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It's Always Been You

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March (The Month After)

After getting breakfast with Connor, Evan went home for a few hours, sort of buzzing from the high of having finished the bar, finally, and lived for days without dying. He felt almost buoyant, almost relaxed, almost normal for the first time in ages.

It was weird.

Evan felt weird.

And his mom was coming to visit.

So Evan took some time to clean up around the apartment. Made a trip out to the grocery store to pick up some food seeing as his apartment was pretty low on things that weren’t peanut butter or granola bars, and that was the sort of stuff Evan knew made his mom worry. He hated it when she worried. It was basically the worst thing about having a single mom, was knowing how likely he was to worry her, give her gray hair and frown lines.

And then the buoyancy he had from the morning, from the diner, fizzled.

Evan felt sort of… unsure about seeing his mom.

His mom had always known that Evan… wasn’t quite right, quite well and he was sort of scared to see her because what if she said “I told you so?” Regardless of that anxiety, Evan still had to go pick his mom up from LaGuardia and that meant he had to get his shit together a little.

Mattie and Alex had both texted letting him know they would be off work that night and wanted to meet his mom, and he was still trying to accept that huh, his roommates actually didn’t hate him. They hadn’t met over the weekend when Evan had graduated from law school because he had stayed in a hotel with his mom and tried to convince her that he didn’t need to walk at graduation.

And also he hadn’t mentioned to his roommates that he was graduating. That was a thing.

On the Lyft ride to the airport, Evan got a text from Connor - his first text from Connor, actually. “Hope you have fun with your cute mom this weekend!”

Evan rolled his eyes, but his amusement did make it easier to get a smile pasted onto his face when he arrived at his mom’s gate. It took about twenty minutes for her to actually appear, because Evan was early, but when he spotted her Evan did smile. She was looking around, eyes bright, and it occurred to him that he actually had missed her a lot when he was dying. He missed getting to talk to her about stuff didn’t fall into the script of “how was the bar?”

“Evan!” He heard her say, having apparently picked him out of the crowd. She hurried toward him, smiling, beaming really, and he always thought his mom had a good smile. When he was little he used to tell her it “looked like sunshine.” Evan hurried forward, and pulled his mom into a tight hug because he had died and relived the same day enough times to know that you hugged your mom if you had the chance, damn it.

When they pulled apart, his mom smiled at him brightly. “How are you?”

“Good,” He said, because he always told her that but today it was partially true. “How was the flight?”

“I hate flying,” Heidi said. “But it wasn’t bad. I sat next to a baby.”

“By themself?” Evan asked, amused.

“No, they had a mom,” Heidi said. “But the baby was the one who kept trying to make conversation with me. Very cute.”

Evan laughed. “Did you check any luggage?”

“Nope! I pack light,” She said, grinning, showing off a small bag over her shoulder. “When we get out of here, I’m taking you to lunch, don’t argue.”

And so it began. Evan did his best not to roll his eyes. “Alright. Any place in particular you had in mind?”

“Maybe that Thai place we tried when I visited over the Fourth of July?” She had come to visit him after his first year in law school, and the Thai place in question had been Sabrina’s favorite.

“Sounds good,” Evan said, putting the restaurant into his phone and ordering them a Lyft back. He had to do it immediately, before his mom got her phone out.

“Damn it, Evan, I was going to call the ride,” She said, but she was smiling fondly, this wasn’t a Damn it Evan I haven’t heard from you in weeks and Sabrina told me you moved out, what is going on? Or even a Damn it Evan, I asked you to take out the garbage.

It was light and teasing and not quite what they did but he thought they could make it work. “Sorry,” He said, not sorry at all.

They kept things light in the Lyft back into the city proper, his mom saying how her descent into New York had been so clear that this time she could see the Statue of Liberty on the landing, and Evan asked if she was going to actually let him take her this time, since the last few visits she had refused.

“Maybe. But I’m more excited about meeting these doctors you live with.”

Evan tried his best to smile. “I mean, they’re really busy -”

“And you said she goes by Mattie, not Matilda, right? The British one?”

“Yeah, Mattie, and she’s only half British.”

“And Alex is just Alex? Not Lexie or Alexandra or anything?”

“Why are you suddenly worried about knowing people’s names?” Evan asked, teased. “Early Alzheimer’s?”

His mom rolled her eyes. “Who raised you to talk to your mother like this, huh?”

Evan laughed.

“I just don’t want to be rude,” She said. “It’s not often you actually let me meet your friends.”

Which was because Evan didn’t have any friends, really, but that was definitely something that would give his mother wrinkles. When he and Sabrina started dating, he put off having them meet until almost nine months had passed and even then it was mostly because his mom had started to crack jokes that Evan and Sabrina were hiding an accidental pregnancy.

“And what about the one who had the birthday earlier this week? Uh… Caleb?”

“Connor.” Damn it, Evan had forgotten about mentioning him.

“Yes! Do I get to meet him?”

“Uh,” Evan said because he hadn’t even considered that. “I think he’s working all weekend? But I can ask him?”

“That would be great!”

Evan pulled his phone out of his pocket, texting Connor, “Okay so my mother wants to meet you. You are working all weekend and unfortunately aren’t available. Cool?”

Connor’s reply was almost instant, “I’m not working * all* weekend.”

Evan could have strangled him.

“Dude moms love me. I will totally meet your mom.”

Evan could really, really have strangled Connor. “Maybe not a great idea to introduce her to the guy I died with a bunch.”

“Sounds like you should have thought of that before you mentioned me,” Connor replied and Evan frowned at his phone.

“Is that him? Does he want to come out to dinner with us tomorrow?”

“He’s working,” Evan said firmly. “Sorry.”

“What does he do?” Heidi asked, and Evan explained about the publishing company and the bookstore and watched his mother’s eyebrows almost travel right off of her forehead and into orbit around her face.

“Wow,” His mom said. “That… how does he afford to live here ?”

Evan shrugged but he had a feeling the answer started with “trust” and ended with “fund.” He and Connor hadn’t really taken a deep dive into each other’s finances since they had become reacquainted.

