Michael didn't understand why Jeremy was acting weird.
He really didn't. The kid should have a smile on his face, and a pep in his motherfuckin step with how smoothly things were going. In Michael's humble opinion, things were going too well. Mr. Heere had gotten a promotion at work and was up and at em' every morning. Everyone, including Christine, had forgiven him. And he'd earned the friendship of the coolest kids in school.
But Jeremy looked like he'd been through hell and back, as he waved goodbye to his dad and trudged into Michael's PT Cruiser. Purple bruises slathered under his eyes, a rigid posture, and his eyes... his eyes weren't right. Michael had been sure it was going to be okay when Jeremy had woken up at the hospital. When he'd woken up for the first time, his eyes were bright and sparkly. He had been happy to see Michael, he'd been happy in general... at least he had been that first week. It had just been him and Michael, with the occasional company of Mr. Heere or Christine and the gang, chilling and playing video games. And it had almost felt normal, sort of like they were making up for lost time. They'd spent hours upon hours talking, and Michael had to be kicked out of the hospital so Jeremy could sleep on more than one occasion.
Then- then things changed.
The doctors said depression was a symptom of addiction recovery, but Michael knew that it was something different. Jeremy hadn't been battling addiction, he'd been battling something far worse. The doctors didn't know shit- but Michael did. And why Jeremy suddenly was tired every time Michael arrived was a mystery to him. He'd refused to see everybody- according to Christine. And this was the first time Michael had seen him in weeks. And in his honest to god opinion, Jeremy looked worse.
"You ready?" He hummed lightly, an arm placed casually on Jeremy's headrest. Jeremy clutched his backpack to his stomach and turned to smile at Michael. A smile that put Michael's stomach in a twist, because Jeremy's eyes weren't crinkling. Something was wrong.
"As I'll ever be."
Michael wanted to approach this rationally, he really did. But as the silence droned on, his anxiety grew and grew. Something was wrong, it had to be wrong. This- this situation was wrong. They should be talking or laughing, anything besides sitting in awkward silence. He threw a side glance at Jeremy who continued to stare out the window. His entire body shrinking from Michael.
And Michael was panicking.
"Jeremy-" He started, but decided against it.
"Hm." Not even a 'Yeah?', just a hum. A hum to show- or trick Michael into thinking he was listening.
"Are you," He pondered how to phrase his concerns,"Okay?" Fucking smooth Michael. A short strained laughter erupted from Jeremy's mouth. It wasn't Jeremy's laugh. It was too trained. Jeremy... he laughed uncontrollably. His laughs bubble up through his mouth and are loud and breathy and wild.
This was different.
"Yes, Michael. I'm 'okay'." He pronounced the word on his tongue like it was bile.
"Are you sure, man- cause you seem-"
"Well, I've just recovered from a shitty remake of the 2001 Space Odyssey. So, I might act a little weird." His voice was different too. Controlled, and tight.
It was like they'd stepped back fifty paces. Like Michael hadn't been a badass and saved the day. He didn't want to voice the question that was brewing a dark storm in the back of his mind.
"You want to eat lunch with Rich today, he texted me last night." Michael chirped, a very pathetic attempt to... well.... he didn't even know.
"I don't know, me and dad were planning-"
"Say no more," Michael dismissed it with a hand wave like he was openly trying to dismiss the anxiety in Jeremy's voice,"Your relationship with your dad's super important... how's he doing by the way?"
"Great, actually. We went and saw a movie yesterday." Jeremy smiled.
"What did you see?"
"The theatre was show casing classic horror films. We saw Exorcist and Texas Chainsaw Massacre." His voice changed, a tone of excitement flavored his voice. Michael smiled at the way Jeremy leaned forward, his hands waving around as he vividly described his favorite parts of the movie. Even though Michael knew them at heart, god knows Jeremy had made him watch those shitty films enough times.
"It was pretty badass." He sighed, looking at Michael. He quirked up an eyebrow.
