August, Sophomore Year
Newt’s introduction to Thomas comes with a near-concussion and a lot of swearing. A week into sophomore year he finds himself trudging down the art hallway of school, trying to locate Minho amongst the bustling mass of students so they can head home, when a door flies open at Mach 2 the exact moment Newt jogs in front of it. It slams into him, knocking him straight to the floor with a burst of pain in his leg and a flurry of stars across his vision.
He lays there on the tile, trying to force air back into his lungs and process what just happened, until someone’s panicked voice leaks through the ringing in his ears.
“Oh my god – holy fucking shit – I’m so sorry – are you okay? Please tell me you’re not dead.”
Newt opens his eyes to see a faintly familiar boy leaning over him. He’s actually kind of gorgeous, what with his sparkling brown eyes and his ink-black hair falling across his forehead. Newt gets to his feet with the help of the locker wall, the entire student body still coursing around them with no clue as to what just happened. Minho is pushing his way through the crowd with Teresa right behind him, and Newt turns his head to look at the guy next to him who has stood up, clearly very concerned.
“What the hell were you running from?” Newt demands, leaning against the lockers as he recovers his breath. The boy’s expression gives way to relief when he realizes Newt is okay and then mild embarrassment.
“The science rat got out of its cage,” he explains sheepishly. “I was trying to catch it.”
“Well, did you?” Newt asks, rubbing the back of his head with a wince. There’s a lingering ache in his leg but there doesn’t seem to be any actual damage.
“Did I –“ The boy’s jaw drops and he spins around on the spot as if searching for the rat, coming back to face Newt looking defeated. “I completely forgot!”
Newt almost laughs at the endearing clumsiness of this boy. He opens his mouth to say something but then Minho skids to a stop in front of them, completely doubled over, a cackling laughter spilling out of his mouth.
“You just got fucking body-slammed by a door!” he wheezes, a hand on the lockers to support himself.
“Yeah, I noticed,” Newt deadpans. Teresa comes up and he can see her mouth twitching. “Go on, it was pretty funny.”
She shrugs, allowing a small smile. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, are you sure you aren’t concussed or something?” the brunet boy asks. Newt nods as Minho straightens, his laughter abruptly catching in his throat when he sees Newt’s assailant.
“Thomas? You hit him?”
“Um, yeah. I was trying to catch the science rat,” the boy says, blushing. Newt can’t look away.
“I think Brenda got it, I saw her chasing after something,” Teresa supplies.
Minho snorts, shaking his head. “Newt, meet Thomas, the newest member of the track team. Thomas, meet Newt, the only decent person in this godforsaken school.”
Newt grins. “Hell of an introduction, Tommy.”
October, Sophomore Year
Newt’s hot chocolate mug is almost empty. Considering that it’s the only source of warmth to his hands, it’s kind of an inconvenience. He’s sitting on one of the steps in front of his house next to Thomas, who’s bundled up in three scarves against the fall chill. On the step below them is Minho, throwing pebbles into the masses of orange leaves swirling across the pavement, and they’re discussing the pros and cons of attending Gally’s Halloween party that night. It’s a quiet day, the streets empty since all the students went straight from class to home to sort out their costumes. The dull sunlight is filtering through the heavy cloud cover above, creating a comfy, close atmosphere. Except Newt’s mug is almost empty. Damn.
“We could watch horror movies in my basement instead of going to Gally’s tonight,” Thomas suggests.
Newt shrugs. “Sounds fine with me. I’m not sure how much fun a sophomore party would be, anyways.”
“Gally’s a junior,” Minho points out.
“But we aren’t.”
Newt takes a sip from his mug, trying desperately to preserve his heat source. He’s not completely sure why they’re sitting there in the cold but it’s calm and they don’t really have anything else to do. He’s pulling his coat closer, debating whether or not he should go inside to get more hot chocolate (or just sit by the fireplace) when Minho pulls out his phone.
“Aris wants me. Track thing,” he explains, getting to his feet.
“Should I come?” Thomas asks.
“Nah, I’ll text you. Later, guys.”
Newt and Thomas mumble goodbyes and watch him jog down the street, turning the corner and disappearing out of sight.
“With the way he’s always hanging off Aris’s arm you’d think they’re in love,” Newt says. Thomas laughs, nodding his head as he tugs his scarves tighter.
“Could be. Though I think he’s more interested in Teresa than Aris.”
“Yeah, I noticed that.”
Thomas reaches over and plucks the mug from Newt’s frozen fingers. If it was anybody else, Newt would have protested, but he finds no objection escaping his lips as he watches Thomas take a drink. Then he notices that while stealing his mug, Thomas has shifted over just enough to where their sides are brushing.
And then Newt almost laughs out loud, because what the hell does that have to do with anything? He draws his legs up underneath him, moving his focus from Thomas to the leaves that are being blown across the sidewalk.
