out of their spots in the fence. Connor could appreciate this, especially since his method of brute force wasn't working so well. Connor mimicked Evan’s unraveling motions, working much slower than the other boy. After about ten minutes of tense silence, the gate was clear. Evan immediately ran off to find a rock.

“You can do it,” Connor mumbled into his hair. “You can talk to him and be a friend. You can even kiss him if the moment comes. Seize the day, Murphy. You can do it.”

Evan cut off his short inner dialogue by shoving a large, misshapen rock in his hands. “Here.”

Connor sighed, grabbed the rock, and lifted it above his head. He tried to imagine all of his pent-up anger and aggression like a pipe streaming into this one hit. If he could take his anger out and do good in the world, why the fuck not. In a single streamlined movement, Connor brought the rock down on the padlock, which snapped off and fell to the ground with a sharp squeal of metal on metal.

“Woah,” Evan breathed.

The gate swung open to reveal a wide, overgrown path winding through the endless forest. Thousands of flower petals littered the ground, and the entire world seemed swathed in soft pink petals.

Evan took a step onto the path, and Connor followed. The sun streamed through the leaves and danced across Evan’s face in ways that no other light could do justice. Evan let out a breathless, giddy laugh. “I… can't believe this.”

Connor looked up towards the sky. “I refuse to believe this is real.”

Evan spun in a quick circle with a laugh. Connor took him in as part of the scenery; his hair shining in the sun as he smiled and spun in circles was just as beautiful as any of the hundreds of trees adorning the path. Evan looked back at Connor with a mischievous grin, grabbed his hand, and started running.

They ran for what seemed like forever. Connor’s lungs burned and his legs ached, but the experience of running through the flower petals showering the pathway and the feeling of Evan’s hand in his wasn't something he would give up for anything. Hues of green and white and pink blurred together as they ran; their feet kicked up dirt and petals and dead leaves and left an imperfect trail of where the two had placed their feet every step of the way.

Evan didn't show any sign of slowing down as the path fed into the field and the two burst out of the trees into the grass. Evan didn't stop until he had made it to the very center of the field. Connor immediately collapsed, wheezing and trying to catch his breath. To his satisfaction, Evan did seem to be breathing a bit more heavily than he usually did, but other than that he showed no sign of the run he had just taken.

“How are you not dying?” Connor gasped between breaths. “I feel like someone lit my lungs on fire!”

“I-I used to run track.” Evan smiled sheepishly. “I still do some running, but never around… other people.”

“Oh.” Connor sat on the tall grass, breathing heavily and trying to avoid looking at Evan.

“Oh! There's a plaque over there. I'm going to see what it says.” Evan flashed a quick smile at Connor and jogged off to go inspect a plaque Connor had never noticed before.

Screw not looking at him. If Evan was twenty feet away and engrossed in a plaque about trees, Connor was going to look. Evan mumbled something about flowering crabapples and turned around, his eyes catching Connor’s. After a moment of awkward eye contact, Evan blurted “TAKE A PICTURE, IT’LL LAST LONGER.”

Connor laughed. “Why are you so bad at life?”

Evan’s face turned red. “I-I have anxiety?”

Connor sighed and walked over to where Evan was standing by the plaque. “It was a rhetorical question.”

“Oh.” Evan turned back to the plaque. “The trees on the path are flowering crabapples. It blooms early spring for a long time.” He paused. “Lots of birds are attracted to the fruit when it arrives in the fall.”

“Hmm.” Connor shoved his hands in his pockets absently.

“Do you care at all about the blooming seasons of crabapple trees?” Evan asked, trailing his fingertips along the outline of the words.

“Nope,” Connor said, popping the ‘p’ and grabbing Evan’s wrist. “You're way more interesting than trees. Let's walk.”

Evan laughed nervously. “O-okay.”

Connor grinned and ambled down towards the apple trees hand in hand with Evan. “You know, it's not that bad. We could probably clean this place up with a good day of hard work.”

“Yeah.” Evan pointed to a small clearing on the edge of the woods, a half-moon of grass before it dissipated into forest. “What about a fire circle right there?”

Connor let go of Evan’s hand and grabbed his face, ignoring the squeal of protest the other boy made. “You're fucking right. We will abso-fucking-lutely put a fire pit there.”

“C-can you let go of my face?”

Connor immediately dropped his hands. “Shit. Sorry. I-I got caught up in the moment.”

Evan blushed, and Connor realized his face was also uncharacteristically hot. “It's fine. We could put some benches out in a circle, a-and build a fire pit, I could probably find some rocks and stuff.”

Connor smiled. “I love this. Hey, you want to climb a tree?”

Evan looked down at his shoes. “N-not… really?”

“C’mon, it'll be fun. You climbed that fence, didn't you?”

Evan frowned. “I guess.”

Connor ran towards the tallest tree in the field, reveling in the rush of freedom. “Follow me!”

Evan halfheartedly jogged towards him, but soon was running with the same reckless abandon, his arms flapping joyfully by his side.

Connor didn't even stop at the base of the tree, just hoisted himself up onto the lowest branch and started to climb. Evan, without thinking, followed him. Connor didn't stop climbing until he was sitting on the very top branch and gazing out onto the orchard. Evan pulled himself onto the branch and tried to sit as far away from Connor as he could, which turned out to be a pretty difficult endeavor due to the size of the branch.

Connor felt like every sense was heightened. He was wildly aware of the sun on his face, the wind in his hair, and the feeling of Evan’s leg pressing against his.

Evan took a shaky breath and tentatively moved closer to Connor, his eyes glued to the ground. “Shit, you broke your arm in a tree. Fuck.” Connor ran a hand through his hair. “I’m so sorry.”

“I-I didn't fall.”

Connor looked confused. “What do you mean? You told me you fell out of a tree.” He faked a laugh. “You lying to me, Hansen?”

Evan nodded slowly. “I… let go. I wanted to die, and I felt like that would be the easiest way, but I wasn't high enough and I just broke my arm and when I woke up in the hospital everyone was crying and I hated it, because I felt like everyone was wasting their tears when if I had actually succeeded they would've had a real reason to cry, and-”

“Don't.” Connor wrapped his arms around Evan. “Is this okay?” Evan nodded and leaned his head onto Connor’s chest. They sat in silence for a few moments before Connor broke the silence.

“‘Gather up your tears, keep them in your pocket; save them for a time when you're really gonna need it.’” Connor looked down at where Evan was curled up against his body. “If I Die Young. The Band Perry.”

Evan forced a short laugh. “That's fitting. I didn't know you listened to country music.”

“When it’s about suicide, I do.”

“Did you ever feel that way? About people crying?” Connor absently lifted his hands to run them through Evan’s hair, and the other boy didn't protest.

Connor shrugged. “Not really. I mean, only Zoe cried the first time. After that, they were sort of… numb.”

“I would cry if you tried to kill yourself.”

Connor smiled sardonically. “Well, then you're a fucking hypocrite.”

Evan was silent.

“I… I’m sorry.”

“No, no, no, don't be.” Evan shook his head and gripped onto Connor’s back like it was the only thing keeping him afloat in a stormy ocean. “I just need to think.”

“Oh.”

They sat in silence. Connor tried to count the houses he could see from his position. Evan took deep, shuddering breaths.

“We’ll put quotes up.” Evan finally said.

“What?”

“This whole time I've been wondering how to keep the charm, the loneliness of this place after we renovate it. W-we can put up our favorite quotes. Hang them on trees or something.”

Connor smiled. “Brilliant. See, this is why I keep you around.”

Evan tilted his head up towards Connor’s and their eyes met. For the first time, Connor felt as if Evan wasn't studying him, but really looking at him. Actually seeing him as a person and not a piece of art he was analyzing. Connor could feel Evan’s short, hot breaths against his face. There was a pull in his gut, a pull to close the small gap between them. To let down his guard for a second and let Evan feel how he would feel.

The moment lasted for a second too long.

Evan looked away and coughed. Connor might as well have just died right then and there, because that was pretty much the most embarrassing and heartbreaking thing he had ever done. Which was pretty pathetic.

“So… what music do you like?” Connor grimaced. Of all bad questions to ask, why that?

Evan blushed. “Like, Celtic instrumental pieces? I know that's super weird, I'm sorry.”

“No, that's pretty cool.” Connor leaned his head against the tree’s bark. “Once my family went over to visit my great-aunt Alice in Ireland and she only played Celtic music the entire time. She liked to swear in Gaelic too.”

Evan bit his lip. “Do you ever want to do normal stuff? Like watch movies and text each other at night when we're supposed to be asleep, not talk about suicide in a tree. Do normal people stuff.”

Connor frowned. “Not really.”

Evan looked up at him, confused. “Don't you want to have a normal friend?”

“I have normal friends,” Connor said, picking at his nails. “Like Jeremy and Michael and even Kleinman. I like having someone to talk to about suicide and depression and literary quotes. I mean, it would be great if we did other stuff to, but no. I don't want to have a normal friendship with you.”

Evan hummed. “Deep.”

Connor, trying not to overstep any boundaries, tentatively moved a finger to brush the back of Evan’s hand. Wordlessly, Evan took Connor’s hand in his.

Neither of them needed to point out how intimate it was to sit in a tree holding hands as the sun set. Evan hummed softly as they watched the setting sun illuminate the sky. Connor pretended that he was watching the sunset and not the way the light danced on Evan’s face.

They took the pathway back to Connor’s car and drove home in silence, but the smiles on their faces were telling enough.

~

Everybody brought something to the orchard on Wednesday after school. Jeremy brought cups and lemonade, Michael brought weed, Christine brought a ukulele and a Broadway playlist, Rich brought matches, Jared brought assorted snacks, and Connor brought various garden equipment.

Evan, on the other hand, brought a guitar and three tree trunks.

He had been able to borrow a truck from an uncle or a family friend or something and drove to the orchard with three thick logs as thick as his waist and as long as his twin bed. Evan was placing his bets that Connor had brought an axe.

Evan and Rich brought the logs through another gate Connor had found. Almost immediately after they all arrived at the orchard, the work began.

Jeremy and Jared were tasked with the lawnmowers. Neither of them looked too excited. Michael and Christine picked up rotten apples and pulled weeds, Chloe, Brooke, and Jenna built benches. Connor and Jake, as the tallest people there, sawed down dead branches and tried to make the trees look even remotely alive.

Evan and Rich were instructed to chop the logs. Connor had brought two axes, and Evan found that hacking away at a log twice the size of you was strangely cathartic. Evan was tempted to give up on the therapy letters and just become a lumberjack.

Connor had talked to Evan only once during the whole escapade to tell them to stay away from Michael’s car, because ‘Jeremy was finally getting his dick sucked, that horny shithead.’

The girls were busy building benches, something that sounded a bit overzealous for a bunch of popular girl/cheerleader bitch stereotypes, but they were handling it pretty well.

“You’ve got to add a diagonal cross beam connecting the leg and the seat, Brooke,” Chloe instructed with a toss of her curls. “Triangles are the most structurally sound shapes. That’s like, architecture 101. Duh.”

Jenna rolled her eyes. “Only you could tell someone about the most structurally sound way to build a bench and still sound like a bitch, Chlo.”

Chloe smirked. “That's what I pride myself on, sweetie. Can someone pass me the level?”

The girls finished one bench and Chloe lifted it to bring it to it’s place by the trees. Brooke dusted off her hands and ran her fingers through her hair. “One done! Woo!”

Evan smiled. “They seem like good friends.”

Rich shrugged. “They're either the closest BFFs in the world or having a major catfight. There’s no in between.” Rich swung his axe and made the final hit onto one log, cutting it sloppily in half.

Evan bent down to inspect the jagged edges. “S-should we sand this down or something?”

“Nah, leave it.” Rich lifted the half-log and set it carefully by the crude fire circle. “It gives it a more rustic feel, you know?”

Evan nodded and picked up his axe. “Hey, what do you think about having a-a song circle or something? You know, after we f-finish this we could light a fire, and sing camp songs or something? You know what, never mind. It was a stupid idea.”

Rich pulled a pack of matches out of his back pocket. “One step ahead of ya, tree boy.”

Evan forced what he hoped was a smile at the nickname. “Oh. C-cool.”

“So…” Rich gestured at the other logs with his axe, pompously disregarding any idea of safety, “whaddaya say we get to chopping the rest of these bastards?”

~

By 8:30, everybody had finished their tasks and were helping themselves to the various snacks by the large fire Rich had created.

“That’s a real shitty looking fire pit, Chris,” Chloe said, gesturing to the ring of rocks and taking another handful of the popcorn Brooke had made over the fire.

Christine stuck out her tongue at her. “It's doing its job, isn't it? I bet Jeremy thinks it’s a good fire pit, don't you, Jeremy.”

Jeremy’s head popped up from behind one of the logs where Evan was pretty sure he was making out with Michael. “What? Oh, uh- sure, Christine.”

Chloe snickered. “I think he still has a crush on you.”

“I SO do not!” Jeremy’s voice squealed. Everybody laughed, including Michael and Jeremy.

“Let's sing some songs!” Christine suggested excitedly. “Jared just got back from camp, he probably has all sorts of good songs.”

“How do you know Jared’s summer schedule?” Connor asked, balancing his chin on his hand. “You’ve talked to him, like, twice.”

Christine shrugged. “A true sorceress never reveals her secrets.”

“I think it’s ‘magician’, but whatever.” Jared shot finger guns over to Evan. “I pass the song ball onto my main man Evan.”

Evan rolled his eyes and blushed. “Fine. I’ll teach you a simple camp song.”

He led the teenagers through a simple series of leg pats, claps, and snaps. Soon, everyone in the circle was following the pattern. “Okay. Repeat after me.

Happiness runs in a circular motion
Love is like a little boat on the sea
Everybody is a part of everything everywhere
You can be happy if you let yourself be
Happiness runs, happiness runs
Happiness runs, happiness runs.”

Evan couldn't help but notice that Connor looked slightly uncomfortable throughout the song. “N-now we sing it in a round! I'll start, a-and you can follow.”

Connor repeated the words with a frown on his face and an unreadable emotion in his eyes. He made eye contact with Evan, and jerked his head slightly to the left. A clear message: ‘let's go to the path’.

Evan nodded slowly and Connor immediately stood up and walked out of the circle.

Evan finished the song and plastered a grin on his face. “Anybody else want to do a song? I-I… forgot something. In the car.”

Evan found Connor sitting at the base of one of the crabapple trees, picking at a flower. “Evan!” He jumped up and brushed his hands off on his jeans, throwing the flower to the ground.

“What’s this about?” Evan asked, avoiding Connor’s eyes.

“I… wanted to talk.”

“Okay.” Evan picked at the bottom of his shirt. “A-about what?”

“Do you like that song?” Connor’s brows knit together. “I don't know. It seems so… neurotypical to me. ‘You can be happy if you let yourself be.’ It's just so disgustingly positive.”

“What’s wrong with positive?” Evan attempted a laugh. “I like it. It’s like, you can be happy if you stop getting in your own way. If you get out of your own head.”

Connor hummed.

“Connor, look at me.” Evan looked into Connor’s eyes. They were different wherever he was. In the sunlight, they sparkled and gleamed and the colors were just so vibrant. In the firelight, they danced along with the flickering flames and seemed like they had a life of their own. Here, in the starlight, they shone like full moons and seemed to hold galaxies of thought. Evan took a step forward until they were only inches apart. “You can be happy. You deserve to be happy. If it takes therapy, I'll help you. If it takes medication, I’ll help you. If it takes a good friend, I’m right here.”

Connor grabbed Evan’s hand. Evan felt like his senses were amplified. He was hyper-aware of the moon and the perfect constellations in the night sky, and the flower petals arching in a canopy above them. Evan could feel the cold night air and the warmth of Connor’s hand on his and the feeling of his heart racing in his chest in a way that was probably very dangerous and on the verge of a heart attack. He could hear the distant singing of the other kids and he could see Connor. Connor whose hair was tied up after a long day’s work. Connor who played more instruments than he could count on his hands and painted his nails and was a dinosaur kid in elementary school. Connor who had a sister Evan used to think he had a crush on. Connor who Evan definitely had a crush on.

Evan’s brain seemed to be racing as fast as his heart, and before he knew what he had just said, Evan blurted out a very important question that shouldn't have been a split-second decision.

“Can I kiss you?”

Connor’s reply was barely more than a breath. “Please.”

Suddenly, Connor’s lips were on Evan’s. Or maybe his were on Connor’s. Evan had expected Connor pull away, or kiss roughly, or maybe even just have chapped lips, but it was almost the opposite. Connor’s mouth was warm and soft and everything Evan had ever wanted. Evan was kissing Connor. Connor was kissing Evan. Connor’s hand was still intertwined in his and he could feel wisps of Connor’s hair tickle the sides of his face.

Evan couldn't help but think about Jeremy and Michael. Is this how Michael felt when he kissed Jeremy? Probably not, Connor had told him Jeremy had been crying. Evan didn't think Connor was crying. Shit, was Connor crying? Before Evan could deduce whether or not his kissing was bad enough to bring someone to tears, Connor had pulled away.

Connor brought a hand up to cup Evan’s cheek. “Shit, Hansen.”

Evan flushed red. “I am so, so, so sorry. I-I shouldn't have done that, I just- I’m s-sorry. That was bad.”

“Bad?” Connor barked out a laugh. “Evan, that was the best kiss I’ve ever had.”

“W-what?”

Connor smiled and shook his head as if in disbelief. “I don't know if you've noticed this, but I’ve been crushing on you for forever. I didn’t think I was super subtle about it.”

Evan laughed deliriously. “Y-you mean it?”

“If it takes kissing you to be happy, will you help me?” Connor asked, laughing a bit at his own cheesy line. “Because that might work a little bit better than the yoga my mom’s been making me do.”

Evan pressed a chaste kiss to Connor’s lips. “Of course.”

Connor ran his finger’s through Evan’s hair. “Great, because I’ve been feeling a little depressed lately.”

Evan kissed him again. This time, Connor didn’t pull away, he wrapped his arms around Evan and pulled him closer until their chests were touching and Evan had to tilt his head up to reach Connor’s lips.

Evan couldn't say how long they stood there in the forest, kissing and exchanging cheesy lines and awkward laughter.

“God, Zoe’s going to be so pissed.” Connor murmured into Evan’s ear.

“What? Why?” Evan asked, resting his chin on Connor’s shoulder.

“She had a bet with Alana. She’s going to lose twenty dollars because we didn’t get together at prom.” Connor pressed his lips against Evan’s neck, and Evan let out a giddy giggle he would later deny ever happened.

“Maybe we just don't tell anybody and you can dip me or something at prom as your big coming out.”

“Connor Murphy the gay extraordinaire and his sort-of straight boyfriend, Evan Hansen.” He laughed softly. “Are you bi, or what?”

“I don't know. I thought I was straight.” Evan pondered this for a second before realizing he was practically waltzing in a forest with his maybe-boyfriend Connor Murphy who he’d had a crush on since forever. Yeah, he was definitely bi.

“That’s a shame,” Connor said teasingly. “I would hate to be making out with a straight guy.”

Evan laughed. “Absolutely no worries in that department.”

Chapter Text

Michael was pretty sure something was up with Connor and Evan. Maybe his brain wasn't at it’s highest caliber due to the shit ton of pot he had smoked at the campfire, but high late-night car thoughts were always the deepest.

Michael was pondering this as Jeremy drove his car home. Connor had seemed… weirdly happy for the rest of the night. Maybe it was the weed he offered to him. But it was a weird happiness. Evan seemed extra nervous, which might have just been Evan being Evan, but it was sort of suspicious.

“Whaddaya think is up with Connor and Evan?” Michael asked, pressing his head against the cold of the passenger window.

“What do you mean?” Jeremy risked a glance to look at Michael, confused.

Michael sighed. “I don't know, man. They were acting weird at the campfire.”

“I’m sure it was the unholy amount of marijuana you ingested and not them.” Jeremy rolled his eyes. “What do you think they did, make out in the woods?”

“That’s not a bad idea…” Michael wiggled his eyebrows.

“Michael, we aren't anywhere near the orchard anymore.” He gestured out the window. “We’re in the middle of suburban New Jersey.”

“Fine.” Michael pouted. “Let’s make out in somebody’s backyard!”

“What the fuck?” Jeremy snorted. “You're one messed up dude. Let’s compromise and make out in your basement, deal?”

Michael smiled victoriously. “Deal.”

Jeremy pulled into Michael’s driveway. “Alright, we’re here.”

Michael nodded and got out of the car, taking a moment to lean against the car door and look up at the stars. “Have you ever thought about what it would be to wear a cool dress? Like a really long dress with a full skirt and shit. I think it would be fun to dance in.”

Jeremy cocked an eyebrow. “What?”

“You know, like a long ball gown or some shit. Like the prostitute chicks in the Mr. Brightside music video.” Michael spun in a circle and mimicked a curtsy. “I think it’d be a fun time.”

“If you really want to, raid the costume closet at school.” Jeremy smirked. “Once I cleaned the costume closet with Christine during strike and it ended up being more dressup than work.”

“That sounds great.”

“Well maybe if you had just joined tech like I had said…”

Michael slapped Jeremy’s arm. “Let’s go inside and make out.”

Jeremy bowed and dramatically opened the door to Michael’s house. “Your palace awaits, my queen.”

“Why am I the queen?” Michael protested.

Jeremy raised an eyebrow.

Michael raised an eyebrow back.

Jeremy sighed. “Yeah, you're right. Just go inside, fuckface.”

“Watch your language, Jeremy.” A voice called from inside the house. The boys followed the voice into the kitchen, where Michael’s mom was sitting at the table smiling benevolently. “Sit down, I made hot chocolate.”

Michael squinted at his mother. “What’s this about, naynay?”

“You and Jeremy have been dating for a while, right?”

“Right…” Michael exchanged a nervous glance with Jeremy.

Michael’s mom folded her hands and pushed two cups of hot chocolate to the boys. “You can drink it, I promise it’s not poisoned.” She paused. “It’s 10:30. Where were you tonight?”

“We were at Huntington Orchard with our friends.” Jeremy smiled. “We lit a campfire.”

“Did people hook up? Wait, isn't Huntington Orchard closed?”

Michael could see Jeremy nervously glance down at his shoes. “Um... no? I personally think two people kissed or something, but Jeremy doesn't think so. And, sort of? We’re working on renovating it.”

Michael’s mom grinned. “You're doing community service projects and hanging out at bonfires in abandoned orchards with your multiple friends. I'm not raising a loser after all!”

“Hey! Mom!” Michael stuck out his tongue at her. “Just because I made more friends these past two years than I have in my entire life doesn't mean you can gloat.”

“Ten whole friends.” Jeremy whistled. “I mean, it is impressive.”

“No, nine. You don't count, Jer.”

Jeremy pouted. “I'm your friend!”

“No you're not, dummy,” Michael flicked Jeremy’s nose. “You're my boyfriend.”

“Aaaaww.” Michael’s mom laughed. “This is cute and all, but I’m going to sleep. Feel free to stay over, Jeremy, as long as you tell your dad. Just remember it’s a school night, you two.”

Michael stood up with his mom and kissed her on the cheek. “Thanks, naynay. I'll text you next time we stay out late.”

“That's what I wanted to hear!” Michael’s mom tousled Jeremy’s hair and headed out of the kitchen. “Don't let those drinks go to waste!”

Jeremy shook his head. “Your mom is so nice but also so weird at the same time. Remember when she gave me that cross-stitch once that said ‘get my son some friends’?”

Michael laughed. “That was a weird Hanukkah. And another time she signed you up for a gym membership so ‘you could stop looking like a sad little twig all the time.’”

“Tough love.”

“Yeah.” Michael smiled reminiscently. “Wanna make out in my basement?”

“Hmm, I don't know.” Jeremy tapped his chin. “What if we make out and then cuddle in your embarrassingly small bed?”

Michael threw his arm around Jeremy's shoulders. “You know me so well.”

Jeremy handed a mug to Michael. “Why do you have a ‘March For Science’ mug? Where did you even get this?”

Michael rolled his eyes. “Because I support science.”

Jeremy studied his own mug. “GSA? Like the gay-straight-alliance?”

“No, idiot. Girl Scouts of America.”

Jeremy raised an eyebrow. “May I ask why?”

“Because they're cool, I guess.” Michael shrugged. “Unlike the Boy Scouts, they never had membership restrictions for gay people. And they let trans girls join in 2011.”

“Oh. Nice.”

Michael nodded. “Yep.”

Jeremy followed Michael upstairs to his room, sipping slowly from his drink. “How does your mom make hot chocolate? This is fucking good.”

“She puts cinnamon and chili powder in. I like it with whipped cream too, but we can't all be winners.” Michael took a sip. “My room’s a mess, but it’s not like you haven't seen it like this before.”

Michael pushed open his bedroom door, leapt over a pile of dirty clothes with astounding grace, and dove onto the bed. “Join me, Jeremiah!”

Jeremy grinned and carefully made his way through the room before setting down his mug and flopping on the bed next to Michael. “I had forgotten how fucking cozy this bed is, dude.”

“It’s the three comforters, most likely.” Michael set down his mug of hot chocolate. “I like being hot when I sleep.”

“You like being hot all the time, by the looks of it.” Jeremy pressed a kiss to the top of Michael’s head. “You have a nice face.”

Michael rolled his eyes. “I'm swooning.”

“Shut up.” Jeremy grabbed Michael’s pillow and cuddled it, toppling sideways so that he was lying on the bed. “Can I just sleep here?”

“No, you promised we would make out.” Michael crossed his arms. “You have to uphold your end of the promise.”

Jeremy sat up with a grin. “Fine.”

~

Evan was used to lying awake. When he was younger, he was afraid of monsters in his closet. When he was a little older, he was afraid of serial killers. Now, he’s gotten used to lying on his back, counting things he could see around his room as his brain pummeled him with wild thoughts from every corner of mind.

The house was dark and lonely, but Evan found he wasn't stressing over every noise. It was chilly, but he wasn't contemplating getting a blanket from the hall closet. His mind was on one thing for the first time in as long as Evan could remember.

Connor.

Connor, Connor, Connor.

Connor Murphy.

Evan smiled to himself. His mind had been replaying the events of the night like a broken record, from the song he led to the conversation in the woods to the kiss.

Evan sat up and turned on the lamp next to his bed. He pulled his laptop from his backpack and contemplated what to do to pass the time.

Fifteen minutes later Evan still didn't know what to do and his search history bore an embarrassing “what does it mean if your friend kisses you” and “what to do if you're in love with your best friend”.

Evan stood up and walked downstairs to the kitchen. What had Connor told him to do when he couldn't sleep after the cast party? Make some warm milk. Right. Evan mechanically poured milk into a mug and stuck it into the microwave, his mind refusing to let him think of anything other than Connor.

Connor Murphy, Connor Murphy, Connor Murphy.

The beeping of the microwave shook Evan from his reverie, and he retrieved his milk and went back upstairs without thinking otherwise.

God, he was hopeless.

Evan had a history test the next day. How was he supposed to function if all he could think about was that night? Evan tried to remember something, anything about American history. George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Connor Murphy.

Shit.

He considered calling someone. Jeremy could talk to him about love. After all, he pined after his best friend for years. Then again, it was 2:30 in the morning and Jeremy still kept a relatively normal sleep schedule. Could he call Jared? Jared was probably still awake. But Evan was pretty sure Jared would just laugh instead of actually giving helpful advice. Was Connor even an option? After kissing in the woods and then sitting a bit too close together on a log as they sang silly camp songs as they both avoided each other’s eyes, Evan didn't really think he could stomach a phone call with Connor.

