This was an absolutely horrible idea and Justin was very aware of that. There was absolutely no way that this would go well, but the nightmare was still pulling at him with more strength than he had and he just needed someone . He considered waking up Clay, actually properly shaking him awake, but that didn’t seem fair. This wasn’t his problem. It wasn’t his fault that Justin could barely sleep because there were always dark corners of his mind that were desperate to take over. There wasn’t really anything Clay could do about it either. He felt like an idiot. Like a small child that needed reassurance that the rumbling of a garbage truck in the morning wasn’t the end the world.
Crawling into bed next to Clay would be easy though. He always curled up as close to the wall as possible anyway. Justin would just need to wake up before him and head back to the couch so that Clay didn’t know it happened. He could do that. He just wanted to sleep so badly, and Clay had such a calming presence, he was sure he’d somehow manage to keep the nightmares at bay. Justin decided that whatever the consequences would be, it was worth it in this moment.
When Clay woke up the next morning the first thing he realised was that he definitely wasn’t alone. There was more weight in the bed than he was used to. As he rolled over, he came face to face with Justin who was somehow still sleeping. It was unusual for him. He was usually the first awake in the morning.
“Interesting,” he muttered, more to himself than anything, but Justin stirred awake, his eyes flicking open.
Clay watched the absolute horror cross his face.
“Shit. Clay,” he said, before tumbling off the bed in an effort to get away from him.
He didn’t say anything in return, but Justin started apologising profusely anyway. If Clay knew anything about Justin, it was that he didn’t seek out emotional support. At least, not unless he desperately needed it and saw no other options, and even then there was a bit of a grey area.
“It’s ok,” he reassured, careful to keep his voice level because Justin looked scared of him. It wasn’t really something he liked seeing.
“I’m sorry,” he repeated. “I just -” he trailed off, cursed at himself because he couldn’t seem to come up with an explanation.
Clay looked down at him, saw how distressed he was. “Justin, it’s ok. Really.”
Justin looked up at him, the panic still spiralling behind his eyes. “It won’t happen again.”
Clay wasn’t sure if he cared if it did. With the way he looked right now, he’d rather Justin get the support he needed in whatever form he needed it.
Justin knew it was awful to do this, and to do it so consistently, but Clay hadn’t really objected to it, and most nights he felt like he had no choice. So after every nightmare he’d climb into bed next to him, and every morning when he startled awake to see Clay still there with him he wondered when he was going to snap. But Clay never did. His eyes were almost always calculating, always studying him and Justin had no idea what he was looking for. Or if he managed to find it. Sometimes Clay would smile at him, before asking him if he wanted to head down for breakfast early. Justin thought that he might have liked those mornings the most.
“You’re really not great at sleeping, are you?” Clay asked one morning after Justin had startled awake once again. “I could breathe in your direction and it’d wake you up.”
Justin thought about all the times he’d had to rush out of his room to stop whichever boyfriend it was this time from beating his mum senseless. “It’s a skill,” he said.
Clay’s brow furrowed and Justin could tell he was seeing something that Justin hadn’t intended him to. “It’s for your survival, isn’t it?”
He nodded. Not pressing any further and for that, Justin was incredibly grateful. “Next time you have a nightmare, wake me.”
Justin looked at him, could tell that he was serious about this. “What?”
“Wake me. Maybe I can help. You don’t have to go through everything alone.”
Justin had no idea what to say to that. He’d never been offered anything like it, by anyone. He wondered if Clay could tell how much it meant to him. “Thank you.”
Justin knew that everything in him was telling him not to do this. That this was wrong. That it wasn’t Clay’s problem and even though he’d said that Justin didn’t have to deal with everything alone, it was just what he was used to. He rarely had anyone genuinely care enough about him that they wanted to help him, but he knew that he should take Clay on his word because he would do the same for him. Trusting someone like that was horrifying, and as Justin gently poked Clay to wake him up he wondered if he’d changed his mind. If he’d turn on him, get angry at him and maybe even beat him up. He didn’t want to think Clay was capable of that.
“Clay,” he muttered, barely above a whisper.
Clay shifted slightly, but didn’t wake.