"You okay?" It felt weird hearing Jeremy ask that.
"Fine, why do you ask." He lied, pulling into the school parking lot.
"You're just, red. I don't know- I thought you were over heating or something. Your car's AC sucks ass." Jeremy's voiced, returning to the tight and restrained tone. Michael's heart squeezed.
"No. I'm fine. You ready?" Jeremy's mouth quirked up a bit.
"As ready as I was last time you asked." Michael reached for his bag in the backseat.
"Ugh. Right sorry." He locked his car.
"It's okay- I.. I-" Jeremy looked down but was interrupted.
"Mell, what do we have Heere?" A voice called from behind them.
"Sup, Garinski." Michael greeted as Rich wedged himself in the middle of Jeremy and Michael.
"Nothing much, headphones." He smiled, a side glance quietly assessing Jeremy. Jeremy's silence had Rich in the same mode as Michael, or so it seemed. Michael couldn't tell if Rich's scrunched brows and complete silence meant Rich was panicking as much as he was. He turned toward Michael as they walked to the school.
"Is he okay?" He mouthed. Apparently, it did. Michael shrugged, and the two of them watched Jeremy all the way to the front doors.
"Okay- I'm off to homeroom. See you, Michael." Jeremy called, as he walked away.
"See you," Michael called after him, half heartedly.
"What the fuck is up, Mell? Is he okay? That kid usually can't stop talking."
"I don't fucking know why he's acting like this. He should be fine, I-"
"Garinski." A light hearted voice called from across the hall. Rich flushed and squished his eyes shut.
"Oh, God." He muttered and turned with a queasy smile on his face.
"Dillinger." He called, reaching for Jake's open palm. They shook. A little too long in Michael's opinion.
"Red." Jake acknowledged with a nod of his head.
"Jake." Michael returned. They weren't friends per say. But their shared history made them more than acquaintances.
"So, we still on for lunch?" Jake wondered, opening his locker. Michael kicked his shoe at the ground.
"Afraid not." He mumbled, shoving his hands in his pockets.
"Wait- what?" Jake slammed his locker, staring down those who looked at him in shock.
"Jeremy's acting weird."
"Why, is anything wrong?" It was really weird to see Jake like this. He'd been shoving Michael and Jeremy into lockers for over five years, but these last months Jake had really made up for all that bullshit. It turned out Jake's dad was an asshole, and a fucking crook, so he was never home. So Jake had invited Michael- well forced Michael- to stay the night at his house because it was close enough to the hospital Michael could be down there in under a minute if Jeremy needed it. And Jake was a pretty cool guy, and he listened to Michael. They'd gotten high in Jake's backyard and sort of had a heart to heart about shitty parents, and worrying about their friends in the hospital.
And he'd stayed there for about a month, so Michael had grown comfortable around him.
"No, no. He has a thing, with his dad you know? Bonding or someshit." Michael filled in quickly.
"Great, now I have to tell Chloe- she'll be pissed. She was super excited." Rich cleared his throat.
"That's still going on?" Rich wondered innocently, a sense of urgency lacing his voice. It wasn't usual confident Rich, who had excitement laced in his voice even when he was upset.
"Yes, Garinski, that is still going on," Jake affirmed coldly. "I'm heading to class, see you later Michael."
Rich glared after the jock with hate in his eyes.
"Something going on between you two?" Michael asked sarcastically, rolling his eyes as he and Rich walked to homeroom.
"No. He's just a prick. He didn't have to be an asshole about it, it was just a fuckin question." Rich mumbled and was silent and pissy all the way to class.
Meanwhile, Michael contemplated calling Mr. Heere and asking him to cancel with Jeremy. He knew that it was terribly selfish of him. But Jeremy was avoiding him, he could feel it. He needed to know what was up, he couldn't deal with it if Jer left him again. He just- He couldn't. Panic clouded his vision even thinking about it.
He paused at the door.
