For the past twelve years of both their lives, Michael had always been there for Jeremy.
When Jeremy was thirteen years old and had fallen out of a tree, and no one at school had wanted to sign his cast, Michael wrote his name in big block letters that covered practically the entire thing.
When some sophomore pieces of shit tried pushing Jeremy into a locker during their freshman year, Michael had been the only one to stand up to them-Nevermind the fact it had resulted in him being shoved inside instead.
When Jeremy’s mom had left his dad that one awful summer night, and Michael's night was interrupted with the sound of frantic knocking on the door, opening it just to be greeted with a sobbing, panting Jeremy, the tears dripping off his face and onto the front porch...Thank god his parents had been off on a business trip.
Point is, no matter what, Michael was there.
That all started to change when Jeremy began dating Squip.
Michael didn’t know the guy’s real name-he didn’t even know if Jeremy knew it. Everyone in school always just referred to him as Squip, as if Squip was on the level of other one-named wonders like Rihanna or Beyoncé simply because he just knew how to be cool.
Unlike Michael himself. Unlike Jeremy. They'd both gotten pushed around more than their fair amount of times, or called names by those few merciless kids high off testosterone. They used all sorts of terms, gay being the least offensive and most truthful one than either of them ever assumed of the other. Jeremy had been pining over Christine since the dawn of time, so Michael always assumed Jeremy decidedly wasn't-Gay, that is. But when the new, immediately popular transfer student, who kind of resembled Keanu Reeves, started paying attention to Jeremy, (Starting with subtle greeting nods in the hallway, to leaning over him, one hand pressed against the locker, all culminating to Squip asking Jeremy out and Jeremy saying-saying yes-) well Michael found out the truth then.
He would say that Jeremy not trusting him enough to confide in him hurt, but after everything he went through when Squip and Jeremy started dating, it rated pretty low on the emotional pain scale.
No, the complete ignoring him when he called out to Jeremy ranked higher.
Jeremy watching as Michael was shoved by his boyfriend in the school hallways also made the list.
The time Michael was venomously called a loser by his best friend of twelve years, Squip watching approvingly from behind, took the cake however.
All those horrible, cruel instances built up, until they no longer could. Until it all came to a head on the night before Halloween, the night of the party.
Michael didn’t know why he came. It had been months since he had spoken a word to Jeremy and there was no indication that was changing anytime soon.
In the first couple of weeks, he had tried to contact him in every way save carrier pigeon. The texts he sent were left on read, calls would continue for five long rings and then be sent to voicemail-And of course Michael had left a couple of those too.
Hell, he had even emailed him-Both on his regular account and the spam one Michael knew he used to sign up for porn accounts-but all to no avail. Jeremy continued to effectively ignore him.
It’s not like Michael had any other friends to ask him about the darkening rings under his eyes, or the redness that appeared whenever things became too much. (He’d just have blamed it on weed regardless) It had always been just Jeremy and him.
Anyways, the getting in part was easy. Throw on a monster mask and it couldn't have been simpler, even despite the fact he was just wearing his regular hoodie and jeans. The finding Jeremy part wasn't difficult either, Michael had always possessed the knack to pick him out in a crowd, like no matter where they were, his eyes were drawn to just one person.
He was in the center of the largest group of kids gathered around, all in various states of dedicated costumes. Jeremy himself was dressed up as a pirate, and standing where else but right next to Squip, who seemed to be in the middle of telling an animated story, his face expressive and animated. Michael couldn't make out his friend's face very well, especially with the mask blurring his vision, but he swore he saw something strange happen.
Jeremy had been quiet the entire time, just staring up at Squip, almost adoringly (And Michael would have been lying if he said that didn’t make his stomach twist.) All of a sudden, Jeremy opened his mouth, presumably to interject with something, and the entire dynamic changed. Michael could feel it from where he was, the attitude of the group slightly shifted. Everyone stared in silence for a moment at Jeremy, as trying as a jury, but within seconds Squip had managed to regain the situation and the students listened only to him once more.