Justin considered giving up but he could feel his nightmare pressing against his brain and god he needed to get away from it. He poked Clay’s arm and said his name again and this time he stirred, opening his eyes and blinking up at him.
“You said to wake you,” he explained, bracing himself for some kind of retaliation, but it didn’t come.
He rolled over to face him and just nodded. “Come here.”
Justin climbed into bed next to him and wondered if the guilt he was feeling would subside.
Clay slid an arm around him, Justin could feel his hand rubbing against his shoulder. He wasn’t sure how awake Clay was, but he thought that he was trying to comfort him. Justin had no idea why he would do that, or if he would regret it in the morning, but he couldn’t remember the last time someone had held him just for the sake of doing so. He leaned into it and hoped that it was ok to do so.
“You need to talk about it?”
Justin shook his head. Clay pulled him just a little bit closer and he let him, resting his head against Clay’s shoulder. He held his breath to see if he would say anything, but he didn’t, just kept rubbing his shoulder.
“I get that,” Clay muttered. “Holding your breath isn’t going to help, though.”
Clay laughed and Justin wondered if he could pinpoint the exact moment that it calmed him down. “Relax, Justin. You’re ok.”
The next morning, Justin woke up with a start. If it was caused by anything it was the fact that he’d fallen into too deep a sleep, and it was his body’s way of reminding him that he couldn’t do that. Clay was still next to him, and Justin swallowed absently. He wondered if Clay would remember holding him. He didn’t want to bring it up. Surely it had meant nothing. It was just Clay being nice like he always was. If it was a thought that lingered in his mind then he definitely wasn’t going to mention it.
They continued like that. Most nights Justin would poke Clay awake and then jump into bed next to him. Clay would always wrap an arm around him and pull him against his side. Most of the time, Justin fell asleep with his head on Clay’s shoulder. Neither of them really brought it up during the day. It only seemed to be exist in the moments it was happening and nothing more. Justin was ok with that.
One night it was worse, so much worse, and Justin was entirely shaking by the time he managed to wake Clay. He knew that Clay could tell it was different, that whatever hell he’d woken up from was still tormenting him far more than usual. He did more than just put his arm around him. Clay pulled him to his chest and kissed his forehead. Justin wasn’t sure what to do. He could barely breathe, let alone think of a way to respond to this kind of affection.
“It’s ok,” Clay said into his hair. “I’ve got you.”
It wasn’t something that he’d said before but Justin felt an immediate wave of calm wash over him and he relaxed for the first time since he’d woken up that morning.
During the day, everything went as smooth as usual. They still went to school. Justin went to his meetings and tried to build up the courage to talk about what he’d lived through. Some afternoons they met up with Alex, Jess and Zach at Monet’s. Sometimes even Ryan and Courtney tagged along. Or Tony after his boxing classes. Everything just continued around them.
Justin ignored the fact that he wanted to be around Clay as much as possible. He ignored thinking about it, and how frequently he thought about Clay in general. He tried to push away the fact that the more time he spent with him, the more he had a deep rooted feeling that he was absolutely annoying Clay. That soon enough he would get sick of it. That he’d tell Justin to leave, or say that he never should have come to find him anyway. If his nightmares started consisting of those kinds of thoughts, he tried to brush that off too.
Things seemed to come to a head one afternoon. Justin had gotten Clay talking about some of the comics he’d been reading. Clay had started reading them again too, after Justin started trying to ask questions about them and he couldn’t remember all the answers. They were on the couch and had been since they’d gotten home from school. Initially, they’d been flipping through the comics but when Justin noticed that he was looking at Clay more than the pages, and that he was worried that Clay would notice, he’d got him talking instead, because if they were talking Justin had more excuses just to look at him. It would just seem like he was paying extra attention to what Clay was saying, and he was, but looking at him was an extra bonus. He’d moved at some point in the afternoon so he was right next to Clay. Usually they would sit on either end of the couch, but Clay didn’t say anything when he moved so Justin had stayed put. It was when he noticed that he was spending an awful lot of time looking at Clay’s lips that he realised he’d had an ulterior motive.
“Can I kiss you?”
Clay’s brow furrowed as he looked over at him and Justin instantly regretted the question. “Did you just ask if you could kiss me?”
