“Hey kid, relax.”
Stu drew in a sharp breath, and hoped he hadn’t visibly flinched. He’d been on edge all evening. Surrounded by the milling crowd of teenagers, all senses were being battered from each direction – loud music blaring, the multicolourd lights on the verge of strobe. He glanced nervously around to find the source of the voice who had addressed him. The deafing chaos of the room made it hard to pick out the direction of anything - making Stu scan an almost full circle around him, until his eyes met with - shit. Stu immediately felt a blush creep up his face. Mitch Adams was staring right back at him, a soft grin on his face. Mitch Adams, sweetheart of the school, talking to Stu.
“I am relaxed. T-thanks,” he tried. Double shit. Maybe Adams wouldn’t have noticed the stuttering. Maybe stuttering was in this season?
“It sure don’t look like it. Who comes to a party just to stand on the side all evening?” Was he teasing him? Stu blinked a couple of times, racking his brain from something to say. It was hard to think with Adams right there in his face, hair perfectly slicked and shirt perfectly fitted. His shirt buttons were undone, causing the otherwise impecable collar to wrinkle slightly at the base, showing more skin than would be allowed with uniform. Cheeks heating, Stu realised he was staring and snapped his eyes back up to Adams', finding them still focused on his face. He opened his mouth, hoping nothing too undignified would come out.
“Have you been watching me?” Really Stu? That’s the best witty one-liner you could come up with? He groaned internally, and grabbed his still half-full solo cup from the table, getting ready to disappear and hide in shame. Possibly out of the country. But a laugh breaking through the music stopped him, and he turned back to see Adams grinning, eyes twinkling. The smile lit up his already handsome features, and Stu found himself instantly transfixed. He found himself stepping forward as he tried at returning a smile, and was rewarded with Mitch drawing in closer to him in turn. In arms reach now, Stu found himself with a friendly hand gently patted on his shoulder.
“You’re a funny kid, you know that?” He was definitely being teased. But there was a playful tone to Mitch's voice that didn't quite seem to point to the mockery Stu encountered from the rest of the football team. Stu fiddled with the rim of his cup, still unsure at how this conversation had come from, and where it was going. Mitch's arm still rested on him, and Stu could feel the heat of Mitch's hand through the cloth of his sleeve like a beacon, and willed himself not to lean in.
“Kid? I’m not that much younger than you, you know that?” Stu countered back. And not any shorter, he mentally added, because if Adams got much closer they’d be bumping noses. Even in the warmth of the crowded room, Stu began to feel Mitch’s own body heat cascading off him, and had to fight the urge to settle closer into his figure. He really thought he'd stopped himself from leaning in. He mentally shook himself, and took what he hoped was a casual step back.
“Right. You’re a junior? In that… uh, poetry club?”
Whatever left plain of Stu’s face was immediately swallowed by a furious blush. Mitch Adams knew who he was?
“Literature Society,” he corrected. “I’m Stu.”
“Yeah, I know,” replied Mitch Adams, raising an eyebrow. “I read your article on the comparison of vets now and in the 40s. Interesting stuff.”
This was too much. Not only did Adams know his name, but he’d read his work? Artie had bullied him into publishing that piece for the school newspaper. If Stu could have known then that this had been the result, he definitely wouldn’t have put up so much of a protest.
“Seriously though,” continued Mitch, dragging Stu from his musings back to situation at hand. “You've put the effort into coming to a party. Slouching in the corner doesn’t exactly radiate a vibe of enthusiasm and fun. Would it kill you to loosen up a bit?”
“I don’t slouch.” Stu countered immediately, offended. Though maybe he did have a bit of a point, on the other part. Stu had racked the up the courage to go to the party, but once he'd looked aroung enough to find Artie clearly busy in the laps of some guys he didn't recognise, Stu had ran clean out of friendly faces. He hadn’t done anything apart from drink half a cup of terrible punch. Stu looked down into said cup, raising it to his lips to finish it. He could feel Mitch’s eyes follow his motion, and Stu stopped just shy of drinking, embarrassed.
“You’re drinking that?”
This drew a reluctant laugh from Stu. He fully put down his cup, abandoning it on the table to turn fully to Mitch.
“It is pretty shit,” he agreed.
“Here,” said Mitch, dropping his arm to loop his hand round Stu’s arm. “Let me take you to where the good stuff is.”
Too surprised to protest, Stu subjected himself to be dragged along through the crowd. Weaving through the throng of people, Stu could feel his grip slowly slacking, being knocked around by the sheer number of bodies. Determined not to lose Mitch, Stu grabbed his hand and pulled himself closer, pushing through the crowd. By the time they emerged to a space of relative peace, Stu was clung to Mitch, linking the two close together. Unlatching himself and stepping back into the space, Mitch brushed his shirt back down to perfect, flattening the creases the crowd and Stu had caused.
They were standing behind a table near a wall, not very unlike the one they had just left. The table had the same arrange of sad looking teen snack food and tubs of the same neon juice. Seeing Stu’s unimpressed look, Mitch gave him a shining grin.
“Not that stuff, kid,” he said, and he reached into a cupboard flush with the wall that Stu hadn’t noticed. Stooping to the bottom drawer, Mitch swung it open and pulled out a small dark amber bottle. Uncapping the bottle with one hand, he leaned over Stu and pulled a pair of plastic cups up from a stack. Pouring a small measure in each, he offered one to Stu.
