Mr. Fernandez teaches Spanish. Mr. Fernandez teaches Spanish well. It’s no surprise that everybody likes him. He’s funny and silly and is always ready with a joke or a childhood story to lighten the class atmosphere. He can be tough - nobody will ever forget the day he found a couple of seniors bullying Ivan. (Nobody knows what happened, exactly, but they don’t bully anyone anymore.) He’s also really nice about homework, which irks a lot of his colleagues because they think he isn’t hard enough on the students about their assignments.
Spanish class is always fun.
Physics class is never fun.
Mr. Vargas is a hard-ass like no other. He does not crack jokes or tell childhood stories to make everyone laugh. He is extremely tough about homework. And if you don’t do the assigned reading before class, you might as well not bother coming. Still, he’s always got a little nugget of trivia, and sometimes, just sometimes, he’ll swear - and it will make everyone titter. He doesn’t mind if you laugh at him swearing. And he’s not a bad teacher. He isn’t mean and vindictive, for one, and all rules apply to everybody equally. He doesn’t mind going over the same theory five times to make sure that one kid having a difficult time in class can understand. His analogies are brilliant, which is important if you’re trying to explain abstract concepts. He’s also one of those teachers who low-key watches out for the students who skip lunch and hide their arms. He catches them alone and talks to them, making sure they’re all right.
So they’re both good teachers, just differently.
But they aren’t even friends. Nobody has seen them get lunch together or anything. They. Aren’t. Friends.
Kiku hates using the school bathrooms. It’s not that he’s a germaphobe or anything. He doesn’t consider himself too picky or snobby about this. If you gotta go, you gotta go. The relief of, well, relieving yourself, far outweighs the momentary yuckiness of public restrooms.
Despite that, the bathrooms at school are horrible. They stink of stale water and an excess of cleaning solution, with suspicious orange stains on the tiles. Kiku feels contaminated just breathing the air.
He’d excused himself in the middle of class, which explains why the corridor and the bathroom is so dead silent. One cubicle is locked.
From the pocket of his lowered jeans, Kiku pulls out his phone to continue his Mystic Messenger game, and then looks up when the familiar rough, strong voice of Mr Vargas suddenly cuts through the cubicles.
“Bastard.” Yep. That’s definitely Mr. Vargas. But he doesn’t seem angry or anything. It was said almost as a…greeting?
“Hey Lovi!” comes Mr Fernandez’s chirpy reply. Kiku realises, belatedly, that he wasn’t alone here, he’d never been. Inside the locked cubicle had been Mr Fernandez. And he had just called Mr Vargas Lovi. Not even ‘Lovino’. Straight up ‘Lovi’. Kiku expects Mr Vargas to flip out at that.
“Last night’s calamari was so good,” Mr Fernandez goes on, perhaps oblivious of the huge mistake he’s made. Calling Mr Vargas ‘Lovi’. Honestly, does his Spanish teacher have a death wish? “I’m not looking forward to lunch, ugh, I just want to go home and have the leftovers.”
“Leftovers?” Mr Vargas finally says, and Kiku narrows his eyes because that is the voice of a man who is distinctly notflipping out. “Tch. Yeah, the calamari was good but leftovers make for a sad dinner. Eating out sounds better.”
“I don’t want it to be wasted, I mean-”
There’s a sudden silence that Kiku finds odd, because it’s hard to cut off Mr Fernandez mid-sentence, he loves to talk.
Then, he can hear giggling and a loud, wet splash.
“Hey, what the hell, Antonio?”
Mr Fernandez is laughing uncontrollably now and what is going on. More splashing. Kiku can hear the water run from the faucet. Curiosity gets the better of him (and he’s done, anyway), so he quickly cleans and zips up, unlocks the cubicle door and sees-
Mr Vargas’s shirt, damp with water spray. And Mr Fernandez standing by the sinks, a giant playful grin on his face.
And they both falter when they see Kiku. Mr Vargas, his hands in front of himself defensively, a slight snicker on his lips, quickly straightens, pressing his shirt down with his hands and awkwardly trying to pat down his hair. Mr Fernandez isn’t smiling anymore. In fact, he looks mildly panicked as he turns off the faucet and sticks his hands under a drier. There is a long, tense silence. It’s like Kiku just caught them doing something wrong. But they were only having a water fight. In the school bathrooms. Which is…slightly weird because they aren’t even students.
As Kiku makes his way over to the sinks to wash his hands, Mr Vargas just turns gracefully on his heels and leaves. Discreetly staring, Kiku can see Mr. Fernandez’s eyes follow him.
Alfred does not understand his C. He should not have got this grade. He worked hard. Okay, maybe he opened his books at the last minute but his concepts are strong! He knows he deserves at least a B. He’s been trying to get better at this studying thing, and it’s not as easy as Arthur makes it look.
So he makes his way to Mr Vargas’s office in a free period. He hasn’t made an appointment or anything, but hopefully his teacher will be around. Mr Vargas has never been particular about appointments - he’s usually late to them himself.