Did his mom have any sleep medication? No, she had put a lock on the medicine cabinet after she read an article that most teens who misused prescription drugs got them in their own home. Evan would have to remember to bring up insomnia when he met with his therapist again.

Evan crawled back into bed and hid under the covers, letting his thoughts envelop him. Connor hadn't seemed necessarily uncomfortable with the kiss, but something inside of Evan set off all the alarms. The nagging thought of “he doesn't like you, he just pities you” always lurked in the corner of his mind, like an itch that you can never scratch.

Suddenly, completely randomly, Evan was reminded of one of his old therapists who told him to make lists of ten things good about that day. With nothing else to do, Evan gave it a shot.

Jeremy’s friends (they call themselves “the squip squad” for reasons unknown) accepted me as part of the group
We made a lot of progress on the orchard
Everybody looked so happy in the firelight
I led a campfire song and didn't die
Connor opened up to me and we talked about depression and happiness
I will now always think about kissing Connor when I think about crabapple trees
Connor was a very good kisser
Connor is very warm and a good hugger as well
I got a ride home with Jared and it wasn't that awkward
I rediscovered this stupid therapy technique that isn't bad for passing time

Evan fell back onto his bed. 2:46. Damn. Evan let his mind wander back to Connor, how peaceful he looked. How safe it felt to have Connor hold him and just… be there. Talking about stupid things as they stood in the woods. Evan didn't know if he would be able to talk to Connor like a normal person at lunch or sit behind him in geometry without staring at him the entire time. Then again, Evan usually stared at Connor during algebra, so this wouldn't be much different.

Evan sighed. God, he was hopeless. Who sits awake at night thinking about kissing their friend? Freaks, that’s who. If anyone was a freak of nature, it was Evan.

He picked up his guitar from where it leaned beside his bed and plucked out a few chords. What was that song he had written about Zoe? It wasn't very accurate now, anyway.

Evan bit his lip in thought, cleared his throat, and started to sing.

“If I could tell him
Tell him everything I see
If I could tell him
How he’s everything to me
But we’re a billion worlds apart
And I don't know how I would even start…”

God. First it was a song about Zoe, now this? Maybe Evan did have a Murphy kink like Jared said. Evan picked up his writing notebook and scribbled a title of ‘NEW SONG… CONNOR?’ at the top of the page. If he was going to make it out of this sleepless night alive, he was going to get a song out of it.

“I could find the whole meaning of life in those sad eyes-” Angsty, but okay.
“They say things you never quite say, but I hear
Let down your walls-” no, that's not right- “come out of hiding I’m right here beside you
And I'll stay here as long as you'll let me”

Evan thought for a second.

“You matter to me
Simple and easy-” no, that sounds a like a cookbook.
“simple and plain and not much to ask from somebody
You matter to me
I promise you do, you
You matter to
I promise you do
You'll see
You matter to me”

Evan rubbed his eyes and yawned. Maybe the warm milk was taking effect. Evan put his guitar away and buried himself under the covers, song ideas and guitar chords and memories of a kiss in the woods darting through his head.

It would all make sense in the morning.

~

It didn't. The morning was the same as that night, full of restless thoughts and motions on autopilot. Evan snapped back to reality in the middle of eating a piece of plain buttered toast, despite his hatred for buttered toast. He walked to school with his head in the clouds and almost got run over twice. Evan sat in his homeroom and pretended to do his homework, his mind going a mile a minute.

Evan’s attention was caught by the buzz of his phone. It was a text from Jeremy, which was something new.

From Jeremy H:
Yo what did u do to connor? Hes suspiciously happy and hes never happy in homeroom

From Jeremy H:
He doesnt look like he wants to murder ms. silver and its weirding me out

To Jeremy H:
I don't know what you're talking about.

From Jeremy H:
Ur a bad liar

To Jeremy H:
How can you tell I'm lying over text?

From Jeremy H:
Practice

From Jeremy H:
O shit she saw me gtg,,,, imma interrogate u at lunch tho

Evan massaged his temples. He'd been found out.

Now he just needed to get out of facing Jeremy at lunch. He could fake illness. That wouldn't be hard, considering he felt sick already. Before he knew it, the bell had rang and Evan was off to Environmental Science.

Most classes Evan paid strict attention to. Environmental Science was the one exception, but purely because he knew most of the material already. Today was no exception. Evan sat down in his usual spot next to a girl who he thought was named Suzette and pulled out his notebook.

Suzette turned to him for the first time since the first day of school. “I heard your, like, band thing playing after school the other day. It was, like, really good.”

Evan blushed. “Oh, uh- thanks.”

“Do you, like, write songs?” She asked, twirling a piece of her hair between her fingers.

“Uh, sometimes?” Evan looked down at his hands. “I-I write songs but we d-don't always do them.”

“That's so hot.” Suzette scribbled something on a piece of paper and handed it to him with a smile. “That's my Instagram and my phone number. Call me or follow me, like, if you want to.”

Evan awkwardly took the paper and shoved it in his pocket. “Oh. T-thanks.”

“You're welcome!” Suzette tossed her hair and looked back at her phone.

Evan felt the urge to get up and switch seats, but before he could do anything the teacher approached the front and started to take attendance. Evan took out a pen and doodled small flowers and plants on his arm with the names of the plants under them.

He was just finishing up the roundlobe hepatica when the memory of the orchard hit him like a bus. Roundlobe hepatica. It matched Connor’s eyes.

Evan blinked a few times and moved onto an overly detailed illustration of a pea plant. However, the only image his mind could conjure was of Connor’s eyes. Connor’s blue eyes with the patch of brown. Connor’s eyes in the sun, in the firelight, and under the stars. God, what was his deal?

Evan tried to focus on the lesson, which proved difficult because it was a bit hard to focus on a teacher droning about fracking when his mind kept wandering to the experience of kissing Connor in the woods.

When the bell rang, Evan sprang out of his seat and got out of the classroom as fast as he could, rushing off to Geometry with the speed of someone who had just been told there was free pizza waiting for them if they got there quick enough.

What Evan hadn't been waiting for was Connor sitting with his legs up on his desk, picking at his nails. He looked up at Evan, blinked once, and looked back down.

Evan flushed and hurried to his seat, which was unfortunately positioned directly behind Connor. Connor pulled a sheet of loose-leaf paper out of his backpack, and Evan looked down so as not to accidentally read over his shoulder. A few seconds later, the paper landed on his desk in the form of a crumpled ball. Evan unfolded it.

“Dear Evan Hansen,

Meet me in the library at lunch. We need to talk.

Sincerely, me.”

Evan’s stomach lurched. This was it. Connor was going to corner him in the library and tell him he was disgusting and how could he have thought it was okay to kiss him? Evan shoved the note in his pocket. He felt sick. Evan threw himself into the worksheet of geometry he was given, trying to drown his feelings in a sea of x and y and the length of the hypotenuse. Evan noticed that Connor didn't do the work, just sat with his head buried in his arms.

Evan couldn't help but wonder what kind of grades Connor got.

Evan liked the cold calculation needed for math. There was no room to wonder what would happen at lunch. All of his mind had to be occupied, something Evan was grateful for at any time, even if it meant having to complete pages of geometry to achieve that.

Too soon, the bell rang and Evan only had one more class until lunch. Evan shared his Lit class with Michael, and of all of his friends to share a class with, he seemed the least daunting.

Michael came into class three minutes late and claimed the seat next to Evan by launching a bag of chips across the room so that it landed on the desk. He sat down and turned to Evan.

“So, did you and Hot Topic make out in the woods or nah?” Michael asked, balancing a pencil on his upper lip.

Evan blanched. “H-How did you know?”

“It was a joke, dude. You and Connor were acting weird at the campfire and I was like ‘maybe they made out in the woods’ as a joke because- wait, what?”

Evan blushed and looked down at his hands. “Nothing.”

“Wait, you and Murphy really did make out in the woods?” Michael stood up on his desk and raised his hands toward the ceiling. “This is it, I’m magical. Bow down to the Oracle of Delphi.”

The teacher, Mr. Kraus, looked pained. “I'm happy to hear about your newfound psychic abilities, Michael, but please, sit down so I can start the lesson.”

Michael blushed and sat down. He glanced over at Evan, smirked, and tapped his temple as if to say, “yep, magical.”

Evan rolled his eyes. “Today,” Mr. Kraus began, “we will start our Holocaust unit. I'll hand out your books shortly, and when you get them please write your name and this room number on the inside cover. Thomas, can you distribute the books?”

Evan allowed his mind to wander for a second, and the classroom melted away to the orchard, the flourescent lights gave way to the light of the moon and stars, and the desks grew into trees around him.

Michael leaned over to Evan’s desk. “You've got something on your face.”

Evan reached up to feel his face, wiping the back of his hand across his mouth. “What? What is it?”

Michael poked Evan’s nose. “It’s love.”

“W-what?”

Michael smirked. “I was pining for years, bro. You think I don't know a hopeless crush when I see one?”

Evan blushed. “S-sorry. I was just thinking-”

“About your snog in the woods with Connor Murphy?” Michael faked a scandalized expression. “This is a school, Evan. A temple of education!”

Evan smiled halfheartedly. “What do you think I should do?”

“Go up to him and say ‘I like kissing you. We should do it more’ and see where that takes you.”

“That doesn't seem very feasible.”

Michael shrugged. “Look, I've only liked, like, one person my whole life. I'm not really experienced in the dating scene. Maybe ask Jeremy? He's only been in two relationships, but he's had more crushes than I can count.”

“Oh.” Evan nodded. “That makes sense.”

“Who you should really ask is Chloe, but she doesn't go here. It'd be a bit difficult.”

“Michael!” Mr. Kraus exclaimed, exasperated. “Would you care to share what you're talking about with the class?”

“I mean, sure,” Michael stood on his chair. “Anybody who wants dating advice go ask Chloe Valentine at Middle Borough High!”

Mr. Kraus looked like he wanted to strangle Michael. “Wonderful. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, please sit down.”

Michael winked at Evan and sat back down.

Michael didn't talk to Evan until they broke for lunch. When the bell rang, Michael smacked his book closed, slapped Evan on the shoulder with a “go get ‘em, tiger”, and jogged out the door.

Evan trudged to the cafeteria, cut to the front of the line with his library pass, then headed back up the stairs to the library.

The library (technically the media center) had tall stacks of books and beanbags in the corners that made for the perfect hiding place. The librarian stayed at the front desk where she could only effectively see the first two shelves. Evan found Connor in the biography section flipping through a book about Harriet Tubman.

“Hey.” Connor stood up and put the book back on the shelf hastily. “Thanks for meeting me.”

“N-no problem.”

Connor sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Okay. We both know why we're here.”

“Yeah.” Evan fidgeted with the hem of his shirt. “Uh, Ilikekissingyouandweshoulddoitmore!”

Connor snorted. “What?”

“I like kissing you and we should do it more?” Evan blushed. “Michael told me to say that.”

“Well, do you?”

“Do I what?” Evan asked.

“Like… kissing me.”

“Um… yes?”

Connor groaned. “I stayed up until four in the morning agonizing over this and all I get is ‘Um… yes?’”

“Yes?” Evan stepped forward. “I r-really like you, Connor.”

Now it was Connor’s turn to blush. “No you don't.”

“I do!” Evan grasped for something to say. “I like your eyes and your hair and when you sing and play instruments and I like your personality even though you can be a-an ass sometimes and, and-”

“Shit.” Connor ran a hand through his hair. “Shit, Evan, I like you too.”

“Oh. G-good.”

Connor rolled his eyes. “Just fucking kiss me, Hansen.”

Evan smiled and leaned in to erase the space between them. Connor’s lips were just as he remembered them, soft and warm and absolutely perfect. Evan reached his hands up and tangled his fingers in Connor’s hair. Connor smiled.

Evan couldn't say how long they stood kissing in the biography section, but after a decent amount of time went by the two were brought back to earth by a cough behind them. Evan quickly turned around, face burning, while Connor opted to just collapse onto a beanbag rather than face whoever had confronted them.

“Damn,” Jared said. “I wouldn't have pegged you two as the type to get it on in a public place. A library, especially!”

“What do you want, Kleinman?” Connor muttered into the red leather of the beanbag.

“Chill, man. I was sent up to tell you we have band practice after school today.” Jared crossed his arms. “And Connor, I wouldn't act so tough. Zoe’s looking for you and I don't want to be around when she finds out where you've been. Toodles!” Jared winked and disappeared behind the shelves, presumably to go back to the cafeteria.

Evan laughed nervously.

“Hey, Hansen.” Connor rolled over on the beanbag to face Evan. “Wanna just date now and get this pining shit over with?”

“Oh! Uh, s-sure. I mean, yes, absolutely! I would. I w-would like to do that. Date. I would like to date.” Evan stammered. “What does that entail?”

“I don't know,” Connor shrugged. “Kissing. Going to get ice cream. Romantic walks in the woods. You think I've had any more boyfriends than you?”

Evan fidgeted with his shirt. “A-are you gay?”

Connor raised an eyebrow. “No, I’m straight as an arrow. That's why I kissed you in the library.” He rolled his eyes. “Yes, I’m gay. What about you? Are you bi or something?”

Evan scratched the back of his neck. “I think so? Bisexual seems about right.”

“Cool.” There was a moment of silence. “Do you want to actually eat our lunches? I mean, I'm not interested in having to go through Chemistry on an empty stomach.”

Evan nodded and picked up his lunch tray that had been precariously placed next to the George Washington biographies. “What do you think we're going to do at band practice?”

~

What they ended up doing at band practice was trying to figure out why Jeremy was writhing on the floor in pain. And occasionally shrieking. And sometimes swearing.

Jeremy was curled up in a ball in the corner of the chorus room, sweat beading his forehead. Evan walked over and tentatively put a hand on his shoulder. “Are you… okay?”

“No!” Jeremy forced through gritted teeth. “Call… Michael. Or get me some fucking aspirin!”

“O-okay, we’ll call Michael.” Evan turned towards Jared and Connor. “Where the heck is Michael?” He hissed.

“I don't know where the heck he is,” Jared responded with a snort. “But I can get aspirin from the nurse’s office.”

“Okay, do that.” Evan looked at Connor. “Could you try calling Michael?”

“I already have.”

Jeremy let out a high-pitched shriek.

“Jeremy, what’s going on?” Evan asked, unsure of what to do. “Why are you screaming?”

“Head… hurts… fucking squip!” Jeremy pressed his palms to his eyes. “I've just got to… ugh, ride it out. There's nothing you can do except get Michael here as fast as you can.”

“What do you need?”

Jeremy groaned. “Just go… do your homework or some shit. Ignore me.”

Evan moved away from Jeremy. “O-okay.”

Connor pulled out his phone and started to type something, and Evan just sat next to him feeling awkward. Not long after, Jared arrived with a single aspirin tablet and a small plastic water bottle. “Here ya go, Jermy.” He said, handing them to Jeremy, who had (thankfully) stopped screaming and had resigned himself to muttering to himself in his corner. Jeremy took the aspirin and a large gulp of water, then buried his head in his hands and started shivering.

“He said he needed to wait it out,” Connor said with a shrug. “Come over and sit with us.”

Jared shot one last concerned look to Jeremy’s hunched form but made his way over to the ring of folding chairs they had set up in the center of the chorus room. Jared coughed awkwardly. “So y'all want to tell me what was up in the library today?”

Evan blushed and Connor tried to look nonchalant, but his body language expressed the uncomfort he was feeling. “We’re… dating,” Connor said eventually, as if he was trying out the words to see how they felt in his mouth.

“Wait, WHAT?” Jeremy’s shrill voice cut in. He was silent for a moment before his body was wracked with bizarre, hiccup-sobbing noises. It took a few seconds to realize he was laughing and not crying.

“What’s so funny?” Jared asked.

“He…” Jeremy tried to force out words between gales of laughter. “He… called you… p-pitiful children!”

Connor raised an eyebrow, a smile forming at the corners of his mouth. “Pitiful children?”

“Yes! He- he said… ‘look at those people who- who call themselves your friends g-gossipping like p-pitiful children!’”

Jared grinned. “You know…” he looked at the three other teenagers as if expecting them to finish his sentence. “That's not a bad band name.”

Jeremy stopped laughing. “The Pitiful Children?”

Evan nodded. “The Pitiful Children! It's perfect!”

“What's the pitiful children?” Michael asked, coming in through the door brandishing a Mountain Dew Red.

“Michael!” Jeremy cried. Michael tossed the Mountain Dew to Jeremy, who chugged half the bottle. “Yeah! Die, you fucking walking floppy disc!”

“The Pitiful Children is our new band name,” Connor said with a shrug. “You like it?”

“That is probably one of the best band names I've ever heard, second only to The White Cheddar Boys.”

“Then it's official,” Jeremy winced one last time and closed the bottle. “This is the first rehearsal for The Pitiful Children.”

Connor cleared his throat. “If this is the first rehearsal, shouldn't we, you know, play music?”

Jeremy nodded and got off the ground. “Sure thing, brosky. Are you guys all tuned?”

Evan nodded and slipped his guitar over his neck. “Let's play.”

Connor played a soft rhythm on the snare. “What song should we do?”

“Evan, didn't you write a song a while ago?” Jeremy asked.

“O-oh, yeah. Well, I wrote it for me and Connor and Jared?”

Michael scoffed. “Way to make us feel included.”

Jeremy clutched at his heart dramatically. “Come on, Michael. They don't need us. Let's go drown our sadness in ice cream and sex.”

Connor rolled his eyes. “You're such a drama queen.”

“I'm a theatre kid,” Jeremy protested, “what do you expect?”

“I’m sorry, it’s just… the three of us fit the theme, I guess?” Evan strummed a chord on the guitar. “It's called Sincerely, Me.”

“Sounds dope,” Jared said, flipping a microphone and dropping it. “What part do I have?”

“Uh, you don't really have a part?” Evan rubbed the back of his neck. “You more, cut in with witty commentary.”

Jared grinned. “Sweet.”

“I have sheet music.” Evan handed a sheet of paper to Connor and Jared. “You start, Connor.”

Connor cleared his throat and started to play the beat on the drums.

“Dear Evan Hansen, we've been way to out of touch
Things have been crazy and it sucks that we don't talk that much
But I should tell you that I think of you each night
I run my nipples and start moaning in delight-”

The room was silent with a breath that everyone seemed to be holding. Connor’s drumsticks paused above the surface of the drum as he looked closer at his sheet music and read the line again.

“What the fuck, Hansen?”

Chapter Text

Zoe liked to visit band rehearsals. She would stop by after school or during short, five-minute breaks from jazz band with her guitar still hanging from her neck.

Whenever she entered the room, there was a feeling of light she brought with her. A sensation of Zoe Murphy. The chorus room was always hot and clammy, even in the winter, but when Zoe walked in it was like a cool sea breeze rushed through the room.

Honestly, Evan didn't blame himself for having a crush on her.

Zoe would duck into their rehearsals without a second thought: cracking jokes, teasing Connor, and sometimes looking over Evan’s shoulder to play the guitar along with him. She liked to film them playing songs and took candid pictures of them sitting around or tuning instruments.

One of these hot days, Zoe was in the chorus room wearing a sunny yellow romper with a flower crown of daisies ornamenting her messy brown hair. She counted out sixteenth notes as Michael played one difficult keyboard piece and attempted to braid Connor’s hair.

Jeremy’s phone dinged. “Looks like Sarah4Life follows me on Instagram. Thanks, Sarah4Life.”

Michael snorted and stopped playing the keyboard. “You have an Instagram?”

“I mean, yeah.” Jeremy shrugged. “I don't post a lot of stuff, but Christine made me get it so she could tag me in pictures.”

Jeremy’s phone dinged again. “Okay, oatmealthe47th follows me. What kind of name is that?” Another ding. “SmalanaBeck follows me. Jesus christ.”

“Just turn your ringer off, dude.” Jared rolled his eyes. “We don't need to know all the details of your sudden internet fame.”

“Wait,” Connor pulled out his phone. “I have twenty new followers just from this hour. What about you, Evan?”

Evan fumbled for his phone. “Twenty-seven new followers.”

Zoe stifled a laugh.

“What did you do, Zoe?” Connor asked suspiciously.

“I made an Instagram account for your band!” She giggled. “It has 67 followers already, and I put it up this morning.”

“Fuck, man.” Connor pulled up the search bar. “What's it called?”

Zoe grinned. “ThePitifulChildren.”

“Why the fuck would you make our bio ‘AKA sexually frustrated gay children’? That's just a recipe for disaster.” Connor scrolled through the posts, occasionally playing videos out loud. It was quite the assortment: Jared singing ‘I am a cow’ as a warmup, Michael playing Mozart on the electric keyboard with Connor playing violin accompaniment, a photo of Evan tuning the guitar, a video of Jeremy singing ‘The Ladies’ Choice’, a candid photo of Michael and Jeremy kissing. There were lots of other videos, and it looked like Zoe had filmed every song they played. “This is… amazing. You're such a good photographer, Zoe.”

Zoe bowed. “Thank you. I also tagged those of you with Instagram in the posts, so I assume that’s where the attention is coming from.”

Michael held up a hand. “Does this mean we've been discovered?”

Zoe shrugged. “I mean, not really, but technically yes.”

“Fuck yeah!”

Evan raised his hand. “Are any of my songs on the Instagram?”

Zoe shrugged. “Maybe? I assume so. Do you want me to take them down?”

“No, no.” Evan blushed. “You can keep them on there.”

Connor snorted. “You little attention whore!”

“Don't laugh too quickly,” Zoe chided, tying up Connor’s short French braid with a neon pink hair elastic. “I have a video of you tap dancing.”

Connor rolled his eyes. “That’s great, now Larry will know I’m gay for sure.”

Zoe pulled out her phone. “Hold still, I want a picture of this braid for the Instagram.”

Connor rolled his eyes again and crossed his arms. “Fine.”

Zoe grinned and fitted her flower crown onto Connor’s head. “Perfect.”

Connor stuck out his tongue at the camera. Zoe laughed. “Could you be even more of an angsty teen?”

“I could be singing that window song Evan wrote the other day.” Connor glanced over to Evan. “Isn’t that right, Ev.”

Evan blushed and hid his face in his hands. “Playing you that song was a mistake.”

“No, it was catchy!” Jeremy protested. “I liked it. It was relatable.”

“I was trying to be introspective, not relatable.” Evan grumbled.

“I can picture it,” Jared said with a laugh. “Sitting on your bed in the middle of the night crying over your sheet music. Teardrops on your guitar, Taylor Swift style. You know?”

Michael shook his head. “Leave Taylor out of this, Jared.”

Connor raised an eyebrow. “You like Taylor Swift?”

“Any self-respecting gay likes Taylor Swift, Murphy.”

Jared raised a hand. “I don't like Taylor Swift.”

“Neither do I,” Connor added.

“Well, I guess you guys haven't achieved maximum gay like I have.” Michael crossed his arms. “Call me when you're ready to be a super gay.”

Jared nodded thoughtfully. “Okay, sure. While we're on the topic of gay… quick question for Evan and Connor. Who tops?”

Evan turned bright red, and Connor lifted his hoodie to hide his face. “I’m afraid we have yet to figure that out,” Connor mumbled through the fabric. “Why so curious, Kleinman? You jealous?”

“You know, your insults aren't as effective when you're telling them to the inside of your hoodie instead of me.”

Connor lifted his head out of the hoodie just enough for Jared to see him roll his eyes. “Fuck off.”

Zoe patted Connor’s head reassuringly. “It's okay. You're my brother and I love you, even if you're a bottom.”

“I'm going to kill you all.”

~

Once again, Connor found himself at Jeremy’s house waiting awkwardly while Michael and Jeremy carried on their domestic, totally-not-married lives.

It was a horrifically rainy Saturday, and Connor, Jeremy, and Michael were sorting through piles and piles of old books to find meaningful quotes from.

Jeremy was sitting cross-legged on the couch in the living room, and Michael sat behind him, his arms wrapped around Jeremy’s shoulders and his legs intertwined with the other’s. Connor was sitting in an easy chair, alone.

“Where is Evan?” Jeremy asked for the fifth time.

“I don't know,” Connor answered for the fifth time. “I told him to meet us here an hour ago.”

Michael hummed and opened a large, spooky-looking tome. “Jer, is your dad a closet alchemist or something?”

“Maybe,” Jeremy picked up another book. “‘The Heart and All Its Functions’. Ooh, maybe he's a mad scientist.”

Connor frowned. “We are not putting a diagram of a human heart in the orchard.”

“Not just humans,” Jeremy held up an open page of a multicolored and labeled heart. “Look, a sheep’s heart! I’m going to frame this beauty.”

“Can we be actually looking for meaningful quotes instead of gory medical diagrams?” Connor rubbed his eyes. “Jesus, I really hope you two aren't this easily distracted during sex.”

Michael smirked and Jeremy flushed red. “That’s none of your business, Connor!” He squeaked.

“I'll take that as a yes.” Connor opened a book and flipped to a random page. “Why do I have a feeling this won't get us anywhere?” Connor was interrupted by a soft knock at the door. “That's probably Evan. I'll go get it.”

Connor walked down to the door and smiled at Evan when he opened it. “What took you so-”

Evan was a mess: soaking wet, shivering, with blue lips and fingers to boot. “You idiot, why did you walk in the rain without a jacket in November?”

Evan responded with a weak smile. “Hi, Connor.”

Connor wrapped his arms around Evan and led him into the living room, ignoring the fact that his hoodie was getting wet and that Evan was shivering hard, too hard.

Evan blushed when he came upon the scene in the living room. Michael had twisted himself around so he was sitting in Jeremy’s lap and was kissing him pretty obscenely. Connor fought the urge to laugh and kept a blank look on his face. He cleared his throat to catch the attention of the two teenagers. Michael ignored him, but Jeremy saw Connor, giggled, and shoved Michael off of his lap.

“The man of the hour is here and is soaking wet.” Connor declared. “Mikey, I didn't know you had that kind of game.”

Michael flipped Connor off and picked himself up off of the living room carpet. “You're just jealous.”

Jeremy rolled his eyes. “It's my house and I can make out with whoever I want. Michael, get your ass back on the couch, you shithead.”

Evan sat down on a wooden chair and sat there shivering. Jeremy ducked out of the room with a quick instruction to “strip your boyfriend, Connor. Cotton kills, remember?”

Evan blanched. “D-do I…”

“I assume Jeremy’s going to get you a spare pair of clothes,” Michael commented. He gave Evan a quick once-over. “You know, I think you'll fit my clothes better. I have a weekend bag upstairs, if you just hang in there for a bit I'll bring you down a change of clothes and you can change in the bathroom.”

Evan nodded. Connor folded his arms on the back of the chair and rested his chin on Evan’s head. “Why’d you walk here anyway?”

“I-I d-didn't have anyone to d-drive m-me.”

“You could've called me. I would've driven you.” Connor pressed a kiss to the top of Evan’s head. “I would do anything for you.”

“Aaaw.” Michael appeared in the doorway with a bundle of clothes. “Here you go. I think they'll fit okay, but if they don't, tell me. The bathroom’s down that hallway to the left.” Evan obediently followed Michael’s instructions and walked, shivering, out of the living room.

Michael sat down on the couch across from Connor and folded his knees up to his chest. “You're in it pretty deep, huh, Con-man?”