After sitting in a bit of traffic, Evan and his mom finally made it to that Thai place and got settled into a booth where an unexpected beam of sunlight had landed.

“So how are you doing after the bar?” His mom asked after their server had taken their orders. “You look tired, sweetheart.”

“I’m alright. I feel pretty good about it,” Evan said. “It was… pretty tiring, though.”

“And you’re sleeping okay?” She asked, and it wasn’t as convincingly innocent as Evan knew she thought it was.

“I’m fine mom,” He said shortly. “How’s work for you?”

HIs mom smiled fondly, and started to tell Evan about some office drama happening because one of the other paralegals was going on maternity leave and there was some suspicion that the baby daddy was actually one of the partners at the firm, not her boyfriend, and Evan liked getting lost in his mom’s story, liked knowing these details, the small stuff that made her days up.

After lunch they headed back to Evan’s apartment, and his mom smiled when they walked inside, commenting that she always thought this place looked more like a “real New York apartment.” Evan thought that this meant she thought it was small, but he didn’t really care. He could afford it. His roommates didn’t hate him.

“So, Alex and Mattie took you out for dinner on Wednesday?”

“Yeah,” He answered. “Italian. It was really nice of them.”

His mom gave him a smile, one he knew was covering up some relief, that he had friends, that he talked to people, that he wasn’t just wallowing away in the wilderness of his own brain.

His mom dropped her bag in his bedroom, and the two of them headed back out, because his mom wanted to explore his neighborhood and Evan wanted to make her happy. They took the stairs, his mom asking curiously if they had roof access?

“Yeah,” Evan said, feeling a bit breathless, surprised. “We can use the roof if we want.”

“That must be nice in the summer!” His mom said.

“Yeah,” Evan said vaguely, because the only time he had been up there had been winter.

When they reached the front door, Mr. Abrahamson was in the lobby, checking his mail. “Hey Mr. Abrahamson,” Evan said. “How are you?”

“Old,” He said, smiling at Evan. “How are you? And who is this lovely young woman?”

His mom’s face went pink. “This is my mom, Heidi.”

You’re his mother?” Mr. Abrahamson said, surprised, taking his mom’s hand and shaking it. “You can’t be old enough to be his mother!”

His mom’s cheeks went even pinker. “Trust me, I am.” She smiled. “Are you neighbors?”

“Yes ma’am,” Mr. Abrahamson said. “You’ve got a good kid here. Polite. Shame he decided to be a lawyer.”

Evan laughed and his mom looked like she wasn’t sure if she ought to be offended.

“He likes to give me hell about taking the bar,” Evan explained. “He used to be an attorney.”

“A bad one,” Mr. Abrahamson said. “But Evan’s a good kid. He’ll be good. Trying to save the world.”

“I know. I got a good one,” His mom said, smiling at Evan fondly.

Evan felt his face heat up.

“Nice to meet you,” His mom said to Mr. Abrahamson, and then they set off. Out of Evan’s building, down the block, and into a nearby cafe because his mom had said she needed some caffeine.

“Your neighbor is nice,” His mom said while they waited for the drinks.

“He is,” Evan said, deciding now wasn’t the time to tell her about how Mr. Abrahamson was in AA and also kept trying to convince Evan to pick any other job than one in law. It felt like a weird thing to bring up.

They collected their drinks and grabbed a seat in a booth, and his mom started in on him again. Always smiling, always positive, but Evan still felt like he was being interrogated. “So,” She said. “How is the job hunt?”

“Good,” Evan lied. He wasn’t doing much job hunting yet. He had contacts, knew people in firms who specialized in environmental law, but without having his results from the bar, it was unlikely he would get anymore more than a phone conversation. “A couple of places want me to keep in touch, let them know if I pass the bar.”

“When,” His mom said with a smile. “When you pass.”

“The power of positive thinking,” Evan said, but it came out more sarcastic than he meant it and his mom’s smile dulled. “Sorry,” Evan said quickly. “Sorry. I just. It was… pretty stressful and. I’m sorry.”

“Of course,” his mom said, and she straightened her smile out a little. “Of course, sweetheart, I’m sure it was.”

Evan took a sip of his coffee. It was still too hot.

“Are you doing alright? Now that it’s over?” His mom asked.

“That seems loaded,” Evan said and it was definitely rude, caustic, and fucking hell why couldn’t he just be nice to his fucking mother.

“Evan, I’m not -”

“I’m fine,” He said, pointedly. “I’m okay, alright?”

“Okay.” His mom said, nodded, frowning. “I’m sorry, that’s not how I… I just. You know. I’m your mom. I worry sometimes.”

“I know.” He looked down at his coffee cup. “You don’t need to worry. I’ve got it under control.”

Lies lies lies.

“I know, honey. I know.”

She didn’t though.

He let her sort of dictate the plan for the next few hours. They wandered into a few stores, mostly clothing, and Evan let his mom buy him a new tie “for interviews” because he knew she wanted to be helpful and it was actually nice. Maroon, thin. He did like it.

“Is that a bookstore down there?” His mom asked as they left the clothing store.

“Yeah, I think,” Evan said, distracted, not paying attention because he was currently working to find an exit strategy because he really needed a cigarette and he was not going to smoke in front of his mother. “Why don’t you go on ahead? I… I have a little bit of a headache? I’m just going to stop by that Walgreens and get some aspirin.”

“Oh, I’ll come with you -”

“No, I got it. We always take forever in bookstores,” Evan added. “So I’ll just meet you there.”

“Okay,” His mom said, though she didn’t exactly look happy. “I’ll see you there in a few minutes.”

“Great.”

He headed off in the pharmacy and once his mother was out of sight, lit a cigarette and rubbed a hand over his face.

This was harder than he thought.

A lot harder.

She just. Got under his skin. She worried too much and he couldn’t stop her worrying. Evan felt like shit because here he was, lying to her again. Here he was, trying to fake this for her.