“Here, this’ll put some hairs on your chest.” Stu could hear the smile in his voice, even as the cup he was drinking from masked his face. Replying with a mock scowl, Stu mirrored the action and took a tentative sip of his drink. As the drink hit his throat, he choked on the unfamiliar and sudden burn. Hacking out coughs, he felt Mitch crowd round him and give some friendly thumps on his back. Even over the thumping beat of the music he could hear Mitch laughing at him. Straightening up and softly wiping around his mouth, Stu surrendered the rest of his cup to Mitch, who easily downed it.
“How did you know that was there, anyway?” Stu couldn't remember who the host of the party was, but he knew it wasn't Mitch's house.
“You could say I’m close with the hostess,” Mitch replied, pointing out an attractive blonde girl in the crowd. Stu felt his heart sink as he watched her perfect hair bounce around her face as she bobbed to the music. Of course. A strange lull of calm fell across the party as the song playing faded out, replaced by the chatter of the crowd. The girl looked in their direction and caught their gaze, and she gave small wave and a smile.
“Hey, Becky!” A warm flush had coloured Mitch’s cheeks, and his hair was lightly ruffled. It only made him more attractive, and Stu found himself staring transfixed at a group of strands which had fallen onto his forehead as Mitch waved back. A new song came on, slower and softer, and the lights calmed in accordance. A soft blue glow lit up the room, and Mitch pushed himself off from where he was leaning on the wall, eyes lighting up.
“Now this is a song for dancing.”
Stu felt his shoulders drop, and he sulked towards the wall, resigning himself to spend the rest of the night as he’d started it.
“What’s wrong?” Mitch was staring at him oddly, standing perfectly still.
“Nothing,” Stu bit back. “Go dance.”
“I kind of need a partner for that.” Mitch still hadn’t moved. Confused, Stu just stared back at him.
“But. I thought,” Stu gestured weakly towards the crowd where the perfect blonde hair glowed in the new soft light. “Becky? Isn’t she your-”
He was cut off by the sound of Mitch laughing. It was a beautiful sound, but served nothing for Stu’s confusion. After a few moments, Mitch took pity on him, wiping tears of mirth from his eyes.
“Kid, you got this all wrong. Look.” Mitch pointed back into the crowd, where another girl, this one small with red hair in an elegant bun, joined her. Stu watched as she wrapped her arms around the taller girl’s waist, and they began to gently sway to the song. Oh. OH.
“C’mon. Let’s dance.” Mitch’s voice was still warm with laughter, but had opened into something deeper and more serious. Stu could feel himself blushing harder, cheeks impossibly hot. Mitch moved out away from the table, extending a hand in invitation towards Stu. Nervously, he took it, and let himself be led into the throng of couples.
“Can I tell you something?” Stu asked, just quietly enough to be heard over the music. He could feel Mitch softly wrap his arms around him, and felt himself soften into his embrace.
“Sure.” Stu gently placed his hands upon Mitch’s shoulders as he mentally searched for the words.
“I’ve never- I... don’t know how to dance. Not like this.”
Mitch let out a small laugh, a little huff of breath that Stu felt more than heard. Their faces were so close together he could see that Mitch had a splash of faint freckles across his nose.
“Here, I’ll teach you.” He reached out and took one Stu’s hands off his shoulder, locking their fingers and holding them out to the side. “Listen to the music. Let it guide your movement.” Mitch swayed to the right, using the arm placed on Stu’s lower back to bring him with him.
“One, two, three, four,” Mitch murmured into Stu’s ear, gently steering the pair of them to the beat. Stu slowly gained confidence and followed suit, careful of his feet.
“Hey, darling, my eyes are up here.” Stu’s head snapped up and he got halfway through stammering a nervous apology before seeing Mitch’s smirk.
“You’re a real natural kid. You sure you've never done this before?” Giving up on words, Stu simply beamed as a respone, and was delighted when an equally open smile spread across Mitch’s face.
The song passed, replaced by another slow number, and time continued to pass in the same way, the two locked in a close embrace. Stu leant his head on Mitch’s shoulder, slightly dizzy with joy. The music and people around him blurred to nothing, until all he could think, all he could feel, was Mitch and his arms around him. The sheer luck of the night seemed to have opened up a hidden reserve of his courage, and Stu found himself raising back his head to be face-to-face, almost nose-to-nose, with Mitch, and looked into his eyes again. Mitch stared openly back at him, and Stu slowly smoothed his hand from where it had been resting on Mitch’s shoulder to run a thumb across his jaw. Mitch blinked, leaning into Stu’s touch. Stu could distinctly see each of his eyelashes, could count them if he wanted. He was so close there was no way he could miss Mitch’s eyes flicking to his lips and back. So close, there’s no way he could miss the way Mitch began to move towards him. Stu closed his eyes and leant in, meeting Mitch in the middle. The kiss was soft and cautious, but Stu basked in the soft brush of Mitch’s lips, and leant back as a patch of Mitch’s stubble grazed against his face.
“Sorry,” he laughed, experimentally rubbing a thumb over Mitch’s jaw. “This is… new.”
“Seems like you catch on as quickly as with dancing, then,” Mitch replied warmly, smiling, and he pulled Stu close to dance the rest of the night away.