Connor sighed. “We've been dating for three days and I already feel like I would die for him.”

“No offense, but you would've died for him even before you were dating, buddy.” Michael paused and smiled to himself. “Three happiest days of your life, right?”

Connor blushed and smiled. “I can't remember the last time I've been happy for more than 24 hours. Am I really that obvious?”

“Hey, if there's one thing I know, it's pining and then getting what you want. Honestly, I take that knowledge over geography any day.” Michael laughed. “If only my mom knew that I would end up talking about crushes in the living room of my boyfriend’s house. She'd be so proud that she wasn't raising a loveless weenie like she thinks.”

Connor immediately soured. “I wish my parents paid enough attention to my existence to worry if I'd ever find love. Then, of course, when I do, they'll say it isn't real love and expect me to find a nice, pretty, rich girl to marry and carry on the family name or some elitist shit. I can't tell you how many times I've told them that their son is gay and won't ever marry a pretty, rich girl but they won't hear it!” Connor didn't know when he'd started crying, but he could feel hot tears slip down his cheeks. “In their eyes they don't have a son, just a disappointment.”

Michael took Connor’s hands in his own. Connor appreciated Michael’s hands, which were soft and knew how to comfort someone. “That’s not true, Connor.”

“You don't know them.” Connor took a deep breath before continuing. “Everything’s about Zoe, perfect Zoe. Perfect Zoe who they don't know is pansexual and dating Alana Beck and goes to keggers after jazz band concerts. So much better than horrible Connor, who cuts and smokes and has been to the hospital five fucking times during high school. Horrible Connor who gets good grades and has great friends and is dating the boy of his dreams and who tries to get better but can't because nobody acknowledges that he's broken inside!” Connor hadn't noticed that he was yelling, but it felt good, so good. To have someone to scream at who wouldn't punish him for letting his feelings out. “Horrible Connor who nobody would even remember if he offed himself and left the mess of his life behind!”

Michael was by his side immediately, with one arm around his shoulders and one hand rubbing circles on his leg. “Let it out, Connor. I'm listening.”

“Don't pretend like you would fucking care if I died, Michael. You would move on and marry your perfect boyfriend and live your perfect life.” Connor knew he was being too harsh, but he needed to have his feelings heard. Even if his message for Larry was being taken in by Michael Mell of all people, it was worth it to get his emotions out of his head and into the open. “When the villains fall, the kingdom never weeps. No matter how eloquent my suicide note is, that's not going to change anything. I'm a monster, a stupid fucking abusive monster, and no matter how beautiful my suicide porn sympathy funeral is, I'm always going to be a piece of shit human being that didn't deserve to be born. No one’s going to light a candle to remember me, and that's just fucking life.”

Michael didn't say anything for a long time, just let Connor cry on his shoulder. “You matter, Connor. If you ever decided to kill yourself, I promise that every single one of your friends would be absolutely heartbroken. You matter to me, you matter to Jeremy and Jared and all of your friends at Middle Borough. You matter so fucking much to Evan, and I'm sure that you matter a shit ton to your parents and Zoe. To rid the world of yourself would be to rid the world of a light in so many people’s lives.”

“Fuck,” Connor breathed through sobs. “You're fucking good at this.”

Michael smiled. “If you ever need someone to cry to, I’m right here.”

Connor laughed weakly. “I might take you up on that offer.”

Evan sat down next to Connor in a pair of dry sweatpants and a Bob Marley t-shirt. He put a hand on Connor’s shoulder and started to sing.

“You matter to me
Simple and plain and not much to ask from somebody
You matter to me
I promise you do, you
You matter to
I promise you do
You'll see
You matter to me.”

Connor let out a sob and buried his face in his hands. “Shit, guys. Fuck. I-I can't thank you enough, honestly. Fuck, I love you so much.”

“Of all the cheesy couple names, I wasn't pegging myself as a ‘fuck’ kinda guy. I think ‘honey’ is more my speed.” Evan quipped.

Connor laughed. “You little shit, I’m trying to have an emotional moment. How much of that shit storm did you hear?”

Evan’s smile wavered. “Enough.”

“God, you must think I’m such a fucking mess.”

Connor felt Evan’s hand on his. “We can be messes together.”

Connor shattered. Any tears he hadn't already shed came spilling out along with an impressive stream of expletives. “Fuck. I just- shit. Fuck. M-Motherfucking- don't make me cry harder, man. Shit.”

Evan kissed Connor’s temple. “I wrote that song for you. That night at the orchard. It's unfinished, but I wanted to write something that-”

Connor cut him off by throwing his arms around his shoulders and collapsing into the warm embrace Evan wrapped him in. “Remember what you told me. Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it. You said yourself that death has power. Do you really think nobody would care if you were gone?”

Michael stood up. “I'm going to make you hot chocolate. Connor, none of us mind if you vent to us. We're here for you, mahal.”

Michael left the room, and Connor could hear him and Jeremy speaking in hushed tones. He caught the words ‘friends’, ‘suicide’, and ‘mahal’ again, whatever that meant.

“Connor.” Evan said softly, cupping a hand over his face. “Connor, Connor, Connor. I don't deserve you, Connor Murphy.”

“Thank you,” Connor murmured, “for knowing exactly what to say.”

“Don’t kid yourself. I-I'm flying blind in this, just like you. You were my first real kiss, other than Olivia Silverton in fifth grade. You’re the only crush I've ever had that actually amounted to anything.” Evan shook his head. “Half the time, I can't even calm myself down from a panic attack. The fact that I'm able to do this for you… it says a lot, Connor.”

Evan ran a comforting hand through Connor’s hair. Connor stayed there in his arms, afraid to move.

Michael and Jeremy walked in, Michael with four mugs of hot chocolate and Jeremy with a blanket. “I put it in the dryer so it would be warm for Evan,” Jeremy explained, “then I remember how much I like being under a nice warm blanket when I'm sad so I was going to bring up two, but then I remembered that I liked being with Michael even more so I figured you could share one. I hope that’s okay.”

Evan smiled, grabbed the blanket, and wrapped it around Connor and himself.

Michael gave them each a mug of hot chocolate with a very proud look on his face. “Made with love using naynay’s patented recipe: cinnamon, chili powder, and a fuck ton of whipped cream.”

Jeremy took a mug. “It sounds weird, but it's actually really good.”

Connor took his own mug and stared down at the drink, trying to organize his scrambled thoughts. “What’s ‘mahal’ and why were you fighting about it?”

Michael laughed softly. “We weren't fighting, per se. Jer was just jealous, right, babe?”

Jeremy glared at him.

“Mahal means ‘love’ in Tagalog. Like, mahal kita would be I love you. It's used as an affectionate term. It's like darling, or sweetie, or something like that. Jeremy, of course, got his panties in a twist because that was ‘our thing’ and ‘you had better not be making a move on Connor while he's crying in my living room, Michael Mitchel Mell.’ And what did I say?”

Jeremy sighed. “There are lots of different kinds of love, both romantic and platonic.”

Michael beamed. “That's the old, crotchety, warm and accepting Jer-bear I know!” He poked Jeremy’s cheeks, and Jeremy giggled and squirmed out of Michael’s arms.

“Fucking hell, Michael, now is not the time!” Jeremy’s voice cracked when he said Michael’s name. He tried to force the grin off his face and turned to Evan and Connor. “Are you… okay?”

Evan looked like he had a million different answers to say, but Connor beat him to it, pressing his face against Evan’s chest and grabbing a fistful of his shirt fabric. “No.”

“Is there anything we can do?”

Connor sighed. “No.”

Jeremy glanced over to Michael. “Okay, well, we're going to take some books and keep looking. You two… can stay here for as long as you need to. Please, just don't have sex on my living room couch. That's all I ask.”

Evan smiled softly at Jeremy. “Good luck.”

Michael had a sad look on his face. “I'm sorry, Connor. That you have to deal with any of the shit you're putting up with. You don't deserve it.”

Connor smiled, even if he knew Michael couldn't see him. Jeremy and Michael left, and it was just Connor and Evan alone again.

Evan tilted Connor’s chin up so that he could look into his eyes. “What do you need right now?”

Connor couldn't look away. “For you to ground me in reality and convince me that someone out there cares.”

“That's a heavy request,” Evan responded slowly. “I'll see if I can handle it.”

Connor laughed. “Just kiss me.”

And he did.

Evan’s lips were on his and Connor felt lightheaded, like every other time Evan had kissed him. Every place where Connor could feel Evan’s skin felt electric, and the blanket over them did nothing compared to the heat radiating from Connor’s chest.

One of Evan’s hands was in his hair and the other was cupping his cheek and all Connor could to was grab fistfuls of Evan’s shirt in a feeble attempt to bring him any closer than he already was. Evan’s teeth grazed Connor’s bottom lip and he wasn't sure if it was an accident, but he didn't want it to be. Connor felt hot, so hot. The heat pressing down on him from all sides was almost unbearable, but all of his focus was trained on Evan.

Connor liked kissing Evan, he liked the messy synchronization of it. It was a fight, a fight for power and dominance, but it was soft and sweet and kind and Connor didn't think he ever wanted to do anything except kiss Evan for the rest of his life.

The thought was ripped from his head, however, when Evan pulled back from Connor, breathing heavily.

“What?” Connor protested, vividly aware of how whiny he sounded.

Evan sat there, breathing, looking at Connor with an unreadable expression on his face. “No, I just need… to breathe. I think. I just- wow.” He raked his fingers through Connor’s hair absently. “I've just- I've never-”

“Bullshit,” Connor laughed. “You're a fucking expert, Hansen.”

“I don't…” Evan smiled softly. “Jesus.”

“Can't help you with that, buddy. I'm an atheist.”

Evan laughed. “And I'm Jewish.”

“Hey,” Connor said after a long, living pause. “If this isn't too much…”

Evan shook his head. “It won't be.”

“That song you wrote.” Connor grinned. “How powerful would it be as a duet?”

“Oh. Oh god, you're right. That's what it's missing, it's a duet. I can't believe I didn't realize it.” Evan took Connor’s hands in his own. “Connor Murphy, will you accept the honor of singing the high part in the song I wrote a few nights ago?”

Connor pressed a chaste kiss to his lips. “I would love to, you dork.”

Evan sat up, his eyes darting around the room. “Ugh, I left my notebook at home!”

Connor shrugged. “Write it on your phone.”

Evan bit his lip. “I guess.” He pulled out his phone and opened a new note, his fingers poised over the keys. “Uh… how do you feel?”

Connor raised an eyebrow. “Happy? I guess?”

Evan groaned. “It’s so much easier when you're writing about your own emotions. Just… talk. About your feelings. About us.”

“Fuck, man. That's a lot of pressure. Um, okay… so, it's like- it's addictive, you know?”

“No?” Evan typed out something quickly. “What is? What do you mean?”

“Like, it's addictive to think that the things you say might matter to someone.” Connor shrugged. “You just want to make your feelings heard, and when you realize somebody cares- it's like a drug. You can't get enough of it.”

Evan smiled. “What else?”

“Fuck, Hansen. What else? I guess, all of this time my mind has been stuck on running away, you know? And for the first time, I think I’d consider… staying.” Connor sighed. “This is hard.”

“It doesn't have to be, because with a bit of tweaking… we've got a song.” Evan typed feverishly, occasionally stopping to glance at Connor or tap out a beat. “I would need to alter the ending, of course, but I have your verse down.”

“Sing it.”

Evan cleared his throat. “Uh… I’ll try. It's still rough. Um-

It's addictive the minute you let yourself think
The things that I say just might matter to someone
All of this time I've been keeping my mind on the running away
And for the first time I think I'd consider the stay.”

Once again, Connor felt hot tears on his cheeks. “God, I thought I was done with crying today,” he laughed. “Fuck. That was- motherfucker. That was beautiful.”

Evan smiled sheepishly. “I don't know about that…”

“No, it was.” Connor rubbed his eyes with the palm of his hand. “Fuck, I’m a mess.”

Evan kissed his forehead. “And I love you for it. Let’s go and help Michael and Jeremy with those quotes. I have the feeling they're not getting very far.”

All they had to do was follow the sound of arguing and the occasional silence, which Connor could assume was them taking a break from their banter to make out.

Jeremy and Michael were in the basement, surrounded by piles of books. Michael was in a beanbag and Jeremy was in the beanbag next to him, his feet stretched across his lap. “Hey, m’dudes!” Jeremy called. “You good for some quote-hunting?”

“I think.” Evan threw a sideways glance to Connor. “Are you up for it?”

“I’m not made of glass, guys.” Connor sat down on the floor and pulled a book onto his lap. “C’mere, Evan. I want to lean on your shoulder.”

Evan laughed and sat down next to Connor, and true to his words, Connor rested his head on Evan’s shoulder, scanning lines in a book.

“How far have you gotten?” Evan asked.

Jeremy looked proud of himself. “Not to toot my own horn, but-” he gestured to a large piece of paper taped to the wall covered in little doodles and quotes. “We’re handling it.”

“What types of quotes are we looking at?” Connor cut in. “Love? Loss? Nature?”

Michael shrugged. “All three, I guess.”

“Really narrows it down, Mell.”

Michael gasped dramatically. “Connor! You called me by my last name!” He wiped away a fake tear. “I'm honored.”

Connor rolled his eyes.

“Here's one!” Jeremy exclaimed. “‘It's much better to do good in a way that no one knows anything about it.’ Leo Tolstoy.”

Jeremy scribbled the quote down on the sheet and the group lapsed into silence.

“Cormac McCarthy,” Evan said, “‘You forget what you want to remember, and you remember what you want to forget.”

Michael didn't look up from his book. “Write it down. Uh- ‘Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.’ Haruki Murakami.”

Evan elbowed Connor in the ribs, and Connor buried his face in his shoulder. “Sorry. C’mon, Connor, it's a good quote! You should say it.”

Connor ran a hand through his hair. “‘Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it.’ Haruki Murakami. I have it tattooed on my hip.”

Jeremy whistled. “Deep. Why’d you get it tattooed?”

“No, we are not opening that can of worms.” Connor closed his eyes. “If you really want to know, ask Evan.”

“Oookay.” Jeremy stood up. “I think we've done enough quote hunting today. Want to watch a movie or something?”

“I’m pretty tired,” Connor lied. “All that emotion-ing wore me out. Evan, I can drive you home.”

Jeremy looked like he was pretty sure he had caught on to Connor’s plan, but he played along. “Of course. It was nice hanging out with you, even if I hid in the laundry room to avoid your… episode most of the time.”

Connor laughed. “Don't blame you, man. I probably would've done the same thing.”

When they got out to the car, Michael hugged Connor fiercely. “I’m usually awake, Connor. Text me anytime you need. I'm serious.”

Connor smiled. “Thanks.”

Finally, Jeremy and Michael retreated back into the house and Connor pulled out of the driveway.

“You're not going home, are you?” Evan asked.

“Fuck no. We're going to the orchard.”

“W-Why? We've been there before.”

Connor shrugged. “We've never been before as a couple. I want Orchard Time With Evan minus the pining.”

Evan frowned. “Won't your parents wonder where you are?”

Connor’s hands tightened on the steering wheel. “Here’s an idea: we go to the orchard, you tell me tree facts, we kiss in that path of crabapple trees, I get you ice cream on the way home. We do not talk about my parents or our homework or anything that doesn't concern us in that exact moment. Deal?”

“Deal.”

Chapter Text

Thanksgiving arrives in a whirlwind of cut out paper leaves ornamenting the school’s hallways and flurries of conversations about the wild parties people are planning on throwing over the break.

For Evan, that means listening in quietly as his friends talk about their plans for the holiday and knowing full well that he and his mom will end up ordering Chinese and watching some crappy rom-com on TV.

Jeremy and Michael’s families are having a joint Thanksgiving like they have for years. Jared is visiting his grandmother in Ohio. Connor- well, Evan can assume Connor will be roped into a picture-perfect family dinner and find any excuse to sneak away and text Evan the latest bigoted remark his father made.

Evan was at home eating pizza on the couch with his mom when the phone rang.

“I'll get it, honey.” Heidi stood up and put her plate down on the coffee table, ruffling Evan’s hair lovingly. Evan pulled out his phone to a startlingly cryptic text from Connor: ‘SAVE YOURSELF AND DO NOT PICK UP THE PHONE’. Evan was tempted to warn his mother, but his curiosity won out and he ended up listening intently to the snippets of the phone call he could pick up.

“That sounds lovely, and we don't have any plans otherwise,” Heidi was saying. “I know Evan and Connor have become really close friends recently. Should I bring anything?” A pause. “Alright, I'll tell him. Thank you so much, Cynthia. I look forward to it.”

Heidi came back into the living room beaming. “Evan, guess what?”

Evan was pretty sure he knew where this was going. “W-what?”

“We've been invited to have thanksgiving dinner with the Murphy’s! Isn't that exciting?” Heidi sat back down and smiled at Evan. “It'll be so much fun, and I've been dying to meet the mystical Connor Murphy, much less his family.”

“From what Connor’s told me, you're not missing much.” Evan looked down at his pizza. “Do we have to?”

“Oh, come on! It'll be so much fun! And Cynthia told me you could bring over one of those amazing apple pies you make.” Heidi took one of Evan’s hands in her own. “And to be honest, I sort of want to scope out the house,” she stage-whispered. “I see it driving to work every morning and I've been dying to see what it looks like inside. Not to mention I want to meet Connor! I want to know who you're spending so much time with. See if he’s worthy of my son.” She winked.

Evan forced a smile. “I need to go to the bathroom.” Heidi nodded and let go of his hands.

Evan went into the bathroom and locked the door behind him, pulling out his phone.

To Connor Murphy <3:
Why didn't you tell me they were inviting us over for thanksgiving?!

From Connor Murphy <3:
I told you Not to pick up the phone didnt I?

To Connor Murphy <3:
Oh god they're going to find out

To Connor Murphy <3:
I'm going to say something stupid and I'm going to out us in front of your whole family

From Connor Murphy <3:
Clam down nothingss going to happen. I'll tell you what to expect tomorrow after school. Its just two days you can handle it

To Connor Murphy <3:
Okay.

From Connor Murphy <3:
Gtg love ya

Evan pocketed his phone. This would be fine. This would be fine. It's just a dinner, no different than anything else. Evan felt his throat contract, and he was pretty sure he was going to throw up. Connor wouldn't let anything bad happen, would he? He would be able to cover it up if Evan messed up horribly. If Evan could just keep his mouth shut, he would be fine. Just smile and nod and let his mom do the talking.

Oh god, he was doomed.

Despite the tension in his throat and the fact that he was getting progressively more dizzy, Evan walked back into the living room and sat down next to his mom.

“Are you okay, sweetie? You seem sort of… shaken.” Heidi put a hand on Evan’s shoulder. “You know you can tell me anything. Have you been taking your meds?”

Guilt boiled in Evan’s gut. If only she knew everything he wasn't telling her, like that he had gotten an A on his English paper last week or that he had skipped another therapy letter or that only two hours earlier, Connor Murphy been curled up next to him on this very couch: kissing him, touching him, and whispering sweet nothings in his ear. “Y-yes, I've been taking my meds. I’m fine, I promise.” He was more than fine; he was ecstatic and living, and his mom knew nothing of it.

“If you say so.” Heidi gave him a smile that made Evan’s stomach flip. “Want to watch a movie and eat ice cream out of the carton?”

Evan felt like he was going to be sick. “I… I-I don't think I'm up to it tonight, mom. I'm sorry. M-maybe another time.”

Heidi smiled sadly at him. “Alright. I'm going to be working late tomorrow night, so don't throw a kegger while I'm gone. Make sure to get to bed early, honey. Lack of sleep can do a lot to a person.”

Evan laughed weakly and hurried out of the living room, darting upstairs to his bedroom and collapsing on his bed as his stomach churned. What did his mom do to deserve him lying to her? He had the memory of going out to get ice cream with his mom after his first therapy appointment in seventh grade. He had been so scared, and Heidi bought him an extra-large cone as a reward. Suddenly, the vision shattered and was replaced by the vivid memory of Connor, his hair tickling the sides of Evan’s face as he hovered over him on the couch, looking at him with a face full of love between passionate kisses.

Heidi had taken him to a botanical garden for his birthday freshman year, he remembered. She had driven 45 minutes to go to the largest botanical garden in the area and- Connor was holding him, telling him he loved him. Fluttering kisses along his jaw and running his hands through his hair. Evan turned his head slightly so that the next kiss landed square on his lips. “What did I do to make you fall in love with me?” Connor murmured. “I need to try it more.”

Evan buried his head in his pillow. No, no, no. Connor wasn't in any of those memories. Evan wanted to run downstairs and tell his mom everything, everything. About Connor and the way he looked at Evan when he thought he wasn't looking. About the way thinking about Connor made his stomach twist like he was on a rollercoaster, even though he hadn't been on one for years, but he thought he was pretty spot-on with the comparison.

His phone buzzed in his pocket. A text from Connor, of course. Just what he needed.

From Connor Murphy <3:
What r you doig

To Connor Murphy <3:
Dying

From Connor Murphy <3:
So am I my parents ar forcing my to cook thankgiving foood with them,,,, i dont want to bake unless I'm getting baked with weed bong

To Connor Murphy <3:
Are you high right now?

From Connor Murphy <3:
Hell yah

To Connor Murphy <3:
Get sober and I'll talk to you.

Evan tossed his phone aside, not bothering to check for a reaction. He knew Connor would say something like ‘talk to mee andyway im lonelyyyyyyy’ or something equally embarrassing.

Who had he become? Obsessing over a boy, lying to his mom, texting his secret boyfriend late at night. Oh god, he was becoming a stereotypical teenage girl. He was getting out of school early tomorrow, he would talk to Connor, they would be able to figure this out.

They had to.

~

Heidi wasn't home in the morning. Evan got ready for school the same way he did every morning. As Evan was leaving the house, Connor’s beat-up car screeched to a stop at the end of his driveway. Connor rolled down the window and stuck his head out with a grin. “Get in loser, we’re going shopping.”

“W-what?” Evan started down the driveway towards Connor’s car. “I was just going to walk t-to school. Why would we be going shopping?”

Connor opened the passenger door and Evan climbed in. “It's a movie quote, Hansen. Have you never seen Mean Girls?”

Evan shook his head.

“Well, we've got to rectify that. Thanksgiving break, you and I are going to watch every terrible high school movie there is out there. Starting with Mean Girls.”

Evan smiled. “Okay. How did you know when to pick me up? Why?”

“Evan, you leave the house at 7:20 on the dot every day. You're pretty predictable.” Connor’s car careened down the road towards the school, and Evan was pretty sure he was going to leave a mark on the seat where he was gripping it. “As for why, I don't know. I wanted to be a nice boyfriend. Is that so strange?”

Evan opened his mouth and Connor cut him off. “Don't answer that.”

“So what are we going to do about thanksgiving dinner?”

Connor frowned. “I'm not quite sure. I'll give you some pointers on how to navigate around my parents, and some tips on how to behave, but that's pretty much all I can do. Hopefully your mom being there will… tone them down a bit.”

Evan nodded. “I just hope we don't have to do much work today. I have a lot to think through.”

“Want to ditch with me?” Connor shrugged. “We could just forget it all, you know? It's the last day before a break. Nobody cares.”

“N-no, I don't think that'll help.” Evan chewed his lip until he tasted blood. “I need to think alone. I think you would just distract me.”

Connor wiggled his eyebrows. “Damn, Hansen. Didn't know you had it in you.”

“That's not what I mean, and you know it.” Evan sighed. “I'll see you after school.”

Connor took Evan’s hands. “You know you can always talk to me.”

“I know.” Evan pulled away and got out of the car. “See you later, Connor.”

Connor looked confused and a little bit sad, but Evan didn't care. Serves him right for torturing his thoughts all night. “See you later.”

Evan walked into school and walked directly into his homeroom, refusing to stop and talk to people in the halls. He sat down at his usual desk and tucked his head in his arms, his mind battering him from all sides. Every class was the same. History? Connor was teaching him how to braid hair and laughing whenever he messed up before guiding his hands and congratulating every success with a kiss. Algebra? They were at A La Mode, talking and joking together. French? Honestly, the memory was so sweet it hurt to recall.

The only solace Evan got was from the all-school assembly telling the kids to be safe over break and say no to drugs and always use protection. Connor found Evan at the back of the auditorium and held his hand during the entire assembly. Evan found his heart race just a little bit less, and he realized that maybe, just maybe, that was exactly what he needed.

Connor drove them to Evan’s house after school let out, and because it was a half day they were still faced with the task of getting lunch. “Do you have pasta? I can make really good pasta,” Connor offered once they were back at the house, cuddling on the couch like the most tooth-rottingly adorable couple ever, but Evan didn't mind. He liked it.

“I don't think we have pasta. I mean, I could check, but we usually eat out so we don't have a lot of food in the house.” Evan said. “We could order pizza or something, but you would actually have to face the delivery guy. I can never do that.”

Connor nodded. “Okay. I'll order pizza. You just- hang tight, okay?”

Evan smiled and Connor pulled his phone out of his pocket without bothering to get up. “Hello. I'd like to order one-” Connor shot a look at Evan. “Large cheese pizza. Yes please. No thank you. 10 Wilmer Road. Thank you.” Connor hung up the phone. “It’ll be here in twenty minutes.”

“How are you so good at talking on the phone?”

“My parents.” Connor snorted. “They gave me lessons on how to politely talk on the phone by the time I could talk. That and how to do a proper handshake, how to talk to elders or bosses, and the most insane amount of table manners you could possibly imagine.”

“I wish my mom would do that,” Evan mumbled. “It would've helped me in the long run.”

“Trust me, you don't.” Connor shook his head. “When Larry should've been taking me camping or teaching me card games, he was lecturing me on how to properly shake someone’s fucking hand.”

Evan hummed. “He sounds like a jerk.”

“Jerk? No. Total fucking asshole? Yes.”

“I guess I'll find out soon enough, right?” Evan tried to laugh.

Connor frowned. “You will. Oh, right. Evan, sit up.”

Evan disentangled himself from Connor’s arms. Connor placed his hands on his lower back and attempted to straighten his spine. “Welcome to Connor Murphy’s Crash Course Charm School.”

“First of all: don't slouch. Your back needs to be straight, even if you aren't.” Evan tried to keep his posture straight. “Good. Okay. Call my parents Mr. and Mrs. Murphy, even though they'll beg you otherwise. It's okay if you slip and call my mom Cynthia, but never, ever call my dad Larry to his face. What else, uh… always say please and thank you, don't start eating until everyone is served, and don't drink until Larry announces a toast. Believe me, he will. Napkin in lap at all times, don't shovel or chug your water, the basics. I assume you know how to properly hold a knife and fork?”

“I think so?” Evan’s head was reeling.

“Don't worry, I’ll sit next to you and kick you if you do something wrong. It'll be fine.” Connor put a hand on Evan’s leg. “Nothing bad will happen.”

“You jinxed us, Connor. Now I'm going to call your dad Larry and a meteor will fall on the house and everyone will hate me.” Evan shook his head. “Nice going.”

Connor laughed. “I think if a meteor fell on the house you would have bigger problems than people hating you.”

“I guess.”

“Evan.” Connor hooked his arm around Evan’s waist and let the other hand trail across his shoulderblades. “I will make it my duty to make sure nothing happens. Okay?”

Evan nodded.