You’re best friends, he thinks, internally shaking his head. Best friends sit next to each other all the time without freaking out about it.
His gears slow, pausing to take in this new thought process.
Am I freaking out about it?
But he’s definitely hyperaware of his knee touching Thomas’. He’s not missing how easy it would be to just lean over and rest his head on Thomas’ shoulder. And, in the back of his mind, hasn’t he been wondering how to take his mug back and come into contact with Thomas’ fingers at the same time?
This can’t actually be happening right now.
He takes a deep breath and reaches over as casually as he can to grab his mug. As predicted, his hand brushes against Thomas’ for a moment when Thomas passes it back and there’s a kick in his heart that, try though he might, he can’t ignore.
And then he’s staring at Thomas, his mind finally registering all the things that he’s been thinking about but not knowing he’s been thinking about ever since they met. The way his gives his full attention to anything he decides deserves it. His hair when he’s just finished running for several hours straight. His unbelievably infectious laughter. His bad jokes. His kindness to everyone he meets. His contagious smile. And, oh god, Newt’s about to start beaming like an idiot, because he likes Thomas and that realization is making him feel giddy.
“Newt, you okay?”
Newt snaps out of his daze, focusing on Thomas’ eyes, which are locked on him with concern. “What?”
“You’re, like, completely spaced out.”
“No, no, I’m fine. Just thinking.”
Thomas nods, rubbing his hands together. “I’m freezing my ass off. Can we go inside and get more hot chocolate?”
Newt takes a moment to process Thomas’ request, his mind in a haze after his revelation. “Yeah. ‘Course. After you.”
As they get to their feet and head inside, Newt can feel a grin wanting to spring to his face and he only barely manages to keep it down. Just act like a normal person, he chides himself. He’s still your friend.
What if he likes you too, though? says a quiet voice in the back of his head.
Right, sure. That’s enough insane thoughts for one day.
It’s too hot to be doing anything other than nothing. It’s not an unpleasant heat – it’s the heavy kind that seeps into your skin and makes you feel warm and sleepy (and possibly sunburnt later). Newt just doesn’t know how his friends possess the energy to be having the water battle that they are. Stretched out on a towel by the edge of Minho’s pool, relishing the chill of water droplets that occasionally get flung in his direction, he definitely isn’t inclined towards any sort of activities at the moment.
Thomas is next to him, half-asleep in sunglasses and swim shorts. Newt’s about to open his eyes to take in the full glory of his shirtless friend when the gate to the pool swings open with a loud creak and a cry of “We brought slushies!”
Newt peels his eyes open and cranes his head around to see Minho and Teresa entering the pool area, their arms laden with slushies in Styrofoam cups. Sonya, Harriet, and Aris are too preoccupied with their water battle to drink theirs, so Minho sets them on the table next to the recliner that Brenda is laid out on. Teresa hands two to Newt and he takes them as he sits up, shaking one over Thomas’ face.
Thomas shoots up comically fast and he pulls off his sunglasses, taking the cup from Newt. Newt leans back on his palms and sips at his own (vanilla Coke, it turns out) as he surveys the wild splashing in front of them.
“You’d think they’d have tired themselves out by now,” he comments.
Thomas nods in agreement. “I’d get in but I think I’m too burnt to move.”
“You could give me a foot rub,” Brenda calls from her lounge chair. Thomas laughs and there’s a pleasant tug at Newt’s heartstrings.
“I’d rather go skinnydipping.”
Newt almost chokes on his drink. Trying not to focus on that mental image, he yanks off his shirt, glad to be rid of the unpleasant sweatiness it was harboring. He’s still forcing aside the whole skinnydipping thing when he catches Thomas staring at him like his hair is on fire.
“Enjoying the view?”
A grin spreads across Thomas’ face. “No, I’ve just never seen a vampire in the daylight.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not exactly a tanning sort of guy.”
Thomas hums in response, shifting his eyes from Newt back to mayhem in the pool. Newt follows his gaze - Minho has joined them now and they’re using pool noodles as weapons. Teresa’s taken up the recliner next to Brenda, a gossip magazine propped open in front of her face. Newt realizes this moment will forever be lodged in his mind – a moment where they’re all themselves, happy, no responsibilities or expectations on their shoulders. He smiles.
A movement in his periphery alerts him to Thomas lying back down so he follows suit. He turns his head and Thomas turns his and for a while they just stare at each other through heavy-lidded eyes, the sun lulling them into a hazy bubble of summer bliss.
Sometimes Newt thinks his feelings aren’t entirely one-sided. There’s definitely been some close calls, some situations that an outsider would probably have considered flirting. But how much longer until one of them sacks up and does something about it? Newt likes to think he knows when someone’s attracted to him, but he’s only seventeen. He’s never been in a relationship. He’s not like Minho, who can be kissing one girl while simultaneously slipping his number to another. As bold and confident as he presents himself to be, there’s a constant stream of doubt trickling through his mind.