His observations were interrupted by a sudden splash against his hoodie. He let out a surprised exclamation as a drunk teenager (along with his drink) had run into the stationary Michael. Now the front of his jacket was completely soaked with cheap beer.
“Watccch where you’re going.” The student slurred, looking dismally at his now almost empty cup.
“I literally wasn’t moving.” Michael shot back, too many emotions rising at once.
“Are you ssaying this is my fault? Who the hell are you?” The kid yelled, poking a finger at the monster mask. Michael worriedly looked around. Several people had been distracted from their own conversations and were glancing curiously in their direction, eager to see if it would turn into a fight, no doubt.
“Excuse me.” Without waiting for an answer he sidestepped the DUI waiting to happen and ran up a closely located flight of stairs.
I just need a bathroom, He tried to reassure himself, desperately struggling to calm down.
The third door he opened finally ended up being the room he was seeking, after two witnesses of tonsil hockey passionate enough it looked violent.
Relieved, he walked in and slammed the door. Quickly, he took off the hoodie, laying it against the toilet and surveying the damage to his shirt. It was barely wet as the jacket had sopped up most of the spill; that was something at least.
Splashing some water in his face felt nice too, it grounded him. Unfortunately, it also made him realize how exhausted he was, running around at a time he could have been catching up on valuable sleep, instead. This exploit had been worthless anyways.
Tired of many things, Michael quietly pulled back the floral shower curtain just the tiniest bit and sat down inside. The icy porcelain against his heated skin helped cool him down; he even began to relax, that is until a sharp rapping sounded on the door. Before he could even open his mouth to respond, it flew open.
Michael knew he should call out and let whoever had entered know that he was currently sitting in the bathtub, but then someone started talking, quickly shoving the door closed behind them.
“What the fuck was that out there?” The question was addressed to whoever else was in the room, and Michael involuntarily flinched at the harshness of the guy’s tone until he recognized it.
No way...But the quickest glance through the curtain confirmed it.
There was Squip, looking absolutely furious, and standing in front of him pressed up against the marble sink, was Jeremy.
A strangled gasp almost escaped Michael at the sight of his best friend. He hadn’t been able to see it before, but at this close distance, even with the mask on-
One of his eyes was covered with an eye patch to match the rest of his costume, but the one that wasn’t had bags underneath worthy enough to counter Michael’s, and it was staring up at Squip with something that looked like fear.
In the twelve years he’d known him, Michael had never seen Jeremy look so scared.
Squip's voice was thick with imperious self-importance, "I’m out there regaling the crowd with my stories and you think it was a good idea to compare one of them to your stupid fucking video game? To make it seem like I’m dating a nerdy piece of shit?”
He paused as if he waiting for an answer. As quick as Michael could register it, he ripped the flimsy eye patch fabric off Jeremy's face. “You look ridiculous wearing that.”
It took everything in Michael’s willpower not to scream and shriek and jump out of the bathtub and viciously assault Squip because the eyepatch hadn't just been apart of the costume. It's true purpose was to hide the nasty black eye, Jeremy was sporting. The dark rings covered his eyelids while the outer edges were turning a deep shade of purple.
Squip's laugh was as harsh as metal scraping against concrete, “It’s too bad you look just as ridiculous without it.”
Jeremy opened his mouth to respond but the only thing that came out was a nervous whimper. Squip’s eyes narrowed and his expression turned cruel, but only for a second; then it was gone and though Michael couldn't understand how it was possible, he almost looked...gentle.
“Jeremy?” He asked.
“You said you wanted to be my boyfriend, right? You wanted to be cool, to be more chill?”
A slow nod.
"Right. You want to be worthy of being by my side." Squip's head tilted to the side as he smiled, an irresistible troublemaker smirk that contrasted with the sheer horror coming out of his mouth. “You know that if you want all of it, then you can’t just listen. You have to obey. Now repeat after me.”
Another sluggish agreement.
“Everything about you is so terrible.”
A moment or two of silence passed. There’s no way Jeremy is going to do that, Michael thought. Not his surprisingly sharp and indignant Jeremy who, insecure though he was, wouldn't put up with complete shit like that.