Like, if the universe had been trying to teach him a lesson with the whole death loop thing, he was clearly too stupid to learn it. He wasn’t any different. Things weren’t suddenly better. He should have told her not to come, he shouldn’t have gotten out of bed today, fuck.

Fuck.

Evan finished his cigarette and then actually bought some aspirin from the pharmacy, dry swallowing two pills before heading to the bookstore his mother had headed. Evan walked quickly, hoping maybe she might get distracted by a book, something to keep her attention until Mattie and Alex got home…

The bookstore was called The Little Book Nook and suddenly Evan realized where the fuck he was standing.

Shit. Fuck. Shit.

He had just let his mother go into the bookstore where Connor worked, unsupervised. Why not just tell her he had died a bunch of times at this rate? Fuck.

Evan rushed into the store, trying to formulate some excuse to drag her out of there but when he stepped inside there she was, looking at a shelf of new releases and talking to Connor, asking his opinion on something, and maybe he just needed to go outside and walk in front of a bus because this could not continue to be happening.

“Evan?” Connor looked at him, surprised. “I thought your mom was visiting this weekend?”

“You know Evan?” His mom said, turning to Connor.

“Uh, yeah, we’re friends…” Connor said and this big fucking grin had broken out on his face because he had obviously worked out who he had just been talking to. “I’m Connor.”

“Heidi!” Evan’s mom said, and she was shaking his hand aggressively. “So nice to meet you.” She turned to Evan who felt rooted to the spot near the doorway. “Sweetheart, why didn’t you say anything I said I wanted to stop here?”

Evan had no answer so he just shrugged and then his mother continued to just talk to Connor. Like that was normal.

“Evan told me he went out for a drink with you on your birthday this week,” She said, all sorts of pleasant. “And I figured you must be important if he wanted to see you in the middle of sitting the bar exam.”

Mom ,” Evan said, embarrassed, his face heating up.

“Evan’s a good guy,” Connor said, still smiling like Christmas had come early or something. “So… Mrs. Hansen-”

“Heidi, seriously. I was never Mrs. Hansen. I was almost Mrs. Balls, though, but then I decided not to take my ex-husband’s last name.”

“Balls?” Connor mouthed at Evan and Evan was grateful for the millionth time that his mom had insisted he take her last name, not his dad’s, when he was born because his life was enough of a joke without having tried to go through it as Evan Balls .

“Heidi,” Connor said, smiling, trying to get back to whatever he had tried to ask her. “Can you tell me anything else about the book you were looking for?”

His mom launched into the details of some book of essays all of her coworkers were raving about and Connor nodded thoughtfully, saying he thought he knew what she was looking for and showed her to the appropriate section. Evan, meanwhile, was trying find a way to leave his body in this bookstore and project himself onto another plane of existence.

“I was totally right,” Connor said, smirking as he appeared beside Evan. “Your mom? Super cute.”

“Oh my god,” Evan said quietly. “I’m so sorry. I did not mean to ambush you.”

“What? Oh my god, you’re fine. She’s great.”

“Yeah,” Evan said vaguely.

“So… Mrs. Balls?”

“Oh my god, I know ,” Evan said, shaking his head. “She gave me her last name. Obviously. Worked out too, considering my dad’s -” Evan stopped himself because now was not the time to get into what, precisely, he thought his father was. He had a long list. A loooooong list. “My dad’s not around.”

“Ah,” Connor said, nodding. He tilted his head slightly, looking at Evan closely. “You doing alright?”

“Fine,” Evan said because he was fine, he was always just. Fine. “Mom’s… It’s great having her here, but the timing?”

“Yeah,” Connor said.

“It’s not exactly like I could ask her not to come,” Evan went on. “She would have freaked out.”

“Yeah,” Connor said. “That sucks.”

“It’s fine.” Evan looked over to where his mom was happily reading the inside cover of another book, the first one tucked under her arm already.

“If my mom was in town, I could at least pawn her off on Zoe,” Connor said, nodding.

“Yeah being an only child sort of sucks that way.” Evan shrugged. “We can get out of here, I’m sure you’ve got other things to do.”

“Dude, the store’s practically empty right now,” Connor said, shrugging. “There’s no rush.”

But Evan really wanted to rush because he wanted to rip the bandaid off of this interaction with his mother because he just knew what was coming next.

And he was right the moment they left the store, about forty five minutes later. “Connor seems nice.”

“Mom don’t start-”

“I’m just saying he was very polite. And not bad to look at either.”

“Gross,” Evan said because his mom just said Connor was hot and Evan had slept with him.

“Just because I’m old doesn’t mean I’m dead, Evan,” She said dismissively. “He’s cute. You should ask him out.”

What ?”

“I think he would say yes.”

“I’m… no. We’re friends mom, don’t. You don’t even know if he likes guys!”

His mom rolled her eyes. “Sweetheart, his fingernails were painted,” She said like Evan was extremely dense for having missed this.

“That doesn’t mean anything!” Evan said, frustrated and feeling his face getting hot. “Painted nails are not international code for being gay.”

“I never said gay, I said he had painted fingernails.” His mom looked exasperated. “He could be bi or pan or something!”

Evan could not hear her discussing this because he had definitely had Connor’s dick in his mouth and he might not be sure what the details of Connor’s identity were but he had a feeling “straight” wasn’t a word he would use and he was not going to enlighten his mother about how, exactly, he knew this. He could not have this conversation with her, he was going to die of embarrassment.

“I don’t even like him that way,” Evan said eventually, trying to shut the conversation down.

“Uh-huh, sure, and you and Sabrina were ‘just friends’ at first too,” She said and then immediately looked like she wanted to take the words back. “I, uh. Shit.”

“It’s okay,” Evan said awkwardly because he knew exactly what she was thinking. “I know she got engaged. That’s good news, you know? Good for her.”

“Honey, I know but… You two were together for four years. And you’ve only been broken up, what, a year and a half?”

“Why does that matter?”

“It just seems… fast,” She said, frowning.

“It’s fine, mom, really,” He said, trying to sound like that was his final take on it, like he was fine and it was done. “She’s happy. That’s a good thing.”