“Let’s go raid your closet for something nice for you to wear to dinner tomorrow, sound good?” Connor stood up and held out a hand to Evan, who accepted the offer. “I don't expect you to have a suit, considering you never go anywhere that would require one. We'll have to make do with what you have.”

Evan led Connor upstairs to his room, apologizing for the mess. And really, it was a mess. Dirty clothes and empty pill bottles strewn about the room, crumpled-up pieces of paper resting just outside the trash can. “You know,” Evan ventured, “I never really pegged you as an etiquette person.”

Connor cocked an eyebrow. “Honey, I learned more manners than the queen growing up. I didn't really have a choice.”

Evan grinned. “Do you know the way to set a formal place setting and at which time to use each fork?”

“Of course I do.” Connor flung open Evan’s closet door and began digging through piles of clothes. “Who doesn't?”

“Most normal people!”

“It's simple,” Connor explained, making wide gestures with his hands. “Salad, fish, than meat fork on the left of the plate, bread on left, drink on right, white wine, champagne, red wine, water. Then knife, facing inwards of course, spoon, and a dessert fork and spoon laid horizontally above the plate. It's easy, really.”

Evan stifled a laugh. “I understood none of that.”

“God, do you need me to draw you a fucking diagram?” Connor scoffed.

“That would actually be really helpful.”

Connor rolled his eyes. “Well, luckily for you I'll probably get roped into setting the table long before you arrive, so you won't have to worry about it. And if you reach for the wrong fork, my feet are poised and ready to kick.”

Evan walked next to Connor and started throwing clothes on the floor. “Underneath the polos are t-shirts, and underneath the t-shirts are fancy shirts. We've just got to separate the layers. We’re like closet archaeologists.”

Connor laughed and threw a pile of t-shirts on the floor. “Here we go!” He dug out a heap of button-down shirts, all in varying shades and sizes. “I assume you can sort by size?”

Evan nodded and took the pile. “Most of these are outgrown. I haven't been to a fancy event since… Jared’s cousin’s bat mitzvah? I think?”

Connor whistled. “I wish. My latest fancy event was Larry’s promotion party last week. I hid in the bathroom the entire time to avoid facing what Larry was saying about me. Can you imagine? ‘Oh, my daughter Zoe’s in that white dress over there. She's really amazing, good grades and all. A wonderful child. My son, Connor, is the one eating mini quiches in the bathroom. Don't talk to him if you see him, otherwise he might shoot up the place.’”

“I can't wait to meet him,” Evan said, voice dripping with sarcasm. “He sounds like a wonderful man.”

“Don't worry, he-”

Connor was cut off by the doorbell ringing. “That's probably the pizza. We can put this archaeological expedition in hold to eat pizza, right?”

Evan linked his arm in Connor’s. “Let’s go face the delivery guy.”

“You're coming to the door too?”

“I want to practice.” Evan leaned his head against Connor’s shoulder. “Even if that means watching from the sidelines.”

“I’m proud of you,” Connor said with a smile, pecking Evan on the cheek. “You'll conquer the world with that attitude.”

“God, you're sounding like my mom.”

Connor opened the door without giving Evan time to lift his head off of his shoulder and disentangle his arm from around his waist. The delivery guy, who ended up being a pimply teenage boy a few years younger than them, looked slightly shocked but didn't acknowledge their juxtaposition. “Large cheese pizza for 10 Wilmer Road?”

Connor grabbed the twenty from Evan’s hand and handed it to the boy. “Yep. Thanks, man.”

“No problem. Date night tonight?”

Connor winked at the boy. “Exactly.”

The boy laughed and handed Connor the pizza. “Have a good one, you two.”

Evan smiled at him. “Y-you too. Thank you!”

Connor shut the door and placed the pizza on the living room coffee table. “Ugh, I think the politeness is seeping into my pores. I sort of just wanted to yell ‘none of your fucking business!’ in his face, but I knew you wouldn't approve.”

Evan kissed Connor chastely. “I'm glad you didn't. He was nice.”

“He was fucking invasive, if that's what you mean.”

“He was trying to make conversation, Connor.” Evan laughed. “That's what normal humans do when they're not holed up in their mom’s house ordering pizza the day before a break.”

“We need to go to a crappy high school party or something.” Connor mused. “Drink shitty beer and make out in somebody’s parent’s guest bedroom.”

“I'm pretty sure those things only happen in movies.”

Connor shrugged. “What would I know? I never leave the house.”

“You're out of the house right now!” Evan protested, grabbing a slice of pizza from the box.

“Ooh, I left the house to go to somebody else’s house. I'm really branching out today!”

Evan laughed and thought for a second. “So if I remember those manners you taught me, will I be set for dinner?”

“No.” Connor rolled his eyes. “Believe me, there's more. Absolutely do not bring up politics. Ever. Also stay away from feminism, LGBT issues, and any presidential elections throughout history. Show up at 6:15 sharp with some sort of dessert, and wear dress pants with that red button-up I saw in your closet. Cool?”

“Sounds good.” Evan tucked his knees up to his chest and leaned into Connor’s shoulder. “What do you think everybody else is doing right now?”

Connor hummed. “Jared’s in Ohio, we know that. Jeremy and Michael are most likely having sex. Zoe and Alana are probably at some hipster coffee shop somewhere. Why?”

Evan shrugged. “Do you ever look at cars passing by and wonder where they're going?”

“I mean, I did when I was little, but not really anymore. Wherever they're going is their own business.” Connor said. “You're not achieving anything by making up stories about stranger’s cars.”

“Not everything has to be about achieving something, you know.”

“Whatever.” Connor took a slice of pizza and ate it in silence. He eyed Evan’s plate with a steadily growing pile of pizza crusts. “Do you seriously not eat the crust?”

“Of course not! Nobody does!”

“The crust is the best part of the pizza, Hansen.” Connor rolled his eyes. “If you won't eat them, I will.”

“The crust is unnecessary! It doesn't need to be on the pizza. I get plenty of crust eating the pizza part of the pizza.” Evan handed his plate to Connor, who grabbed the pizza crust and ate it absently.

“You need to appreciate the whole fucking pizza, the crust especially. Think of how much work the chef put into making this pizza crust! Do you really want to throw that away?”

Evan snorted. “You're the worst.”

Connor pressed a kiss to Evan’s jaw. “Since when?”

“Since you like the crust,” Evan retorted, tilting his neck as Connor fluttered kisses along his collarbone. “You heathen.”

Connor worked his way along Evan’s neck, leaving bruising kisses just underneath his shirt collar. Evan giggled. “You idiot, that’s going to leave a mark!”

“Exactly,” Connor murmured. “Who's the heathen now?”

“I stand by what I said before,” Evan said, a deep blush spreading across his cheeks. “You're the worst.”

~

Evan spent thanksgiving morning on Skype as Jeremy walked him through the step-by-step process of baking an apple pie. Although Evan was busy in the kitchen, Jeremy instructed him from his bed, speaking softly so as not to wake Michael, who was latched onto Jeremy’s back and occasionally cut in with quiet sleep noises that made Jeremy laugh.

“So get a cup of water and sort of… brush it over the top crust with your hand. It doesn't matter how, just get the top crust wet. Now take your sugar and sprinkle it over the top so it makes a thin sugar layer. You can add some cinnamon if you want.” Jeremy’s voice was crackly through the phone. “After that, you're done. Put it in the fridge for now, but I would pop it in the oven on very low heat for a while to warm it back up before dinner. Now, if you would excuse me, I'm going back to sleep.”

“But it's noon!”

“And you woke me up at seven. Bye, Evan.”

“Thank you, Jeremy.”

Jeremy smiled sleepily. “No problem. I'll see you later.” The video closed and Evan put his phone down, sinking into a kitchen chair.

To Connor Murphy <3:
I made a pie.

From Connor Murphy <3:
Fab!!!! Ill see you tonigt ev but ive got to go family time now

To Connor Murphy <3:
Good luck. Love you

From Connor Murphy <3:
Love yuo too

Evan’s stomach twisted. How was he supposed to eat dinner with his family when the very person who had left deep red marks up and down his collarbone and muttered that he loved him the night before? He would just need to keep his cool and not to anything rash, which couldn't be too hard. If Connor was over last night, he was over to finish a project for school. Nobody else was home, they couldn't deny that claim.

Evan came back to reality with the slamming of the front door. He looked up to see his mom bustling into the kitchen, filling up a glass of water and dropping her work bag on the floor simultaneously.

“Hi, honey! How was school yesterday?” Heidi asked brightly, sitting down next to Evan.

“It was fine. W-we didn't do a lot, last d-day before a break and all.” Evan ran a hand through his hair.

“If you don't mind me asking,” Heidi said, “when did you get that tic? I've never seen you, you know, mess with your hair before.”

“Oh!” Evan brought his hands down to his lap quickly. “I-I don't know. I must've picked it up somewhere…”

Vivid memories of Connor dragging his fingers through his hair flashed through his mind. That's where, of course. It all comes back to Connor.

“It doesn't matter, I was just wondering.” Heidi stood up. “I've got some final work stuff to do, so you'll have to get lunch yourself. I'll see you before dinner, okay, sweetie?”

Evan nodded. “That's fine. You… do your work. I'll make a sandwich or something.”

Heidi patted his hands. “I'm sorry, I'll try and make it quick.”

“Just do what you need to do, mom.” Evan smiled. “I'll be fine.”

Once his mom had left, Evan was struck with the fact that he had absolutely nothing to do. He threw on a sweatshirt and with a quick shout upstairs, he was out the door into the cold November air.

He didn't really know where he was going, just walking aimlessly around the neighborhood to pass time. To keep his mind occupied. It had rained that morning, and the world was cold and damp. The last leaves fell from the trees and twisted as they flew by in the wind. Evan thought about what other families would be doing. They probably would've watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, then ate a nice lunch together as a family. Evan wondered why Jeremy wasn't doing that with Michael. That's probably what the Murphy's had done. Evan could imagine how miserable Connor would've been, sitting on a couch next to his parents as they tried to get him to watch the floats and the performers. He would've enjoyed the dancers, but that was probably about it.

Evan shook his head, trying to lose the thoughts about Connor. This was insanity. “There's nothing unrealistic about the love one man feels for another,” a voice in his head that sounded suspiciously like Jared supplied. Evan realized that his heart was racing and that he had stopped breathing. He needed to sit down, take his meds, and chill out. He pulled out his phone and texted Jeremy.

To Jeremy Heere:
Did you think about Michael constantly whenever you were apart before you got together? Or after even?

From Jeremy Heere:
why am i your go to therapist

To Jeremy Heere:
It's killing me, Jeremy. I literally cannot think about anything other than Connor.

From Jeremy Heere:
i mean i was never away from michael sooooo i guess not???

From Jeremy Heere:
Try to think about what you want for lunch instead or something

To Jeremy Heere:
Okay, I'll try. Thanks.

From Jeremy Heere:
no prob bob

What did he want for lunch? He was probably going to make a sandwich at home, but what did he want on it? Turkey, probably. And honey mustard. Maybe cheddar cheese and lettuce? Did he want onions? Or maybe he could put tomatoes on it- no, Connor hates tomatoes.

Goddamn.

This was hard. Why should Evan care if Connor doesn't like tomatoes? It's not like he's going to eat the sandwich. “Because you don't want to taste like tomatoes when you kiss him,” the Jared voice said.

“I'll brush my teeth!” Evan shouted into the wind.

Now Evan was really going crazy. What would people think if they saw a teenage boy scream ‘I’ll brush my teeth’ at nobody?

“Besides, I'm not going to kiss him tonight.” Evan muttered. “That's way too risky.”

“Tell yourself that when you see Connor in a suit,” the Jared voice chided. “I'm just trying to help.”

Evan shoved his hands in his pockets and speed-walked home. Maybe he should bring up hearing voices his next therapy session. Evan winced as he slammed the front door behind him.

“Evan?” Heidi shouted from upstairs. “Was that you?”

“Uh- yeah!” Evan called back. “I just went for a walk!”

“Alright,” Heidi responded. “As long as somebody’s not breaking in.”

Evan walked into the kitchen and threw open the fridge doors. Turkey, honey mustard, cheese, some very old lettuce, and a tomato. Evan Hansen was going to put tomatoes on his sandwich, goddamnit!

Evan ate the sandwich mechanically, not really thinking about anything at all. At least if he wasn't thinking he wouldn't be thinking about Connor, right?

Wrong.

God, what was he doing? He couldn't not think about Connor. That's not how things worked. Evan’s gut twisted, and the sandwich threatened to come right back up. He needed to get over this… this obsession.

Evan finished his sandwich and put the plate in the dishwasher, just like normal. Now what?

To Jeremy Heere:
I made lunch, what now?

From Jeremy Heere:
i dont know fucking sleep or something i have shit to do dude

Evan rolled his eyes and put his phone away. He could always take a nap. There wasn't any guarantee that visions of Connor wouldn't haunt him as he slept, but at least it would pass the time.

Evan walked upstairs to his bedroom, waving feebly at his mom sitting in the office.

Evan’s room was just as he left it last night: a mess. Piles of clothes all over the floor, the sheets of the bed pushed onto the floor due to Evan’s insane amount of movement during the night. He climbed into his ridiculously small bed and pulled the covers over him, praying that he would be able to sleep and that his mom would wake him up at the right time.

~

“Evan.”

Evan was shaken awake by his mother at six. At first he thought his mom, in her white dress and makeup, was an angel and that he had died overnight.

“Am I dead?” Evan mumbled into his pillow.

Heidi laughed. “No, sweetie. It's six o’clock, you should start getting ready for dinner.”

Evan threw an arm over his head. “Fine.”

“I put the pie in the fridge in the oven for you. Was that right?”

Evan nodded and climbed out of bed blearily. “Thanks.”

Heidi smiled and left the room, leaving Evan in the middle of the mess. He stumbled to the bathroom and threw cold water on his face, blinking in the shock of it. What had Connor said? Show up at 6:15 sharp, wear dress pants and the red shirt, bring the pie. He could handle that.

Evan brushed his teeth (hah, Jared voice) and combed his hair, opting not to take a shower for the sake of time. He couldn't smell that bad after one nap.

Luckily, Connor had already picked out what he was going to wear, so that took off a lot of stress. Both the shirt and pants were a bit too tight, and Evan was pretty sure he had worn these pants last during sophomore year.

Evan made his way down the stairs slowly and greeted his mom in the kitchen before pulling out the pie and covering it with tinfoil.

“You look amazing, mom.” He said with a grin.

“Isn’t it great?” Heidi gushed, doing a spin so that the skirt flared out before settling back down. “I haven't worn this dress in years.”

“He- I mean, Connor told us to get there at 6:15 sharp. It's 6:10 now, so…”

“I'll get my keys.” Heidi practically floated out of the room. “Oh, this is going to be great!”

When she came back in, Evan picked up the pie and followed her out to the car without a word.

“So, what’s Connor like?” His mom asked once they were on their way to the Murphy’s house. “Is he nice?”

“I-I guess.”

“What do you mean, you guess?” Heidi looked concerned.

“He’s nice to me, but he can be a little… rough around the edges? I guess?” Evan shrugged. “He takes a while to warm up to people.”

Heidi frowned. “Oh. Well, I heard he had a sister in the jazz band. What’s she like?”

“She's nice,” Evan watched the trees pass by the windows. “You'll probably like her. She's one of those people who everyone likes. I mean, I had a crush on her when we were starting high school.”

“Really? I'm going to need to check her out. I want to make sure my son isn't crushing on any bad influences, you know?”

Evan thought about how Connor did drugs and cut class and drove ten over the speed limit at all times. He chuckled weakly. “Yeah.”

“Are you okay? You're acting… strange.”

“I'm fine,” Evan assured her. “I'm just nervous.”

“Well, you don't have to be nervous much longer. We're here, and it's 6:14. If we take our time getting in, then…”

Evan looked up at the house, a large white building with pillars on the front. Pillars! On someone’s house!

Evan suddenly felt very out of place with his old clothes and his mom’s very old car in the driveway.

Before they had even locked the car, which they probably didn't need to do based on the niceness of the neighborhood, the door to the house was flung open by Mrs. Murphy. “Hello!” She called from the front stoop. “Come in! You're right on time.”

Evan caught his mother do a little fist pump.

She ushered the into the house, all smiles. “Welcome to our humble abode.”

Humble was an exaggeration to the highest degree. The foyer had two large staircases leading upstairs and a huge chandelier in between them. It looked like the Murphys had booked a hotel and never left. Mr. Murphy and Zoe were standing by one of the staircases smiling demurely.

Mr. Murphy stuck out his hand, and Heidi shook it. “Hello. My name is Larry, and this is my daughter, Zoe. Connor should be… I have a son, I promise, but he's disappeared again. Zoe, could you please run and get your brother?”

Zoe nodded. “Sure. Hey, Evan! Nice to meet you, Ms. Hansen.” She went running up the stairs, her red skirt bouncing with each step.

After one knock, a yell, and a groan, Zoe came down the stairs with Connor in tow.

And… holy shit, did Connor look good in a suit. It was simple, just a jacket and a tie, but it was tight in all the right places and Evan was pretty sure Connor had actually brushed his hair for once.

Connor bowed when he had reached the bottom of the staircase, and Evan was pretty sure his face matched the red of his shirt. “Hey, Hansen. Hello, Ms. Hansen.”

Heidi laughed. “I hope you don't plan on calling Evan by his last name all night, because I'm pretty sure that's going to get confusing very quickly.”

“Of course not, Ms. Hansen.” Connor smirked. “Only when it fits the flow of the sentence, you know?”

“So that's why you do it…” Evan muttered, half to himself.

“It's all for the affect, my dearest. Life is an illusion. All the world’s a stage.”

Evan laughed and Cynthia shot them a tight-lipped smile. “Let's go to the living room. Connor, could you finish setting the table?”

Connor’s smile instantly dimmed. “Sure. Hey, Evan, if you want to tag along, this would be the perfect time to practice your proper table-setting skills.”

“No, Connor. You can do it yourself.” Cynthia pointed to what Evan assumed was the direction of the dining room sternly. “I have coffee in the living room.”

Connor shoved his hands in his pockets and moved off to the dining room with a slouch in his posture that only someone who had been studying him for years would notice.

Evan sat down in the Murphy’s living room, careful to touch as little as possible. Zoe sat curled up in an armchair with her legs over one arm and her back pressed into the other.

“So,” Mr. Murphy coughed awkwardly. “Ms. Hansen, what do you do? Zoe, feet down.”

“I'm a nurse.” Heidi was still looking around the room. “I'm also a student, studying to be a paralegal.”

“That's some tough stuff!” Cynthia joked dryly. “How about you, Evan? Do you play any sports? Any clubs?”

“I-I don't play s-sports.” Evan cleared his throat. “I p-play the guitar, though. Zoe t-taught me.”

“He’s a fast learner,” Zoe cut in. “He’s probably better than me by now!”

“That's great!” Cynthia said.

“You look like you would be a good baseball player.” Larry mused. “You're in pretty good shape, son.”

“I-it's from climbing trees.”

Connor came into the room with an obviously forced smile on his face. “The table’s all set.”

“Wonderful!” Cynthia clapped her hands together. “Let's move this into the dining room.”

Connor hung back and walked with Evan into the dining room. Like all the other rooms in the house, it was large and decked out with the most lavish decorations possible.

“Your house is amazing,” Evan muttered.

“It's like living in a fucking hotel.” Connor scoffed. “Your house is a lot more pleasant.”

“You look good in that suit, Connor.”

Connor pulled out a chair for Evan and tried to hide his blush. “Shut up.”

Evan sat down and tried to make sense of the place setting before him. From his left, Connor laughed softly.

“Remember,” he whispered, “salad fork, fish fork, meat fork, bread dish, plate, knife, spoon, white wine, champagne, red wine, water. Dessert fork and spoon above the plate.”

“You're going to have to help me out a little more than that.”

“Friends and family,” Larry announced, holding up a glass. “We are gathered here tonight to give thanks to our many blessings. From steady jobs, loving relationships, and a roof over our heads, we have a lot to give thanks for. A toast!”

“Raise your water glass,” Connor hissed, raising his own. Evan lifted his glass and clinked it against whoever’s glass he could reach. “Now drink.”

Cynthia got up and started ferrying in dishes from the kitchen. Larry took helpings first, then passed it down the table. Evan took modest servings, whereas Connor piled his own plate high.

“So, Zoe, I heard you were in the jazz band.” Heidi said. “Are you thinking of following music as a career?”

“Well, since I’m a junior I still-”

“Absolutely not.” Larry interrupted. “I will not have both of my children follow useless careers.”

“Oh, I think musicians are wonderful!” Heidi protested. “They may not make much money, but they can make a real difference in the world. What about you, Connor? What are you going to college for?”

“English,” Connor said around a mouthful of turkey. “I want to be a writer.”

“Oh, do you write anything now?”

“I write poetry sometimes.” Connor looked completely disinterested in the conversation. “I want to write a novel about gay rights. My father, however, thinks a law degree would suit me better.” Connor practically spat out the last sentence.”

“Who would want to read a book about ‘gay rights’?” Larry scoffed. “The only people who care about that are queers and crazy feminists.”

Evan felt like he had been slapped. This must have been why Connor told him not to bring up LGBT issues. Heidi looked like she had volumes of things to say, and Zoe looked like she wanted to strangle her father.

“So, Evan.” Cynthia asked, desperately trying to change the topic. “Do you have a girlfriend?”

“Um- no?” Evan squeaked.

“Why not?” Larry pushed. “It's not like your ugly.”

“I… uh, it's not really my thing. Dating. Girls. Dating girls.”

Connor shot an apologetic look at Evan. “Zoe, didn't Alana do that fundraiser for the library last week?”

Zoe got a spark in her eye as she excitedly regaled the story of Alana’s fundraiser. Evan mouthed a ‘thank you’ to Connor.

“So she got this plaque in the library with her name on it, and above it is a framed picture from the book drive of me and her!” Zoe concluded.

It was silent for a few seconds as everybody ate. “Cynthia, what kind of flowers are those in that vase over there?” Heidi asked.

Connor’s leg pressed into Evan’s, and he squeaked at the sudden contact. Cynthia looked at him, concerned. “Evan?”

“I'm f-fine, Mrs. Murphy. R-roses are cool. Uh… d-did you know apples c-come from the rose family?”

The table looked confused. “What?” Cynthia asked.

“Apples are p-part of the rose f-family. You mentioned y-you had roses in that vase, so…” Evan flushed and looked down at his plate. Connor reached over and touched his leg comfortingly, his fingers ghosting over Evan’s thigh. Even the tiny bit of contact sent shivers through his body.

“Oh. Okay. That's very interesting, Evan.”

The rest of dinner, everyone mostly ignored Evan, and if he was thankful for anything, it was that he didn't talk much.

“Who’s ready for dessert?” Cynthia said with a smile. “Zoe, bring the desserts out to the table, don't forget Evan’s pie. Connor, you can go start washing the dishes.”

“Evan can help!” Heidi offered. “He always helps me with the dishes at home, and we wouldn't want to come over and not help out.”

“Me?” Evan said, his voice cracking. “Oh. Yeah. I-I can do that.”

He got up from the table and grabbed his plate. “C’mon, Evan,” Connor gestured for him to follow. “Let's bring these into the kitchen.”

They worked steadily for a few minutes until all of the dirty dishes were in the kitchen and they were alone. Connor shrugged off his suit jacket and rolled his sleeves up to the elbows. “Put that stack of plates in the sink and I'll wash them.” Evan loaded the sink with dishes and stood back for a second, watching Connor.

He moved forward and grabbed Connor’s waist, kissing the taller boy’s neck. Connor giggled a very un-Connorlike giggle. “Jesus fucking christ, Evan. What's gotten into you?”

Evan pressed a kiss to his jaw. “I missed you.”

Connor turned around and hopped up onto the kitchen counter. “We saw each other last night.” He tugged down Evan’s collar, revealing the dark hickeys lining his collarbone. “I've got proof.”

Evan leaned up on his tiptoes and pressed a kiss to Connor’s lips. “I don't care.”

Connor laughed. “Little shit.”

Evan grabbed a fistful of Connor’s shirt and pulled him down towards him, kissing him smoothly. Connor reciprocated with a smile, snaking one arm around Evan’s waist and pressing into his lower back with an open palm. Evan brought his fingers up to tangle with Connor’s hair.

“You idiot,” Connor murmured against his lips, “I had actually brushed it today.”

Evan gave his hair a light tug, and Connor made a small but rewarding noise. “Connor,” he said, almost a whisper. “Connor, Connor, Connor.” Evan felt Connor’s hair against his cheeks and Connor’s thumb running along his jawline.

Evan could feel the counter digging into his stomach, but he barely registered it. He felt hyper-aware, like he noticed everything going on in the moment.

He noticed everything except Cynthia Murphy standing in the doorway.

Evan heard a coughing noise behind him, and he sprang back from Connor, looking around for the source of the noise.

Cynthia’s face was cloudy with hundreds of emotions, none of them decipherable. “I want you in the dining room in two minutes,” she said in a monotone. “And I want an explanation.”

As soon as she left, Connor punched down on the counter, making the plates rattle. “Fuck!” He ran a hand through his hair aggressively. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!”

Evan took Connor’s shaking hands in his own. “W-we’ll be fine, Connor. Don't worry.”

“This is my fault.” Connor pulled his hands away and laughed darkly. “I told you nothing bad would happen.”

“Maybe nothing bad will happen. Sure, this is a setback, but maybe it'll all blow over.”

Connor didn't look convinced. “What'll we even tell them?”

“The truth.” Evan shrugged. “If you walked in on two people kissing in a kitchen, what would you think? That they were role-playing dementors?”

“When did you get a sense of humor?” Connor laughed. “Okay, so we tell them we're dating. How?”

Evan bit his lip. “We make it up as we go.”

Connor hummed. “That doesn't seem like a very trustworthy plan, but I'll go with it. Your lips are very red, by the way.”

“I'll blame you for that.” Evan took Connor’s hand. “We can do this. We have to do this.”

Connor nodded and took a deep breath. “We can do this.”

Chapter Text

Evan let go of Connor’s hand before they reached the dining room. When they got there, the two stood awkwardly in the doorway at a strange middle ground between too close together and too far apart.

“Sit down,” Cynthia said, exasperated. “This isn't an interrogation.”

“Really? Because you could've fooled me.” Connor hissed.

Evan brought a hand up and laid it on Connor’s shoulder, and Evan could see him visibly relax. “What's this about, mom?” Connor asked, sounding tired.

“You know why you're here.” Cynthia turned to the gathered parents at the table. Zoe squirmed in her seat with the air of someone who knows something. “I walked in on Connor and Evan... kissing. In the kitchen.”

Silence. Absolute, deafening silence.

Evan studied his mom’s face. Was that… disappointment? Sadness? Evan had no idea how to read into his mother’s expression.

Larry scowled. “Connor? Care to explain?”

Evan could feel Connor's shoulders tighten underneath his hand.

“What is this about, Evan?” Heidi asked softly.

Evan was sure he was going to be sick. He pulled his hand away from Connor and held himself tightly, trying not to hyperventilate and failing. Connor put a hand on his forearm. “Evan, it's okay. It's your mom, it's fine. I'm here.”

Evan took a deep breath and gripped Connor’s hand like a lifeline.

“I’m pretty sure I can read into what's going on here,” Heidi said, “but I want to hear it from you.”

Connor gave the table a once-over, almost daring anyone to fight him. “We’re dating.”