And then, “Everything about me is just terrible.”
Michael had never wanted to launch himself at someone so badly, but his legs were frozen in the bathtub. All the feeling drained of his body until he was felt like the third party viewer in the games Jeremy and him played together not too long ago, a silent observer unable to do anything but watch.
“Everything about you makes me wanna die.”
Less of a pause this time, and in a voice sounding as if he were about to give up on life,
“Everything about me makes me wanna die.”
“Now you got it.” And the smile was back. Michael was just about to leap out when the Squip wrapped it up.
With a careless stroke, he wiped away a tear that was trailing down Jeremy’s cheek. “Soon you’ll see, all you need to do is listen, and then everything about you is going to be wonderful. You won’t be so ugly anymore. Don’t you want that?”
With heavier tears now, Jeremy vigorously nodded.
Then Squip was opening the door and stepping outside. “Don’t worry, soon enough you'll learn how to be more chill. Like me.” He remarked with a wink before finally, finally leaving.
The air remained silent for a couple of seconds after the door closing in which Jeremy was motionless, possibly scared to move in case Squip suddenly came back. After only a minute, however, it seemed he couldn't hold himself up anymore, and he collapsed to the floor. That was when Jeremy noticed the hoodie.
No one would have been able to describe the expression on Michael's face as he watched Jeremy's eyes widen, his mouth fall open; like a starving man seizing food he frantically grasped the damp sweatshirt and buried his face in it, inhaling it’s scent.
Michael’s legs became unstuck only when he realized Jeremy wasn't just holding the piece of clothing, but sobbing into it, his shoulders silently shaking. In an instant, Michael yanked back the curtain and climbed out of the bathtub like a cheesy horror movie monster.
Jeremy’s shriek was piercingly loud as he dropped the hoodie in surprise, and would have been almost funny if he still didn't have tears streaming down his face. Michael stood there for a second with his arms outstretched as if he were going to yell SURPRISE! before remembering he had his mask on.
Quickly, he pulled it off and was able to see clear as day the flood of emotions assault Jeremy. Shock, relief, even happiness, which made Michael ecstatic until it overwhelmed Jeremy and he started crying twice as hard as before
Michael rushed towards him, catching him as he collapsed and pulling him into a tight embrace as soon as they settled on the floor. When Jeremy hugged back, he felt his heart skip a beat.
Michael wasn’t sure how much time passed, but eventually Jeremy stopped shaking and the sobs quieted. He withdrew first and tried to look away as Michael gently grabbed his chin and angled his gaunt face to better examine his injury in the dim bathroom light.
"Oh my god, Jeremy. What happened?” But even as he asked the question, Michael knew the answer.
Jeremy jerked away from his hand, “I-I ran into a-uh a door. It was a door.”
Michael stared at him hard, but his gaze was stubbornly avoided. “You always were a terrible liar.” He remembered, his easy tone failing to lighten the suffocating atmosphere between them.
“Wh-Why are you here, Michael? At this party?”
Michael had forgotten about the hurt and resentment that had been building up ever since Jeremy first started dating Squip; as soon as he asked that question, it all came rushing back.
On his knees, he scooted backwards, painfully out of the grasp of Jeremy. “I-I came to try and talk to you one last time.” Jeremy winced at the last three words. “Maybe you haven't noticed but you've kind of been ignoring me for the past two months.”
Jeremy took a shaky breath. “Believe me, I didn’t want to at first-” And god, how those words plunged as sharp as a knife into Michael, “But Squip told me-”
A wave of anger crashed over Michael and he couldn't let Jeremy continue, not until he knew the hell he'd been through these past few months. “When did we let Squip decide what happens to our friendship? I must have missed that goddamn memo because you didn't even think to tell me what was happening. You just-you just decided I wasn’t worth it and-”
Jeremy struggled to interrupt, “No! Michael, you have it all wrong.”