“You’re allowed not to be okay about this,” His mom protested. “When I found out your dad was getting remarried -”

“It’s not the same thing, okay?” Evan snapped and his mom looked affronted and he regretted it. He regretted it so much. “Shit. Sorry, that’s… I’m sorry.” He tried to backtrack. “I shouldn’t have interrupted you. I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright,” She said, smiling in a way that looked sort of painful, like she had to fight hard to get it right.  “You’re fine with it and I shouldn’t try to put my feelings on you.”

Evan felt colossally stupid for shouting at her. “I’m sorry.”

“I… I just thought it was shitty of her to put it all over facebook when she did,” His mom said eventually. “It felt petty.”

“It’s not like she knew when I was taking the bar,” Evan said, because that was true. He had originally planned to wait and take it in the summer. He had originally planned not to graduate until May.

“So you aren’t talking anymore?” Evan’s mom asked him.

“We haven’t been, really, since we broke up?” Evan said because he had definitely told her that. Her face clouded with worry and Evan thought, shit, maybe he had kept it vague, more like they talked sometimes… Shit. “It’s not a big deal,” Evan said. Mumbled. Like he was in trouble, like he was grounded or something.

“Alright,” His mom said. “Sorry for mentioning it.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

They made it back to Evan’s apartment just as the sun was starting to set, both of them keeping a bit quieter than they had before his mom had mentioned Sabrina.

Evan unlocked the door and they walked inside, Evan switching the lights on. The apartment was empty, even though Alex and Mattie had promised they would be home before six. His mom set her bags down, heading into the bathroom. Evan resisted the urge tell his mom to be careful in there, that there might be some kind of death loop portal in there, instead focusing on taking his coat off and heading into the kitchen to get himself some water.

Evan heard the door open, “Hey sorry we’re late!” Mattie’s voice called. “This bus totally flipped over in midtown, and everything at work was mad!”

“Hey,” Evan said, stepping out of the kitchen.

“Where is she?” Alex said, looking around excitedly. “I thought we were meeting Mama Hansen!”

“Ignore her,” Mattie said, smirking, “She’s got mommy issues.”

“She went to the bathroom,” Evan said with a laugh. “I didn’t hide her or anything.”

“Who is hiding?” His mom said, confused. “Hi!” She turned to Alex and Mattie, who both smiled.

“Oh my god! Evan, you didn’t mention your mom was hot!” Mattie said.

“Gee, wonder why that didn’t come up,” Evan muttered while his mom’s face flushed a bit.

“This is Mattie,” Evan said. “And this is Alex.”

“Nice to meet you,” Alex said politely, waving at Evan’s mom.

“It’s great to meet you both,” His mom said, smiling. “I’ve heard so much about you.”

That was a damn lie because all Evan told her was that his roommates were doctors and that they were nice and, as of literally Wednesday, that they had taken him out to dinner.

“Evan said you were such a badass,” Mattie said. “You went back to school to become a paralegal while you were working full time as a CNA? That’s hardcore.”

His mom was really blushing now. “I just… Wanted to set a good example for Evan,” She said awkwardly.

“And then he went and became a lawyer,” Alex said.

“Not yet,” Evan mumbled.

“Soon though!” His mom said brightly. “He’ll be a lawyer soon enough.”

“Yeah, he totally nailed the bar,” Mattie said.

“Excuse me,” Evan said, hurrying off toward the bathroom, where he cracked the window and smoked a cigarette so he didn’t freak the fuck out in front of his mom and his roommates. He noticed his hands were shaking a little and swallowed hard, trying to get them to hold still. He reached for his phone, to check the date, to be positive it was really Friday and he wasn’t looping again.

It was Friday.

He had finished taking the bar and, God willing, he would be a lawyer.

He had a text from Connor. “Dude your mom is great.”

“I think you’re abusing the privilege of having my phone number,” He replied, trying to soak up the feeling of talking easily with a person who understood.

“Oh so maybe I shouldn’t text you stuff like… Maaaaaaaaanhole?”

“Fuck off.” Evan texted, exhaling shakily. Then he worried he might seem rude, so he added an “lol” to indicate it wasn’t hostile.

So apparently he and Connor were actually doing this. They were talking. To each other. Now that they were done dying. That was… different.

Evan was pretty exhausted honestly. His roommates being all friendly and meeting his mom… Connor still texting him, running into him with his mom and having her harrange him about asking the nice boy from the bookstore out… Having only recently stopped reliving the same day.

That was a lot.

This was maybe too much.

He finished the cigarette and flushed the butt and then said a silent apology to the entire earth because that was bad for the environment. Then he sprayed some of the eco-friendly bathroom spray he had bought because at this point he would rather his mother and roommates think he was constantly shitting than secretly smoking. He washed his hands and took a breath and walked back into living room, where Mattie was talking to Evan’s mom about a vaginal birth she had assisted with while Alex was just… in the kitchen.

“Are you cooking?” Evan asked Alex.

“I cook,” She said, shrugging. “I’m cooking.”

“You’re cooking… on purpose?”

“Your mom’s here,” Alex said, shrugging. “I thought it might be nice.”

“You’re… since when do you cook?”

“Always?” She said. “I dunno, it was learn to cook or eat cereal forever.”

“All you eat now is cereal,” Evan said, smiling.

“Yeah, but that’s because I am exhausted. I could cook something if I wanted.”

“Right.”

Alex made fettuccine alfredo, from scratch, and it was actually really great and Evan was honestly impressed. His mom was even more so. She was absolutely raving about the food.

Alex and Mattie made great conversation with Evan’s mom. They made her laugh, and Evan could see how she was relaxing, enjoying herself, and Evan felt himself relaxing too. If his mom was happy then he got to relax.

Eventually, after most of a bottle of wine, Mattie almost fell asleep in her food and Alex decided they ought to call it a night.

His roommates having retreated to their bedrooms, Evan and his mother began the fight he knew they would have. “You should take my room.”

“I am more than happy to sleep on the sofa,’ His mom said, like it was already settled.