At least he didn’t sound angry. Just confused. That was a positive. “I -”
“It’s ok,” he clarified, because Justin was already tensing up in panic. “I’ve just never had someone ask me that before.”
Justin didn’t know what to say or what to do. He had no idea what had gotten into him that would cause him to think about kissing Clay, but he had been, and he wanted to. He needed to know if Clay wanted that too.
“If you’re trying to mess with me -”
“I’m not,” he cut in. “I’m serious.”
He could tell that Clay had no idea what to say to that, and he didn’t blame him. This was probably one of the weirdest things to ever happen to him. Then Clay was leaning towards him and Justin felt his brain short-circuit. He hadn’t thought this far ahead and now he couldn’t . Clay paused for a split second, inches between them now, and Justin thought that maybe he’d realised how strange this was and that he was going to pull away. Clay closed the remaining distance between them and everything else in the world fell away. Justin kissed him back, a hand moving to hold his waist. One of Clay’s hands cupped his face, his thumb stroking his cheek and Justin felt like every nerve in his body was on fire. Then Clay was pulling away, not much, but just enough that Justin wanted to chase his lips again.
“Justin,” he muttered. “You’re shaking.”
“Yeah. A little.”
He had no idea why that was, and so he didn’t have an excuse for it. “Sorry.”
Clay smiled. “It’s ok. Do you need to stop?”
The fact that he was asking meant there was a chance that this could start again. Justin swallowed, searched Clay’s eyes for permission before leaning in again. His hand snaked up his back, pulling him just a little bit closer to him. For whatever reason, he could feel that Clay was smiling.
The two of them split apart abruptly when Clay’s bedroom door was pushed open.
“Dad! Knock!” he accused as Justin slunk as far away from him on the couch as he could and stared pointedly at the ground.
Matt was standing in the doorway. He leaned against the door frame and raised an eyebrow. “Mum wants the two of you down for dinner,” he said, eyes flicking between them both.
Clay was turning red, which wasn’t a usual occurrence. “Yeah, we’re coming,” he managed, hoping his dad would ignore how different his voice sounded.
“You two better be using protection.”
Matt just laughed before leaving again, pulling the door closed behind him. Justin didn’t know what to do. He didn’t move and hoped that Clay would work this out for them. He thought about how if they’d been caught doing that in his house, Meth Seth would have probably have killed him. Clay must have noticed that he was starting to freak out because he moved closer to him again, cautious but reassuring.
“Look, he’s not going to tell anyone. He probably won’t even tell my mum. So you don’t have to worry about people finding out,” he said.
Justin looked up at him, not sure what direction he was taking this in. “Why would I be worried about that?”
Clay shrugged, but it was too stiff and that made it easy to tell that he was pretty uncomfortable with this too. “You know how people at Liberty can be.”
“Wait.” He was talking about school. Justin hadn’t even thought about that. “You think I’m worried about my reputation?”
“Of course you are. It makes sense.”
Was Clay deflecting? Is that was this was? “It’s not like that.”
He sighed. “I get it, ok? You’re lonely and I’m the only person around a lot and it makes sense, ok? You don’t have to pretend that -“
Justin had no idea what he was on about. “It wasn’t a lapse in my judgment, Clay.”
“I know that you miss Jessica and I’m sure that you just needed something -“
He could practically see the cogs turning in Clay’s brain, trying to make sense of all of this. Trying to push it away. Justin had no idea how to make this better. “Clay, listen to me. I asked to kiss you . I wasn’t thinking about anyone else.”
Clay didn’t say anything, just looked at him for a moment. Justin wondered what he’d done to make Clay think that he’d take advantage of him like that.
“You don’t mean nothing to me. You know that, right?”
Clay swallowed, looked away from him. “Let’s just get dinner.”
Neither of them really spoke to each other at dinner, or when they both came back to Clay’s room after. Justin was starting to feel incredibly cold , guilt gnawing at him because maybe he should just have more impulse control. Maybe Clay wasn’t feeling the same way that he was and he’d just ruined the one good thing that he had at the moment. Maybe he was just an idiot. There was a comic book in his hand, there had been for a while now, but he wasn’t reading it, just staring down at it too busy being lost in the horrible thoughts in his head to focus on it at all. Clay was on his bed, scrolling through his phone. Justin wanted nothing more than to be able to talk to him. He just had no idea what to say.