“If you try and tell me that all of this isn’t because of Squip-”
“It’s not. I-I realized that-”
“That I’m not good enough for you and your controlling, psycho boyfriend. Well, before him there was us and I know you liked me before him and now now it's just-It's just…”
Michael trailed off as he looked at Jeremy’s face. Tears were still glistening fresh on his cheeks but his expression had changed. All of a sudden he looked...determined, as if he was psyching himself up for something hard.
With a resolute hand, Jeremy wiped the tears away and glared, glared at Michael.
“I ignored you because I don’t like you.”
Michael scoffed once, disbelieving. “Jer, that’s bullshit an-”
“No, it’s not." And how could Jeremy sound so confident saying that of all things? "You-you were holding me back and I realized I don’t even like you.”
“You realized after 12 years of knowing each other?” Michael tried to keep the same sharp tone that would let him know he didn't believe a single word but, Christ, he was tired.
Instead of answering, Jeremy nodded once. “I don’t like you at all and Squip finally gave me an escape.”
“An escape...From me.”
It wasn't a question, but Jeremy confirmed it with a silent nod anyway.
Now was the time to do something. He could collapse on the floor-Or, or yell at Jeremy, or find the Squip and punch him in his Matrix-looking face, and curse him for making this all change-Except according to Jeremy, he was never really wanted in the first place.
So he choose to calmly copy the nod and quietly remarked, “I guess I’ll go now.”
Without another word, he left the bathroom, heading downstairs. It was a good thing he didn't see Squip or who knows what would have happened.
He was about to leave that godforsaken party, had even opened the door and taken his first step when the cold howling wind reminded him he had left his hoodie in the bathroom upstairs. For a second he considered just leaving it there, for fear of running into the two people in the world he never wanted to see again. But Jeremy would undoubtedly have left the bathroom by now, Michael's favorite hoodie should still be discarded on the floor. Besides, he had a feeling he would need all the comfort he could get.
Still no tears. Maybe they were doing him a favor and waiting until he got home.
So he turned around and headed back upstairs towards the bathroom, not even bothering to knock before opening the door.
“Wait, no it’s occup-” Jeremy had been trying to say, but choked on his words when he saw who it was.
Michael had been expecting to see his hoodie lying on the dirty floor, the bathroom empty. Maybe a drunk couple sloppily making out.
He hadn’t been expecting to see Jeremy wearing his hoodie, curled up in a corner of the bathroom...crying.
There had been so much crying tonight.
Michael slowly made his way over to Jeremy with mechanical movements. Minutes ago, he had thought he had had the last conversation he’d have with his best friend. He hadn’t expected this.
“W-w-why are you back?” Jeremy could barely form the words, they clogged up on the way out.
“I’m here for my hoodie.” Michael said simply.
With pitiful movements, Jeremy shrugged the hoodie off.
Now was the time for Michael to pick up the hoodie and leave. Now was the time to cut all ties with Jeremy, even if it wasn’t completely his choice. Instead, he stood there, staring into Jeremy’s glassy eyes and waiting for nothing.
Then Jeremy whispered something so softly it almost sounded like an exhale.
“What did you say?” Michael asked, his voice devoid of everything that had happened between them, leaving nothing in its place.
“I-I said I can’t do it.”
Despite himself, confusion spiked up and Michael crouched down and peered across at Jeremy, “You can’t do what?”
Jeremy’s eyes welled up with fresh tears as he responded. “I can’t get rid of you.”
Michael’s expression hardened. How was it possible that had he fallen for it again?
“Oh, don’t worry, you can.” He said, straightening up and trying to sound as harsh as he could with his throat being as thick as it was.
“No!” Jeremy yelled, grabbing his arm for dear life and yanking him down with strength Michael didn’t know he possessed.
“I-I meant p-p-please don’t leave me. I t-tried to tell you I didn’t want you to make you leave be-because I don’t deserve y-you. But I can’t do it, I can’t make you leave."
Michael’s brow furrowed, and despite his aching heart warning him, he sat back down. “Jeremy, what are you talking about?” Reluctantly, he let Jeremy grasp him.
“Squip told me that you-that you loved me.”