“You flew here, you deserve a bed!”

“You took the bar exam this week,” His mom said.

“Mom.”

“Evan.”

He frowned. “It would make me really happy if you just took my room,” He said.

She laughed. “That’s a dirty trick, you know.”

“I’m trying to be a lawyer,” He said, shrugging. “I’m full of dirty tricks.”

So his mom took Evan’s bedroom.

And Evan found himself not sleeping on the sofa. Just. Not sleeping. Evan felt edgy, keyed up, the opposite of relaxed or sleepy. He tried to scroll through facebook but kept running across Sabrina’s posts about her trip to New York, pictures with people who used to be their friends, posts about her ring and how it was a lab grown diamond at her request and he couldn’t look at that so he tried to go on Reddit but then somehow he ended up on a thread about people who couldn’t sleep and that kind of freaked him out, stuff like knowing after a few days without sleep you could hallucinate and whatever, and wasn’t it funny that when he kept dying and dying sleep came a lot more easily, he could just shut his eyes and be out and was it possible his body was still dealing with the trauma of all of those deaths, and it was absolutely crazy absolutely insane and bonkers and bizarre and unreal that he was just sitting here not sleeping and thinking about all of the times he had died all of the times he had died and died on purpose because he had done that more than once and Connor probably didn’t even know that and if he did he wouldn’t want to talk to Evan and and and before long Evan could hear, rather than feel, that his breathing wasn’t right.

Fuck.

He sat up as best he could, tried to do the shit he was never good at, like trying to focus on his breathing to actively slow it down but his chest felt too tight, his heart hurt and squeezed too tight, and Dr. Sherman in high school said something about grounding so he tried to make his mind focus on the television and the feel of the sofa under his hands and the charcoal colored rug in the living room but he had died in the living room and he woke up once and the television was gone and the rug was gone and the mirrors all of the fucking mirrors had disappeared and Evan closed his eyes tight tight tight because he was not dying he knew what dying felt like and he was no fucking dying he wasn’t and -

“Sweetheart, what’s going on?”

Shit. Shit. Shit.

Evan opened his eyes.

“Okay, baby, look at me,” His mom said, coming to sit beside him, taking his hand in hers, giving his a tight tight squeeze like she was showing him he was real and she was real and solid and present. He looked at her. “We’re just gonna sit here,” She said in this calm soothing voice. “And we’re going to breathe, okay? You’re gonna try to breathe with me.”

He nodded but he didn’t follow her instruction because his body was doing this without him and when that happened sometimes he died he died and died and died.

“Okay, Evan,” His mom said, her voice louder now. “You can do this. Just. Breathe with me, alright?”

Alright.

Okay.

She took in a long breath and he tried, he did, but it was more of a gasp and so he tried again, and it was shaky, rattling around his chest, but it was… deeper. Slower. He exhaled and tried again. And again and again, his breathing gradually and ever so slowly becoming even beats rather than ragged gasps.

“Good job,” She said, and his mom smiled and there was no reason to be smiling. “Let’s just keep breathing, yeah?”

Yeah. Okay. He kept breathing, and slowly slowly slowly his breaths fell into sync with his mom’s, slow and deep and even.

“Better?”

“Yeah,” He said, his voice ragged. “Sorry.”

She squeezed his hand and Evan squeezed back. “Sweetheart,” She started, her voice soft and sad. “I thought… You told me this wasn’t happening as much.”

Fuck. “Yeah, well, I lied okay? I. I didn’t want you to worry.”

“Evan,” She said, her voice serious. “I’m your mother. I’m going to worry no matter what.”

“But I… But I know this makes it worse,” He said, mumbled, not able to look at her. “I know you-you think I’m messed up and broken and. You’re right, okay? You’re right, and you’ve always been right and I’m not. I’m not normal, I can’t... “

“Oh, Evan,” She said and her face crumpled like she might cry and he looked away again. “I don’t. You’re not broken. I’ve never thought that.”

“You don’t have to lie,” Evan pushed on. “I know… I’ve always known, you got a-a dud for a kid who’s too nervous to, like, exist and you tried to-to fix me in high school and I should have listened but I didn’t because-”

“Honey, stop,” His mom said firmly. “You’re not broken. I think… I just think maybe you could use a little help. But I can tell you’re… I can tell you’re in pain, and I am your mother. I never want you to be in pain. I want you to be okay.”

“I’m trying,” He said pathetically. “It’s just not working.”

“So maybe you need a little help?” Her voice was soft, gentle. “Nothing… There’s nothing shameful about getting help.”

Evan sighed because she was full of shit.

“It’s like… tutoring.”

“Tutoring?” He repeated dubiously.

“Yes. Like how in undergrad you had to pass that calculus class? You went to tutoring every other day for most of that semester, and you got there.”

“I got a B,” He said bitterly.

“And some people failed, Evan. You… A B is great honey. You’re too hard on yourself.” She squeezed his hand again. “I know, you don’t… You don’t like the idea of going to therapy and obviously you’re an adult and I can’t force you but -”

“Actually, I uh. I made an appointment with a therapist.”

“You did?” His mom sounded surprised.

“Yeah.”

“Wow.” She was quiet for a moment. “I’m really proud of you.”

“Because I’m crazy?”

“You’re not crazy,” His mom said dismissively. “I know it’s not easy to make that call. And you did it. That’s a big step.”

“I guess.”

She rubbed a hand across his shoulders, comforting and familiar, and Evan took a shaky breath. “You’re going to be alright.”

Evan did not know if he believed her.

He didn’t know if he even could.

But he figured he couldn’t really lose much trying to believe her. Honestly.

Early Monday morning, Evan took his mom back to the airport. She pulled him into a super tight hug outside of her gate, then pulled back and took his hand. Squeezed it tightly. “You’re going to be alright, sweetheart.”

“Okay.”

“And I’m only a phone call away if you need me. I’m not going anywhere.”

Evan pulled her into another hug, because fuck, she was a good mom and he really did miss her a lot of the time. “I love you so much.”