“I’m sorry.” It seemed to be the best way to move passed this. He’d apologise and they could pretend it hadn’t happened, and things would go back to normal. He could live with that if he had to.
Clay didn’t even look up before answering. “For what?”
“I’ve made things weird and I didn’t - I didn’t mean to.”
He shrugged. “They’re not weird.”
“You haven’t looked at me in hours.” It wasn’t that he wasn’t used to that. Sometimes back at home his mum wouldn’t talk to him for days at a time, but it hurt more coming from Clay.
Clay sighed, finally looked up at him. “You coming or not?”
His hand moved to indicate the bed. “You always end up here anyway.”
This was all a big mistake. He shouldn’t have let Clay find him. “I’m sorry -“
“No, I didn’t mean it like that,” he clarified. “It’s ok, Justin.”
Justin hesitated. “I don’t have to. I’ll be fine here -“
Justin got up, placed the comic book down on the pile that he had been slowly working through when Clay wasn’t around. He wasn’t sure why they’d captured his attention in the way they had. They were just an easy way to pass the time. Maybe he’d always been a nerd deep down. He moved to the bed and lay down next to Clay. The air felt stale around him and he kept a careful distance between them.
“You kissed me because you wanted to?” Clay asked, breaking the cautious silence that had formed.
Justin wondered if this was some kind of test. If Clay was trying to work out his intentions, and he wasn’t sure what he wanted to find. He decided that he had to answer honestly, no matter what. “Yes.”
He paused, seemed to think about that for a moment. “You wanted to kiss me ?”
Justin looked over at him. He wasn’t sure why this was such a weird thing for him to grasp. Was this some cryptic way of teasing him? “Yes,” he repeated.
“Huh,” Clay nodded. “So this is what she felt like.”
He could tell that Clay was being serious about this. Whatever was going on in his head, he meant it. “You’re thinking about Hannah right now?” he asked.
“No, not like - I just - “ Clay broke off and Justin watched him struggle with what he was trying to say. “This is weird for me, ok?” he settled on.
He guessed that it made sense somehow. Since he was sure a part of Clay had been thinking about Hannah everyday since she died, that part of him would probably be conflicted right now. “Yeah,” he muttered. “It’s weird for me too.”
“You liked her, right?”
He nodded. “I think a lot of us did.”
“I wonder how she managed that.”
“She was special. You know that more than any of us.”
Clay paused again. “I thought I did.”
Justin didn’t know what to say to that, so he didn’t say anything. Silence fell over them both again, strained and unrelenting.
“Sorry,” Clay said.
The was an edge to his voice that Justin had noticed was always there when he was blaming himself for something. “What for?”
He hesitated, eyes flicking between Justin and the ceiling. “I probably shouldn’t talk about her.”
If there was anything that he knew, it was that bottling everything up never did anyone any good. “It’s ok. Sometimes you just need to talk things out.”
“Can I ask you something?” Clay asked. “It’s not about her.”
“What happened today, is that something you’d want to happen again?”
He looked at Clay for a moment, tried to figure out what kind of answer he wanted him to give. “It can happen as often as you want it to,” he said.
“You’re giving me that kind of power?”
He’d noticed, over the last few months, that Clay had always been powerful. Far more so than any of them realised. He wanted Clay to realise it too. “Yeah.”
After a moment, Clay reached out, wrapping an arm around Justin and pulling him against his side. Justin wondered if he’d heard his breath catch in his throat. He must have considering how quiet the room was. Clay kissed his forehead and he realised he had no idea what he was doing. He’d never been with anyone like this before. It was so different than he was used to. He was used to heat and hastily pulling off clothes, not something this gentle .
“You’ve done that before,” he muttered.
“A few weeks ago. After a nightmare. You kissed my forehead and said ‘it’s ok. I’ve got you’.”
Clay looked down at him. “I don’t remember that.”
He shrugged. “I think you were mostly asleep.”
There was that hesitance again. The pause as if Clay was proofreading his own thoughts a million times. “Was I right?” he asked. “Did I have you?”