"You coming?" Rich questioned, opening the door.
"Yeah, gotta do something real quick though."
"Fine, weirdo, save you a seat?"
"Yeah sure." He waited for Rich to retreat into the classroom before pulling out his phone. Mr. Heere was on speed dial, and the phone didn't even ring once. He answered right away, panic inching into his voice.
"Michael, is everything okay? Is Jeremy-"
"He's fine, Mr. Heere." Michael could hear him exhaled loudly through the phone.
"Oh, okay. What's up, Michael."
"Just wondering if you can reschedule that lunch with Jeremy, today? Me and Jake, and the other's kind of had something planned." Michael felt like a huge dick, but Mr. Heere sighed in relief which comforted the growing pit in his stomach.
"I don't have anything planned with Jer, I kind of was counting on you having plans. He's been in such a slump lately, was sort of hoping you'd cheer him up." Mr. Heere chuckled awkwardly into the phone. Michael froze, the pit returning.
"Okay Mr. Heere, thank you."
"You look after him, Michael. I'm counting on you."
"Of course, Mr. Heere. Goodbye." He hung up before Mr. Heere could speak again.
Michael threw open Mr. Grandski's door.
"Sorry Mr. Grandski, but Jeremy needs to go to the office immediately." Jeremy froze in his seat, he knew that look. Michael's veiled attempt at covering his anger with the constant clenching of his fists.
"Of course, come on Mr. Heere. Don't keep him waiting." Jeremy swallowed. Fuck, Michael was pissed. A small blush crawled along Michaels' cheeks, and his teeth were grinding. What could Michael be mad about?
Michael had called his dad. Shit.
"Mr. Heere." Jeremy jumped, as his homeroom teacher glared at him. Jeremy gathered his things with shaky fingers, and Christine looked at him with concern. He didn't look back, right now he had to figure out what he was going to say to Michael.
Because at the current moment Michael looked positively murderous as he shut the door behind Jeremy, but said nothing. Nothing at all. Anxiety fled through Jeremy. What was Michael thinking? What was he going to say to him to calm him down? Fuck. Jeremy wasn't good at improv.
But, Michael didn't speak. He just kept walking in angered silence, which was almost worse than getting yelled at. Unsurprisingly to Jeremy, they walked straight out the front door to Michael's car.
Michael put the key in the ignition wordlessly. AC blasted onto Jeremy's face, and Bob Marley graced his ears. Michael turned the volume down to nothing. It was silent again.
"Michael-" Jeremy tried, but couldn't continue. Emotions flooded into his eyes and tightened his throat and he couldn't speak.
"Jeremy, what's going on?" Michael sounded tired. Jeremy looked up from his spot on the car floor, to look at Michael. His hands were scrubbing at his eyeballs, his glasses spewn across the dashboard.
"I, uh, it's nothing. It's nothing, I'm fine."
"Fine? Then why are you lying to me? Why would you say that you had plans if you didn't? I mean, you know... you could have said no. I don't control you Jer...I mean, jesus christ." He groaned into his hands.
"Michael, I'm sorry... I just-"
'Why are you avoiding me, Jer?" His voice was quiet. Jeremy didn't say anything, he didn't want to. He knew, he knew it would upset Michael even more. Becuase Michael was the sort of person who actually gave a fuck. You know? He wasn't a complete asshole, and Jeremy felt bad about even thinking about telling him.
"I'm not, I don't know what-"
"Jerimiah, I've known you for twelve years. I've lost you once, and if you let me loose you again for the second time I might have a mental breakdown. Again." He swallowed.
"I don't want to tell you."
"I don't fucking care Jeremy," Michael snarled,"Tell me what's going on."
Jeremy reached for the door, but Michael locked it instantly.
"Let me out." Jeremy hissed.
"Are you seriously fucking running away? Just tell me, Jer, I'm your best friend. I've stayed with you for everything-"
"Exactly!" Jeremy exclaimed, throwing his head into his hands with a pained moan.