“I love you too,” She said, and she pressed a kiss to his cheek.

“Be safe,” He said as she headed off toward the gate.

She waved at him before she headed into the security line.

Evan sucked in a deep breath. Because he was going into work late today, because he wasn’t done doing hard things quite yet.

The ride back into the city took a while, but he had budgeted for that. He arrived at the office building, heading up to the fifth floor and finding a small waiting area. A sign sat on a coffee table, and Evan caught his breath looking at it. “Welcome! If our door is closed, it means we are still in session. Please feel free to enjoy our waiting area, and someone will greet you when they are ready.”

Evan sat in a chair near the mouth of the waiting room, eyes focused on the number of closed doors ahead of him. He chewed his fingernails, picked at his cuticles, his leg jiggling anxiously because he didn’t especially want to be doing this.

Maybe ten minutes later (because he had been early), a door opened. A woman in her mid-forties, with steel grey hair cut short and a sensible sweater, stepped out of it. She smiled politely and took a few steps toward him. “Evan Hansen?”

Evan stood up, trying to smile politely. “Yes.”

She extended a hand. “Marcia Rosenbaum.”

Evan shook her hand, suddenly aware of just how sweaty and clammy his was, how nervous he must seem.

“Please come in.”


 

 

It’s weird to be grateful that time’s moving the way it should, but Connor’s definitely grateful. He’s also grateful to no longer be dying over and over again, because that had not been fun.

 

The first few weeks of being back in linear time, as Evan put it, had been… well, Connor had been cautious.

 

Cautious about everything.

 

Like, to a stupid degree. He’s still a little wary of the murder stairs and has slid down them on his butt on a least a dozen occasions since the whole death loop thing had resolved itself, just in case. He’s cautious when he’s plugging in his phone to charge because he really, really didn’t enjoy getting electrocuted. He’s cautious about making sure he’s chewing his food thoroughly so he doesn’t choke, and while it’s definitely more time-consuming, apparently it’s better for your digestion.

 

At least, that’s what Evan said when Connor told him.

 

Evan always seems to know some kind of interesting fact that’s relevant to any given situation or topic. Connor points it once when they’re having breakfast at yet another diner, about 2 weeks after, and Evan goes a little pink then starts very hurriedly explaining in what looks like almost painful word-vomit that he’d always found it really hard to talk to people so read a lot of ‘interesting fact’ books and lists so that he’d have something interesting to say but it’s probably weird and he can stop if it bothers Connor.

 

Connor assures him that it doesn’t bother him. At all.

 

In fact, he thinks it’s kinda endearing.

 

Obviously, he doesn’t say the last part to Evan’s face, because he doesn’t want to make him feel uncomfortable.

 

He thinks that he’s the most cautious around Evan.

 

Evan, who he managed to talk out of jumping off the roof on a night that didn’t happen but happened a million times.

 

Evan, who’s taken the Fucking Huge step of seeking treatment for his mental health stuff and is still trying to figure out new medication and getting a handle on therapy, which are things that Connor remembers from his senior year of high school and through onto college.

 

Evan’s a survivor, and he’s stronger than Connor thinks he thinks he is, but he’s also still in a vulnerable place, and the thing that really freaks Connor out is the fear that his therapist doesn’t know how bad it really was.

 

Connor’s suicide attempt in high school landed him in a 72-hour mandatory psych hold, and while it definitely wasn’t the most fun place to be, at least it meant that he had to start taking it all fucking seriously. He had to accept that things had to change, that he had to get the help he needed, because… well, nearly dying had scared the living shit out of him, to be perfectly honest.

 

But Evan’s suicide attempt wasn’t a suicide attempt. He’d died.

 

He’d actually fucking died, and it was only because time decided to do something completely insane that he’s not still dead now, and if Connor hadn’t been there on that roof with him, he’d be dead all over again.

 

And it’s not like he can tell anyone about it.

 

Evan can’t talk to his therapist about how he actually, genuinely, literally died because that’ll get him sent straight to the psych ward. And, okay, fair enough, because what happened to them was fucking insane and telling people something that no one’s going to believe is a kind of stupid move.

 

Connor gets that Evan’s not going to tell his therapist he died. He gets that, and he gets why.  

 

But that means that Evan’s not being completely honest with his therapist, and that might mean he’s not being honest as to how bad things really got for him.

 

And if Evan’s not being honest about that, then he might not get the help he needs and if he doesn’t get the help he needs, then Connor might not be there if Evan decides to climb the stairs to the roof of his building and…

 

Connor’s cautious around Evan, but it’s a weird sort of cautious. Now that they’ve got each other’s numbers, it’s easier to stay in touch, and Connor’s gotten into the habit of texting Evan at least once a day. Just to check in, to see if he’s doing okay. Evan doesn’t always reply straight away but he always replies and something inside Connor relaxes a little when he hears from him.

 

Connor has never ever in his life had someone he’s made a point of talking to every day.

 

He actually likes it.

 

They have drinks the following Friday after work. Evan confesses that he’s got a prescription for a medication and that he can’t bring himself to fill it, so Connor says he’ll go with him.

 

The pharmacy is a few blocks away, and it’s almost exactly between the bookstore and Evan’s apartment. Connor gets his own medication here, because it’s on the way to work for him, and while they’re waiting for the script to be filled, they poke around the aisles idly and Connor ends up picking up some shampoo.

 

“I think this is the first time I’ve run out of shampoo before I ran out of conditioner,” Connor says conversationally. “You ever notice how you always run out of conditioner first?”

 

“Truly one of the great mysteries of the universe,” Evan mutters.

 

Connor can tell he’s on edge, and Connor’s not really sure what to do, so he just keeps talking about shampoo, and he can’t tell if this annoys Evan or entertains him but he looks a little less stressed. When Evan’s medication is finally ready and Connor’s paid for his shampoo, they set off to go their separate ways. Before they depart, Evan grabs his hand and squeezes it. “Thank you,” he says quietly.

 

“Any time,” says Connor, and he means it.