He’s wound up in his thoughts, completely spaced out when Thomas says “Newwwt,” in a low, singsong voice that makes Newt’s stomach drop. When did he get so flirty?
But Thomas doesn’t say anything else. He’s got the twinkle in his eyes that says I want to do something that’ll be fun but that we also might regret later. It’s something that’s gotten him, Newt, and Minho into a lot of trouble over the past year. But Newt will be damned if mischief isn’t a good look on Thomas.
Take a hint, he thinks. Take a chance and see what happens.
Thomas is still looking at him with a dare in his eyes. And Newt, never one to back down from a challenge, comes to a decision.
In one motion he rolls over onto Thomas’ towel and props himself up, half of his body covering half of Thomas’. Thomas stills, gazing up at him. Newt is somewhat aware that the shouts and yells from the pool have stopped but he’s more focused on the intense look Thomas is giving him and the gentle rising and falling of his chest. Their faces are so close that the tips of Newt’s bangs are brushing Thomas’ forehead.
“What are you waiting for?” Thomas whispers. His lips are a bright, shiny red from his slushy, and Newt’s heart is beating like thunder, and, oh god, is he really going to do this? He can’t remember the last time he wanted something so bad. Thomas looks at him with a small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth, and then Newt’s courage comes surging through in a tidal wave and he leans down and kisses him.
It’s short and sugary and it takes them a moment to figure it out but Newt immediately knows that all of his daydreams are laughable when compared to the real thing. He never accounted for how soft Thomas’ lips are, the fizzy, carbonated feeling exploding inside him, or the tender way Thomas loosely holds Newt’s cheek in his hand. Newt absently registers whoops and cheers in the background but he couldn’t care less and from the way Thomas has started to grin, it seems he doesn’t care either.
Newt finally pulls away when his giddiness makes him smile so wide he’s unable to maintain a coherent kiss. He opens his eyes to see Thomas mirroring his expression, his fingers playing with the strands of Newt’s hair.
“It’s about time,” Brenda yells. Someone whistles – Sonya, Newt thinks – and Thomas laughs, bringing Newt’s attention back to him.
“It really is about time,” he says. Newt can’t tell if he’s sunburnt or blushing.
“You’re telling me.”
February, Junior Year
The clock is ticking at an interminable rate. Newt thinks it’s going to start winding backwards sooner or later. Why is it that everything seems to slow down in class? It’s like the ice outside has reached its tendrils into each room, freezing everybody’s internal gears until they’ve got nothing left but a single thread of focus used to pin their eyes to their teacher and the whiteboard behind him.
It’s sixth period, one of Newt’s only classes without Thomas, so there isn’t even anything good to stare at while he spaces out. His fingers drum a pattern on his desk, Mr. Janson’s words filtering through his ears as he vacantly takes notes with his free hand. Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Twenty-two more minutes. Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Has it been twenty-two minutes yet?
He cuts a look to his left and sees a girl whose name he probably knows somewhere in the back of his mind texting somewhat unsubtly under her desk. He pauses, staring at the girl’s fast-moving fingers, and suddenly he’s come up with a failsafe plan to propel him through the remaining twenty-two (now twenty-one) minutes left in this godforsaken period. Glancing up to make sure Janson is preoccupied, he pulls out his phone and types a quick message to Thomas. Three little dots appear, indicating that Thomas is typing a response, but Newt puts his phone back in his pocket, not needing to see the return text to know that Thomas will follow his instructions.
“Mr. Janson? Can I have a hall pass?”
The query doesn’t even stir the other zoned-out students. Janson gives a weary nod, gesturing out the door, and Newt takes a pass and slips out without another word. He makes his way down the empty hallways, finally turning a corner to see Thomas lingering outside the door to their empty homeroom.
“What’s going on?” Thomas asks when they catch sight of each other. Newt gives a wicked grin.
“Ah, Tommy, you’re just not as devious as I am, are you?” He grabs Thomas’ wrist and pulls him into a closet across the hall. Thomas barely gets the door shut before they’re on each other, stumbling deeper into the tiny space, chapped lips on chapped lips and hands everywhere. There’s one tugging at Newt’s hair and another slipping under his shirt and it’s all he can do to stay upright because Thomas is actually driving him insane. Then Thomas’ ankles catch on something – a broom handle? – and he trips backwards, crashing violently into a wall of shelves. He lets out a string of swear words and Newt laughs, barely able to see him through the blackness of the room.
“You really are devious,” Thomas says as he regains his balance, reaching out to grasp Newt’s shoulders and pull them back together. “I kinda love it, though.”
“Yeah? What else do you love?” Newt dips his head to kiss Thomas’ collarbone and he feels Thomas shudder against him, which sends a swooping thrill through his stomach.