"Nothing. This is stupid. Let me out."
"What do you mean, "Exactly." He pronounced the word carefully.
"I don't mean anything, I shouldn't have said that. I'm sorry for lying, please let me out of your car."
"No, Jeremy. Please-"His voice cracked to his surprise. Jeremy stopped.
"No, Michael, you've dealt with all my bullshit this far. I don't need to trouble you anymore."
"Trouble? Jeremy, please don't tell me that-"
"That what?" Jeremy hissed. Michael sighed, and started to pull out of the parking lot.
"What are you doing?" Michael didn't answer. "Michael- we can't leave school grounds. Mike. Michael, are you fucking listening?"
"Jeremy- are you seriously telling me that you've been avoiding me and your friends for weeks because you think you're not worth-" Michael spat that word, it felt gross on his tongue,"Because your not worth the fuckin trouble?"
Jeremy was silent. Michael moaned, throwing a smile at Jeremy, who looked back painfully.
"Jeremy, it's no trouble when it comes to you. It's not even a service, it's a fucking duty. I do it with a smile."
"Exactly. I don't understand it. I don't fucking understand how you can even tolerate a worthless piece of shit like me-"
"A piece of shit, who treated you like your the fucking anti christ. Who nearly pushed you to insanity... god." Jeremy was sobbing now. Michael took a deep breath through his nose.
"Jeremy, you're going to shut up. And you're going to fucking listen to me. Okay?" Jeremy nodded weakly.
"Remember in second grade, when Jimmy Schwarts kept spitting spit wads at me in class?" He didn't wait for Jeremy to answer,"And it really was getting on my nerves. I remember crying so hard they almost sent me home. But then, this scrawny little nobody came and kicked the pants out of a guy way out of his weight class." Jeremy made a noise of protest.
"Shut it Jer, I'm just getting warmed up. Remember when Dillenger dumped my backpack all over the ground in sixth grade and hid my stuff all over campus? Who was the little dweeb who stayed behind for three hours and ditched his last two classes to help me find my headphones? And who climbed the goddamn tree, even though he has terrified of heights, to get them?" Jeremy made no change in his face.
"And who took the blame when I got caught with weed in my backpack at school in seventh? Huh? Who took the brunt of every insult that was rightfully meant for me?"
"I could go on and on, Jeremy, but those are just stupid things. More importantly, who has been with me since the beginning. Who has listened to every dream, ache, and stupid fucking commentary? Who has dealt with all my bullshit and helped me when my mom started drinking? Who? Cause it sure wasn't a guy who isn't worth all the trouble, it was the guy who's been my friend since kindergarten. And he's worth every goddamn second."
They'd gone to Michael's house.
Jeremy, embarrassed by his breakdown in front of Michael raided Michael's stash and had gotten high, and Michael fucking hated being the responsible one... but he didn't know what Jeremy might do.
"Oh no, Michael. MICHAEL!" Jeremy shouted, holding his phone.
"Shhh, what Jeremy." He muttered, his eyes not straying from his screen.
"It's my dad! Dad, hey dad, hey. Hey" Jeremy mumbled into the phone. It was then Michael's turn to lose his shit. He scrambled off of his bean bag, clumsily reaching for Jeremy's phone.
"Hey!" Jeremy protested, grabbing for the phone five seconds later than normal reaction time.
"Hello, Mr. Heere." Michael held Jeremy down with one arm, as the idiot tried to reach for his phone.
"Michael, the school called-"
"Don't worry Mr. Heere...Jeremy and I just took some time off. It was stressing him out, you know? Sorry, we didn't call before." Jeremy mouthed "liar" with a look of terror on his face. Michael shushed him. Jeremy protested further, moving from his place on the couch to attack Michael on his beanbag.
"Yeah, he's been in a rut these last days." Mr. Heere sounded stressed, and Michael couldn't blame the poor guy. But he also couldn't fucking focus because Jeremy was currently trying to wrestle the goddamn phone out of his hands.