Justin knew his answer. He’d known it since before the question was even asked. “You do.”
Justin knew that everything was getting to be a bit much. He couldn’t keep this up forever. He needed to talk to someone about it. Someone that wasn’t Clay, not that they’d done much talking about it anyway. Justin was starting to doubt it, all of it, and he had no idea what to do next. What move to make that would help this situation. He went to the first person that he could think of and hoped that he’d made the right choice.
“I need your help,” he said, hoping that he didn’t sound as desperate to Ryan as he did to himself.
The way Ryan rose an eyebrow at him said otherwise. “You need my help?”
He nodded, fell into step next to him. His eyes scanned around the hallway, noting how many people were in ear shot and whether he could risk this or not.
“‘What did you do?”
“Nothing,” he defended. “Ok, one thing.”
Ryan stopped in place. Justin could tell that he’d sparked his interest, even just a little.
Justin did a quick glance around him again before lowering his voice. “I like a boy,” he said. The words sounded weird, even to him, but he could tell that Ryan seemed to be taking this seriously, and that was enough.
“Congratulations,” he replied, and it was only a little bit condescending. “Who is it?”
“I can’t tell you.”
He rolled his eyes. “Of course you can’t.”
“Look,” he took a step closer to him as a few girls walked passed within ear shot. “I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Ryan looked at him. His eyes were calculating, assessing him and trying to figure out what Justin wanted from him. “So, you’re probably bi,” he said.
Justin nodded. “I know. I mean, I am.”
“And you’re ok with that?”
“I’m coming to terms with it.” It was hard to deal with sometimes, pushing back against all the slurs that were instilled in him from years of his mum’s various boyfriends, and from hanging out with Bryce and some of the other jocks, but he was getting there.
“Good. Now what are you asking me about?”
Justin swallowed. This was the part he was struggling with. He hated asking for help. “I like him,” he explained, “but I don’t know if he feels the same way.”
Ryan nodded, hiked the strap of his bag further up on his shoulder. “Well, has he given you any indication that he does?”
He shrugged. “We’ve kissed a few times but I don’t know if that counts.”
There was a glint in his eye now and Justin had no idea how he felt about it. “Have you been seeing each other a lot?” he offered.
He nodded. “Have you asked him out?”
Justin bit down on his lip and avoided his eyes. “I don’t … really know how to,” he admitted.
Ryan smirked at that. “Justin, it’s the same thing that you’ve done with girls. You just ask.”
“Yeah, but this is … different.”
Ryan softened at that, cocked his head to the side. “You really like this guy, don’t you?” he asked.
Justin nodded. “I usually fuck everything up,” he said. “I don’t want to fuck this up too.”
He reached out and squeezed his shoulder. “You won’t. Take him to Monet’s or something. I’m sure he’ll love it.”
“Really? That’s all I have to do?”
Ryan nodded, his hand dropped back down to hold onto his bag. “Dates aren’t about the place. They’re about the company.”
Justin wasn’t sure what to say, but somehow he could feel that Ryan was right about that. He swallowed the lump that had formed in his throat. “Thank you,” he said.
“Keep me updated on how it goes. I’m already invested in the concept,” he smiled.
“Good luck,” he said and then started off down the hallway again.
Justin took a deep breath and looked around him again, nerves eating at him as he tried to figure out if there was anyone that could have heard any of that conversation, but everyone seemed to be pretty caught up in their own. The bell rang overhead, and somehow he felt a lot calmer, maybe even lighter, than he had just a few minutes ago.
“So why did you need to meet here so badly?” Tony asked.
Clay could tell that he was somewhere between worried and cautious as he came to stand next to him near the edge of the cliff. It was the best place that he could think of for this sort of conversation. It was isolated, and it had kind of become a place that was theirs . He needed that right now. “I know you’re probably tired of harboring secrets by now but I … need advice,” he said.
“Advice?” That was Tony’s way of saying ‘You made me drive all the way out here for a question?’
“Yeah,” he muttered.
Tony sighed, shoved his hands into his pockets. “Alright, what is it?” he caved.
Clay looked between him and the city in front of them. He really did like it here. “I like someone,” he said, and waited for Tony to roll his eyes at just how ridiculous this was.
