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To Fit In

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Michael hated parties.

He always had, it wasn’t a new thing, but they seemed even worse after The Halloween. The noise. The people. Bumping into you and not even noticing, drunk and reeking of alcohol and weed.

Not the calming, warm smell of weed from late nights/early mornings alone or with Jeremy in his basement, but the annoying burnt smell of shared hits and alcohol breath.

He hated it.

But Jeremy loved this sort of stuff now, and Michael had never been good at denying Jeremy anything.

Jeremy had asked Michael to come to the party only a day in advance. Michael wouldn’t have agreed to come if that hadn’t been the first time that Jeremy had tried to initiate a conversation of any sort with him since right after the play.

After Jeremy got out of the hospital, Michael had insisted that they talk. They both got a lot off of their chests during that conversation, and Michael had left the encounter feeling much more secure in their friendship than he had since Halloween. Jeremy had told him everything that the SQUIP did to him, leading to a lot of tears and Michael wanting to kick in the teeth of a tictac computer. Michael had told Jeremy about how alone and hopeless he had felt, and how he was barely sure of who he was without Jeremy. Jeremy had gotten a weird look on his face at that confession. Michael hadn’t questioned it at the time, but looking back, it seemed as if that was the moment that Jeremy decided for himself that their friendship wasn’t worth it anymore.

Not that Jeremy had ever said that in so many words. He would never. He was too… Good. But after their talk, Jeremy started to avoid Michael.

Jeremy would always blame the avoidance on being busy. He had new friends now, a new girlfriend, he was catching up on the schoolwork he had missed when the SQUIP was doing it all for him, he was reconnecting with his dad, he was busy, busy, busy.

All of his reasons were perfectly valid, and that was the kicker. Maybe he was having a movie night with Mr. Heere. Maybe he did have a lot of Chemistry homework. Maybe Michael was just too clingy and paranoid to get over the fact that Jeremy Heere couldn’t spend every waking moment with him.

Michael shook himself free of the unwanted thoughts as he passed yet another couple making out. He was looking for Jeremy. He had only seen him once the entire night, when he first arrived, and if Michael weren’t so worried, he would be a bit ticked off about that fact.

The party was at Chloe Valentine’s house. One of Jeremy’s new best friends. Also one of the reasons that Michael had his doubts about Jeremy’s excuses about being busy.

Just the previous week, Michael had cornered Jeremy before school. He had plastered his usual bright, goofy grin on his face and asked if Jeremy had wanted to come over that afternoon and hang out. Like they used to. Video games and maybe smoking. Jeremy had gotten that weird look on his face again and stuttered something about having to study for a math test.

A math test. Jeremy hated math.

That afternoon, as Michael got high in his basement, alone, scrolling through Instagram, he caught Jeremy in his lie.

It was a picture of Jeremy and all of his new friends at the movie theater. Brooke and Chloe and Rich and Jenna and Jake and Christine and Jeremy right there in the thick of it, that dorky smile on his face, looking as if he were mid-laugh. Christine was on her tiptoes, her arm wrapped around Jeremy’s shoulder.

High Michael couldn’t stop himself from thinking that that was where his arm was supposed to go.

Just as Michael was contemplating giving up his search and just going home, he spotted his best friend across the room.

Jeremy was leaning against Jake Dillinger, a can of beer in his hand and a wide grin on his face. His curls were plastered to his forehead with sweat. He was gesturing wildly, waving his hands about, actually hitting Jake in the face once.

In conclusion, he was very very drunk.

Michael pushed his way thought the crowd to where Jeremy was, slurring his words and talking unintelligibly. Jake perked up as soon as he saw Michael approaching.

“Great! You’re here,” Jake said, detaching Jeremy’s arm from his person. “Take him. I really have to go.” He gestured to the empty can in his hand, carefully leaning the swaying Jeremy against Michael. He was gone before Michael could say anything.

Jeremy smelled like cheap beer, but his cardigan was still as warm and soft against Michael’s skin as he remembered. Looking down at the shorter boy, Michael decided that it was time to take him home. “Come on, Jer.”

Jeremy was surprisingly quiet as Michael dragged him out of the house and to his car. Jeremy didn’t even say anything until Michael had buckled him into the passenger seat.

“Who’re you?” Jeremy’s voice was slurred, his whole body swaying slightly. He looked up at Michael through lidded eyes.