"I know- don't worry. We're bro-ing it out, I've got him." Mr. Heere let out a breathy laugh.
"Yeah, I know Michael, you've always got him." Jeremy reached one last time for his phone only to fail, and give up entirely, slumping onto Michael. Michael chuckled awkwardly, a red blush creeping up his face.
"Well, Michael, I want him back bye seven.. okay?"
"Sure, Mr. Heere... See you."
"Bye Michael, and-" Mr. Heere cleared his throat,"Uh, thanks."
"No thanks necessary, Mr. Heere."
The tone went dead.
"That wasn't fucking nice, Michael. You can't just take my things." Jeremy's head was in Michael's lap now, looking at him in very real disappointment and anger. His eyebrows puckered, and his wide eyes looked at him accusingly.
"I can do what ever I want, I'm older."
"No, no you're so not."
"Yes, I so am." Michael rolled his eyes, a smirk growing on his face.
"Well, I'm taller."
"Wow, low blow Heere. Next, you'll tell me you dress better."
"I do dress better." Michael scoffed.
"All you ever do is wear this stupid hoodie Michael, I wear nerdy chic okay? You should be so lucky as to have my fashion sense." Snorting, Michael poked Jeremy's cheek.
"Are you trying to make me cry?"
"No. No, I'm defending my honor. Hey-" Jeremy grabbed Michael's face, pulling him close. Michael's blush spread down to his adam's apple, now.
"Hey, in your defense you look fucking amazing without it." Jeremy sputtered, growing red as well.
"I mean- ugh- Without your hoodie when you're just wearing your black tank. You should wear that more often..." Jeremy groaned as Michael smiled, turning his head and shoving it into Michael's stomach.
"Dude, you get embarrassed even when you're high. How is that even possible."
"My self-esteem is that shitty, bro. Okay? Leave me alone." He defended, muffled by Michael's jacket.
The moment of fun was gone, and Michael again realized why they were down in his basement. Partly high, and skipping school. Michael's hand went into Jeremy's hair then, instinctually. He used to do this before the SQUIP, all the time in fact... but now- it seemed different. More intimate for some stupid fucking reason.
Jeremy's hand wrapped around Michael's stomach, making Michael's breath hitch? What the actual fuck?
"Michael," Jeremy mumbled, removing his face from its hiding place.
"Yeah." Michael strained to get syllables out of his lips. Ugh. Jeremy stared up at him, his wide eye's roaming over Michael's face. Michael felt awkward, and as much as he believed he couldn't be any redder, he blushed two shades deeper. Jeremy's hand reached out to touch Michael's face, and he looked at Michael like the way he looked at Christine. With a dreamy look, and an appreciative smile.
"I think I'm in love with you." Michael's pulse quickened, and his eyes widened in disbelief. What was Jeremy thinking, what was he saying?
"Jer... Jeremy... you can't be serious. What about Christine?" Michael's throat tightened. Jeremy was just high, he didn't know what he was saying. Jeremy smiled and laughed. It was his normal laugh, he shook with happiness at some joke Michael wasn't getting.
"Christine? What about her?"
"You love her, don't you?"
"Course," He slurred, dropping his hand from Michael's face. And Michael was grateful because he thought he might actually explode if Jeremy touched him for another second,"But I also love you. I also love video games. Can we play Call of Duty, I wanna play call of duty. That sounds fun."
They played call of duty, and Michael chalked Jeremy's confession of love to the effects of weed. But he couldn't stop thinking about it. And it was starting to piss him off. He couldn't understand why he couldn't stop thinking about Jeremy's soft hand on his cheek, why he couldn't forget that confession. He returned Jeremy home, and he couldn't for the life of him control the urge to scoop up Jeremy's hand and hold him close like they had been in his basement. And then when he hugged Jeremy goodbye and could not let him go at the door, it hit him like a truck.
He loved Jeremy too.