Zoe clapped. “Yay! Congratulations!”

Larry glared at her.

“Well, I’m glad you told us.” Cynthia forced a smile. “Let's eat dessert.”

Evan sat down next to Connor, still clutching his hand desperately as if it were the only thing keeping him afloat in a storm ocean. “Mom?”

Heidi looked over to him with a small smile. “I'm glad you told me. Not the circumstances I would've hoped for, but…” she laughed. “I'm proud of you.”

Larry eyed them from across the table. “We’ll talk about this later tonight, Connor.”

Connor scowled and ran a hand through his hair. Evan gripped his hand tighter. Connor gritted his teeth. “Evan, if you squeeze my hand any harder, you are going to break my fingers.”

Evan flushed and let go. “S-sorry.”

Zoe brought in the last tray from the kitchen. “Dessert is ready.”

The table lapsed into an uncomfortable silence as everybody served themselves pieces of pie and chunks of a suspicious-looking jello mold.

“I made the jello mold,” Connor said proudly. “It turned out like shit, but at least I participated.”

“Gold star.” Zoe joked, poking the jello. “Please tell me you didn't put weed in this.”

“No, it’s grass clippings.” Connor rolled his eyes. “It's lime, Zoe.”

Cynthia took the smallest bite possible. “You need to watch your language, Connor.”

“Putain de bite sur un bâton.”

Heidi buried her head in her hands. “Ev, why couldn't you be dating Zoe? She seems like a wholesome girl who doesn’t know how to swear in French.”

“Tomo español de mierda.” Zoe grinned.

Heidi laughed. “Color me impressed.”

The table fell silent once more and stayed quiet until the dessert was done with and everyone was itching to leave. Cynthia stood up from the table demurely. “Normally, I would send the children into the kitchen to clean dishes and we would go talk in the living room, but given the circumstances I hardly think that's appropriate.” Connor rolled his eyes. “I say we all go and have a little after-dinner chat in the living room. How about that?”

“I would love to,” Heidi spoke up, “but I am pretty tired. Food coma and all, you know? And I have to be at work early tomorrow. I really enjoyed your company and thank you so much for inviting us over. It was very nice.”

“Of course. I'll show you to the door?”

The adults stood at the front door, gushing about how great their time was with one another, as Evan stood next to his mom awkwardly waiting to leave. About five minutes in, Connor came slouching into the foyer, hands in his pockets. Evan caught his eye at the same time his mother did.

“Connor,” Heidi called out, “could I have a word with you?” She glanced at the Murphys. “In private?”

Connor looked stunned. “Oh. Um- sure. The office is that door, we can talk in there.”

Evan backed one step away to avoid being dragged into a conversation about the price of gas.

Heidi closed the door behind them, so Evan couldn't hear what his mother was saying to him, but Connor left the room beaming.

“We really have to be going,” Heidi said definitely. “I had a lovely time with you, Mr. and Mrs. Murphy. You too, Connor. Tell your sister I had a great time.”

Connor nodded. He stepped forward and ruffled Evan’s hair in an almost brotherly way. “See you later, Hansen.”

Evan grinned and pressed a quick kiss to his lips. “Bye, Connor.” And then he was out the door, not even bothering to look back at the shade of red he knew was painting his face.

Evan climbed into the car next to his mom. “What did you say to Connor, mom?”

Heidi smiled softly. “I said although I didn't approve of his language, he seemed like a wonderful boy and that you were lucky to have him. That he averted what could've been a bad anxiety attack so much easier than I could've, and that I really respected that.”

Evan smiled. Heidi glanced over at him and squinted in the light of the street lamp, eyes fixated on his shirt collar. “Are those hickeys?”

Evan flushed red and brought a hand up to cover his neck. “N-no! D-definitely not!”

“Ookay,” Heidi laughed. “If you're really so sure…”

“They're not from tonight, I promise!” Evan blurted. Which was probably a mistake.

“Why would I care about that?” Heidi said. “As long as you're practicing safe sex every time.”

“Mom!” Evan squealed. “Mom, these hickeys are the most risqué thing we've done. I promise.”

“Hah, so you admit they're hickeys!”

Evan buried his head in his hands. “You twisted witch.”

“You know, I could not have gotten out of that place fast enough. As lovely as their kids were, those Murphys really are awful.”

“From how much Connor complains about them, I was expecting to sit down at a table with Mr. and Mrs. Satan.” Evan laughed. “They were just so fake.”

They rode the rest of the car ride in comfortable silence. Heidi stopped Evan when they got inside the house. “Evan, I really am proud of you. It was tough what you did.”

“I didn't say anything. Connor said it.”

Heidi smiled and cupped her hands around his face. “But you stood there and held his hand, and that can make all the difference. I need to go to sleep, but feel free to stay up as long as you want tonight. No school tomorrow!”

Evan smiled and mirrored his mom’s fist pump. As he was climbing the stairs, his phone buzzed with a text.

From Unknown Number:
Shits going down Evan

From Unknown Number:
It's Zoe Connor gave me your number

To Zoe Murphy:
What's wrong?

From Zoe Murphy:
Fucking Larry cornered Connor in the kitchen I can hear yelling

From Zoe Murphy:
I'm trying to get closer

A few seconds later, Evan was sent a video. It was a video of the floor in the dining room, but you could hear the yelling from the kitchen.

“Why the fuck does it matter, Larry?” Connor was shouting. “It's none of your fucking business who I date!”

“I care about you, Connor!” Larry protested. “People are going to hate you for… for being gay! You’ll be called a faggot and queer and a freak at school! Do you want that?”

“I ALREADY AM!” Connor yelled. “Every single fucking day somebody calls me a freak! And who cares if people call me shit at school when I ALREADY HEAR IT FROM YOU AT HOME!”

The video cut out.

From Zoe Murphy:
Holy shit he just threw a plate

From Zoe Murphy:
Larry’s freaking out

From Zoe Murphy:
HOLY SHIT CONNOR JUST LEFT

From Zoe Murphy:
I RHINK HE SAW ME HE GRAVBED HIS KEYS AND FUCKING LEFT

From Zoe Murphy:
I'm scared Evan where is he going

To Zoe Murphy:
I don't know. I'm going to go find him.

From Zoe Murphy:
You better

Evan grabbed a coat and ran past his mother’s bedroom with a shout of ‘something really important came up I need to go out bye!’. He grabbed his mom’s car keys and started to head out the door before realizing that he didn't even know how to drive. Of all the times to regret not getting his driver’s license.

Screw the car. Evan left his house at a dead run, going to the one place he knew Connor would be. The orchard.

People looked out their windows at him as he ran down the street, and some people even shouted out ‘where are you going, son?’ but Evan didn't care. He needed to find Connor. Connor, Connor, Connor.

What used to sound like a song of love now sounded like a prayer.

Connor, Connor, Connor.

Evan’s lungs were burning when he turned onto the dirt road leading out to the orchard. He put on more speed, panting with each step. He didn't stop as he ran through the crabapple trees, through the fields, past the firepit and benches.

Evan came to a dead stop when he saw him.

Connor was standing on the highest branch in the largest tree in the orchard. Evan felt his gut lurch.

“Connor!” Evan yelled, running to the base of the tree. “Whatever you're doing, don't do it!”

Connor laughed darkly. “Fuck off, Evan.”

“Connor, stop. You need to come down.”

“You think I'm here to fucking kill myself?” Connor shouted into the sky. “I fucking came here to think, and you showed up and ruined it. Go home, Evan. It'll be better for both of us.”

“I'm not leaving, Connor.”

Connor sat down on the branch. “Fine. But shut up and let me think, okay?”

Evan stood at the base of the tree and watched Connor. After about ten minutes, Connor started to climb down.

He didn't climb very carefully, almost as if he didn't mind if he plummeted to his doom.

When he got down to the ground, Evan realized that Connor was crying. Evan was pretty sure he was crying too. “Connor,” he said, barely a whisper. “Connor, Connor, Connor.”

Connor looked undeniably angry. “Fucking Larry!” He yelled. “It's not your fucking business who I love! Nobody fucking cares except you!”

Evan took Connor’s hands in his. Connor deflated. “I'm sorry,” he muttered. “You deserve better than me, Evan. I'm a fucking mess.”

“So am I.” Evan tried to smile. “We deserve each other.”

“Did you just quote fucking Wicked at me?” Connor kissed Evan. “God, I love you.”

“We need to talk about this later, but for now, let's just get you home.”

“I'm not going home.” Connor walked over to his car defeatedly. “They can fucking live their lives without me, for all I care.”

“Connor-”

“It's not up for debate, Hansen.” He snapped. “Get in the car and I'll drive you home.”

Evan sat in the car in silence as Connor tore down the dirt road. “Y-you can stay at our house if you want.”

Connor’s hands tightened on the steering wheel. “Thanks.”

Connor pulled into Evan’s driveway after a tense car ride and sat in the driver’s seat, his eyes closed.

“Come on,” Evan said softly. “I can set up the couch for you to sleep on.”

Connor pulled himself out of the car as if it physically pained him. When he got inside, he collapsed straight onto the couch.

“I can get you blankets and a pillow,” Evan offered. Connor waved him off and closed his eyes.

It certainly was a strange scene, Connor lying on the Hansen’s beat-up couch in fancy clothes with his almost neat hair lying in every direction.

Evan tiptoed upstairs and left a note on his mother's dresser: ‘Connor needed some space from his family so he's staying over on the couch downstairs. I'm going to talk with him tomorrow.’

Evan didn't even bother to change into his pajamas, just fell into his bed and let sleep envelop him.

~

Evan woke up to the smell of bacon.

This was highly unusual, as his mom usually never was home to cook bacon and very rarely bought it.

He stumbled down the stairs to find Connor at the stove, cooking bacon with his hair tied up and the sleeves of his shirt pushed up to his elbows.

“Good morning, Hansen. So lovely of you to join me at… 10:30.”

“How long have you been up?” Evan rubbed his eyes blearily. “Where did you find bacon?”

“I've been up since 6. As for the bacon, I found it in the freezer with a sticky note saying ‘for guests-over emergencies only’. I figured this counted as a guests-over emergency.”

Evan laughed. “Okay.”

“Your mom had to leave pretty early, but she told me to tell you that she'll be back before dinner and that I'm willing to stay for however long I need.”

“How long do you think that'll be?” Evan asked.

“Fuck, Hansen, I don't know.” Connor ran a hand through his hair. “I'm going to have Zoe keep me posted on the goings-on at the Murphy household.”

Evan hummed. “I heard what happened with your dad.”

“Yeah. Zoe told me she spilled the beans to you this morning.” Connor sighed. “I've got to thank her for it, if she hadn't told you about it all I'd probably be lying at the bottom of that tree right now.”

“So you were going to commit suicide.”

“I don't know, really. I contemplated it. If you hadn't shown up, I honestly don't know what I would've done.” Connor placed a plate of bacon on the table. “So I've got to thank you.”

“You would've done the same for me.”

“But would I have?” Connor protested. “I'm a bad guy, Evan. If you had ran away after a fight I'm not sure if I would even bat an eye.”

Evan put his hand over Connor’s. “I trust you.”

“That's a mistake.”

Evan frowned but didn't say anything. Connor sighed. “You don't need my angst.”

“I-”

“There's nothing you can say.” Connor gripped Evan’s hand. “Just… be here.”

Evan remembered what his mom had told him: ‘you stood there and held his hand, and that can make all the difference’.

Connor sat with his head tucked to his chest and his eyes closed, gripping Evan’s hand so tightly he thought he was going to pass out. Evan watched Connor’s shoulders rise and fall with the deep breaths he was taking.

After an agonizing few minutes, Connor loosened his grip and looked up at Evan. “Thanks. I think… I'm okay for now.”

Evan kept a tight hold on Connor’s hand. “I don't care if you think you're a mess,” Evan said eventually. “Because I think I'm a mess too, and us messes need to stick together.”

Connor smiled feebly. “Emotional mess support group.”

“Welcome to the dysfunctional family.”

Connor laughed. “Thank you. Thank you for being Evan Hansen.”

“Who else am I supposed to be?” Evan joked. “Jared Kleinman?”

“God, no.” Connor shook his head. “I wouldn't be caught dead kissing Jared Kleinman.”

Evan brought Connor’s hand up to his lips. “Well, it's a good thing I’m not Jared Kleinman.”

“My mom’s not here to walk in on us,” Connor noted. “If you get what I'm saying.”

“I'm not sure, Connor.” Evan scratched his chin. “What could you possibly be talking about?”

“I'm saying that we should make out in your kitchen.” Connor stood up and pulled Evan up towards him so that they were standing chest to chest.

“That works for me!”

~

Jeremy loved thanksgiving. He loved the food, of course, but he loved the sweater weather and the way that it was the gateway to the holiday season and the inevitable makeout session after dinner.

Jeremy and Michael’s families had been having thanksgiving dinners together since Jeremy's mom had left, so approximately six years. Which was pretty great.

Mrs. Mell always brought the best food, and Michael didn't disappoint either. Jeremy opened the front door of his house the night of thanksgiving to have Michael thrust a large stew pot in his hands.

“Sancocho,” he explained with a grin. “It's a stew.”

Jeremy tentatively looked under the lid. “Please don't tell me it's like, squid tentacles or chicken hearts or something.”

“I put in beef, corn, potatoes, and plantains. It's really good, I promise.”

“Okay…” Jeremy ushered the Mells inside. “We just made turkey like boring people.”

“That's because you are boring people.” Michael gestured at a laminated placemat of one of Jeremy’s childhood drawings. “A handprint turkey? So basic. Why not a handprint pheasant? Oh, or a quail!”

“I've never even seen a quail, dude. How would seven-year-old Jeremy know what a quail looked like?”

Michael shrugged. “Google.”

Mrs. Mell rolled her eyes. “Let's sit down, shall we?”

Mr. Heere ushered them to the table. After Jeremy begrudgingly led a short and indifferent grace, the combined families dug in.

“So,” Mrs. Mell said, taking a bite of mashed potato, “what are we all thankful for this year?”

“I'm thankful I came to my fucking senses and started dating Michael,” Jeremy offered. “After twelve years.”

“I’m thankful that I have a very smart son with a very extensive vocabulary that mostly includes swear words.” Mr. Heere joked.

“I'm thankful that there isn't an asteroid about to hit the planet and smash it into a thousand gajillion chunks of rock.” Michael nodded grimly. “That is certainly something to be thankful for.”

Mrs. Mell rolled her eyes. “I'm thankful I have such an imaginative son.”

The table fell into a comfortable silence as everyone helped themselves to the array of food.

“Oh, I heard Evan was going over to the Murphy's for thanksgiving dinner,” Jeremy said. “I wonder how that's working out?”

Michael snorted. “They're probably making out in the kitchen as we speak.”

“It's not very nice to joke about your friend's personal lives.” Mrs. Mell shook her head but then fixed a steely gaze on her son. “Five bucks says they get busted.”

Michael shook his mom’s hand. “Deal.”

“Do you actually bet on stuff?” Mr. Heere cut in. “That’s sort of concerning.”

“In the Mell house, betting money is anything small and round.” Michael explained. “Pennies, buttons, and bottle caps are usually the main ones.”

“Over the many years of betting I’ve scored a whopping $4.47.” Michael’s mom rolled her eyes. “I don't even know why we do it.”

The playful banter and casual conversation continued, making the dinner stretch long into the night. By the time all the dishes were cleared and the desert was eaten, it was almost midnight.

Michael’s mom stood up from the table and grabbed her jacket. “Well, I’ve probably got to be going. Michael?”

“I'll stay here.” Michael faked a yawn. “Just plumb tuckered out, you know?”

She laughed. “Okay, as long as you use protection.”

Jeremy flushed red, but Michael just shoved his mom out the door. “Just go home.”

Mrs. Mell winked. “Sure. Thanks for the dinner, y'all!”

Jeremy raised an eyebrow. “Dude, why does your mom say y'all? She was born and raised in Connecticut.”

“The real question is, why don't you say y'all?” Michael linked arms with Jeremy. “Come on, Jer-bear. I can't be expected to sleep without someone to cuddle.”

Jeremy shrugged. “Can't argue with that.”

Michael pulled Jeremy up to his bedroom and flipped down onto the bed. Jeremy stood awkwardly above him. Michael opened his eyes, looking over at where Jeremy was standing. “Hi,” he said. “Wanna, I don't know, join me on your own bed?”

“Well, I would, but you're taking up all the space.”

Michael scoffed. “That's never stopped you before.”

Jeremy nodded and climbed into the bed next to Michael. “If you think about it,” Jeremy said, “most of history starts with love.”

“That's ridiculous. Most of history starts with murder.”

Jeremy frowned. “The Trojan War, King Henry VIII who killed all his wives-”

“Hah!” Michael thrust a finger in his face. “That's not love, that's murder! Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived! Murder! If he had loved his wives, he wouldn't have killed them.”

Jeremy rolled his eyes. “I was trying to be romantic.”

“Well, you failed. History revolves around death.”

Jeremy rested his head on Michael’s chest. “I fucking hate you.”

“Here's romantic,” Michael said, bringing up a hand to brush his fingers through Jeremy’s hair. “I love you so much I promise I won't murder you.”

“Aaaw, babe.” Jeremy rolled his eyes.

“I won't murder you until we're married and you've included me in your will. Then I might consider it.”

“You've really got a hold on this romance thing, Michael.”

Michael carded his fingers in Jeremy’s hair. “I know.”

“I'm going to text Evan tomorrow morning. Ask him how the dinner went and if they got busted for making out in the kitchen.”

Michael hummed. “Sounds good.”

Jeremy closed his eyes. “I'm just going to sleep right now, mkay?”

Michael flicked his nose. “You can't sleep without telling me that you liked my stew.”

“It was great,” Jeremy yawned. “Goodnight, Michael.”

Michael rolled his eyes. “Fucking sleepyhead. Goodnight, Jer. I promise not to murder you in your sleep.”

“Wow, thanks,” Jeremy mumbled against the fabric of his hoodie.

“Anything for you, my love.”

Chapter Text

Jeremy took a handful of pretzels. “You're joking.”

Connor shook his head. “I promise, I'm not.”

The band plus Zoe was sitting in the Hansen’s living room after a long rehearsal. They were sitting cross-legged in a circle, a bowl of chips and pretzels in the prime spot in the center.

Michael rolled his eyes. “Bullshit. I can't imagine you, Edgelord McGreasyhair, going to a summer camp.”

“It's true!” Connor protested. “Zoe can back me up.”

“I can confirm.” Zoe nodded and took a sip of soda. “Both Connor and I went to a summer camp for four years before Con-man dropped in seventh grade. I left after that.”

“But was it a hardcore summer camp or, like, a YMCA camp?” Jared asked.

“Hardcore.” Connor smiled knowingly. “The whole nine yards: latrines, night hikes, s’mores. There were spiders everywhere.”

Zoe shivered. “So many spiders.”

“It was pretty fun, though. Shitty food in the dining hall, canoeing in the lake, singing songs about death. Classic summer camp.”

“Pray tell,” Michael grinned. “Did you wear shorts and a printed tee? Did you have the whole outfit with bug bites and a smudge of dirt on your nose?”

Zoe laughed. “You bet he did. Connor was probably one of the most enthusiastic campers there. Everyone called him Murphy, and I was Mini-Murphy. You know, I probably have pictures.”

Connor buried his head in his hands as Zoe fished around in her purse. “Here it is! Feast your eyes on camp Connor. You wanted to be a counselor, remember? Your name was going to be-”

“Zoom. I remember.” Connor rolled his eyes. “Stop making me feel emotions, Zo.”

Jeremy took the picture from Zoe. “This is the cutest fucking thing I've ever seen.”

It was cute: a maybe ten-year-old Connor with his arm around Zoe. They both had huge smiles on their faces, Zoe's mouth full of hot pink braces and Connor with a smiley face band-aid on his chin.

“Oh my god!” Michael squealed. “Whomst the fuck is this?”

Connor groaned. “I remember Larry had a rule that my hair could only be an inch below my earlobe. He would take out a ruler and measure it after haircuts.”

“Look how far you've come,” Zoe mused.

Connor fluffed his hair. “I don't know, but I think I'm achieving maximum gay right now, Michael.”

Michael smirked and kissed Jeremy softly. “Hah.” Connor didn't react.

Jared coughed. “You can't leave us hanging like this! Alana’s not here, and I'm as single as can be. You've got to seize the gay, Murphy.”

Connor glared at him. “I'll fucking seize the gay around his neck.”

Evan looked like he wanted to melt into the floor. “I'm sure Connor is fine not being the maximum gay.”

“I mean, not really,” Connor pointed at Michael accusingly, “but I am being maximum boyfriend by not overstepping Evan’s boundaries. So there.”

Michael frowned. “You got me there, buddy. Fuck.”

Zoe cleared her throat. “Y’all cool with it if I take pictures of this? Like, today? To put on the Instagram?”

Jeremy shrugged. “Yeah, why not?”

Zoe smiled and pulled out her phone. “Are you guys excited to go back to school on Monday?”

Connor groaned. “No!”

“It was worth asking.” Zoe snapped a picture of Connor with his head in his hands. “Angsty.”

Connor stuck out his tongue at her, and Zoe aimed her camera at him again.

“Jared, how was Ohio?” Evan said through a handful of pretzel.

Jared shrugged. “Ohio-y. My grandma’s, like, at death’s door. It was sort of depressing. Her helper did make a great turkey, though. So that was cool.”

“Tie-dye Tutu Turkey Taco Tuesday.” Zoe smiled fondly. “Remember, Connor?”

Connor laughed. “I remember. I wore a rainbow tutu every Tuesday. Honestly, I don't know how Larry didn't figure out I was gay earlier.”

“Uh, care to clarify?” Michael cut in. “What the fuck is tie-dye taco- tutu… Tuesday?”

Zoe grinned. “At our old summer camp-”

Connor held up a finger. “Camp Machagamee.”

“Right.” Zoe tugged at her shoelaces. “At Camp Machagamee, they had themed dinners. Meatless Monday, Pizza Wednesday, Final Banquet on Thursday before everybody left, and of course, Tie-Dye Tutu Turkey Taco Tuesday. Every Tuesday people would wear tie-dye and tutus and we would eat tacos with turkey meat. It was great.”

“You should go back and be counselors!” Jeremy offered. “It sounds like you really loved the place.”

“Yeah, well, considering I threw a kayak at a kid the last summer I was there, I don't know if they would really trust me around children.” Connor frowned. “Hell knows I don't trust myself around kids.”

Evan put a hand on his shoulder. “I'm sure they would understand. I mean, I would be miserable without you for a summer, but it doesn't really matter.”

Connor shrugged Evan’s hand away. “Whatever.”

“God,” Zoe rolled her eyes, “why are you such an asshole?”

Connor scowled. “You tell me.”

“Hey, who wants to watch a movie?” Michael offered, desperately trying to change the topic. “We have Disney.”

Zoe looked at Connor sadly. “Sounds great.”

“I don't fucking need a pity party,” Connor growled.

“We're not pitying you, Connor.” Zoe glared at him. “We're trying to live our lives like normal human beings.”

Jeremy cleared his throat. “Connor, you wanna… take a break? Or something? I’m not feeling safe, strong, and free right now.”

Connor scowled. “I'm not molesting you, Jeremy.”

“I know, but I've always wanted to say that and it seemed to fit the situation. Sue me.”

And just like that, the tension was broken. Michael snorted and wrapped his arms around Jeremy. “I still wanna watch a Disney movie.”

Jeremy sighed. “Fine. Do you want to watch Mulan?”

“Hell yeah, I do.”

Jeremy disentangled himself from his boyfriend’s arms. “Alright. You all have to watch Mulan now, because when Michael gets an idea it never dies. I hope you're fine with that.”

“I love Mulan!” Zoe said excitedly.

Evan nodded tentatively and Connor shrugged. “Personally, I believe Tangled is better, but that's a whole can of worms I don't want to be opening.” Jared crossed his arms. “So Mulan it is.”

Jeremy found the remote and selected the movie, and the room fell into a comfortable silence aside from the occasional sing-along or witty remark.

Evan scooted closer to Connor. “I'm serious. I think you would be a great camp counselor.”

Jared swatted Evan on the shoulder. “Shut up, I'm trying to watch the movie.”

Connor leaned his head on Evan’s shoulder. “I'll think about it.”

Connor couldn't help but marvel at how cozy and perfect it all was. His best friends and sister, all on the floor of Jeremy’s living room watching Disney movies as he half-cuddled with his boyfriend. It was sort of disgustingly sweet, actually.

“This is sickening.”

Zoe turned away from the TV with a scandalized expression. “What?”

“No, not the movie. This whole… thing.” Connor shrugged.

“Well, I pity your digestive system because I'm not going anywhere, as long as Mulan is on.” Zoe laughed. “Suck it up, buttercup.”

Evan put a hand over Connor’s. “Buy some Advil.”

Connor rolled his eyes. “Ugh. Fucking hell, guys. Stop.”

Connor grimaced, but inside he was happy. Honestly, a perfect friend group and a great relationship was his dream. As much as he could bitch and moan and annoy everybody around him, Connor couldn't deny the warm feeling inside him that grew steadily every day, the feeling Connor worried would eventually consume him until there was nothing of himself left.

 

~

 

Thanksgiving break was over before anyone knew it, and the hallways of the school filled with grumpy, sleep-deprived teenagers.

“What if I fake my own death to get out of school?” Jeremy mused as he sat on the bleachers during gym class. “Then I can come back by some miracle during winter break.”

“But you know friends and family get investigated first, and I'm a terrible liar.” Michael shook his head. “I don't think it would work out.”

Jeremy groaned. “Ugh. Even actual death would be better than the volleyball unit. THIS ISN’T A SIXTIES BEACH MOVIE, NOBODY PLAYS VOLLEYBALL IN REAL LIFE!” He yelled across the court.

“Now Jerry,” Michael said in a scarily accurate mimicking of their gym teacher's voice, “sometime in college your friends will ask you to go out and play volleyball with them. What will you do then?”

“If anybody asks me to play volleyball with them,” Jeremy muttered, “they're not my friend.”

“Harsh, man.” Michael laughed. “Speaking of which, I got some killer news.”

Jeremy leaned forward. “Spill, dude.”

“So Zoe’s sort of like, our agent now, because she told Evan who told me the school emailed her about the band possibly playing at the Valentine’s Day Dance!”

“Oh my god, that's amazing!” Jeremy grinned. “Wait, there's a Valentine’s Day Dance?”

“Apparently.” Michael grabbed Jeremy’s shoulders. “Isn't this great? Who better to play horny romance music than the sexually frustrated gay children?”

“Um, what?” A voice came from behind them.

Michael spun around with fury in his face. “None of your business! Oh, hey, Adam.”

The freshman in question looked half terrified and half relieved that Michael hadn't decapitated him. “H-hey.”

“You're in… American Lit with me, right?”

Adam nodded. “Yeah. What was that about sexually frustrated gay children?”

Jeremy flushed red. “I-it's a long story.”

“We’re in a band.” Michael put his hands on his hips proudly. “That was one of the possible names.”

“Huh. What do you play?” Adam sat down on the bleachers next to Michael.

“It's a pretty weird array of music. Like, Bob Marley and Hairspray and original songs that Evan writes.”

“Evan Hansen? He’s in biology with me. He knows a lot about plants.”

Jeremy laughed. “That's Evan. Yeah. He writes really angsty love songs and we play them sometimes.”