“A boy,” he added.
Tony didn’t even react to that and Clay wondered if he’d somehow already known.
“It’s not really my area,” he explained, “but it is yours.”
He looked at him for a moment and then sighed. “Alright, tell me about him.”
Clay knew that he shouldn’t have been struck by just how casual this was. Really it was just a normal conversation, but it was something that felt very different. “I like him,” he started, “a lot.”
“But you’re not with him?”
He shook his head. Tony took a few steps closer and Clay turned to face him. “It’s Justin, isn’t it?”
“How did you - “
“I’ve seen the way you’ve been looking at him,” he replied. “And I’ve seen the way he’s been looking at you.”
Clay swallowed. He wasn’t sure what he was feeling, possibly relief at the fact that Tony seemed to think that Justin felt this too. He could trust Tony’s judgement at least.
Tony seemed to see something that Clay wasn’t ready to say because he asked, “What are you afraid of?”
He knew his answer, but it was hard for him to admit. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “The last time I felt this way about someone … they left, and Justin’s already tried that once before.”
“You’re scared of losing him?” Tony supplied.
Clay nodded, forced his hands into his pockets just for something to do with them. “Yes.”
“Clay, he hangs around you like you’re the only person that matters to him. You have to see that.”
He nodded. “He’s not going anywhere. The two of you are pulling yourselves through all of this. Together.”
Clay couldn’t help it. He was touched by that, and by how Tony always knew just what needed to be said. He moved over to him and pulled him into a hug. “Boys are terrifying, I don’t know how you do this,” he joked.
Tony laughed, patted his back twice before pulling away. “It takes practice,” he replied.
“How do I tell him I feel?”
“Just say it.”
“Yeah? Just … forward like that.”
Tony nodded. “It’s always best to be forward. Then you both know where you stand.”
Clay guessed he was right. “Ok,” he muttered. “I can do that.”
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” he teased.
Clay went to hit his shoulder playfully but Tony easily blocked him. “Those boxing classes are working out for you, then?”
“In more ways than you could imagine.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
He smirked. “I’m not telling you.”
“What? That’s not fair. I told you something,” he reminded.
“Yeah because you needed help not because I wanted you to.”
Justin was actually reading a book when Clay made it back that night. Not a comic book but one of the books that he needed to read for his English class. Something that was supposed to help him catch up after his mostly unexplained absence. Clay’s first thought shouldn’t have been how Justin somehow looked even hotter when he was reading, but it was. Sometimes his face got all scrunched up, especially when he was trying to make sense of something that he didn’t understand, and that happened a lot when he was reading stuff for class. He swallowed as he closed the door behind him, noticed Justin look up at him out of the corner of his eye.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hey,” Clay replied, dumped his bag in a corner. “Sorry about not being able to drive you back today. I just needed to … go somewhere for a bit.”
Justin shrugged. “It’s ok. Zach drove me.”
Clay hesitated for a moment. He wasn’t sure how to start this conversation, just that he wanted it to happen. Justin placed the book down and crossed his legs underneath him on the couch.
“Clay, I’ve been thinking about something,” he said, his words slow and careful.
Clay crossed the room, making a split second decision in that moment. The second he reached Justin he grabbed onto him and kissed him, savouring the little mphf sound he made in surprise. Clay let Justin pull him into his lap before he pulled away again. Justin was breathing hard, his eyes wide. His heart started racing almost immediately because he couldn’t believe that something he’d done caused Justin to look like that .
“I’ve been thinking too,” he said, “and I want this with you.”
Justin closed his eyes for a moment, tried to catch his breath before looking at him again. “You want this with me, or you want me?” he asked.
It took him too long to realise what he meant. He carefully moved off him, sitting next to him and reaching for his hands. “No, I mean that I want to be with you.”
“Like, actually be with me? Like, date me?”
He nodded. “Yes. If you want me to.”
He could tell that Justin had no idea what to say to that. That he was still recovering from the way that Clay had kissed him, and part of him was still proud of himself for that. “I - I want to,” he muttered.
He squeezed Justin’s hands gently. “We don’t have to tell anyone if you don’t want to.”
Justin shook his head. “No, I don’t care who knows. You can tell everyone. I don’t care.”