“Your eyes,” Thomas chokes out as Newt marks a path up his neck to his ear. “Your hair. Your laugh. God, your laugh. Your art. Your smile. Your kisses. I just – I love you, Newt.”
It completely catches Newt by surprise. All the breath suddenly gone from his lungs, he leans back, his heart skipping beats as he processes what Thomas just said.
“I mean it,” Thomas says firmly. His hand tightens on Newt’s hip as they stare at each other in the dark.
“I know you do,” Newt whispers. For a moment he wonders if his feelings are the same, if he loves Thomas just as much, but it isn’t even a question. “Shit, Tommy, I think I love you too.”
He can feel Thomas’ grin and before he knows it, Thomas is kissing every square inch of Newt’s face that he can reach. An overwhelming sense of euphoria bubbles up inside him and all he can do is laugh as they fall back into each other, the fire in their veins burning away the frost in their bones.
September, Senior Year
Going into senior year, Newt knows that it’s going to be hard. More work, more focus, more hours – that much is anticipated. But what he isn’t prepared for is the load of expectations that his parents immediately drop onto his shoulders. Apply for universities. Ace your classes. Study hard. No distractions. It’s time for the future. Eight weeks into it and he’s already crumbling from demands and sleep deprivation. How Minho, Aris, and Thomas have managed to remain on the track team while staying on top of their schoolwork is a mystery to him.
He’s barely done anything with his friends outside of school since the start of the semester, so when Minho calls him one weekend and informs him that Thomas is on his way to the movie theater and that they’re going to meet him there, he agrees without a fight. After grabbing a jacket and tossing his empty takeout boxes in the trash, he drives to Minho’s house, the weight slowly lifting off of his shoulders for the afternoon.
“’Bout time you showed up,” Minho quips, sliding into the passenger seat ten minutes later. “I think my grandma walks faster than you drive.”
Newt backs out and turns onto the main road, headed for the theater. “Not my fault I obey street laws.”
Minho hums, fiddling with the radio tuner. He glances over at Newt as he works, his face full of concern. “How you holding up?”
Newt shrugs. “Got a lot of expectations, that’s for sure.”
“I can imagine. Your parents suck.”
Newt laughs. “Yeah, they do.”
“Are they pressuring up Sonya this much?”
“Yep. We’re both on academic lockdown.”
“Jeez. Tough shit,” Minho says empathetically. He gives up trying to find a decent song on the radio and sits back. “Are you and Thomas okay?”
“Why wouldn’t we be?” Newt thinks about the last time he spoke to Thomas in person. Three days ago? Four? Between Thomas’ out-of-state track meets and Newt’s overtime at the library, he’s surprised they’ve even managed to get a few dates in since August.
“You’re just…down, lately,” Minho observes.
Newt rolls his eyes. “Yeah, it’s definitely Thomas, not the imminent pressure to make a decision about every single factor of my future right fucking now,” he says dryly.
“Ah. Gotcha.” Minho pauses. “He’s miserable, you know.”
Newt looks over at that, raising an eyebrow. “Tommy?”
“Yeah. He’s talked about quitting track a couple times.”
A heavy sigh leaves his chest and he leans back against the seat. Running used to bring Thomas solitude, some distraction from whatever was going on, and to hear that it’s now just another burden on him makes Newt feel bad that he completely failed to notice it.
“He never mentioned he was that stressed out,” he finally says.
“He wouldn’t. He knows how loaded-up you are.”
Newt chews at his lip, resolving to talk to Thomas about it later. “What about you and Teresa, then?”
Minho doesn’t say anything so Newt glances over, resulting in a double-take when he sees a deep red blush crawling up the boy’s neck. “Minho? Do you actually have a crush on this girl?”
Minho shrugs, suddenly very interested in his fingernails.
“Yeah, okay, maybe, but it doesn’t matter.”
“Why the bloody hell not?”
“Because Teresa Agnes is not going to be interested in a guy with my kind of reputation.”
Ah. Minho’s hit-and-run reputation. Newt holds off responding to pull into the theater’s empty parking lot.
“Well?” Minho prompts after he’s put the car in park. “What’s your advice, wise-guy?”
Newt leans against the headrest, looking over at his best friend since…forever, really, contemplating what to say that can make him feel better. “Minho, she just doesn’t know you like I do yet,” he says. “Get to know her. Be friends, and maybe you could ask her out on a date one day. Have you ever even been on a date?” Minho makes a face and Newt laughs. “I’m just saying. Show her you want more than a one-night-stand.”
“Yeah. Yeah, you’re right.”
They sit in companionable silence, some scratchy 80s song coming through the radio. As they wait for Thomas to show up Newt mentally flicks through all his upcoming assignments, somewhat against his will, until a loud clattering interrupts him. He glances over to see that upon Minho (ever the nosy one) opening the glove compartment, everything has spilled out onto the floor of the car.