 

Since they don’t live that far away from each other, they manage to hang out in person relatively often. Evan works - a lot - and always seems on the verge of complete exhaustion, but if Connor suggests they meet for a drink, nine times out of ten Evan’s more than happy to either meet up at a bar or meet up at one of their places.

 

Evan drinks a lot, Connor notices. He’s pretty sure Evan could drink him under the table if he really tried but it’s also possible that the trying would result in one of them having to have their stomach pumped, so he’s not about to try to enter into that particular competition.

 

Connor also gets the impression that Evan does most of his drinking alone, and that’s… not great. Especially with new meds. Especially with…

 

Well, Connor’s never really been someone who has friends or who considers themselves caring or observant or whatever, but he talked Evan Hansen off a fucking roof and now he has a vested interest in keeping him alive.

 

What starts as keeping in touch quickly turns into Evan becoming an important part of Connor’s life. For whatever reason, the universe has thrown them together, and while before all this Connor had never really given the universe a second thought, now he feels like it might be onto something.

 

Because Evan is…

 

Kind of fucking great.

 

Evan’s smart - like, genius smart - and Connor’s always been convinced that the world is full of idiots, so it’s a pleasant change. He’s also got a great sense of humor that borders on dark, which Connor has always enjoyed. Evan works hard and he puts way too much pressure on himself, but you could never say that he doesn’t care - he’s someone who cares a lot and that’s new and weird to Connor, the whole idea of caring.

 

It’s also kind of satisfying to get to know Evan because… well… he’s had questions. Questions ever since he read that letter in high school. Evan was always so quiet, so barely-in-the-background, and he had a hard time getting words out and always seemed terrified and Connor kind of felt like they had nothing in common except both being kind of losers, and then there was the letter and it was like Evan put down in words what Connor had been struggling to express, even to himself.

 

Connor had wanted to know what Evan was like back then, but he’d fucked it up and he’d blown up at him and then it had just been too much to try and connect, not with everything he had going on in his head.

 

So being friends with Evan now, an adult Evan who’s working toward being okay, is kind of awesome. Connor’s not exactly a mental health guru, but he knows what it’s like when things are that bad. And he knows how hard it is to climb out.

 

And for the first time in his life, he genuinely, honestly wants to help someone.

 

So fucking weird.

 

Time travel or whatever has made him kinda sappy.

 

It’s been three weeks since the Tuesday that never ended when Connor finally gets up the courage to have a talk to Gladys. It’s near the end of the night on a Saturday, which is one of his usual three day shifts, and Gladys is doing some bookkeeping at the counter while Connor rearranges the YA literature shelf to display a book by a new YA author that he genuinely thinks deserves more attention than it’s getting. It’s set in the nineties, which Connor’s all for, and it features a queer romance and strong friendships and he’d basically devoured the whole thing in one sitting, he’d enjoyed it so much. He makes a mental note to write a quick review card and feature it as a staff pick.

 

The store is empty and Connor finishes up with the shelf and heads back to Gladys, who’s looking at him with a patient expression like she’s expecting him to say something.

 

“I’ve been meaning to ask,” he says, as deliberately casual as he can. “What’s the plan for the store over the next… five years or so?”

 

Gladys looks at him, warm brown eyes questioning. “Well,” she says matter-of-factly. “I’m certainly not getting any younger. So I suppose the answer to that question is that I don’t quite know yet.”

 

“Would you sell it?” Connor asks.

 

Gladys tilts her head a little, as if considering. “Martha and I have had offers,” she says, “but they’ve been from bigger chains. They say they’d want to keep The Little Book Nook running exactly as it is, but we know better. We’ve seen what happens - small changes, then bigger changes, then all of a sudden it’s part of the chain and everything that made this store special gets filtered out.” She shakes her head, her expression a little sad. “I don’t think Martha’s heart could take seeing this store bought out by someone who wanted to change it.”

 

“What if someone who really cared about it was interested?” Connor asks, feeling his heart start slamming against his ribcage. “Someone who loved it, and wanted to keep it… keep it feeling like it does now?”

 

Gladys looks at him with those sharp but warm brown eyes. “What does it feel like now?”

 

Connor takes a moment to reply. “Like home.” He immediately regrets it. “Fuck, sorry, that’s cheesy.” Then he regrets. “Shit, sorry for saying fuck.” This is not going well. “Fuck.”

 

Gladys raises an eyebrow, then smirks. “I’m seventy-four years old,” she says mildly, “it’s nothing I haven’t heard before.”

 

Connor runs his hand through his hair in frustration. “I feel like I’m losing control of this conversation,” he admits. “I just…”

 

“Are you thinking of making an offer to buy the bookstore, Connor?”

 

Connor feels his face go bright red. “I’m thinking about it, yeah,” he mumbles. “I guess… I just wanted to talk to you about it, and see if you thought the idea was, like, completely crazy or whatever.” He nods, then continues, feeling a little embarrassed. “I know that you’ve asked if I wanted to go full-time here and I’ve said no because of the publishing company, but… this place means a lot to me and I’d hate to see someone who doesn’t care about it take over. And I’d hate to see it close down, because it’s been here for so long and that kind of history is important.”

 

Gladys looks at him for a long moment. “I don’t think it’s completely crazy,” she says, her tone matter-of-fact. “You’re young, and while you do have Leatherbird, you don’t exactly have much experience with business management. But you’re smart, and you’ve always been driven while you’re here. I’ve known you since you were twenty-one and there’s a reason I’ve offered you full-time work. I’d hoped you’d be interested in a management position eventually, but you just hadn’t seemed interested.”

 

Connor feels his face go hot. “I’ve kind of… I can’t really explain it, but the last couple of weeks have been weird for me, and I’ve… I’ve thought a lot about what’s important to me and what makes me happy.” He laughs a little. “Not to be super fucking cheesy, but life is short, you know?”

 

Gladys nods, a wry smile on her face. “I’m aware.”