Clay hadn’t been expecting that answer. “What?”
“I don’t want to hide you away,” he explained. “I’m not ashamed of you, or of me, and I - I want everyone to know that.”
He was sure that it must have been a lot for him to say. He nodded. “You were going to say something, but I cut you off.”
“What were you going to say?”
Justin shrugged. It seemed so trivial now. “I was just going to ask if you wanted to go to Monet’s sometime. With me.”
“Like a date?” he asked, unable to stop the smile from spreading across his face.
Justin smiled too. “Yeah.”
He laughed. “Yeah, I’d like that.”
Justin pulled on Clay’s shirt absently. “Clay, can you … kiss me like that again? Please?”
Clay nodded, already moving towards him.
Justin: Update. he likes me too
Ryan: When do I get to meet him?
Justin: Technically you already have
Ryan: Ah, so I know him then?
Justin: Don’t all gays know each other?
Justin: I’ll be with him at school tomorrow. Properly
Ryan: Good luck
Justin got out of Clay’s car and gazed around at Liberty High. He could do this. Maybe it would suck for a bit, but it wasn’t anything that he wasn’t used to. He’d already lived through worse than whatever the jocks would throw his way. He was sure that Clay had too, not that he would let it get that far. He rounded the car as Clay locked it, and brushed the back of his hand against the back of Clay’s. Clay looked up at him.
“There’s a lot of people here,” he said, as if he was giving Justin one more chance to pull out of this all together.
“I don’t care,” he reminded.
“This isn’t something you can just take back when you need to.”
He shook his head. “I wouldn’t.”
Clay smiled at him and it gave Justin the extra boost of strength he needed.
“It won’t matter to our friends,” he explained, “and anyone it does matter to isn’t worth caring about anyway.”
Clay looked at him for a moment. His face was set, eyes determined. He didn’t know why he always forgot how brave Justin was. He nodded and reached out, tangled their fingers together easily and ignored the fact that he could already see people turning to look at them, already starting the whispers that would flow through the entire school in a matter of hours if not minutes. Justin squeezed his hand and he realised that he didn’t care about any of that. Not even a little.
When Justin felt the hand against his shoulder he almost jumped out of skin, already on high alert because he was sure it was Monty or Scott or any of the others coming to antagonize him. When he heard Zach’s laugh instead he sighed in relief.
“It’s just me,” he said, leaning against the locker next to his and pulling on his Letterman jacket.
Justin nodded, not entirely sure what to say. He closed his locker and just looked over at him.
“So,” Zach started, there was a glint in his eye that matched his smirk. “Looks like I’m going to need an entire essay to fill me in on what’s been happening with you.”
Justin shrugged as if to say ‘not much’ and Zach laughed again.
“Come on, you and Clay? None of us saw that coming.”
He hadn’t either. Not really. “Yeah,” he said.
Zach reached out and squeezed his shoulder. “So?” he prompted.
He shrugged again. “It just sort of happened.”
He pulled away, crossed his arms over his chest and raised his eyebrows. Justin couldn’t tell if he was just teasing or if he legitimately didn’t believe that. “Have you two …?”
Justin startled. “No. It’s, uh, it’s not like that.”
Zach smiled at him and it wasn’t even the least bit teasing. “Taking things slow. Good for you.”
Justin shrugged, pulled at his shirt for something to do with his hands.
“You look happy,” he said, “when you’re with him. That’s what matters.”
Justin glanced down the corridor, noticed all the extra eyes lingering on him. He turned back to Zach. “I am.”
Zach patted his shoulder again, then threw an arm around him. “I’m going to walk you to your next class because I’m not letting you get away without telling me everything .”
When Clay pushed his locker closed only to see Jessica standing behind it he suddenly remembered just how very afraid of her he could be. It hit him all at once that he was an idiot. That he should have talked to her about this and got her blessing. That it wasn’t fair that she’d had absolutely no heads up at all. He braced himself for the inevitable punch she would throw his way. Then she was hugging him. He had no idea why or what the hell was happening but he wrapped his arms around her and hugged back. She was the first to pull away, her hands still resting against his shoulders.
“Take care of him,” she said, eyes boring into his.