The door to his office is half open and there’s Mr Vargas, grading their homework essays. He’s got that intense, concentrated frown that usually means he’s focused. But that’s not what surprises Alfred. It’s Mr Fernandez. He’s sitting opposite Mr Vargas at the desk, whispering under his breath as he makes notes for tomorrow’s class.
They’re so quiet, so into what they’re doing. It suddenly feels too rude to be here, watching them. They haven’t noticed him yet, and so Alfred stands carefully behind the door, making sure he’s silent and unseen.
“I love it when you speak Spanish to me,” Mr Vargas suddenly says, and his voice is…soft. Fond. He’s smiling.
Mr Fernandez looks up and smiles too, except it’s not his usual shit-eating grins, but something a lot shyer, sweeter. “Cariño,” he says in barely above a whisper so that Alfred has to strain to hear him. He does, however, see Mr Vargas turn scarlet.
Alfred realises now that he’s watching something extremely intimate. He’s fascinated, curious, but also slightly guilty. He shouldn’t be here right now. So he slips away as stealthily as he can, and when he’s at the end of the corridor, runs up the stairs, taking them two at a time.
“Okay dudes, I just saw the weirdest thing.” It takes a while to find Kiku and Ivan. They’re not in the building, as he’d assumed, but sitting under a tree in the school grounds, eating potato chips. Alfred is gasping for air after running to see them, his hands on his knees as he catches his breath. “The weirdest freaking thing ever.”
“What?” Ivan asks, offering the bag of potato chips to Alfred. He nods gratefully, takes a fistful and settles down on the grass.
“Mr Vargas and Mr Fernandez, they…” and slowly, making sure to mention every detail, Alfred recounts what he’d witnessed.
Kiku’s eyes go wide. “Actually I caught them in the restrooms the other day having a water fight. I didn’t know they were friends.”
Ivan, meanwhile, has whipped out his Spanish pocket dictionary and is flipping the pages rapidly, his eyes moving as he scans the little book for something. “Here it is. Cariño - oh, it means darling. Or sweetheart. It’s a term of endearment!”
Kiku’s eyes go comically wide again. “Alfred, are you sure you heard him right? You said yourself that he was almost whispering.”
“I heard him right!” Alfred protests, and the three of them become quiet, staring at each other, shock-faced and awestruck.
“Are they dating?” Ivan asks, and the other two just stare at him, because the obvious answer is yes but then, how does a guy as cheerful as Mr. Fernandez end up with a grump like Mr. Vargas?
Since their little discovery, their group has been slightly divided. Alfred really, really, really wants to tell Matthew, Arthur, and Francis. Kiku is of the opinion that they should keep it to themselves. If their teachers want to keep it a secret, they should be respectful of that choice and not spread rumours. Ivan agrees with Kiku. He feels protective of Mr. Fernandez. They’re somewhat close, ever since the bullying incident last year.
So when Ivan walks into class early and finds only Mr. Fernandez there, organising his lecture notes, his teacher glances up and smiles at him, warm and full of affection. “Hey, Ivan! How are you?”
He phrases it politely, but Ivan knows what he’s really asking is, how are you doing now? Are you okay? He is. He’s still struggling with his parents at home, but his self-esteem is much better these days. So he smiles back and says, “I’m all right, Mr Fernandez. How about you?”
“Good, good.” Mr Fernandez turns back to his lecture notes as Ivan takes a seat. Suddenly, he looks up and straightens his reading glasses. “Can I pick your brain for a second?”
“Sure, what can I help you with, Mr. Fernandez?”
His teacher looks conflicted for a moment, frowning at himself. Then, coming to a decision, he shakes his head and replies, “I need to get a birthday present for someone. I’m really bad at this kind of thing.”
Ivan bites the inside of his cheek to stop smiling. It’s Mr. Vargas’s birthday next week. This is so cute. Ivan might just scream. As it is, he baits. He agrees with Kiku that they shouldn’t be spreading their information around, but now, alone, he’s going to have some fun. “A birthday present for whom? A child? A girl? How about a doll?”
Mr Fernandez’s eyes widen very slightly and he chuckles, shaking his head. “No. Uh, an adult.” He pauses, considering his next words, and Ivan barrels on.
“Oh, do you have a girlfriend, Mr. Fernandez?” he knows his tone is teasing, too obvious, and he watches with fond delight as his favourite teacher turns deep red and refuses to speak. “How about some cute shoes or jewellery?”
Mr Fernandez smiles, although the expression is somewhat hard and forced. His voice is an octave too high and sugary sweet. “Thank you, Ivan, those are excellent ideas.” Then he buries his head awkwardly down to his notes and pretends to be engrossed in the complexities of Spanish verb tense.
(So, the students were right.)
Their teachers only glance at each other when they pass in the hallway, ghost smiles lingering on their lips. Sometimes they even share their lunches, which Mr. Vargas has never done before. And even though you’d never notice from the hard-ass way Mr. Vargas still runs his classroom, they know he’s a lot happier than he used to be.
(Mr. Fernandez and Mr. Vargas are not friends.)