“Oh. Cool.” Adam looked back over at the volleyball court. “I've got to go. See y'all later!”

Jeremy snorted and fell into Michael’s shoulders as Adam jogged away. “Y’all! We live in New Jersey, not South Carolina!”

“C’mon, don't be an asshole. He moved from Texas two years ago.” Michael punched Jeremy in the shoulder. “We don't need three dicks in this relationship.”

Jeremy laughed. “God, that was awful.”

Michael rolled his eyes. “I know, I know. Hey, do you still know Suddenly, Seymour? You know, from Little Shop of Horrors?”

“Of course!” Jeremy nodded. “Both parts. Obviously. I dated Christine for, like, months, dude. Why?”

“No reason.”

Jeremy eyed Michael suspiciously. “Okay… this had better not be some elaborate promposal thing, or I swear to god-”

“Dude, we probably aren't even going to prom. We're juniors who don't like parties.”

Jeremy sighed. “You're right. I just want to be normal, you know?”

Michael leaned his head on Jeremy’s shoulder. “Miah, you've tried to be ‘normal’ before. It didn't work out well for either of us.”

“Yeah. Yeah, you're right.” Jeremy grabbed Michael’s hand. “Yeah. Thanks.”

“Hell! M-Meere! Fuckin- JEREMY AND MICHAEL! Stop fucking around and get down onto the volleyball court!” The gym teacher blew his whistle once and gestured largely to where he was standing.

Michael stood up and rolled his eyes dramatically. “Fine. Jer, join me on team three?”

Jeremy followed Michael down the bleachers, his arms flapping beside him as he hopped from one bench to another. “Of course. As long as I'm in the front.”

“Of course, you're shit at bumps.”

Jeremy took his place on one of the volleyball courts, facing off against a boy named Danny and a girl named Sabine. “Honey, I'm shit at everything.”

Danny cackled. “You're on, gays. Prepare to be pulverized.”

“I'm sincerely hoping that comment was coming from a place of friendship.”

Danny nodded and served the ball over the net. “You betcha. Hey Sabine, tell them what you told me earlier.”

“So Chris hosted a house party the night before yesterday, you know, as, like, an end-of-break thing? It was crazy, like, everyone was there.” Sabine set the ball to Jeremy, who dropped it and rolled it under the net back to Danny. “And Gabriella got, like, super wasted.” Sabine dropped her voice dramatically so that it was almost a whisper. “And I heard she was so drunk she made out with Connor Murphy. Isn't that wild?”

Michael rolled his eyes. “Totally wild, considering that he was with me at Jeremy’s house Saturday night and he's gayer than a rainbow. Tell Gabriella congrats.”

Jeremy stifled a laugh and set the ball back over the net.

“Oh. Well, I also heard that at the party Mina and her posse bought weed from that guy behind the shoe store and got so high that when they went to the CVS for chips, the guy at the register called the cops.” Sabine flipped her hair in victory. “I know it's true ‘cause I saw the cop cars when I was driving home.”

“Gosh, it sure sounds like we missed a lot.” Jeremy laughed. “I think Michael always has the common sense to buy snacks before he gets high, but I guess Mina gets a gold star for trying.”

“Once Mina sucked someone's dick just so that she could take a picture and post it online, but it was taken down before anyone could see it.” Danny bumped the ball high over the net. “She's the worst.”

“That chick in her gang, Crissa, fucked a teacher in the boy’s bathroom. I found them.” Michael shuddered. “Poor, poor Mr. Johnson. He didn't stand a chance.”

“Was that why he got fired?” Sabine pulled out her phone, ignoring the ball that landed at her feet. “I've got to tell people.”

“As long as you don't include my name, I'm fine.” Michael served the ball badly enough so that it hit the net and came rolling back to him. “Go nuts.”

“So is it true you're dating?” Sabine cut in. “I won't tell anyone if you don't want me to, but I have to know.”

Jeremy grabbed the ball when it came to him, tossed it onto the ground, grabbed Michael’s face, and kissed him. Sabine and Danny gasped audibly, along with people on other courts.

“I'll take that as a yes?” Danny snorted.

The gym teacher blew his whistle and sighed. “PDA, guys. Don't make me remind you again.”

Jeremy blushed. “Sorry!”

Michael snickered. “He's just jealous.”

“So are you dating?” Sabine asked, fingers poised over her phone.

“Hell yeah,” Jeremy grinned.

Sabine tapped her screen madly. “Amazing! The freshmen’ll eat this up like the cafeteria pizza.”

The whistle blew, signaling the end of the period. Sabine waved cheerfully at them as she disappeared into the girl’s locker room. Jeremy and Michael, who hadn't changed because A) they had barely done any physical activity and B) are both teenage boys and slobs, a dangerous combination, grabbed their backpacks and headed out the door.

“Sabine’s like the Jenna of this school.” Michael mused. “You ever think of that?”

“We should have them meet!”

Michael shook his head. “I don't want to know what that would do to the world.”

“Relatable. You've got Bio next, right?”

Michael rolled his eyes. “Yes, I'll give you the notes.”

“Good, because I think Mr. Robinson has it out for me.” Jeremy slung an arm around Michael’s shoulders. “He thinks that just because I read in class and was expelled from school for drug use that he can fail me on, like, everything. It's bullshit!”

“Sure.”

“C’mon, you know it's true. It's not like he likes you any better!”

Michael smirked. “Except he does. He thinks my passion for music is ‘honorable’ and’ll ‘make a difference in the world’ and told me that I’d ‘succeed at any path of life I chose’. So hah.”

Jeremy stuck out his tongue at Michael. “Fuck off.”

“Fuck me.”

“Maybe later.” Jeremy ruffled Michael’s hair and turned to head down the hall. “Laterz, babe.”

“Oh, give me a break, BABE.” Michael snorted and walked away towards his next class. “Shithead.”

 

~

 

“Allison?”

The girl shook Jeremy’s hand with a forced smile. “It's Alana.”

“Oh. Sorry. Since when have you been in this class?”

Alana tapped her fingers on her desk. “I just got moved today. I was in AP Psych, but they moved me down because my therapist thought I was stressing myself out too much.”

“Oh.” Jeremy frowned. “That sucks.”

“No, no, it's okay.” Alana shook her head, but she looked disappointed. Or angry. Possibly both. “I was getting too stressed.”

“Well, it'll be cool having you in class. Zoe talks about you a lot.”

Alana blushed. “Really? What does she say?”

Jeremy laughed. “All good things, don't worry. She also said that you were a hard worker, and there's this group project coming up…”

“Sure.” Alana smiled and rolled her eyes. “I can be your partner.”

“Great, because I'm pulling, like, a C in Psych and I really need to up my grade.”

“I can tutor you if you want. Psychology isn't my best subject, but I had an A-minus in AP, so I'm pretty sure I'd be able to handle it.”

“You’d really do that?” Jeremy grinned. “Thanks so much, Alana.”

“Hey, you got it on the second try! That's better than most people.” Alana laughed and tapped her pencil on the desk. “Zoe’s mom still calls me Amanda.”

“Rough.” Jeremy pulled his phone out of his pocket. “Wanna see a great picture of your girlfriend?”

Alana furrowed her brow. “What?”

“I have a picture of Zoe to show you. It's great.”

Alana leaned over to look at Jeremy’s phone, where a picture of Zoe was blown up on the screen. It was blurry and taken hastily, with Zoe wearing a pair of hot pink overalls with hundreds of butterfly clips making her hair stick in every direction. She was flipping off the camera with Connor, who was sporting the same hairdo.

Alana stifled a laugh. “Beautiful.”

“You know, you're a cool dude, Alana.”

“T-thanks?” Alana looked at her hands.

“It was a compliment. I call everyone dude.”

“Oh.” Alana looked up and smiled. “Oh! Thank you!”

“Can you come around the chorus room after school and help me out with my homework before band practice?” Jeremy asked.

“What band? Do you play an instrument?” Alana leaned forward and dropped her voice to a whisper. “Because I've been thinking of starting a string quartet.”

“I don't play a string instrument, so… sorry.” Jeremy laughed. “I'm in this band with some of my friends. I sing. We practice in the chorus room after school most days.”

“That's some dedication to practice that much.”

“Well, we don't usually get much practicing done…” Jeremy rubbed the back of his neck. “It's mostly an opportunity for us all to hang out and to have Connor play All Star on the trombone.”

“He can play the trombone?”

“He can play, like, anything. Uh- drums, cello, flute, trombone, ukulele, marimba, and I think the Irish tin whistle?” Jeremy shrugged. “You'll have to ask him yourself.”

“I'll remember that.” Alana brightened. “Oh! Do you think Connor would want to join my string quartet?”

“Um… not really?” Jeremy frowned. “I mean, I can't speak for him, but… no?”

Alana’s face fell. “Oh.”

“W-we can help you advertise though! We can make posters for you to put up around school or something.”

“That would be great!”

The teacher walked to the front of the class, and Alana held a finger to her lips. “I'll meet you in the chorus room after school.”

“Thanks.”

“Class, I would like everyone in the room to find a partner and ask them a question. Any question. Get to know your partner in one question. Ask a question you think will make your partner think the most. Okay? Go!”

Jeremy turned to Alana. “Why do you try so hard?”

Alana’s pencil tapping halted. “I-I don't know. I feel like… if I don't I'm betraying everybody. I'm betraying my parents, who
worked hard to send me to a good school. I would be cheating myself if I didn't try to do everything perfectly, because I can and if I don't I'm throwing everything away.”

Jeremy frowned. “What makes you think you can do everything perfectly?”

“I-I don't know how to answer that.” Alana looked down at her hands. “Uh- Jeremy. What made you fall in love with your best friend?”

“Zoe told you about that, huh?” Jeremy laughed. “I mean, everything. The way that he always makes me laugh. The way that he saved money for a Pac-Man tattoo by selling Beanie Babies on EBay. How he has a Girl Scout mug even though nobody in his family has ever been a Girl Scout. Also, he’s just hot. That was also a deciding factor.”

Alana smiled. “That's so sweet.”

“Yeah, well, you asked.”

“Alright, alright! Sounded good, you guys. Now I want you to play rock, paper, scissors. Sound easy enough for ya?” The teacher laughed. “Go!”

Jeremy held out his hand. “Okay… um, rock, paper, scissors, shoot!”

They both threw scissors. Alana laughed. “Okay, again. Rock, paper, scissors, shoot!”

Alana threw scissors while Jeremy succumbed to paper. “Hah! Beat you!” Alana whooped.

Jeremy shook his head with a smile on his face. “Goddamn.”

The teacher clapped his hands to get the attention of the class. “You see, people who use scissors have been shown to be more assertive and clever, considering that scissors can be a weapon or a tool. Rock is all aggression, and most players use it as a fallback when other strategies aren’t working. Paper is more subtle and isn’t usually played by rookies. Think about your partner and think about yourself. Did what you play tell you anything about yourself?”

Jeremy thought for a second. “Huh. Fuck, man. I never thought I would have to reconsider my life choices over a game of rock, paper, scissors.”

“Well, that’s Psychology for you.”

The rest of class passed in a drone of worksheets and textbook sign-outs, and Alana and Jeremy chatted comfortably whenever they got the chance. A lot of the things Alana said Jeremy related to, like being pressured to be perfect all the time. Except Jeremy’s problems were less overbearing society and more malicious supercomputer. Still, they had a lot in common.

“You know,” Alana said as she was packing up her classwork, “If we weren't both gay and already dating people I would absolutely want to go out with you.”

Jeremy blushed. “Thanks, man. Uh- same? I guess? And I'm pan, but…”

Alana shouldered her backpack and headed out the door. “No worries. See you after school, Jeremy.”

“See ya.”

 

~

 

“Who's pumped? I'm pumped!”

Michael raised his hand. “I'm pumped!”

Jeremy shot him finger guns. “Rhetorical question, buddy! I'm pumped because I'm finally going to understand some fucking homework!”

Connor raised an eyebrow. “What?”

“Alana’s tutoring me in Psych.” Jeremy did an embarrassing little dance. “~I'm gonna get above a C~” he sang to himself.

Michael laughed. “You're really excited about this, aren't you?”

“I've gotten good grades in every class other than this. I need this help, trust me.”

“Technically, all your other classes are landmasses.” Jared cut in. “Because they're above C level? Get it?”

Jeremy groaned. “That was even worse than the puns Michael makes.”

“That’s a pretty impressive accomplishment,” Michael said. “My puns are horrible.”

“I've only ever made puns of anti-drug slogans,” Connor interjected. “It was a whole thing with Zoe. We would make drug puns and dramatically announce them at the dinner table.”

Jeremy snorted. “Like what?”

“Let's see. There was ‘Cocaine, more like no-caine!’, ‘think with your head, not with your high’, and ‘marijuana more like marijua-nah.’ Clearly, the lessons didn't sink in.”

Michael punched a dissonant chord on the keyboard. “Smokey-smoke weed weed 420 blaze it all day.”

Connor cracked up. To be fair, most of the group did, but Connor just couldn't contain his laughter. Something about the phrase “smokey-smoke weed weed” really seemed to get to him.

It was sad how much Connor’s laugh turned Evan on.

“F-fucking-” Connor gasped between laughs, “smokey-smoke! W-weed weed! What the fuck?”

Michael doubled over in laughter, his arm hitting the keyboard and playing a loud chord. “I don't know! It just came out, okay?”

Connor’s laughs had turned into a snorting, hiccuping mess. “J-just like me!”

Michael could barely lift his arm to pat Connor’s head. “I'm proud of you, child.”

“Embrace the gay!” Jared whooped.

Connor collapsed with his arms around Evan, who was paralyzed in confusion and maybe a little bit of fear. “I'm embracing you. I mean, I'm embracing the bi. Embrace the bi!”

“What on earth is happening?”

Jeremy stifled a laugh and turned to the door. “H-hey, Alana.”

Alana looked as confused as a person could get. “Hey. Is this a bad time?”

Jeremy righted himself on his chair and pulled out his backpack. “Nah, this is fine. Did you bring today’s notes?”

Alana brandished a notebook with ‘Psychology 101’ written on the front in inhumanly neat lettering. “One step ahead of you.”

Connor was still wheezing with laughter. “Kiss me, Evan.”

Evan’s face turned bright red. “Connor-”

Connor ran his hands through Evan’s hair, and Evan forgot where he was. “I'm seizing the bi. Isn't that what you want?”

“...M-maybe.”

Jeremy snorted from behind them, snapping Evan back to reality. Evan cleared his throat. “Jeremy needs to study, and you're not helping.”

Jeremy looked both amused and annoyed. “Get a room. A room that's not the chorus room.”

Connor groaned dramatically and flopped to the ground like a dead fish. “Fine, MOM.”

Michael snickered. “Now listen, buster. I don't want you smokey-smoking any weed weed. Understand?”

Connor let out sharp, hoarse laughs. “I fucking hate you. You know that? You're officially on my hit list.”

“Oh no!” Michael exclaimed. “What're going to do, Taylor Swift? Write a song about me?”

“Hey, I thought you loved Taylor Swift, WonderGay.”

“Shut up.”

Alana massaged her temples. “Yes, please.”

“Sorry,” Evan muttered.

“You'll be sorry when you see my grades.” Jeremy rolled his eyes. “If I can fucking keep it in my pants longer than you you need to rethink your life.”

Connor laughed, and Evan’s smile betrayed him. “Why don’t you and Miss Priss find a different room to study in? That way, you can do your homework and we can get it on without adult supervision.”

Jeremy put a hand over his heart. “Aaaw, you think I’m an adult?”

Alana looked hurt. “Did you call me ‘Miss Priss’?”

“I’m an asshole, what can I say?” Connor shrugged, but his face betrayed a storm of emotion. “I hurt everyone I love. That’s kinda my thang.”

“Oh my god. Jeremy, find a private room to study in. Connor, stop being a depressing slut.” Jared spoke up, holding up a hand definitively. “I’ve had enough of this shit.”

Connor rolled his eyes and stuck up his middle finger.

Alana stood up. “Alright. I don't want to intrude on your ‘bro time’, and frankly, I feel a little uncomfortable, so I’m leaving. Jeremy, you can join me in the library if you want.”

Jeremy stood up and shrugged his backpack onto his shoulders. “Sorry, guys.” He shot finger guns at Jared. “Have a shot at the glory of lead vocals, dude.”

Evan pulled his guitar out once they had left. “So…”

Michael played a lazy arpeggio on the keyboard. “Want to hear the best news ever?”

Jared smiled. “Duh!”

“We're going to perform at the Valentine's Day dance!”

Connor raised an eyebrow. “There's a Valentine's Day dance?”

“Hell yeah, and we're performing!” Michael grinned. “Finally, fame.”

Evan bit his lip. “So I guess we should run through the Time Warp again?”

“You know it, buddy.”

Chapter Text

“Evan, you've got to stop fucking moaning.”

Evan turned bright red and half hid behind his guitar. “S-sorry?”

“In your part, the ‘spaced out on sensation part’. You need to stop moaning.” Jared rubbed his temples.

“I m-mean, in the song, Magenta, she-”

“I don't care what Magenta did-” Connor sighed, “-I care what Evan is doing and what Evan is doing is making me think unsavory gay thoughts while I'm supposed to be drumming a steady tempo.”

Michael snickered and Evan blushed harder, if that was possible. “I-I’ll try and stop?”

“Good. Unless you are physically acting in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, my sweet, innocent Evan is not moaning unless it is in my bed.” Connor flipped a drumstick. “Alright. Time Warp, take three thousand. Try not to sound like you're fucking your brother this time.”

Connor started to play the drum line, but Michael held up a hand and stopped him. “Wait, what?”

“It's in the movie, dude.” Connor looked fed up with everyone. “Magenta and Riff-Raff totally fucked. It's canon.”

“I have no idea what you're talking about.”

Connor was flabbergasted. “You've never seen Rocky Horror?”

“Connor Murphy likes to watch old cult classic musicals about sex. What a surprise.” Jared muttered.

“It's amazing!” Connor sharply pointed a drumstick at Jared. “Just be glad I'm not making you sing Touch-A Touch-A Touch-A Touch Me.”

“Excuse me, how many Ts are there in that song?” Michael cut in.

Evan, glad to be out of the spotlight, started texting Jeremy frantically.

To Jeremy Heere:
Help they're talking about Rocky Horror. I think Connor might murder someone.

From Jeremy Heere:
kinky

From Jeremy Heere:
ill wrap it up alana and i are almost done

Five minutes and one embarrassing sex song later, Jeremy entered the room just as Connor was dramatically re enacting Sweet Transvestite.

“You do realize that song is super politically incorrect, right?” Jeremy asked, and Connor whirled around mid-high kick.

“Hey, I didn't write it. Don't shoot the messenger.”

“So what's this about the Rocky Horror Picture Show?” Jeremy said with a snort. “Also, I want to hear the new and improved Time Warp that you guys have been working on for hours.”

Connor rolled his eyes. “Fine. Can we go from the first ‘It’s just a jump to the right’? Then we can transition into Evan’s verse and see if he can handle it without moaning.”

Jeremy looked confused, but sang as he was supposed to. They transitioned into Evan’s part without a hitch, and everybody waited with bated breath as he sang over his guitar.

“It's so dreamy
Oh, fantasy, free me!
So you can't see me?
No, not at all.
In another dimension
With voyeuristic intention
Well secluded, oh
I see all.”

Jared grinned and pulled his microphone closer. “With a bit of a mind flip-”

“You’re into the time slip-”
“And nothing can ever be the same.”
“You're spaced out on sensation- oh!”

Connor threw down his drumstick. “God-fucking-dammit!”

Evan looked sheepish, whereas Jeremy looked confused. “I'm sorry! It's just habit now!”

“What the fuck is going on?”

Michael tossed an arm over Jeremy’s shoulders. “Evan keeps moaning and it makes Connor think gay thoughts.”

“Well, I thought it was good. It was accurate for the character.” Jeremy shrugged.

“But it's not supposed to be the character!” Connor protested. “It's little innocent Evan bean!”

“Didn't sound too innocent.”

Evan cleared his throat. “Can you stop talking about me like I'm not in the room?”

“Sorry.” Connor walked over to Evan and put a hand on his head. “Evan, my dearest, my beloved, I need you to try really hard to stop moaning because otherwise I can't play the drums right and the whole band suffers. I'm not going to let my gay ass get in the way of success. Cool?”

“This seems like something you should deal with, not me.” Evan frowned. “Like the dress code.”

“Hey, you are not allowed to talk about the dress code without Zoe.” Connor shook his head. “She has the best arguments.”

“I have a question.” Jeremy cut in. “I thought we had agreed on what we were going to sing, and I don't know where the Time Warp fits into that.”

“Yeah, but we thought it'd be nice to have a fun dance song, and of course Connor the kinky edgelord suggested the Rocky Horror Picture Show. So… yeah.” Jared shrugged. “Also, I don't want to, as you put it, ‘Single Ladies this shit’. I want to be the lead vocals on something.”

Jeremy rolled his eyes. “Fine. Rocky Horror stays. Evan and Connor, what do you have for slow songs?”

“Um…” Evan pulled out his phone. “We've got Burning House by Cam, Song For Someone by U2, and If I Die Young by The Band Perry. We also have some of my original songs figured out, too. If that's okay.”

“Nice. Michael, what did we have again?”

Michael counted off of his fingers as he named songs. “Teenager in Love and Still Young by the Neon Trees and Video Games by The Young Professionals. Also if you're counting Evan’s songs, you sing backup in Soft Place to Land. I think that's it.”

“Great. Loving the exposition.” Jeremy threw down his backpack. “Evan, why don't you sing your songs?”

Evan looked like a deer in the headlights. “Oh- uh, s-sure.”

Connor leaned over and whispered in Evan’s ear. “Okay. Uh- I'll do this one? It's not a- a duet, but it's sort of a love song?”

Michael sat down on the floor next to the piano. “Well, let's hear it!”

“Um… okay.” Evan picked up his acoustic guitar and strummed a melancholy chord.

“End of May or early June
This picture perfect afternoon we share
Drive the winding country roads
Grab a scoop at À La Mode
And then we're there…”

Evan had his eyes closed and was bent over his guitar like it was all he had left in the world, completely oblivious to anything around him. Connor had a look on his face that couldn't be described by Shakespeare.

“An open field that's framed with trees
We pick a spot and shoot the breeze, like buddies do
Quoting songs by our favorite bands
Telling jokes no one understands except us two
And we talk and take in the view-”

Connor, with a smile on his face, joined Evan on the chorus, singing softly alongside the boy.

“All we see is sky for forever
We let the world pass by for forever
Feels like we could go on for forever this way
Two friends, on a perfect day.”

Michael whistled and whooped aggressively while Jared and Jeremy clapped enthusiastically. “That was amazing!” Jeremy squealed in a way that didn't not resemble a thirteen-year-old girl.

Evan flushed red and looked suddenly very interested in the strings of his guitar.

“Honestly, dude, that was great. Are you going to sing that at the dance?” Michael asked, methodically cracking his knuckles.

“I-I think so.” Evan frowned. “You shouldn't do that.”

“Why not? It's perfectly harmless.”

“Because it's fucking gross, Mell,” Connor cut in. “Your fingers shouldn't sound like popcorn in a microwave.”

“Damn.” Michael snorted. “Okay, fine. But I dare you to crack your knuckles and tell me it doesn't feel good.”

Connor rolled his eyes. “Fucker.”

Jeremy stretched his legs directly in front of him, taking up most of the empty floor space. “Want to go on a hike?”

Michael eyed his boyfriend suspiciously. “We live on suburban New Jersey, dude. Where the fuck are we supposed to go hiking?”

“Not like, hiking hiking. Going on a nature walk in the town forest!” Jeremy grinned. “It'd be fun!”

Connor raised his hand halfheartedly. “I'm so beyond disinterested that I'm sort of up for the idea.”

“It would be a great idea for Evan to show off his tree kink.” Jared winked while Evan sputtered. “Don't deny it, we all know you fuck that bonsai Connor gave you when you're alone.”

Evan’s face contorted into confusion and rage as he sputtered and flushed bright red. “T-that's not true! J-Jared, I swear-”

“Calm down, tree fucker. I think it's a great idea, I've always wanted to see an Evan Hansen in the wild.” Jared laughed.

Jeremy stood up and stretched, stumbling a bit when he tripped over his shoelaces. “So it's settled then?”

“Sure.” Michael stood up as well, brushing floor dust off of his pants. “Let's go on a motherfucking nature hike.”

~

Jeremy was not prepared for what a nature hike with the craziest people in school would entail.

When you think nature hike, do you think calming, peaceful quiet and a respect for the trees around you? So did Jeremy. What he did not expect was terrible jokes and screamed Bo Burnham songs.

Jeremy and Evan seemed to be the only ones invested in the outdoors. Jeremy walked slowly, trailing hands along passing leaves and picking up exceptionally smooth rocks from the ground. Evan was like a waterfall of information, constantly spouting off facts like his life depended on it.

“So when you see an apple, you should really think about roses, because apples are part of the rose family-” Evan rambled.

“Swallow bitch! THERE’S PEOPLE STARVING IN AFRICA!” Jared and Connor shrieked.

Michael walked in silence, his headphones securely in place over his ears.

“What do you call a can of soup that eats other cans of soup?” Jared said over the noise.

Jeremy sighed. “What?”

“A CAN-nibal! Get it?”

“Unfortunately.” Jeremy groaned. “Would it be bad to say I want to kill you all right now?”

Connor crossed his arms petulantly. “Considering that we’re alone in the middle of the forest, yes.”

“Ugh. Evan, be my second-in-command. We need to rule these bitches.”

Evan dropped the leaf he was inspecting like a hot potato. “Uh- okay?”

Jeremy, ever the actor, seemed to take on a kingly air. His posture straightened, head raised, even his jaw set in a regal way. If it weren’t for the acne and Star Wars t-shirt, the rest of the group probably would’ve started kneeling right then and there. “First order of business, stop fucking singing Bo Burnham.”

Jared scowled. “Damn.”

With a flourish, the new leader plucked Michael’s headphones off of his ears. “Pay attention to the fucking nature.”

Michael looked offended. “Okay, mom.”

Jeremy turned to Evan dramatically. “I pass the honor of making people enjoy nature onto you, my reliable second-in-command.”

Evan flushed. “Uh- Jared, p-pay attention.”

Jared laughed. “Oh, wow. I quake with fear.”

Jeremy frowned, and Jared nodded quickly. “O-okay! Will do, buckaroo!”

“Good.” Jeremy pointed into the thick underbrush. “Onward, my valiant nature-loving servants!”

The ragtag group of hikers set off once again, this time considerably more quiet. Jeremy relaxed his posture, looking once again like a teenage boy and not the ruler of a small European country that’s primary export is pears. Evan plucked a small blue wildflower from the ground and twirled it between his fingers with a smile. He held it out to Jeremy.

“Roundlobe hepatica. It’s my favorite.”

Jeremy nodded in a polite but disinterested way. “Coolio.”

Evan jogged forward until he was standing next to Connor. “Look what I found!”

Connor eyed the plant suspiciously. “I swear, if you make a weed joke-”

“It’s a roundlobe hepatica. Remember?”

Connor’s aggravated expression melted and was replaced with one of fondness. “God, I think I still have the one you gave me rotting on my dresser.”

Evan laughed. “That was months ago!”

“And I don’t clean my room.” Connor rolled his eyes. “Really, Hansen, you should know this by now.”

