The guy, when Kevin first spots him, doesn’t look out of place exactly. He looks different, yeah, but he’s got the same pants and shirt and jacket on as everyone else. He even looks comfortable in the uniform - slouched against a locker, messenger bag looped over his chest - but there’s still something. Something about him Kevin can’t quite put his finger on.
“Huh,” he says, and then trips over Nick’s school bag.
“That’s Carden,” Joe says at lunch. “Dude, he plays guitar in Beckett’s band.”
“Beckett,” Nick says, eyes narrowing.
Beckett’s been a thorn in Nick’s side all year; they might be famous, have an awesome successful band and all, but for some reason everyone in their entire school gets giddy over Beckett and Siska and Chislett and Chislett’s admittedly awesome accent and the two other guys they play with – Butcher, who goes to high school one town over, and Carden. Carden, apparently, just transferred in.
“I hear he eats babies,” Joe says, and Nick stops grumbling under his breath about Beckett and Beckett’s smug looks and totally heinous song writing capabilities to smack him on the back of the head.
Stella holds up a shirt. “It’s mauve.”
“It’s ugly,” Joe says.
Kevin agrees, but he keeps his mouth shut and sucks on the straw of his milkshake and stares at the lunchroom ceiling because Stella is scary.
Kevin flicks a look towards her and she schools her face into a hilarious, painful grin.
“Fine,” she says, but then she suddenly brightens and says, “I’ll just offer it to Beckett.”
“Beckett,” Nick echoes, only more like Beckett’s a sneaky snake, and Nick wishes he was a mongoose. Mongooses are pretty cool.
“Beckett,” Stella says, grinning.
Nick says, “No way,” and, “Joe’ll wear the stupid shirt,” and Joe just makes big-eyes and says, “Hey!” but no one pays any attention to him.
Kevin’s gaze wanders over towards Beckett’s side of the room, and he starts when he catches Carden staring at him. Or, like, not at him. Them, maybe. All of them, sitting there, with Stella. Maybe he’s staring at Stella. She’s blonde and pretty; you know, if you’re into girls.
Kevin feels his face flush and he resolutely thinks wow, this milkshake’s awesomely delicious and not wow, Carden has really great forearms.
Nick tells some tall tales about Beckett. About how he accosts boys and girls alike for nefarious purposes and how he strips for money on the weekends and gets all his lyrics off of magazine ads and fruit roll-up boxes and Threadless t-shirts. Kevin really doesn’t believe any of that, but then he suddenly finds himself pulled into the supply closet in the science hallway, surrounded by Beckett and Chislett and Siska and half a dozen mops.
“Uh,” Kevin says. He clutches the strap of his bag with tight fingers.
Beckett is really great at looming. You wouldn’t think that to look at him. What he lacks in bulk, though, he makes up for in sheer sadistic facial expressions.
“Kevin,” Beckett says. There’s a bare minimum of light, a single low-watt bulb dangling from the ceiling, and it manages to make Beckett’s eyes sink into his skull, like fathomless pools of evil.
Kevin swallows. “Yeah?”
Beckett stares at him a few moments, then he leans down close, nose almost touching Kevin’s, and asks, “Are you seeing someone, Kevin? Are you currently engaged in this little social activity I like to call dating? Perhaps with your little fair-haired costumer?”
“Stella?” Kevin wrinkles his nose. “Uh, no.”
“Excellent,” Beckett says, then he snaps his fingers at Siska and Chislett and reaches for the door.
Chislett rolls his eyes, but they both follow Beckett back out into the hallway.
Kevin just stands there for a while, staring at the bottles of cleaning solutions and rags on the shelves. He has no idea what just happened.
Nick writes a new song, and it’s awesome except for the fact that the chorus is all about how much of a hack loser Beckett is. Honestly, Kevin never before suspected Nick could be this mean about something. He starts thinking that maybe if he got them into the same room they’d work everything out and be the best of friends.
This is why he locks them in the inner courtyard together.
He’d have locked them in the supply closet, except this way they can watch.
“This is great,” Joe says. He’s munching on some popcorn, pressed up against the glass.
Inside, Beckett’s draped across the bench, ignoring Nick as he stomps around the yard, waving his arms and ranting. The only thing that could make this better is if they could actually hear what he was saying.
Then Nick stops pacing and stands in front of Beckett, hands on his hips, mouth still moving, and Joe says, falsetto, “Oh, William, why do you insist on denying our epic love?”
Kevin grins. Beckett casually flicks some non-existent lint off his pants and says something that Kevin’s pretty sure isn’t, “But Nicholas, I’m a determined rogue, you shall never find happiness with me.”
“Dear heart,” Joe says for Nick, back of his hand to his forehead in a mock swoon, “I know my maidenly virtue is safe with you, my only wish is to be held in your manly arms.”
Kevin jumps a little when someone behind them snorts. He can just barely make out the reflection of Carden in the window. Dread pools in his belly. His heartbeat goes crazy, but then Carden just jostles past him and opens the courtyard door.
“Yo, Bill,” he says. “What are you doing?”
Beckett arches an eyebrow at him. “My young friend here was just accusing me of compiling songs out of Miley Cyrus tweets.”