“Smooth move,” Newt quips, reaching over to help him pick it up. Minho’s hand finds something in the pile after a moment and he sits back. Newt quickly crams the rest of the stuff back into the compartment and shuts it before straightening, staring at what Minho’s got: a rubber-banded stack of wrinkled college pamphlets, the topmost one advertising the Department of Arts at San Francisco University.
There’s a moment of deafening silence as Newt’s mouth turns into a desert. He stares at Minho, waiting, until Minho finally meets his eyes.
“San Fran, huh?” He says it casually but Newt knows the real questions behind it. He knows his best friend.
“I only just applied,” he says weakly. “I don’t know if they’ll accept me or anything yet.”
“They’d be stupid not to take you and you know it.”
“I – it’s just one option of a dozen, okay? And I was going to tell you, I really was. I was just…waiting for the right time.”
Minho shakes his head. “You don’t have to defend yourself to me, Newt. I know why you chose San Francisco and all these other places that are far, far away from here. I get it. But it’s not me you should be worried about.”
Newt’s chest contracts and he turns away from Minho’s imploring gaze, pressing his forehead against steering wheel. “Don’t tell Thomas,” he whispers.
“He doesn’t need to know yet.”
Minho sighs. “Yeah, okay. But he loves you. Don’t keep him in the dark for long.”
Newt nods and tightly wraps his fingers around the wheel. He starts counting backwards from ten in his head, pushing away the clamor of worry and anxiety that has made its home in the front of his mind. Lock it up. Keep it down. When he gets to one he takes a deep breath, pulls the keys out of the ignition, and unbuckles. Minho looks at him warily.
“Yeah. I’m good.”
“You know I’m always here for you.”
A smile – an actual smile – crosses Newt’s face, his spirit lifting just a bit. “Thank you, Minho.”
“Good that.” Minho punches his arm good-naturedly and then they slide out of the car just as Thomas arrives. He gives Minho a hello before turning to Newt, eyes alight with oh my god I’ve missed you so much and it’s only been three days.
“Newt,” he says, grinning.
Newt opens his mouth to say something snarky that’ll make him feel more normal and less tense but before he even gets a word out, Thomas is on him and they’re kissing in the middle of the parking lot, just as head-over-heels for each other as they were two years ago.
“Eugh, guys, seriously? We’re in public,” Minho groans. Thomas laughs and they reluctantly separate, hands intertwined as they walk towards the theater. Though the mood is light and
Thomas is rattling on beside him about something that happened in school and everything should be right with the world, Newt can feel Minho’s stare boring into the back of his head, can hear the message he’s trying to convey. Newt briefly shuts his eyes and promises himself that he’ll tell Thomas soon. He will.
He knows it’s a promise he won’t keep.
The noose around his heart tightens.
December, Senior Year
The room smells like gingerbread. Or at least, Thomas does. Newt is buried against his chest, their legs all tangled up together and Thomas’ warm arms wrapped around Newt’s waist. There’s several thick blankets piled on top of them and they’ve been lying there all day, alternating between whispering and kissing and napping. Newt never wants to move.
“Is your mum making gingerbread downstairs?” he mumbles into Thomas’ shirt.
“Probably – it is Christmas Eve. But she also has Christmas-themed laundry detergent.”
“Ahh. That’s why you smell unusually fantastic.”
“Hey, I always smell fantastic.”
Newt hums even-handedly and they fall back into an easy quiet. Finally past their first semester exams, they’re able to just relax, breathing each other in as if they’ve got all the time in the world. It’s quite possibly the happiest, most content Newt has felt in the past few years. An errant thought crosses his mind, a thought in the shape of Minho’s voice from three months ago: don’t keep him in the dark for long. But he pushes it away. He shoves it down, demanding that reality stay away from them for just a little while longer.
Thomas presses a feather-light kiss to the top of Newt’s head and he curls his fingers around Thomas’ shirt, his momentary bout of tension seeping out of him as he exhales.
Then Thomas starts moving, slinking out from Newt’s grasp and leaving an empty space of cold air. Newt groans, stretching out an arm to try and pull him back.
“Where the hell are you going? I’m freezing now.”
A soft laugh escapes Thomas and Newt, still nestled underneath his cocoon of blankets, watches him step across his tiny room. He’s beautiful, Newt thinks, with his ruffled hair and his pink cheeks and the old grey shirt that’s slipping off his shoulder. Newt himself is wearing a pair of Thomas’ soft sweatpants, not having wanted to lay in jeans all day. Thomas opens the door all the way and the sounds of Christmas music float through, filling the room with It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas. He turns and holds out a hand in Newt’s direction.
“Dance with me.”
Newt slowly looks from Thomas’ hand to his eyes, his heart melting because of course his sweet, romantic Tommy would want to dance. He pushes back the covers and crosses to the middle of the room, pulling Thomas in by his waist as he drapes his arms over Newt’s shoulders. They gently lean their foreheads together, revolving on the spot at an easy, languid pace.