Evan hummed. “Well, you get another.” He tucked the flower behind Connor’s ear, nestling the small blue flower in the thick, brown mess of hair.

“Better tell Zoe I’m out-pretty-princessing her.” Connor struck a dramatic pose. “Peasants.”

“Just take the romantic gesture.”

“Never!” Connor twirled around and bowed deeply. “I’m the new princess of New Jerseylandia and you will treat me with respect, plebeian.”

Evan laughed and curtsied as best as he could with jeans and zero coordination. “Sorry.”

Jeremy mimed throwing up. “Gross.”

“Booo!” Michael called out. “Get a room!”

Connor whirled around and pointed an accusatory finger at Michael. “Hey, I caught you sucking Jeremy’s dick at the orchard when you were supposed to be mowing the fucking grass. You don't get to talk.”

Michael shrugged. “True, true.”

With that said, the boys walked on in silence. Michael hummed quietly, some lilting tune that sounded like it came straight from a fairytale. Jeremy taught Evan how to step-touch. Jared looked up swear words in sign language and taught them to Connor.

It was picturesque and perfect, and Jeremy wished Zoe was here to capture the moment, even if he knew her phone camera would never be able to. He hadn't felt this kind of contentment for a long time.

It really was a beautiful day. The sun was bright, and the weather was warm for early december. A light dusting of snow covered the ground, sticking to Jeremy’s shoes and crunching underfoot. The song Michael was humming added an almost magical air to the whole thing, making Jeremy wonder if he was really out here, walking in the snow with some of his best friends in the world.

Of course, a ringing phone shattered the image of the afternoon.

“Shit! Sorry, sorry.” Connor fumbled to pull his phone out of his sweatshirt pocket, having opted to stick with his black hoodie instead of transitioning to a winter coat. He picked up the phone hastily, looking guilty. “Hey, Zo. No. No, I can't. I'm in the middle of the fucking woods, Zoe.” A pause. “I'll try. Bye.” Connor rolled his eyes. “Zoe wants me to pick her up. Jazz band is over.”

“Oh. Well, it is getting pretty late.” Jeremy glanced at the rest of the group. “I think it's about time to head in.”

“Thank god.” Michael shook his head. “I think my blood is 90 percent mosquito spit by now.”

With that, the boys turned and walked back the way they came with significantly less complaining. “Well, we got no work done in rehearsal today.” Jared grinned. “This was great.”

“I wish I could sing the Time Warp once without…” Evan looked down at his shoes. “You know.”

“It's cool, child.” Michael patted his head. “We’re not judging.”

“I'm older than you.”

“Exactly! It's about time you've come to terms with your sexuality.”

Evan shrugged his hand off and looked away. Connor flipped Michael off.

They stood in the school parking lot for a while after loading the backseats with instruments and getting whatever homework or family members they needed.

“All I'm saying is that the Romans were totally overrated.”

“Jared, without the Romans, we wouldn't have anything!” Evan countered, face red. “T-they had concrete, and a language system we still use today, and- and everything!”

Jared rolled his eyes and opened his car door. “Get in, Claudius. I need to drive you home.”

Jeremy climbed into Michael's car. “C’mon, Mikey.”

Michael, who was in the middle of a conversation with Connor, glared at his boyfriend. “One second, Jeremiah.”

Jeremy stuck his tongue out at him. “You need to drive me home, Michaelmiah.”

Michael laughed and said his goodbyes to Connor.

As they drove home to Metuchen, New Jersey with the sun painting the sky red behind Michael’s hideous PT Cruiser with the “Honk if you're horny” sticker, Jeremy felt at home.

 

~

 

Zoe fiddled with her guitar strap as Connor drove home in silence.

“Hey, Connor?”

Connor looked over to Zoe, who looked nervous, like she expected Connor to blow up in her face. Which was completely reasonable.

“What?”

Zoe took a deep breath. “Want to go get some ice cream? You know, brother and sister bonding time? We haven't… done that in a while.”

‘No,’ the voice in his head sneered. ‘You're a bitch with better things to do and I'm a monster who destroys everything I touch. Go fuck yourself.’

“Sure,” Connor said, forcing a friendly smile on his face. “Want to go to Lizzie’s?”

Zoe grinned. “Really?”

“Totally.” Connor felt his stomach churn. “I've got twenty dollars stolen from Larry’s wallet in my backpack. It'll be my treat.”

Zoe giggled. “Technically, it’s dad’s treat.”

Connor smirked. “Sometimes, dad just needs some good, hard thievery.”

“I don't know about that.” Zoe had a wicked glint in her eyes. “How about a good punch in the nose instead?”

Connor laughed and pulled into the parking lot of Lizzie’s. “This place brings back memories.”

“Remember when that cashier shortchanged dad by accident? He fucking flipped out.”

“Yeah. That was pretty terrifying.”

“He had to be escorted out by the manager. I remember you said that if he cared about people more than he cared about money, things like this wouldn't happen.” Zoe's grin faded. “You don't care about anyone, you said. Not me, or Zoe, or even mom. All you care about is your stupid job. I remember dad told mom that night that he was one shitty comment away from hitting you.”

Connor was paralyzed. “Zoe, I-”

“It's fine.” Zoe shook her head and smiled weakly. “It's in the past now. You're fine now.”

“I'm sorry, Zo.”

“You’re okay now, Connor. Promise me that.”

Connor couldn't ignore the feeling of guilt that gnawed at him. “Yeah. Yeah, Zo. I'm better now.”

Zoe grinned and put a hand over her brother’s. “Good. Now let's get ice cream.”

Connor walked into the small ice cream parlor with much less zeal than he was feeling before. Lizzie’s was exactly the same as it had been five years ago, when their parents stopped taking them for ice cream on Sundays after church. The same round metal tables with red leather stools and the mural of a green pasture on the far wall. They walked up to the counter, greeted with the same assortment of flavors they had had since forever.

“I’d like a scoop fudge brownie in a waffle cone, please.” Zoe flashed a grin at the girl behind the counter, who smiled a customer-service smile. “Connor?”

“Uh- could I please have two scoops of cookie dough in a cup?” Connor dug the wrinkled twenty out of his pocket and pushed it across the counter. “Thanks.”

“So, are you two out on a date or something?” The girl chatted amicably as she scooped the ice cream.

“No!” Connor choked out. “I-I have a boyfriend!”

“Absolutely not!” Zoe said, laughter leaking into her voice. “He’s my brother.” Zoe rolled her eyes. “And I have a girlfriend.”

“So you’re both…”

“The Murphy clan, one’s gay and one’s pan.” Zoe said rhythmically. “Ooh, I like that.”

“Put that on a t-shirt.” Connor chuckled.

Zoe reached up to tousle his hair. “I know what I'm getting you for Christmas.”

The girl, looking uncomfortable, pushed their ice cream toward them. “Enjoy, you guys.”

Connor and Zoe snickered to themselves as they sat down at one of the metal tables. “That was great.” Connor took a bite of ice cream. “Family anthem right there.”

“Imagine if mom and dad heard me say that.” Zoe snorted into her cone. “They'd flip their shit for sure.”

“Oh, absolutely. If I had a nickel for every time it wasn't a phase-”

“I’d be fucking rich.” Zoe finished. “Damn. Our parents really do suck.”

“Fucking Larry.”

“Fucking Larry.” Zoe said definitively. “Hey, did you ever see Wonder Woman? I remember I went to see it with mom. I don't know where you were.”

“I saw it,” Connor said. “It was pretty dope.”

Zoe giggled. “Please, never say dope again.”

“Why? I think it's a dope word.”

“Because it’s fucking stupid, that’s why.” Zoe rolled her eyes. “But, as movies go, it was pretty dope.”

“Honestly, yeah. Diana is like, my spirit animal.”

Zoe nodded. “Same.”

“I'm a dude and that movie made me feel proud to be a woman.” Connor took a bite of ice cream. “It was super cool.”

“You know what? You're not an asshole, Connor.”

“Gee,” Connor groused, “thanks.”

“No, I’m serious. Sometimes you're a total douchebag, but I don't hate you. I want you to know that.” Zoe looked down at her dessert. “You're not a bad guy.”

“Oh.” Connor picked at his nail polish. “I-I like you too, Zoe. You're not bad either.”

“Awesome!” Zoe crunched into her cone, getting chocolate ice cream all over her face. “So, how’s Evan?”

Connor, shocked at the sudden switch, could only nod. “Good. Uh- he’s good. We’re good.”

“Cool.” Zoe smiled. “Alana’s great, as always. She’s the head of the party planning committee now. She’s had to apply for like, three years but she finally got appointed.”

“That’s great!” Connor said, trying to sound interested. “Is she going to mc the winter party at Chris Huckin’s house this year, too?”

“No, you fuck.” Zoe rolled her eyes. “School-sponsored events, dumbass. By the way, you going to the party?”

“What do you think? It's going to be a bunch of drunk teenagers hooking up and regretting it instantly and spiking the nerds’ drinks and doing keg stands and shit.” Connor paused. “Of course I'm going.”

“Good, ‘cause it’s gonna be off the chain.”

Connor snorted. “Off the chain?”

“Oh, shut up. You know what I mean.”

“It’s gonna be off the heezy, bruh.” Connor lowered his voice and decreased his diction, making him seem like the type of person who hung out by the dumpster after school, which he was, but he wasn't above making fun of the people he hung out with.

“You know it, homeskillets!” Zoe said, her voice choked from laughter.

Connor glanced at the time and grimaced. “Fuck, it's almost dinnertime.”

“I don't care. Ice cream for dinner!”

Connor grabbed Zoe’s arm and pulled her up from the chair. “C’mon, Zo. Let’s get you home.”

Chapter Text

Evan knew there was no good reason to get a phone call before 6 am.

Sure, occasionally the school would call to tell you they had canceled due to snow, but judging by the fact it was the middle of winter break that didn't seem very likely.

Evan sat up, immediately struck with cold air. It was mid-December and Evan, idiotically, hadn't turned the heating up before he went to bed. He grabbed a blanket off of his desk chair and wrapped tight it around himself, walking downstairs to pick up the phone.

Evan’s feet hit cold wood floors with every step he took, and he shivered in spite of himself. The menorah was still in the window, and Evan knew they had leftover latkes in the fridge. In Evan’s opinion, Hanukkah was the best time of the year. His mother took time off from work, and they lit the menorah together and ate all the food they possibly could. Always just the two of them, spending time together alone in the house.

The phone rang again and snapped Evan out of his reverie. Pulling the blanket tighter, Evan picked up the ringing phone.

“H-hello?” He said into the phone, trying to stop his teeth from chattering. “W-who is this?”

“It’s Zoe,” the voice on the phone said, solemn and shaky. “I… I need to tell you something.”

Chapter Text

Connor Murphy died on Christmas.

This was what ran through Evan’s head as he drove his mom’s car to the emergency room, lack of driver’s license be damned.

Was that what it would say on his gravestone? Cold and harsh, like the night he gave up and slit his wrists in his bedroom: “Connor Murphy died on Christmas.”

Evan gripped the steering wheel so tight his knuckles turned white. It was three in the morning, what cops would still be on the road on Christmas Day?

Evan’s mind raced and made up fake eulogies, even though he knew he wasn't helping anything. “Connor Murphy is survived by his mother, father, and sister, as well as his stupid boyfriend who didn't know that the most important thing in his world was days away from killing himself.”

“In lieu of flowers, please donate to the Hansen family, since their son is never going to get a job if everybody thinks he killed his boyfriend.”

“We are gathered here today to remember Connor Murphy, who everyone hated and don't you feel guilty now that he’s dead?”

As Evan walked into the waiting room of the ER, he realized he was sobbing. The woman at the front desk looked shocked for a moment before transforming into a smooth, practiced model. She probably dealt with crying people all the time, Evan thought.

“Excuse me, sir? What is the problem?”

“M-my- Con- Connor Murphy. D-do you know w-where he is?” Evan could barely speak through his tears, hiccups wracking his body.

The woman frowned and looked down at her computer. “Yes. Connor Murphy is in urgent care right now, so I'm afraid you won't be able to see him at the moment. Are you family?”

“I-I'm… yes.” Evan pulled at the strings of his hoodie, of Connor’s hoodie, oh god, he was wearing the hoodie of his dead boyfriend. “I-family. I'm f-family.”

“You can wait in the E Wing.” The nurse pointed him in the direction he needed to go, then looked back down at her computer nonchalantly. “Have a good night, sir.”

“Y-you too.” Evan stumbled down the hallway to the E Wing waiting room, where he was greeted by the solemn faces of the Murphy family.

“Evan?” Cynthia Murphy said, her makeup streaked down her face. “What are you doing here?”

“I-I Zoe called me, so I came and I wanted to find out if Connor was going to be okay because I was worried he was dead, and-”

“Evan.” Zoe cut him off. “Stop.”

Zoe looked the worst out of all three of them. Her face was mottled with tears… and was that blood? Come to think of it, her knees and hands were covered in a dark, thick substance. Her cheeks and hair looked as if she was rubbing at her face and pulling her hair. She was wearing yellow pajama bottoms with daisies printed on them, and the red was a harsh contrast. Her t-shirt had the words “too blessed to be stressed” on it, which seemed like a cruel touch of irony.

Evan sat down on the waiting room chair next to her, tugging at his hoodie strings and trying to stop shaking. His face felt cold and frostbitten from the December air, but hot tears streamed down his face, making his cheeks burn and his mind stumble over and over on the same broken record: Connor is dead and you killed him. Connor is dead and you killed him.

Evan jumped when he felt Zoe's hand touch his. He turned to look into the face of the girl that he had loved for so long before loving her brother.

“Evan. Get out of your head. What's wrong?”

Evan felt as if someone had their hand around his neck, blocking any air from leaving his lungs. “What do you think is wrong? I'm sitting here while the only person in the world who really loves me is bleeding out on an operating table!” Evan knew he was being harsh, but he didn't care. He saw himself yelling at Zoe, who sat there crying in her blood-stained pajamas, but he didn't care. He just didn't care anymore. “I can't tell you what’s wrong because so much is wrong I don't even know what's right!”

Zoe took a deep, shuddering breath. “I know. I know that everything is wrong because even though your boyfriend is in urgent care, it's my brother who’s lying on that operating table. It's my brother who I found half dead in a puddle of his own blood on Christmas fucking morning!”

Evan brought his hand up to his mouth, tasting tears. Of course. The pieces of the puzzle seemed to rearrange in his head. The blood, the way Zoe had called him instead of her parents. Zoe had found Connor. Oh god, Zoe had found Connor.

Evan let out an involuntary sob. “Z-Zoe, I’m- I’m sorry. I didn't mean-”

“It’s okay.” Evan flinched as Zoe touched his arm tentatively. “I know. What’s really wrong?”

“I- there was a fight.”

Zoe’s eyebrows knit together. “What do you mean?”

“Earlier this week, I-I said something about liking you, and he- he said that I was only using him to get to you, and that I didn't re-really love him.” Evan hiccuped. “He yelled at me to leave, a-and I did. And then two days later…” he gestured around the room weakly.

Zoe looked horrified. “Oh. No, no! Evan, this isn't your fault!”

The waiting room was silent, minus the classical music playing weakly from the cheap speakers. Evan pulled his arm away from Zoe’s touch. “I don't want pity because it's true.”

Zoe folds her hands in her lap. “I'm sorry, Evan.” She whispers.

Evan pretended not to hear.

Cynthia and Larry Murphy were sitting across from them, not touching or talking. Just waiting. Cynthia had her eyes glued on the clock on the wall, her fingers twitching with every tick. Larry was looking at his phone, his hands shaking as he typed something out.

Evan wished he had his guitar. Or his computer, so that he could write a Dear Evan Hansen that was actually true for once. He wished he had some way to let his emotions out without bottling them in and letting them fester in his gut until Evan was sure he was going to pass out.

Zoe sat with her feet up on the chair and her knees tucked to her chin, tugging on her hair and breathing heavily.

Somewhere off in the distance, Evan could hear the beeping of a heart monitor. The whole place smelled like sickness and formaldehyde and death, and Evan wanted to throw up.

“Evan, darling, how was your vacation?” Cynthia broke the silence, her voice steady.

Evan didn't respond, just looked her in the eye and dared her to say anything else.

Cynthia’s fingers twitched.

Evan felt like he was drowning. His thoughts crashed over him like tidal waves, pulling him down into the dark, cold water.

Connor Murphy died on Christmas and you killed him.

“Evan, I promise this isn't your fault.” Zoe said softly.

“WASH YOUR HANDS TO FIGHT GERMS,” a multicolored poster on the wall said.

Evan could hear violins.

A tall, sad looking man in scrubs emerged from a door Evan hadn't previously realized was there. The blood on his green scrubs just made him look like a Christmas arts-and-crafts project gone wrong. “Family of Connor Murphy?”

It seemed as if those four words opened the floodgates for everyone. Evan and Zoe started crying, and Cynthia broke down in sobs. “Is my son alright?” She begged, her hands clasped together as if in prayer.

The man didn't answer at first, and Evan felt his heart stop.

“Connor Murphy will be okay.” The man put up a hand. “However, he lost a lot of blood, and we’re going to need to keep him here for a while. Along with the mandatory psychiatric care, of course. I'm afraid you won't be able to visit him tonight.”

“W-what do you mean?” Zoe warbled.

“I'm going to have to ask you to come back tomorrow if you wish to visit him. He's simply not stable enough, and we want to keep a steady eye on him for a little bit.”

“That’s my son in there!” Cynthia protested.

“I know, and I'm sorry. But you must come back later. Please.”

Larry pulled Cynthia up by her arm. “Come on, Cynthia. Let’s go home.”

Evan wiped his eyes and stood up. The Murphys left without any announcement, and Evan was on his own. His heart beat out the words he didn't know he had needed to hear: Connor Murphy will be okay.

Connor Murphy will be okay.

Connor, Connor, Connor.

Evan drove the car home and came into the house as quietly as possible, even though he knew his mother was dead asleep.

Evan’s bed had never felt so welcoming.

 

~

 

Connor woke up in a hospital bed.

His head pounded, he had a whole mess of tubes sticking out of him, and his arms hurt like a bitch.

Of course.

He had stopped feeling relief that he was alive after the first attempt. He had stopped feeling disappointment after the second. Now he just felt numb.

A cheery looking nurse bustled into the room. “Well look who’s awake! My name's Shelley, I'm going to be your nurse. You can press the call button on your right if you need anything, okay?”

Connor just closed his eyes. He could hear Shelley moving around the small room, rustling papers and typing things into computers.

Connor hated hospitals. He hated that the staff was always so cheery when people were literally dying in the next room over. Couldn't they for once just open their fucking eyes and understand that not everything could be fixed by smiling and whistling a happy tune?

“Alright, Mr. Murphy, I'm going to leave you for now. Visiting hours will start at noon. Sound good?”

Connor grunted a noncommittal response and glanced at the clock. 11:17. Shit.

He closed his eyes and tried to sleep. Only about five minutes later, a soft knock came at the door. Connor opened his eyes a crack to see none other but Heidi Hansen standing there in scrubs, holding a clipboard.

Connor struggled to sit up. “Ms. Hansen? I didn't know you worked here.”

Heidi gestured to her nametag. “Well, I do. How’re you feeling?”

Connor looked at her suspiciously. “Like shit.”

“I expected as much.” Heidi busied herself with bustling around the room. “Visiting hours start soon. Do you have a preference to who comes in first?”

Connor groaned inwardly. “No. Is Evan here?” Connor hoped he wasn't. He would give anything to not have Evan see him like this.

“He’s been here since you first got here Christmas morning. Stole my car to get here, too.” Heidi let out a soft chuckle. “Zoe called him and told him what happened.”

“Fuck.”

Heidi leaned in to adjust the angle of the heart monitor. “Evan’s worried sick,” she whispered. “You gave him quite the scare.”

Connor grimaced. “I was hoping he wouldn’t have found out.”

“Do you honestly think that’s realistic?” Heidi said quietly. “He’s been in that waiting room all day.”

Connor pushed himself up and winced at the pain. “He’s here?”

“Of course he’s here, honey.” Heidi shook her head. “He practically begged me to take him with me when I went to work, even though I told him visiting hours started at noon.”

“Oh god.” Connor felt the room spin around him. “Oh god, he probably thinks this is all his fault.”

Heidi looked at him sadly. “Should I send him in first?”

“No!” Connor said quickly. “Hell no! Send him home or something. I don't want to see him.”

Heidi bit her lip. “I'll try and talk to him, but I can't promise anything.”

“I know.”

Heidi smiled sadly and left the room, leaving him alone with his thoughts until noon.

Connor hadn't meant to blow up at Evan. He really hadn't. But years had passed of people loving Zoe and leaving him in the dust, and Connor was worried he was going to lose Evan to his perfect sister as well.

Which he knew was totally irrational, but most things about Connor were irrational.

And now Evan’s probably out there panicking because he thinks that Connor’s hatred for life is all his fault, which is absolutely not, and it's irritatingly presumptuous for Evan to assume that he has such an effect on Connor’s life.

Even though he does.

“Connor?” The door is pushed open and his mom comes rushing in, while his dad loiters by the door. Cynthia hugs him tight, ignoring the grunt of pain that comes from her son. “Connor, baby, I was so worried!”

“Cynthia,” Larry says sternly.

“He is my son, Larry! I'm allowed to worry!”

“I never said you couldn't.” Larry walked to the side of Connor’s hospital bed. “I'm very disappointed in you, Connor. It awfully was selfish of you to do this.”

“Selfish? How the fuck was it selfish?” Connor protested, pulling himself out of his mother’s embrace.

“All this money we’re going to have to spend on hospital bills, and- and mandatory psychiatric care that you don't even need. It's like you're doing this to spite us.”

Connor felt his blood boil and the room collapse and twist around him. Nothing felt real anymore, nothing except for his shitty father and the pain on his forearms. “I am not doing this to spite you! I'm doing this because you raised me so terribly that I no longer want to live! I want to fucking die because everyone hates me, including my parents!”

One of the monitors next to him spiked and started beeping like crazy. Shelley came sashaying in. “Excuse me, Mr. and Mrs. Murphy, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

“Oh, I’m not leaving!” Larry shouted at Shelley, who seemed to deflate. “I'm not leaving until my sorry excuse for a son mans up and cleans up his messes instead of taking the coward’s way out!”

Heidi Hansen bursts in the door, a stern look on her face. “Mr. and Mrs. Murphy, you need to leave.”

Still fuming, Connor’s parents stormed out.

“Heidi, I can handle patients myself, mkay?” Shelley said, sounding exactly like a catty middle school girl. “You can take care of this shit for me if you really want. I'm going on break.” She swished out the door, dramatically waving behind her with a flick of her wrist.

Heidi stifled a laugh. “I'm sorry about her. Connor, what was that about? I heard yelling from the waiting room.”

“M’dad thinks I'm doing this for attention,” Connor mumbled, “like he always does.”

Heidi put a hand on Connor’s shoulder, making him flinch. “Do you want me to send in your sister or do you want to be alone?”

“Shit, man. I don't want to see Zoe, but I don't want to be alone either.”

Heidi smiled sadly and turned to leave. “I'll send Evan in.”

“No, don't-” Connor started, but she was already gone.

Thirty seconds in, Evan walked in, looking like shit. He was wearing a wrinkled t-shirt covered in bleach stains and paint, and he was still wearing plaid pajama pants. His hair was unbrushed, and he had huge bags under his eyes, not to mention stubble.

“If you’re trying to grow a beard, it’s not working very well. You look like ass, man.”

Evan fidgeted with the hem of his shirt. “I- I’m not… hi, Connor.”

“Hey.”

“D-do you want to talk?” Evan looked like he was about to faint, either from nervousness or exhaustion.

“About what? I was a dick. That’s not necessarily breaking news.” Connor frowned. “The best thing to do is move on.”

“No, no, no! I can't just pretend that our- our fight didn't happen! You were clearly u-upset, and-”

“Evan. Chill.”

“I don't like Zoe, Connor.” Evan took a deep breath. “I-I used to, but it was more a c-crush than anything. I don't like her like I like you.”

“Oh. Good.” Connor bit the inside of his cheek. “Anything else you want to hash out before you have a heart attack?”

“W-why did you do it?” Evan asked, his face paling. “You don't have to answer that if you don't want to, I just felt like as your boyfriend I should know so that I could help you and stuff. I guess.”

“I'm not going to fucking tell you, Hansen. You're not my therapist.”

“O-okay.”

“Sit down or something, goddamn.” Connor gestured vaguely to a chair next to the bed. “Don't stand there like this is an interview or some shit.”

Evan sat down hesitantly. “How do you feel?”

“Like a million bucks. How do you fucking think I feel?”

Evan looked down at his hands. “Talk to me, Connor.”

“About what?” Connor snarled, before drawing back. “I- sorry.”

“Anything. Your favorite book. A school story. How you got here.”

“Let’s see. My favorite book is We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach. There's a redeemable loser, stoner character and a girl who reminds me of Alana. A school story? One time a sub called me ‘miss’ by accident. How I got here?” Connor bit his cheek so hard he could taste blood. “I feel hopeless. Like nobody listens. I have so much to say, but I might as well be screaming from outer space. Nobody cares about me or what I think. How's that for emotions talk?”

“Connor-”

Connor clenched his jaw. “Leave, Evan. I need to think.”

Evan stood up, tugging on the strings of his hoodie. Connor’s hoodie. Why was he wearing Connor’s hoodie? “O-okay. Goodbye, Connor. I love you.”

Connor knew what he was supposed to say.

“Goodbye, Evan.”

 

~

 

Connor was out of school for a week. On the day before he was supposed to be released, a mysterious website appeared, seemingly out of thin air.

The Connor Project.

It was a website made on one of those shitty ‘make a website free’ things, put together hastily but with care. It was clearly an afterthought of a completely different plan.

The pages went through poems, drawings, pictures, and diary entries, all featuring Connor Murphy. All stolen from his journal.

There was a picture of the band at rehearsal, with Connor playing the violin as Michael played the keyboard next to him. Connor had his eyes closed, and he was holding the instrument tenderly. It was a beautiful picture.

There was a poem he had written about depression.

There were the lyrics to a song Evan had written about him.

In less than a day, the whole school knew about the Connor Project.

Somebody put up posters that screamed “DON’T BE LIKE MURPHY/LEAVE SOME MILK FOR THE REST OF US” in a hideous pink-on-yellow font.

Somebody put the quote “death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it” on a t-shirt.

Evan hated it all.

His homeroom teacher even lectured them about teen suicide and if you ever feel suicidal or like self harming, to talk to a trusted adult.

It was like no one knew that depression existed before this moment, and then everyone suddenly started caring.

When Connor came to school on Monday, he had no idea. He wasn't allowed his phone in the hospital, as the psychiatrist suggested that his self hatred was only fueled by his peers. Evan hadn't spoken to him since the first visit, and no one in his family had told him about it.

So when Connor picked Evan up in the morning and Evan didn't mention the website, he felt awful. When they walked into the school building faced with a large banner that said “YOU’RE ALWAYS WELCOME AT SCHOOL, CONNOR” and the words “GO DISAPPEAR FREAK” etched into his locker, Evan felt like curling up into a ball and sinking into the ground.

Connor looked at Evan with a face that made him feel like running in the opposite direction. “Evan,” he said, voice shaking, “what is this?”

“I- I don't-” Evan gulped. “The Connor Project.”

“What?” Connor said, his words dripping with anger.