His entire body froze in response. So that was why. Everything clicked into place, and he understood. Of course Jeremy was freaked out by Michael when he heard that, of course he turned to Squip, of course he-
“I knew it wasn’t true of course.” Jeremy was stumbling, not sure how much he had to reveal to make the boy in front of him stay nor how much would push him away. “No way my Michael would be in love with me, the universe isn’t that-that kind. And I-Well, I wasn’t worth it.” A pathetic sound, something akin to a whisper or a gasp escaped him. “I don’t know why I called you a loser, believe me I didn’t mean it. He-Squip told me it would make me feel better and that I-I owed it to him because who was I to be dating him but wanting y-”
Hurriedly, he shut his mouth but enough of the words had already escaped. “H-Here’s your hoodie-” He tried to say but Michael couldn't help but cut him off.
“You-You wanted me?”
Jeremy’s face burned red at how the wording was phrased, even through the tears. “Michael, please, I never meant for you to find out-”
“Why? Why didn't you want me to find out?”
“...I didn’t want to ruin our friendship.” And then the irony of the situation appeared much too clearly to Michael. A delirious little giggle tried to force it’s way out but he pushed it back down.
Jeremy slowed laid his head on Michael’s shoulders. “I am s-so sorry. You didn’t deserve any of it, and I-I didn’t deserve you.”
“Jeremy,” Something in Michael's tone compelled him to look up and into his eyes.
“I-I want you too.”
Jeremy’s eyes widened. “What?”
“I mean, I-For a long time I had-Oh, for god's sake.” Michael stopped his own rambling by quickly pressing his lips against Jeremy’s. He could feel the wetness on his cheeks, could taste the salty water that dropped from his eyes and had followed the line of his lips.
Jeremy stared ahead in shock, gaze only focusing after a couple of quiet moments.
The barest sliver of a smile, a little lost, a little hopeful, appeared when they broke. “You-you want me too?”
There were still so many things to talk about and clear up. Part of Michael still felt hurt, and yet another confused, but the biggest part was simply overjoyed. After having to deal with so much pain and confusion and anger, the joy at finally, finally kissing Jeremy felt like a breath of fresh air.
It felt so good, and overdue and-and, well it was by no means perfect. There were a lot of better situations they could have been in-that Michael had imagined them in. But it was still enough.
So Michael nodded and allowed his own small, hopeful smile to appear. “C-Can I kiss you again, then?” Jeremy asked, and Michael didn’t bother with a response. And just like before, it was good.
Until Squip slammed open the bathroom door.
“Jeremy, what the shit is taking so lo-” The question died on his lips as he took in the sight of the two boys, heads inclined toward each other, lips inches away.
“What the fuck is this?” Squip roared, expression more furious than either Michael or Jeremy had ever seen.
“I-I-I-” Jeremy was stuttering so badly he could barely form words. Michael knew what he had to do. He opened his mouth to say that it was his fault, he had forcefully kissed Jeremy but his best friend beat him to punch.
“I k-kissed Michael to see if you were telling the truth.”
Squip glared hatefully, “The truth about what?”
“T-the truth ab-about him loving me. And y-you were wrong, he didn’t want me to k-kiss him. So let him leave because none of this is his f-fault.”
Squip narrowed his eyes at both of them, hands clenched into fists, unable to tell if he was being told the truth. Michael strained his face so that it gave away nothing. The domineering boy stepped into the bathroom, leaving the doorway just barely open.
“You have ten seconds before I change my mind.” He growled at Michael. “Get your ass out of here. I can always get you at school anyway.”
“Leave now.” Jeremy whispered, barely loud enough to be heard, and Michael knew the smart option in that moment would be to run out that door.
Instead, Michael looked at Jeremy and saw how his hands were shaking uncontrollably. He saw the nasty black eye that would take weeks to fully heal and he saw the fear that might never leave his eyes if he left.
So he rose to his full height and resolutely stood in front of his best friend.
For the past twelve years of both their lives, Michael had been there for Jeremy. That wasn’t going to change now.