Newt’s eyes fall shut.
The future is so far out of reach.
“What are you thinking about?” Thomas asks, his voice barely more than a whisper.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Newt teases. Really, his mind is empty. Completely, blissfully empty for the first time in months. The seconds slip by, their bare feet tracing circles around the carpet. At some point Newt starts humming along to the music and opens his eyes just in time to see Thomas smile.
Thomas’ smile grows. “I just love you.”
“Mmm. Bloody good thing, that.”
Thomas laughs, dipping forward to brush his lips across Newt’s. “I really, really love you.”
“I love you too,” Newt whispers. He absently realizes they’ve stopped dancing. “I really, really love you too.” His heart is so full that he wants to say it over and over until it’s stuck in their heads like a song. He tugs Thomas closer and traces a light path of kisses across his temple, his ear, his cheek, whispering those three small words into his skin to make sure he never forgets it.
Bing Crosby’s crowing ends long before they finally crawl back into bed. Between the heat that Thomas radiates and the fingertips that are tracing patterns across the back of his neck, Newt’s in a sleepy haze within a minute. Somewhat distantly he hears a bell tolling outside and feels a warm sigh brush across his hair.
“Merry Christmas, Newt.”
“Merry Christmas, Tommy.”
They’re standing underneath the willow trees that ring the lake behind Newt’s house, skipping stones, when Thomas finally brings up the inevitable. It’s not like Newt was going to push it out until the very last day – except, when he thinks about it…wasn’t he?
“You’re hiding something from me.” Thomas’ voice is surprisingly biting.
Newt sighs, flinging a pebble into the lake. He doesn’t have to ask how Thomas knows – they’ve been around each other too long for that and he doesn’t have the heart to lie anymore. “Yeah.”
Thomas throws a stone in and the resulting splash echoes deep in Newt’s gut. “What is it?” he asks, turning around to meet Newt with bitterness in his eyes.
Despite the balmy day around them, Newt feels cold and scared as he forces his mouth to move. “I’m going to San Francisco for college.”
There it is. With the words filling the space between them he watches Thomas process, not sure what reaction to expect. The willow tendrils gently sway around them, the lake water as still as a mirror, and it agitates him, how perfect the outside world is while his own seems to be falling apart.
Finally Thomas takes a deep breath, a myriad of conflicting emotions on his face, the most prominent being anger and betrayal. “When were you going to tell me?”
“I was getting around to it.”
Thomas scoffs, seeing straight through the lie. “No, you weren’t.”
“Look, they accepted me and Sonya on a full scholarship and even though she hates it here, she won’t go if I don’t and I can’t just sit around knowing that I’m the one holding her back,” Newt explains. He doesn’t miss the desperation in his tone but he can’t help it – he needs Thomas to understand. “I thought it’d be easier if I just left and broke everything clean off.”
“Who is that easier for, Newt?” Thomas argues, his voice climbing. “Because to me it sounds like you go away miserable and I stay here confused and heartbroken.”
“This isn’t just about us, you selfish prick!” Newt snaps, ignoring the hurt that flashes across Thomas’ face. He can feel his temper rising to meet Thomas’ like it always does and he doesn’t even really know who he’s more angry at – Thomas, himself, or the world at large.
“You’re calling me selfish?” Thomas takes a step closer, his hands balled into white-knuckled fists. “You’re the one who was planning to move across the country without saying a single word to me about it!”
“It’s not my fault that I got handed the choice on what’s best for Sonya! I’m trying to think about the rest of our bloody lives here!”
“So why didn’t you just fucking tell me?”
“Because every time I think about leaving you I want to scream and every time I think about staying here I want to explode and there’s just no situation where I win!”
“Maybe you don’t win everything in life, Newt! Maybe if you thought about trusting the people who actually care about you, you’d be in a better position right now!”
“What do you want me to do about it? You want me to just throw it all down the drain? ‘Cause you know very fucking well I can’t do that.”
“I’m not asking you to!”
“So you want me to go?”
“Of course I don’t!” Thomas yells, his hands coming up to tear at his hair in frustration. “I love you, you asshole! That’s why I don’t want you to leave but I can’t tell you to stay!”
“Then what the hell are we even doing here?”
“Did you forget the part where you lied to me for a year?”
All of Newt’s momentum slides away as he tries and fails to come up with a response. He knows there isn’t an excuse for keeping his secret from Thomas for so long. His fury fades into helplessness and Thomas’ hands fall uselessly to his sides. They stare at each other, the tense atmosphere deflated now, and Newt can’t help but feel that despite all their truths being out in the open, nothing has changed.
“We’ve got ourselves into a right bloody mess, haven’t we?” he finally says, his voice fraught with exhaustion. He wishes he had done something before this all started, like kiss Thomas or hold his hand or make him laugh because now god only knows when he’ll ever get to do it again.