 

Connor clears his throat, his face still bright red. “I guess… I’m not in a hurry, you know? I don’t want to rush things, I want to… do it right. So maybe if you’re still interested, I could go full time and start learning the ropes of, you know, managing the place. And then we could talk about me buying the business and what that would mean.”

 

Gladys looks thoughtful. “We’re not in a hurry, either,” she says carefully. “But we do need to start thinking about the future. Martha and I have discussed it and haven’t really come to any solid conclusions.” She looks at Connor intently. “I’d need to talk to Martha about you buying the business,” she continues. “As for going full time - honestly, I’d be grateful if you could. My health isn’t what it used to be and I’m finding things a little taxing.”

 

“I can start as soon as you need me,” Connor offers quickly. “I just… this isn’t, like, a whim. I’ve been thinking about it for a while. I just kind of needed a bit of a kick to actually talk to you.”

 

He doesn’t mention that the kick in question involves dying upwards of a dozen times.

 

“Let’s talk after the weekend,” Gladys says decisively. “We’ll both take a moment to think and process and not rush into anything too quickly.” She smiles at him. “But I’m glad to hear that you’re interested, Connor. I think you could do some really great things with this place.”

 

Connor’s not quite brave enough to talk to Evan about his discussion with Gladys until a few days later when they’re standing in the kitchen at Connor and Andi’s apartment late in the evening, drinking rum that Evan had brought over and eating soup and garlic bread.

 

“Still think this is a weird combination,” Evan says, looking at his meal dubiously. “But I guess tomato soup and garlic bread makes a weird kind of sense.”

 

“You eat garlic knots with marinara,” Connor points out. “This is just a variation.” He dunks his garlic bread into his soup and eats it. “By the way, I talked to my boss about buying the bookstore.”

 

Evan drops his piece of garlic bread to his plate and beams at Connor. “You did? What did she say?”

 

“We’re going to take it slow,” Connor explains. “She needs to talk to her wife, but it’s sounding like it… you know, it might happen?” He rolls his eyes, feeling a little self-conscious under the weight of Evan’s gaze. “I mean, she didn’t laugh at me or anything, so that’s… well, it’s a bonus.”

 

“That’s so cool,” says Evan, still with that million-watt smile. “That’s amazing, Connor.”

 

“I have no idea what I’m doing,” Connor confesses. “Like, at all. I don’t even… fuck, I don’t even know if I can afford it? I mean, I have my trust fund, but I don’t know how much property costs.”

 

Evan’s smile drops a little. “Dare I ask how much your trust fund is?”

 

Connor tells him.

 

Evan’s eyes nearly bulge out of his head. “Holy fucking shit.”

 

Connor shrugs and looks at his soup, letting his hair fall over his face so Evan can’t see how fucking embarrassed he is right now. “I don’t… I don’t really touch it,” he says awkwardly. “Like, I haven’t taken anything out of it? This apartment is super cheap and my salary at the bookstore covers it, and I, like… I mean, it’s there if I need it, and I get that’s more than a lot of people have and I’m really fortunate and really lucky and I don’t, like, want to take that for granted, you know?”

 

Evan doesn’t say anything for a while. When he does speak, his tone is deliberately even. “I think you’d have enough to buy a bookstore,” he says. “It’d take a pretty big hit, but provided you didn’t run the whole business into the ground, it seems pretty solid in terms of risk benefit analysis. The Little Book Nook’s been around for like 30 years, right?”

 

“Yeah,” says Connor, nodding. “And, like, we talked about me coming on as manager first and kind of learning the ropes and taking it all slowly so we keep everything as smooth as possible.” He laughs a little. “So it’s not like I’m going ‘here’s some money, I’m buying your bookstore next week’ or some shit. I want to… I want to do this right.”

 

He chances a look back at Evan, who’s frowning. Connor remembers vaguely from going through school with Evan that the Murphys are a lot better off financially than Evan and his mom - he knows Evan’s dad hasn’t been in the picture since he was eight and that things were hard for them financially. He hopes he hasn’t pissed Evan off.

 

“I think that makes sense,” says Evan with a nod, and it occurs to Connor that the frowning might not actually mean Evan’s pissed off, it just means he’s trying to figure something out in his brain, which is… totally fair. Connor knows that he had resting bitch face all through high school and that’s why people thought he was a fucking psycho, so he’s no stranger to his outward expressions not quite matching the internal thought process. “I mean, buying property isn’t a completely irresponsible investment. And you said there’s an apartment above the store that you could live in, right?”

 

“Yeah,” says Connor with a nod. “Gladys and Martha lived there for years but had to move out a few years ago because Martha struggled with the stairs.”

 

“Well, even buying a property to live in is a good investment,” Evan points out. “So a property you can live in and run a business out of… that sounds great. Of course there will be things we need to check, to make sure everything’s above board, but I can help you with that.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

Evan kind of blushes and ducks his head. “Well, yeah,” he says, like it’s obvious. “I’m a lawyer. Well, I will be a lawyer.” He bites his lip. “Well, I might be a lawyer, if I actually pass the bar.”

 

“Still no results, huh?” Connor asks sympathetically.

 

Evan actually laughs. “I’m not going to hear until May,” he reminds him. “End of April or early May.”

 

“Right,” says Connor, frowning a little. “That sucks.”

 

“I know.”

 

“That, like, really sucks.”

 

Evan laughs again. “I know.”

 

Connor passes him the bottle of rum and Evan pours them both a glass, and they finish their soup, garlic bread and the rest of the rum in pleasant conversation.

 

It’s not the first time they catch up for a late dinner and it’s not the last. Once Connor’s full time at The Little Book Nook, he starts off working from 10am to 8pm weekdays, giving him an actual weekend which is a novel concept. It’s a more than 40 hour week, which he originally thinks he’ll find a bit much but in the end, he’s actually learning a lot and really enjoying himself. Since Evan’s prone to working ridiculous hours, they often end up finishing around the same time, and they end up eating together a lot. Sometimes out at a diner, sometimes at one of their apartments - whatever works.

 

It’s nice. It’s really nice, in fact.

 

After everything, Connor figures that the universe must feel like it owes him something good.