Carden shakes his head, then gives Kevin a look. A weird, unreadable look that makes Kevin all squirmy and warm inside, and Kevin fiddles with his belt buckle and drops his gaze and tries not to let his entire head flush – it’s bad enough he can feel it creeping out from under his collar, ugh.
Frankie’s eating three popsicles at once and hanging upside-down on the couch and staring at Kevin, because Frankie is multitalented.
“You’ve got a crush,” Frankie says. He says it with his eww face on, because he still thinks girls are gross.
Kevin thinks girls are gross, too, but he’s pretty sure Frankie would think what he’s thinking about guys is just as risky in the cootie department.
“I don’t have a crush,” Kevin says.
Joe, in the armchair across from him, stops bouncing his rubber ball against the wall and widens his eyes at Kevin, mouth spreading into a goofy grin. “You do have a crush,” he says.
“If he has a crush on who I think he has a crush on, I’m disowning him,” Nick calls from the other room.
Joe waggles his eyebrows at Kevin and Kevin shouts back at Nick, “I don’t have a crush on your secret boyfriend.”
“Stella’s making him a jacket!” Nick yells. “He called me his poodle-muffin at lunch!” Then he squawks and says, “He’s not my boyfriend, I hate you.”
Poodle-muffin? Joe mouths to Kevin.
Nick’s Beckett rant lasts for over a half-hour, but by the time it ends they’re talking about bass lines and harmonies and not Kevin’s pathetic, totally-not-a-crush thing he has for Carden. So that’s good.
Kevin spends his fourth period study hall in the library, at a tiny table towards the back, and he’s totally not hiding from Stella or Macy or Nick.
It’s a private nook, a little solitary corner, but then suddenly it’s not only full of reference books and Kevin and Kevin’s half-finished history report, but Carden and Carden’s arms and Kevin is not freaking out, even though Carden’s got him caged in up against the shelves, hands palming book spines on either side of Kevin’s shoulders.
Carden grins at him. His messy hair’s brushing his shirt collar and falling over half his face, but his eyes are pretty hardcore intense, and Kevin fidgets, hands up and knotted together, pressed into the center of his own chest.
“Hey, kid,” Carden says.
Kevin lets out a shaky breath. “Hi?”
Carden’s grin gets wider. “Fuck,” he says, low. “You’re kind of a sweetheart, aren’t you?”
“Um, what?” Kevin refuses to acknowledge how being called sweetheart totally kicks up his heartbeat, because that’s just dumb. And girly. And hot, geez.
One of Carden’s hands moves up and around his nape, fingers threading into his hair before curling into a fist. He tugs, not too hard, but Kevin’s head tilts back a little and his hands come up, grasping the front of Carden’s shirt, his tie.
He can feel Carden’s eyes on his neck; Carden loosens his grip and his thumb slides down, presses lightly on Kevin’s rapid pulse.
Kevin’s breathing goes all shuddery, bordering on gasping, and Carden oh-so-slowly pets him there, right on the side of his throat, and shushes him and Kevin thinks, a little hysterical, that if he’s trying to calm him down the petting thing is totally not working.
But then Carden says, “Calm down, kid,” and nudges Kevin’s chin with his nose, which is so—so not what he thought.
Kevin lets out a little laugh and slumps back against the books. “Sorry,” he says, and closes his eyes.
Carden murmurs, “That’s it,” and, “Nice and easy,” and then, just when Kevin least expects it, he kisses him.
“Whoa,” Nick says.
“Whoa,” Joe says, leaning in, eyeing up Kevin’s face. He grins. “You dog.”
Kevin licks his lips. His mouth’s a little raw and sore and tingly and Kevin’s still not one-hundred percent certain what’s going on, but he’s pretty sure he has a date.
Carden’s wearing low-slung jeans and a dark red t-shirt with faded white lettering and Kevin feels a little overdressed in his brown pants and scarf. Carden just laughs, though, and hooks two fingers into the loop of material at his throat.
His knuckles press into Kevin’s adam’s apple and his heart thuds exactly how it had that afternoon, when Carden had his tongue in Kevin’s mouth and his teeth blunt along his lower lip.
Kevin clears his throat and says, “Do you want to come in?”
“Not really.” Carden softens his words with a half-grin. He slips his grip off Kevin’s scarf and cocks his head towards his car. “Ready?”
Kevin doesn’t think he’ll ever be ready - Carden’s almost too much. He nods yes anyway.
Later, the center console of Carden’s Civic is digging into Kevin’s thigh, and Carden’s cursing into his mouth, one hand in Kevin’s hair, the other hot on the bare skin of Kevin’s waist, thumb over his stomach. Kevin, eyes closed, just barely has the presence of mind to grab for Carden’s fingers as they slide down that last little inch to hook into his belt, but then Carden’s hand slips, sneaks down as Kevin grasps his wrist, heel of his palm pressing into what Kevin’s been trying really, really hard to ignore. His hips stutter up and he groans, Carden grins against his lips, and this is way, way, way too much. But he has Carden’s wrist, holds it there, shifts into his hand a little - he can’t help it.