Thomas just shakes his head, having finally broken Newt’s gaze to stare at the rocks beneath their feet, pushing one around with his shoe. Newt waits, holding back the tears burning behind his eyes for both their sakes. He doesn’t know if this breach of trust can be repaired. He doesn’t know if it’s something that can be forgiven immediately, in a few months, or ever, and that terrifies him.
“I think you should go,” Thomas says after a while, looking up. His expression is detached, his voice empty, and Newt goes numb despite his wheels spinning so fast they’re breaking.
He nods his head, swallowing past the tightness in his throat. Will you be here when I get back? he thinks, heart stinging. But he can’t voice any more of his thoughts aloud. There’s nothing he can do now that Thomas has made it clear how this is going to go.
“See you around, Newt.”
And then he’s moving, his shoulder brushing past Newt’s as he leaves. A moment later he’s gone and Newt is alone.
He stands there for a minute, staring at the spot where Thomas disappeared, wondering if he’s actually gone or if his paralyzed mind is playing tricks on him. And when it finally kicks in that, yes, he did just lose the most important thing in the world, he falls to his knees.
January, Freshman Year
Ever since Newt left, there’s been nothing but a hollowness inside him. He thought he knew what he was doing. He thought he could handle his decisions.
Now he moves through each day on autopilot, drowning himself in his classes. Every night his sister calls, asking how he is, and every night he spits out a recycled lie – he doesn’t even have new ones anymore – about how he’s great and he’s getting enough sleep and sure, that upcoming test is going to suck but he’ll be alright. He loves Sonya, he really does, but he can’t tell her the truth about the hole in his heart. She loves her new life and everything it comes with; she lives for the glitz and glamour and constant surprises of California. And Newt watches the time slip by, truly glad for his sister but unable to tell her that he’s not happy because he doesn’t want to bring her down. He doesn’t even know what to do anymore. He feels like he’s been falling for seven months straight, not knowing when or how to make amends for his mistakes, so he just doesn’t think about it.
And the worst part is, he doesn’t even know if his choice was right or wrong.
March, Freshman Year
“Have you talked to mom yet?”
Newt looks over his shoulder at his sister, who’s sitting on his roommate’s bed slurping a bowl of noodles. “What?”
“To go home for spring break,” Sonya clarifies around a full mouth of ramen.
“You mean Massachusetts?”
“Slow today, aren’t you? The year’s almost out. We aren’t spending spring break here, are we?”
Newt stares at her, slowly processing this new information. He hadn’t realized how close the semester was to finishing. “No, I guess not,” he says.
“So you’ll call mom, then?”
“I’d rather you do it.”
Sonya nods and Newt turns back to the desk, a cool breeze filtering in through the open window. He can’t deny he’s been thinking about it in the back of his mind. Christmas was easy – just a flight to England to see extended family – but spring break at home is a Pandora’s box of the unpredictable that he’s not sure he wants to open. Obviously they can’t stay in their dorms, so home is where they’ll have to go; Newt just didn’t grasp how quickly that decision – and the results of it – would be upon him.
“Are you going to see him?” Sonya asks quietly. It sends an unexpected pang through Newt’s heart. That’s really why you want to go back, isn’t it? To fix yourself? He stares out the window, finally shrugging his shoulders at both Sonya and himself.
“Just tell mum we’re coming, alright?”
Two days into spring break Newt finds himself sitting on the front step of his porch, reabsorbing the familiar houses and trees and streets around him, when Minho appears in his vision.
“Where the hell have you been?” he demands, staring down at Newt.
“You called me, like, three times a month. And you texted less than that. You didn’t even visit for Christmas.”
Newt heaves a sigh. “Sorry.”
“Sure you are.” Newt gives Minho a long, exasperated look and he finally sits down and nudges Newt with his shoulder. “I’m not really mad. Just missed you a whole damn lot.”
“I missed you too.”
They stare out at the street, watching a little girl pedal by on her bike. “How are you?” Minho asks. Newt rolls his eyes.
“Glad to see you’re still a sarcastic little shit.”
A half-hearted laugh escapes Newt and he watches Minho twist his hands together, looking tenser than usual. It isn’t hard to venture a guess as to why.
“You talk to Thomas yet?” Minho asks tentatively. Newt shakes his head before burying it in his hands, his thoughts so scattered that he doesn’t even know where to start. I made the worst mistake of my life wars with I did the right thing for Sonya. I’m crumbling from the inside out contradicts it’s not the end of the world. Nothing will ever be the same overrides there’s still time to fix everything.
“I don’t think that’s the wisest thing to do right now.”
“Newt, it’s probably the only thing you can do right now. You know his dumb ass wouldn’t want me to tell you but he misses you. Like, I’ve never seen him so down in the dumps.”