“T-There was a website, somebody p-posted stuff from your journal- and everybody at school s-saw-”

“They WHAT?” Connor yelled, slamming a fist into his locker. “Who fucking did this?”

“I-I don't know, nobody knows, it went up a few days ago and nobody knows who put it up-”

Connor closed his eyes and took deep breaths before looking into Evan’s eyes pleadingly. “Evan. Tell me it wasn't you.”

Evan took Connor’s hand, but he pulled it away. “I promise, it wasn't me. I only found out about it when everybody else did.”

“I'm skipping.”

“Nonono, Connor, you missed a week of school, you can't leave!”

“Why should I fucking care? The only reason people know my name is because I fucking tried to off myself last week. It's not like it matters.” Evan put a hand on his shoulder, and Connor shrugged it off. “What, Evan?”

“Stay with me. Please.” Evan knew he was toeing a line. “Don't let this get to you.”

“Yeah, I'm doing a great fucking job of that.” Connor sighed. “Fine. I'll go to my fucking classes. But if anybody pulls anything, I'm leaving.”

Evan pulled Connor into a hug, and when Connor hugged him back fiercely, Evan knew that that was exactly what he had needed. “Thank you, Connor.”

Connor pressed a soft kiss to Evan’s collarbone and pulled away, grabbing his books from his locker and heading down the hallway. Evan, with renewed vigor, went to his first class.

In English, Michael leaned over his desk to slide a note into Evan’s book.

“Did u hear about the connor project??”

Evan scribbled down a “yes, he’s taking it better than expected” and passed it back.

Michael read it and smiled. “good. tell your boyf we've got his back.”

“Thank you.”

Michael took the paper, crumpled it up, and winked at Evan. For a moment, Evan could feel the world slip away, like weight had been lifted off of his shoulders in one casual wink. The way Michael carried himself, the way he interacted, it was all so… so normal.

Evan needed some normal in his life.

Of course, as soon as he stepped outside of his English classroom, he was greeted by the ugly face of reality. Evan watched in horror as two freshman girls walked up to Connor, handed him a handmade card, and immediately got shoved to the ground. Connor stalked off, his hands shoved in his jacket pockets and his back hunched in a way that very clearly said “fuck off, I don't want to talk to you”.

“Connor!” Evan called out, against his better judgement. He ran towards the taller boy, pushing through a group of kids at a bake sale table to do so. “How was your first class?”

Connor just scowled and walked on.

A pang of faded memories hit Evan as he stood, rejected, in the middle of the hallway as the student body pushed past.

Somebody shoved him aside, slamming him into a locker as they hurried to class. “Don't stand in the hallway, idiot.” The mysterious assailant scoffed. “Freshmen.”

Evan grabbed his backpack straps and steeled himself for a difficult travel to class. Just walking across the hallway, Evan was pushed so many times he thought his brain would be permanently rattling around in his skull like a butterfly in a jar forever.

When he got to his history class, Evan took his seat at the back of the room, ignoring the words scribbled on the whiteboard: “I'M GAY AND I NEED HUGS. SINCERELY, CONNER MURPHY”.

Evan grimaced. Not only were people plastering rude messages all over the school, they weren't even bothering to spell his name right.

The teacher walked up to the front of the class, sighed, and erased the message. “Alright, class. Today, we’re going to be learning about the Byzantine empire. Please open your textbooks to page 274.”

Evan dutifully flipped to the page and began reading, grateful that the teacher had forgone the “school should be a safe space and if you ever feel suicidal tell someone” speech.

It wasn't five minutes into class when Evan heard shouts.

He looked up, but nobody else seemed to notice. They were all safe in their own worlds, listening to music and whispering with friends. Evan tentatively raised a hand. The teacher pointed at him, urging him to speak.

“M-Mrs. S-Sansb-borough, c-can I-”

“Yes, Evan, you may go to the bathroom. Make it quick.”

Evan shot her a weak smile and left the room in a hurry, heading down the hallway towards the source of the commotion. What Evan found, however, was much less favorable than history class.

A ring of students had formed around a cluster of lockers, where the shouts were originating from. The onlookers were completely quiet, but the people in the center weren't.

“Fucking freak! Maybe if you stop writing gay little poems about forbidden romance and just fucking killed yourself you wouldn't be so miserable all the time!”

Connor was being taunted. No, attacked. No, ambushed.

Evan stared in horror as a boy he didn't recognize bashed Connor right outside of his locker, the one that still displayed the words “GO DISAPPEAR FREAK” in huge, messy handwriting. Connor’s expression didn't betray any emotion. He looked as if someone had replaced Connor Murphy with a marble statue.

This wasn't the Connor Evan knew.

This was the Connor Evan feared; the Connor that smoked behind the school and skipped classes and pushed people down the stairs if they looked at him the wrong way. The Connor that was volatile and dangerous, who everyone treated like he would explode at any given moment and rain shrapnel on anyone within a mile’s radius.

“Look at him, just standing there like a fucking idiot. Do something, huh? Come on, hurt me. Hurt me like you hurt yourself, you creep!” The boy leaned in and pushed Connor in the chest, just enough to send him stumbling back.

Without a moment’s hesitation, Connor lifted his arm and punched the boy across the face. Immediately, the crowd swelled forward and blocked Evan’s view. When he could finally see above the horde, Connor was on the ground.

The boy was kicking him in the ribs, an evil sneer on his face. “Fight back, you fucking pansy. You telling me you've never been in a fight before? Get up, you coward!”

Connor allowed himself one moment of defenselessness. With a cough, Connor groaned out one word.

“E-Evan-”

The boy kicked him one last time in the ribs, making Connor’s head hit the lockers with a sickening ‘thunk’. “That’s right, go cry your boyfriend’s name. Bet you get enough practice in his bed, huh?”

With that, the boy walked away, and the crowd parted like the Red Sea. Evan knew he should go to Connor, he knew. But he could feel his head spin and bile rise in his throat, and he just needed to get out.

Stumbling over his feet, Evan ran in the opposite direction, trying not to hear the yells of “-punched me out of nowhere, the fucking psycho!”

Evan ran into the bathroom and locked himself in a stall, trying to calm his breathing. Everything was going too fast, too fast. Connor still had bandages on his arms, for pete’s sake. It had been less than a week since Connor had tried to kill himself, and now people were taunting him about doing just the thing.

Evan was going to be sick.

 

~

 

Connor felt like a teen girl after a breakup.

It was one thing to be miserable, it was another thing to hide in a blanket burrito and watch sitcoms on TV until he didn't feel so much like jumping off a building.

Connor picked at his nail polish as a rerun of Brooklyn Nine-Nine played on his computer. Zoe had been avoiding him all day, which was a problem, since she was the one with spa stuff and an endless supply of Ben & Jerry’s in the mini fridge in her room.

A knock came at the door.

Connor sighed. “FUCK OFF!”

Instead of actually fucking off like a rational human would do, the surprise visitor opened the door a crack. Connor had turned off the lights and could see nothing but the glint of glasses.

“Connor?” Came a voice from the doorway. Much to his delight, it wasn't the voice of Kleinman. His light flickered on, and Connor buried his head in the blankets to block out the light.

Michael Mell was standing in the doorway, holding a teetering pile of trays. “Hey, Connor. Uh- Jeremy stress-baked three trays of brownies when he heard about the Connor Project, so, uh… I thought I'd deliver them to their rightful owner?”

Connor grunted in response.

“I also brought weed, if that’s what you want.”

Connor lifted his head from the blankets. “I'm listening.”

Michael laughed. “I heard about what happened today at school. That was- that was really shitty. I'm sorry.”

“Yeah, well, you didn't do it. There's nothing for you to apologize for.”

“I guess you're right.” Michael set down the trays on Connor’s desk. “I am not sorry.”

Connor leaned against his bedroom wall. “What do you want?”

“I want to smoke and eat brownies and watch trash TV with you.” Michael shoved his hands in his pockets. “You down?”

“Believe it or not, I am. C’mon, sit down.” Michael sat on the foot of Connor’s bed, folding his legs under him. “How the fuck did you know what I wanted?”

“My boyfriend’s got hardcore PTSD, man. I’m not as stupid as I look.”

“That’s not saying much.” Connor made a grabby hand motion towards his desk. “Gimme the brownies.”

“Jeez, Con. Tell me what you really want.”

Connor glared at Michael. “You’re lucky I’m too sad to sing Spice Girls.”

“Hmm.” Michael threw a brownie at Connor, who fumbled to catch it. “Well, we've got to fix that! You should never be too sad for the Spice Girls.”

“It's called depression, Michael.”

As much as Michael was an ass (not as big of an ass as Kleinman, thank god), Connor found his strategy working, much to his chagrin. Even as he challenged Michael about his depression, he could feel the beginning of a smile to tug at his lips.

Michael stuck out his tongue. “Just eat the motherfucking brownie, shithead.”

“Will do.”

“Normally, I would play video game with Jeremy and call him cute names like Jer-Bear to cheer him up.” Michael put his hands in his pockets. “But I’m going to guess you don’t want me to call you Con-Mon.”

“Mon? I didn’t think you were Jamaican, Mell.” Connor smiled in spite of himself.

“Con-Con-Cinnabon.” Michael stuck out his tongue. “Better?”

“Cash me ousside, how bow dah?” Connor laughed.

“Con-Con-Cinnabon, that meme is as dead as my dreams.”

Connor snorted and took a bite of a brownie. “Fuck, man. These are damn good.”

“You can thank Jeremy’s stress-baking tendencies for that.” Michael rolled his eyes. “It’s endearing yet bizarre.”

“If it ain't me.” Connor proceeded to shove the entire brownie in his mouth and reach for another one, cheeks bulging.

“You show Evan that trick yet?” Michael asked, wiggling his eyebrows.

“Oh, fuck off.”

“Hey, you talk plenty about my sex life. It's only fair I do the same for you.”

“Yeah, but it's, like, nonexistent, dude.” Connor rolled his eyes. “I haven't even jerked off since the ninth grade.”

“Really?” Michael whistled. “Jesus.”

“I just can't fit sex into my schedule.” Connor gestured to himself. “I'm too busy being the embodiment of a dark and stormy night.”

“Oh, shut up. Evan loves you.”

“Yeah, but Evan also thinks Arbor Day is the best holiday.” Connor dropped his voice to a whisper. “I don't even fucking know when that is!”

Michael shrugged. “It doesn't matter. If half the population doesn't even know it exists, it's not a real holiday.”

Connor lifted his arms above his head in a stretch, his shirt riding up to reveal a dark bruise up the entire left side of his torso.

“Holy shit, man.” Michael gaped at the bruise and Connor put his arms down self-consciously. “What the fuck happened?”

“I got beat up.” Connor mumbled.

“What?” Michael cried. “Why?”

“Because they were assholes and I was an easy target who had just the other day gotten my deepest, darkest secrets spilled all over the internet.”

“Fuck.” Michael just sort of gaped, which made Connor want to retreat back into his blanket fort and hide there forever. “Does Evan know?”

“I fucking hope not.” Connor laughed darkly. “He seems like the type of person to puke at a paper cut.”

“Okay. Connor Murphy, here's what we are going to do.”

“Contemplate the fact that we're tiny in comparison to the universe and die alone?”

“No, dude. We are not going to sit around moping, because that’s never done anything for anybody.” Michael stood up and did an odd shimmy. “We are going to have a dance party.”

“Oh god, no.”

Michael took out his phone and started blasting music, some old Kesha song that Connor couldn't quite remember the words to.

Michael started dancing, and Connor knew why Jeremy liked this dude.

There were some people who had perfect control over their body, who knew how to move it and contort it to do exactly what they wanted. Michael was not one of those people.

He danced with a reckless abandon, thrashing his arms and jumping wildly around Connor’s sparsely decorated room.

When Michael pulled Connor onto his feet by the wrists, he didn't complain. When the music switched to the Cotton Eyed Joe and Michael urged Connor to do the dance with him, he definitely didn't complain.

Michael sort of screamed the lyrics, which was a problem because nobody really knows the lyrics to the Cotton Eyed Joe.

“IF IDN’T BEEN FOR COTTON EYED JOE
I’D BEEN MARRIED A LONG TIME AGO
WHERE DID YOU COME FROM, WHERE DID YOU GO?
WHERE DID YOU COME FROM, COTTON EYED JOE!”

Connor laughed so hard he snorted, which he was pretty sure he hadn't done since fifth grade. “Dude, are you singing in a fucking southern accent?”

“Darn tootin’!” Michael shouted in an accent that would strike fear in the heart of any southerner.

“Fuck me up, Jolly Rancher!”

When Michael started half-twerking along with the music, Connor was pretty sure he was going to die. Considering that the boy had a large hoodie on and no ass, it was a miracle that he was even able to twerk as well as he could. Which was not well.

Connor, at loss for what to do, just did jumping jacks.

Michael laughed. “You ready to rumble, rockin’ Ryan?” He dropped to the floor and started doing push-ups to the beat of the song.

When the song ended, Michael flopped onto the ground and breathed heavily. “That was the most exercise I’ve gotten in a long time, Jesus Christ.”

Connor laughed so hard he accidentally hit his head against the wall, which hurt like a bitch, but he didn't really care enough to worry about it.

The room was dead silent, and Connor couldn't deny the rush of reckless humor that filled his head as a familiar chorus blasted through Michael’s tinny phone speakers.

“IF YOU WANT MY FUTURE
FORGET MY PAST!” Michael screamed, grabbing Connor’s wrists and jumping wildly. “IF YOU WANNA GET WITH ME, BETTER MAKE IT FAST!”

Connor laughed and supplied the next lyric with significantly less gusto.
“So don't go wasting
My precious time
Get your act together we could be just fine!”

Michael stuck out his tongue at Connor’s weak attempt at singing. “C’mon, fuckface! Don't tell me you're still too sad for the Spice Girls! MAKE IT LAST FOREVER, FRIENDSHIP NEVER ENDS!”

Connor eventually caved under Michael’s incessant energy, dancing wildly with arms swinging and feet kicking.

Michael, not surprisingly, knew every word to the fast rap part of the song.

Connor didn't know having a friend was this much fun.

The song ended with both boys panting and tired. When Hit Me Baby One More Time started playing, neither made an effort to move.

“Jesus Christ. Is this what having friends is like?”

Michael shot Connor finger guns. “It is if you're hanging with Mikey-M!”

“I've got to thank you,” Connor said with a smile, “which is a thing I never do, so you better treasure it. Thanks for cheering me up, man.”

“No problem, boblem.” Michael snatched another brownie. “I know that having a dance party isn't going to really change anything, but I do what I can.”

When Connor stepped forward and wrapped his arms around his boyfriend’s friend’s boyfriend, he wasn't sure of what he was doing. Was Connor hugging him? Why? Connor didn't hug people; that was sort of part of his brand.

Michael, shocked, didn't react immediately. After a second or two, however, he lifted his arms and hugged Connor back. “Anytime you need a dance party, Connor. I'm here.”

“Thanks.”

“Listen, I've got the Cupid Shuffle on my phone and a shit ton of brownies to be eaten. You game?”

Connor laughed and wiped away a tear he hadn't known had been there. “Yeah, man. Of course.”

Michael grinned. “Well then, let's get crackin’!”

Chapter Text

Jeremy was freaking out.

This wasn’t an uncommon occurrence, but he never really got used to the rush of blood to his head and the pounding of his heart in his chest; the way his knees would be shaky and his stomach would churn with anxiety.

Jeremy felt so stupid. Christine performed all the time, did she ever have halfway panic attacks in a high school bathroom before she went onstage? Probably not.

Somebody pounded on the stall door. “Jermy, I know you’re working out some issues or some shit but you’ve really got to get out here. I think your panic attack is making Evan have a panic attack.”

Jeremy cleared his throat. “Coming, Jared.” He stood up and brushed off his clothes, stepping out and washing his hands despite not even needing to.

Jared opened the bathroom door and ushered him out. “Go, go, go!”

The rest of the band was milling about behind the door to the cafetorium, looking nervous. They had all agreed to wear red shirts, something that looked odd on most of them except Michael, who had opted to wear his hoodie. Jared had a t-shirt with the Sriracha logo on it and Connor was looking miserable in a red t-shirt that said “SAVE THE BAY” with a picture of a lighthouse on it that Jeremy had never seen before. He wasn’t wearing his black hoodie, which was a shock all in its own. Evan was wearing a wine red button-down shirt that didn’t fit quite right, giving Jeremy the impression it was borrowed. Jeremy had his Romeo and Juliet show shirt, and Jared had been calling him “lover boy” all night.

“Alright!” Michael whooped. “This is it, y’all. The Valentine’s Day dance that nobody knows about is upon us.” The rest of the group cheered weakly. “We’ve been preparing for moment for, like, forever. No pun intended, Ev.” Evan blushed. “We are going to go out there and rock their fucking socks off. Your sister brought her guitar, right?” Michael asked, directing his question to Connor.

“Yep.” Connor popped the ‘p’ and crossed his arms. “She’s wearing a red dress too. Jesus, my sister’s going to outshine me in my own band.”

“It’s no biggie, Con-Con-Cinnabon.” Michael patted Connor’s shoulder. “We just needed her to play another guitar.” He lifted his voice into a high-pitched, lispy mockery of a white suburban mom. “You’ll always be the One True Murph to us.”

“Yeah,” Jared piped up. “Without you, who would be the insufferable asshole of the group?”

Connor lifted an eyebrow. “You.”

Jared nodded. “That is a very good point.”

“Also,” Jeremy added, “if we keep being invited to play at school functions, we don’t have to pay the five dollars at the door and we get as much free food as we want, which I’m on board for. So y’all better not mess this up and never get us invited back.”

“Jer, how many bags of pretzels have you had?” Michael asked nervously.

Jeremy grinned and patted his backpack, which previously held sheet music and emergency hoodies. “Too many. By the way, we’re never going to have to pay for snack food again. I think a life of crime could be right for me.”

“Mahal, you are not becoming a pretzel robber for a living.” Michael sighed in exasperation. “All I’m trying to do is pump you up, and you’re not fucking letting me. Jeremy, put those chips back.”

Evan nervously plucked at a string of his guitar. “We could just… g-go out and play? No pump up necessary?”

“Hmm.” Michael bit his lip. “That’s not a bad idea. Sexually frustrated gay children, roll out!”

And when Michael pushed open the cafetorium doors, Jeremy felt like a part of a moment.

Jeremy wasn’t sure what he was expecting. Deep down in his soul, he knew they wouldn’t get roars of applause just by walking in, but he did have to confess that was what he hoped for.

The din of students milling about and chatting with their friends barely subsided as the bad took their places on the weak excuse for a stage in the cafetorium.

Jared stepped up to one of the microphones, making a loud, shrill screech that echoed throughout the entire room. Shouts and profanity rose from the crowd as the student body turned their attention to the stage.

“Hello!” Jared yelled a bit to enthusiastically. “We’re the Pitiful Children and we’re this school’s token losers!”

Weak applause.

“But we're not really losers, because we also know how to play instruments and sing and stuff! So, uh, we're going to play music and you’re going to dance, because this is a dance and that's what you do at a dance! Sound good?”

Not-so-weak applause.

Jared grinned. “I think that worked. Original gays, let's get some Neon Trees a-rollin’!”

Jeremy laughed and stepped up to the microphone. “Okay. Um. This is, uh- Teenager in Love by the Neon Trees.” Jared shot him a thumbs-up as he moved another mic closer to where Michael was standing at the keyboard. “Uh- enjoy, I guess.”

Michael snorted and tapped his foot as a signal to the band. “One, two, three, four!”

Evan launched into the opening guitar chords with the electric blue guitar he had borrowed from some kid Zoe knew from jazz band.

Connor grinned as he evenly played the drums, a true, joyful smile.

Jeremy leaned into the microphone and started to sing.

It would be ridiculous to pretend that as he sung, all of Jeremy’s worries and fears melted away, because that didn't happen. However, he did get that feeling that only someone onstage can get: a feeling that you're alone with your music even if hundreds of people are watching you. That was a bit more realistic to the situation.

Michael’s voice joined Jeremy’s suddenly, making him jump even though they had been rehearsing this for weeks. They harmonized incredibly well, if Jeremy was at any liberty to say so.

Evan played the guitar with such enthusiasm that it was almost impossible to tell that he was the same anxious, awkward kid that apologized for tripping over his own feet that one time.

Jared, the runt of the litter in terms of musical ability, danced behind the group.

The song was over too soon, and Jared was announcing the next song, and Jeremy found himself swept up a whirlwind of an onstage rush and performance anxiety. When they played the Time Warp, Jared hit his high notes with such intensity it almost messed up Jeremy, who was leading the dance while he wasn’t singing. Evan, with a wicked grin in Connor’s direction, moaned after his verse so loudly and (as Michael would say) orgasmically Connor stuck his tongue out at his boyfriend before continuing to play his drums.

Connor and Evan rocked their slow songs, and Jeremy was pleased to see that almost everyone had found someone to dance with. Zoe stayed up towards the front by the stage, looking angelic in her red dress and dancing with Alana, who was killing it in a suit.

All in all, the night was going great.

Right before the last song, Evan got up to the front of the stage to welcome Zoe up to play with them, notecards in hand.

“Hello.” Evan winced at the whoops of the students. “I-I’m Hans- Evan. Evan Hansen, and I play with this band.” He frowned. “As you, um, as you already know. I’m going to invite someone special u-up to the stage to play with us for this last song but before that, I-I have something to say.”

Titters rose from the audience. The other members looked nervously at each other. “What’s your boytoy doing?” Jared whispered to Connor.

Evan looked down at his notecards. “Many of you know my b-boyfriend as the kid you pass, um, in the hallways or a friend of a friend of an ex of a girlfriend or from, um, the most recent school drama. The Connor Project.”

Connor blanched. ‘What are you doing?’ he mouthed.

The noise from the students swelled. “And, um, as you, um-“ Evan sneezed and his notecards scattered across the floor. He hastily dropped and tried to pick them up, but eventually gave up and stood back up, clutching the microphone like a lifeline. “As you know, the C-Connor Project was an online website c-capitalizing on the struggles of my b-boyfriend. Connor.”

The crowd silenced as every student listened intently to Evan.

“N-now, I have also struggled, um, struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts and anxiety most, um, of my life. And I know what it’s like t-to feel like nobody would notice if you disappeared.” Evan took a deep, shaky breath. “But if I had died last summer like I-I wanted, I wouldn’t have met these amazing friends and m-my wonderful boyfriend a-and…”

Jeremy could see Evan choke up. He could almost feel it.

Connor tucked his drumsticks in his back pocket and stood up. He walked up to Evan at the front of the stage and put a hand on his shoulders, making him face him.

“Evan,” he muttered, so soft that the microphone barely picked up the sound, “don’t hate me.”

And then he kissed him. On the mouth. In front of half of the student body.

Jeremy watched in shock and awe as Evan melted into the kiss, bringing his hands up to tangle in Connor’s messy hair. The crowd absolutely erupted with sound. Screams and cheers and wolf-whistles ripped through the room.

When Connor finally pulled away (probably for breath, they had been going at it for a while), Evan brought him into a tight hug, wiping away tears with an enormous smile.

Connor smiled and pressed a kiss to his temple before picking up the microphone. “The kid who beat me up outside my locker and called me a freak, fuck you.” Connor gestures down at his sister. “For our final song of the night, please welcome Zoe Murphy to the stage as we perform If I Die Young by The Band Perry.”

Zoe took her place on the chair set aside for her and picked up her guitar. Evan took his guitar and Connor handed his drumsticks to Jared, who was overjoyed at the prospect of playing an instrument.

Evan closed his eyes as Zoe strummed the opening chords.

“If I die young
Bury me in satin
Lay me down on a bed of roses
Sink me in the river at dawn
Send me away with the words of a love song.”

Connor put a hand on his shoulder, steadying his breathing that he hadn’t even know had been getting shaky.

“Oh, oh.
Lord make me a rainbow,
I'll shine down on my mother
She'll know I'm safe with you when
She stands under my colours,
Oh and
Life ain't always what you think it oughta Be, no
Ain't even grey, but she buries her baby
The sharp knife of a short life,
Well, I've had just enough time.”

Connor’s voice joined his own, and Evan sank gratefully into the harmony while Connor took the higher melody.

Connor started to sing his verse, and Jeremy swore it was quiet enough to hear a pin drop.

“And I'll be wearing white when I come into your kingdom
I'm as green as the ring on my little cold finger
I've never known the lovin' of a man
But it sure felt nice when he was holding my hand
There's a boy here in town says he'll love me forever-“ Connor squeezed Evan’s shoulder and smiled fondly.

“Who would have thought forever could be severed by
The sharp knife of a short life,
Well I've had just enough time
So put on your best boys and I'll wear my pearls
What I never did is done
A penny for my thoughts, oh no I'll sell them for a dollar
They're worth so much more after I'm a goner
And maybe then you'll hear the words I been singin'
Funny when you're dead how people start listenin'.”

Jeremy could’ve sworn he heard Zoe choke back a sob before coming in to join the boys on the chorus.

“If I die young bury me in satin
Lay me down on a bed of roses
Sink me in the river at dawn
Send me away with the words of a love song.”

Jeremy, Michael, and Jared joined in on the chorus, the sound filling the cafetorium like never before.

“Oh, oh.
The ballad of a dove
Go with peace and love.”

Evan and Connor looked at each other like they were sharing a secret before singing the last section of the song alone.

“Gather up your tears, keep 'em in your pocket
Save 'em for a time when you're really gonna need 'em, oh
The sharp knife of a short life,
Well I've had just enough time
So put on your best boys, and I'll wear my pearls.”

The last chord on Zoe’s guitar had barely faded out before the room exploded with applause. People Jeremy had never seen before were cheering like he was their brother. He felt a ballooning of pride and stage adrenaline fill his chest.

The band filed offstage, conglomerating behind the cafetorium doors where they entered.

Jared squealed, something he would later deny. “Oh. My. GOD! Y’all! That was so fucking good! We’re going to IHOP, right?”

Jeremy shrugged. “I mean, sure? Michael, you game?”

“Hell yeah. Your boy wants some pancakes!”

Connor nodded. “I’m in.”

Evan held up a hand. “I-if Connor’s going, I’ll go.”

“Then that’s all of us. Mikey, I’m gonna hitch a ride with you. I don’t want to be in the same car as the tree bros when they get it on.” Jared rubbed his hands together. “I’ve got a hankering for some honey mustard.”

“Jared, if you drink h-honey mustard again, I swear to god.” Evan laughed.

“Nah, man.” Jared grinned. “This time’s all about drinking maple syrup.”

Jeremy groaned good-naturedly. “It’s gonna be a long night.”

Chapter Text

It was a warm night, the kind where newly-made men shed their suit jackets and women in dresses take off their heels to dance.

As the rest of the student body got wasted and probably made a few babies, a small group of high schoolers whiled the evening away at an orchard.

Two boys sat on a handmade wooden bench, laughing and sharing quick kisses. The voices in their heads were silent, at least for the time being.

Two girls, one in a dress and one in a suit, chatted by a bonfire about grades and college and life and love. The fresh manicures on their intertwined hands gleamed in the light of the fire.

One boy added another log onto the flaming heap, trying not to feel left out.

In a small path just tucked away in the shelter of the woods, two boys sat in a tree, singing and talking about anything they fancied. The world was good, and the bottle of pills on the dresser at home no longer seemed enticing.

Everything was alright, even if just for the night.