Michael chuckled nervously, pushing Jeremy into a sitting position so that he could shut the door. “It’s Michael, Jer. Your favwite pewson, remember?” The joke tasted sour in Michael’s mouth. He shut the door on Jeremy’s reply and walked around the car to get in for himself.

It wasn’t until Michael had started the car that Jeremy spoke up again. “I know Michael. Michael Mell. Michaaaeeeeellllllll.”

Michael smiled softly to himself. He didn’t have much experience with drunk Jeremy. High Jeremy was much more frequent. Michael decided to indulge the intoxicated boy’s ramblings. “Yes you do.” He pulled out into the street and started in the direction of Jeremy’s house.

Jeremy reached out and started poking Michael’s cheek. Michael swatted his hand away. Jeremy pouted. There was another moment of silence. Michael considered turning on the radio. He didn’t know what to say, now that he actually had Jeremy in a quiet place. He had wanted to confront him, but Jeremy was drunk and it wouldn’t be fair. Especially since Michael’s worries were probably completely unfounded.

“I miss Michael.”

Michael almost swerved off of the road in his shock. “Wh-What,” Michael cleared his throat, trying to get the words out properly, “What are you talking about?” Because even though that was basically everything that Michael had wanted to hear from Jeremy for the past month, it didn’t add up. Why would Jeremy avoid him if he missed him?

Jeremy continued to look out the car window. “I miss him.” His words were a bit less slurred this time, but he was no less drunk. To prove that fact, he turned back to Michael, his head lolling to the side, like it was too heavy for his neck. Jeremy let out a drunken giggle. The sound caused a pit to settle in Michael’s stomach. That sound did not belong with a drunk Jeremy. Not when Michael had missed it so much recently.

Michael decided to press his luck. If he could get the real reason why Jeremy was avoiding him out of drunk Jeremy, then he would be able to fix it when they were both sober, right? “Why don’t you just talk to him, then?”

Jeremy didn’t answer for a while, leaning so that his head rested on the console between them, the tops of his curls touching Michael’s hoodie sleeve. Michael gulped. “I can’t.” Jeremy hiccuped and started to hum some song, seemingly forgetting that Michael was there and had asked for an explanation.

“Why can’t you, Jeremy?” Michael asked, exasperatedly. He just wanted to know. He needed to know. It had been eating at him for too long. He knew that it wasn’t fair to expect Jeremy to stay on topic and have a serious conversation with him right now, but he really needed to know why Jeremy had chosen people he barely knew who had bullied him for the past three years over his own best friend, who would do anything for him.

Jeremy whined unintelligibly at Michael’s pushing. “I caaaaannnnn’tttt. He doesn’t get it. He wants me to be Jeremy all the time and I can’t. I’m not Jeremy anymore. He doesn’t get it.” Jeremy began to sniffle.

Michael felt as if the breath had been knocked out of him. He didn’t get it? What kind of bullshit excuse was that? He took a deep breath, cursing quietly when he felt tears stinging the backs of his eyes.

Jeremy didn’t seem to notice Michael’s struggle and continued on. “He’s not like us. He’s just Michael. He never had one, ‘n he’s not linked like us, ya know?” Jeremy had laid his head back down, and sounded like he was drifting off to sleep. “He doesn’t fit.”

Michael pulled to the side of the road and parked right in front of Jeremy’s house. The other boy was already asleep, snoring slightly. Michael looked down at him and swore he could feel his heart tearing in two for the second time since the beginning of the school year. Michael silently turned the car off and buried his face in his hands.

He kept his sobs quiet, muffled by his hands and his own willpower.

Michael cried for the friendship he had lost. He cried because Jeremy didn’t think he could do it anymore. He cried because Jeremy wasn’t the Jeremy he had always known. The Jeremy that he had grown to love with all his heart. Michael cried in the dark of his car, Jeremy sleeping peacefully beside him, because he would never know the horrible things that he had gone through and he would never fit in with Jeremy’s newer, cooler, more in sync friend group.

After a few minutes of self pity and crying out all of the pent up emotions he had kept inside for the past few weeks, Michael rubbed his eyes clean. He tilted the rearview mirror down and wiped the tear tracks from his cheeks. Looking into that mirror, Michael made a promise to himself. Maybe he couldn’t get his old friendship back with Jeremy. Maybe they would never be like that again. But that night, his eyes still red rimmed and Jeremy breathing softly to his side, Michael vowed that he would do everything he could to make a friendship with the new Jeremy. No matter what it took.