Newt lifts his head to stare at his friend in disbelief. “Min, he hasn’t tried to talk to me since it happened.” It’s basically true. Newt thinks back to the final two months of last summer and how they barely interacted beyond a brief glance, how they moved around each other in a depressive haze, ignoring the gaping chasm between them. Newt was just lost – if he’s being honest with himself, he still is. He remembers the day of his flight out, when he was walking down the jetway and got a text from Thomas: be safe. It made the entire situation only a tiny bit more bearable.
“Probably because you haven’t tried to talk to him.”
Minho’s voice brings Newt back into himself and he gives a noncommittal shake of his head. “I’m just waiting for the right time.” He knows how lame he sounds and Minho snorts, getting to his feet.
“Dude, if you keep ‘waiting for the right time’ for everything in life, you’re never gonna get your ass off this step.”
Newt stares at him, thoroughly astonished that he finds himself agreeing with Minho’s words, however much he doesn’t want to. A miniscule flower of something close to happiness blooms inside him, making him suddenly very lightheaded.
“Quit gapin’ at me like I just screwed your mom in front of you and let’s go see if that Xbox in your room still works.”
The yell shocks Newt out of his skin and stops him dead in his tracks. It comes from behind and the end is clipped, like the speaker couldn’t help but call out and then tried to take it back at the last letter.
He turns around, his heart pounding its way out of his chest. There, standing at the intersection of two streets that he passed by just a second before, is Thomas. He looks just the same. His hair is a little longer, maybe, and he might’ve grown into the body under his shirt a bit more, but it doesn’t really matter. He’s still Tommy. Tommy.
Newt’s breath disappears from his lungs as all the emotions he buried months ago start to resurface. From the shock on Thomas’ face and the way he seemed to have instinctively called out a moment ago, he hadn’t planned on this encounter either.
“You didn’t tell me you were coming,” he says. Newt stares, trying to come up with words, and the only thing he puts together is the thing he’s wanted to say for almost a year.
“I’m sorry,” he chokes out past the lump in his throat. The ground is swaying beneath him, and apparently Thomas sees this, because he runs forward and catches Newt just as his legs give out. Sinking to the sidewalk in Thomas’ arms, Newt doesn’t have any strength left to fight the cracks in his heart. The first sobs come, ripped from his throat, and then the tears, hot and salty down his cheeks. He buries his face in Thomas’ chest as he tears at the seams, the tumultuous mess of the last year breaking him apart once more. Distantly he feels Thomas whispering something into his hair over and over, something reassuring and Newt thinks he’s just crying out of relief and joy now, because he never thought Thomas would still love him after everything. He never thought he would still be around, ready to be the only witness to Newt’s inner workings.
“Newt, it’s okay, it’s all okay now, it’s okay.”
It takes a while to pull himself back together, but he does it. Thomas keeps talking to him, giving him apologies that he doesn’t even want anymore, and he’s finally able to drag his head up and look Thomas in the eyes.
“Hey,” Thomas says with a relieved smile. His voice hasn’t changed at all either.
“Hey,” Newt answers hoarsely.
Newt laughs, wiping his eyes. “’Course not.”
Thomas gets to his feet and then Newt takes his proffered hand and stands up. The emptiness of the street echoes around them, the world thankfully leaving them alone for now.
“I’m so sorry, Newt. I’m sorry I said all that shit and shut you out and held everything against you –”
Newt cuts him off with a shake of his head. “Don’t put this all on yourself. You know it’s my fault. You know I fucked up – I never ever should have lied to you.”
“Yeah, well, either way, I’m still sorry. And I still love you. Never stopped, actually.”
Newt stares at him and his beautiful chocolate eyes, trying to formulate a response that will properly communicate everything he wants to say.
“But I get it if you’re not ready to, you know, move on,” Thomas adds hurriedly, taking a step back. “Really, it’s okay, I under–“
“Would you shut up for once in your life?” Newt huffs, grabbing Thomas’ flailing wrists and pulling him in to kiss him.
It’s effective, and god, it’s overdue. By the time they break away, it’s like Newt’s life is infinitely brighter now that Thomas’ light is back in it. All the sorrow and despondency between them has melted away and been replaced with starbursts of happiness and hope.
“You know I have to go back in a few days,” he says. Thomas scoffs, leaning back to look at him with a grin.
“Newt, it doesn’t matter where you are. I’ll wait for you. I’ll never not wait for you. When we’re graduated we can get out of here and move to California or New Mexico or goddamn Japan. I don’t care. I’ll wait for you.”
Newt swallows, nodding his head. “You’d like California,” he says. “Lots of beach for running.”
“I can’t believe you’ve been there almost a year and you still don’t have a tan.”
Newt laughs and slides a hand down Thomas’ arm to interlink with his fingers.
“You made the right choice, Newt,” Thomas insists, squeezing his hand.
“At first I didn’t think so. But now…” Newt smiles. “It actually looks like it’s going to work out fine.”