He registered somewhere in the back of his brain that she was absolutely talking about Justin. “I want to,” he muttered. “I mean, I will.”
She nodded, dropped her hands. She looked distant for a moment before speaking again. “The way he looks at you … he seems happy. It’s good. Important.”
Clay found himself nodding. “Yeah,” he said. “I hope so.”
Jessica smiled at him and he realised that she wasn’t reacting at all how he expected her to. He wasn’t even sure if he knew what his expectations were anymore.
“You’re not angry?” he asked.
She just looked at him, confused for a moment. “Clay, why would I be angry?”
He had no idea, and that must have made him look like an idiot. He shrugged and she laughed.
“I want him to be happy,” she said. “He’s too hard on himself. Get him to work on that.”
“Uh, yeah. I’ll try”
“And he’s ticklish on his left side, so when you’re making out or you’re fighting or he’s being moody and distant and you just want to make him laugh, ghost your fingers over like his stomach here. Works every time.”
Clay had no idea what to say to that so he settled for, “Thanks?”
She laughed. “You’re welcome.”
Justin didn’t see Clay again until lunch. The second he laid eyes on him, he could feel the smile start to spread across his face. He grabbed onto his hand when Clay reached him, tempted to roll his eyes at all of the eyes on them.
“So far, so good,” he said, squeezing Clay’s hand.
“You’re taking this really well, you know,” he teased, squeezing back.
“Clay, I am … insanely happy right now. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I am.”
He laughed. “I’ve noticed. You’re amazing like this.”
“You’re always amazing.”
It was impossible to ignore the loud “Gayyyyy” that was hollered across the hallway. Justin looked up to see Monty and a few of the jocks. He wasn’t even surprised.
“Yeah? And what are you gonna do about it?” he challenged.
“That’s what I thought.” Justin let go of Clay’s hand, wrapped an arm around his shoulders instead and pulled him against his side, leaning down to press a kiss into his hair. “They’re all cowards anyway,” he muttered.
Clay smirked at that, wrapped an arm around Justin’s waist in turn. “You’re right,” he said.
The two of them made it into the cafeteria, pointedly not letting go of each other one way or another. They got their trays and headed over to their table, where their friends were all loudly talking amongst themselves. Yes, all of them. Zach, Alex, Jess, Sheri, Ryan, Tony and Courtney were all at the table, and all talking loudly over each other. With the exception of Tony who looked like he regretted being there altogether. Justin didn’t even have to think to know they were about him and Clay. As the two of them sat down at the table it went very silent, every pair of eyes locking onto the two of them.
Courtney pressed her hand hard against the table, eyes boring into his with a determination that he’d never seen. “Tell us everything. Now,” she said.
He looked over at Clay, biting down hard on his lip because this was insane, right? This was absolutely ridiculous? Clay looked back at him, and it didn’t take long for the two of them to burst into a fit of laughter, much to their friends’ annoyance. The voices started up again, just as loud if not even louder.
“Ok, ok,” Clay cut in, trying his best to stop himself from laughing. He reached over and grabbed Justin’s hand. Sheri placed a hand on her chest as if the gesture actually touched her. He locked eyes with Justin. “Do you want to tell them or do you want me to tell them?”
Justin beamed over at him. “You’re the one with the power,” he said, and enjoyed the way that seemed to start a whole new debate amongst them. He felt someone tap his shoulder and turned to see Tyler standing with his camera.
“Yearbook?” he asked.
“Oh absolutely,” he smirked, then leaned over and kissed Clay right then and there. There was a loud high pitched squeal, and he genuinely had no idea which of his friends it had come from, but his money was on Sheri. He pulled away, licked at his lips absently just for the show of it all and watched Clay’s eyes somehow widen even more because of it. “Ok?” he asked.
Clay nodded, rested his head against his shoulder for a moment to catch his breath.
Justin turned back to Tyler. “You and Cyrus should join us by the way,” he said.
Tyler looked so taken aback by that that it hurt. “Really?”
He nodded. “Definitely, but this gets a whole page in the yearbook.” He was joking for the most part but Tyler agreed anyway and he and Cyrus joined the table. Clay shifted even closer to him to help make room and Justin had never been more content in his life. So, this was what happiness was. He loved it.