“Hey,” Carden says, drawn out, wet bottom lip soft against the patch of skin right above his chin.
Kevin wants to push him away and he doesn’t want to and he realizes he’s got a hand twisted in Carden’s shirt, fisted right over his heart. “I’m, uh.” He opens his eyes, tries to focus on Carden’s face, so close they nearly cross. “I can’t.”
Carden doesn’t move back. He curls his fingers under the waistband of Kevin’s pants, and Kevin sucks in a breath.
“This is fine,” Carden says.
“We’re making out, right?” Carden says, coaxes, a low rumble along his jaw. “No harm in that.”
Right. No harm. They’re right in front of his house. Joe’s probably hanging out the window with his phone, taking pictures. Kevin squirms in the bucket seat, forces himself to unclench his fingers from Carden’s shirt, tugs at Carden’s wrist. “I should go in,” he says.
Kevin is extremely conscious of where Carden’s hand still is. His face feels like it’s atomic, he’s so embarrassed, and his breath catches when Carden finally, finally moves away.
Joe’s smirking at him. “So,” he says. He swivels the chair from side to side, fingers linked across his stomach. “How was your date?”
“Fine,” Kevin says.
“Just fine?” Joe says.
“Yep.” Kevin edges around him, heading towards the stairs.
Joe swings out of his seat and follows. “Awesome,” he says. “Very awesome.”
“It looked awesome,” Joe goes on, expression bordering on-- smarmy. “You know. From in here.”
Joe is a weird little voyeur sometimes, Kevin thinks. Also, he thinks, smarmy is a totally sweet word to describe Joe. He’s gonna have to call him that out loud some time.
Upstairs, Nick gives him a dirty look, but all he says is, “I have a plan.”
“Leave me out of your crazy Beckett vengeance,” Joe says.
“It’s not crazy,” Nick says, then purses his lips and narrows his eyes down at his notebook, which means Nick knows it’s crazy, but he’s never going to admit it out loud.
There’s always a high probability of shenanigans when Nick gets like this.
“I don’t think hootenanny means what you want it to mean,” Joe says, but he doesn’t look completely certain.
“Whatever,” Kevin says. “I think we should lock them in the courtyard again.”
This time, Beckett’s leaning up against the back wall, hips jutted out, huge round sunglasses perched on the end of his nose. He’s grinning at Nick, and Nick’s flapping his hands around like a demented seagull.
“They should write a song together,” Joe says through a mouthful of M&Ms.
Kevin nods, but he thinks something like that might end up in homicide, or Nick crying like a little girl.
“What’s going on?” Stella asks. She’s got something sparkly and red in her hands.
“Beckett’s explaining to Nick why their love can never be,” Joe says. “And that he wants to elope with his father’s goat farmer and have alien babies.”
Kevin pokes the sparkly red thing. “What’s this?”
Stella grins and shakes out the material, draping them over one arm. “I made Nick some pants.”
Kevin is totally behind sparkly red pants for Nick. In fact, Nick in sparkly red pants is the one thing he wants to see most in the entire world. Maybe if they tell him Stella made them for Beckett he’ll actually wear them.
Joe says, “Cool, he’ll need something to cheer him up once Beckett reveals he’s really a woman.”
Macy is super nice but scary and enthusiastic and she always squeals in his ear and tries to steal pieces of his shirt. There’s no shame in hiding from her.
There’s a little shame when Carden finds him camped out in the ball closet next to the gym, but mainly because he’s got his iPod on and he’s singing along to A1.
But then Carden’s straddling his lap and licking into his mouth and Kevin remembers that he has an awesome voice, so whatever.
It takes maybe a full two weeks for Kevin to realize that he no longer has a crush - he has boyfriend.
“I’m dating Carden,” he says, testing out the words. “Carden is my boyfriend.”
“That’s great. Maybe he can do something about Beckett.” Nick’s voice isn’t nearly as bitter as it used to be. Kevin thinks this is because of all the muffin baskets Beckett sneaks into his locker. Kevin even saw Nick grinning over one of the truly horrendous notes of poetry - I’d give up my cup of noodle / if you say you’ll be my poodle / muffin - that he ties to each one.
Joe says, “So does this mean we’re a gay band now? Do I have to be gay too and, like, make out with Chislett?”
Nick lunges for him, but Joe dodges out of the way, giggling.
“I mean, his accent’s sexy, but I think maybe he’d crush my windpipe,” Joe says. “Also, girls.”
Nick pauses, sighs a little dreamily. “Girls.”
Carden totally wears his school uniform well.
He looks seriously fine when he’s got his khakis on and the blue sweater-vest and the sport coat, and he knows it. He gives Kevin these eyes across the cafeteria. These knowing, sly eyes, or maybe he’s just trying to tell Kevin he’s got, like, mustard on his chin.
“Dude, you’ve got mustard on your chin,” Joe says. He paws his own face. “Right here.”
Awesome, Kevin thinks, a little humiliated. When he glances back at Carden, though, Carden’s knowing, sly eyes are grinning, light, and Kevin ducks his head. The back of his neck his hot. He thinks maybe this is going to be a good year.