Mal noticed a lot of differences in Auradon, but it took her some time to realize that how she acted with her friends was considered weird.
Like that time that Audrey caught her and Evie on Mal’s bed, lying next to each other on top of the covers. Evie was running her hand through Mal’s hair as they watched TV.
Audrey stood in the doorway from where she had stopped by. “Am I interrupting anything?”
“Huh?” Mal said, blinking. The room was dark. “We’re just watching Lifestyles of the Rich and Royal. Evie likes these tacky celeb shows.”
“But, you two are so close to each other...never mind. It’s not my business.” Audrey seemed to put it aside. “I just wanted to know if you had any answers for that test.” Audrey was trying to be nicer to her, and they’d started checking each others homework.
Mal got up, squeezing Evie’s hand when she did. Evie smiled sweetly and went back to watching the show. Mal and Audrey looked at their homework together, and after about twenty minutes, it was okay. “Okay, I think we got it. I’ll see you later Audrey.”
Audrey didn’t leave. Instead she leaned in closer. “So there’s nothing going on? I mean, you wouldn’t cheat on Ben, I’m pretty sure, but...”
“Huh?” Mal honestly didn’t get it. She was so dumbfounded that she couldn’t even get furious by Audrey thinking she might cheat on Ben. “Evie’s my friend. Being close isn’t something wrong.” She couldn’t wrap her mind around it.
“Oh. I guess things are different there. I won’t mention it again.” Mal didn’t bet on that. But Audrey left then, and Mal went back over to her bed. Evie held her arms out, making grabby hands. Mal had to laugh at her. “Hey babe.”
“Cuddle with me, it’s cold.” Mal laughed again, because it really wasn’t. But she snuggled with Evie anyway. They watched the silly celebrity gossip, with Mal having her head on Evie’s shoulder. They stayed that way until the show was over.
Jay liked tourney for a lot of reasons. He was good at it, he got to showboat as much as he wanted, and girls loved it. But best of all, he got to have Carlos with him.
Carlos didn’t have the natural ability he did, but he was fast and tried hard. And Jay knew him, knew how he thought and what his next move would be, so they worked together in sync perfectly. After they won their game, Jay put the trophy down and hugged Carlos, then gave it to him.
“We did it!”
“We all did it,” Ben said, trying to remind Jay about this whole team unity thing he kept forgetting about.
“Yeah!” Then he grabbed Carlos and hugged him again, and kissed his cheek.
That’s when the energy around them changed. Jay felt everyone get a little weird and standoffish. What did he do? He realized he was still holding Carlos close. “Oh, my bad.” Maybe he was showing too much affection to one person? They didn’t always like it when people were singled out here.
Then he eased away from Carlos and let him pick up Dude. The other guys still seemed confused, and so did the cheerleaders who had been trying to get close to him before. Jay wasn’t sure what to do, and then Ben’ s spelled ass started talking about Mal, so he just faded into the background.
Later, in the locker room, he noticed people weren’t as boisterous around him as they usually were. He couldn’t figure it out-didn’t they just win? Maybe Ben was freaking them out, he wouldn’t blame them. Then he felt a tap to his shoulder.
“Hey Aziz,” he said, grinning as pounded him on the shoulder. “Great game, yeah?”
“Yeah,” he said, returning his grin. “But, I wanted to ask you something-what’s going on with Carlos?”
“Huh?” Jay had no idea what he was talking about. “He just helped us win!”
“Yeah, but you kissed him.” Jay was beginning to wonder if this was one of those fake things, a prank or something. So what?”
“I did. On the cheek.” I mean for fuck’s sake, he didn’t tongue Carlos or anything. “You don’t do that?”
“Well, sometimes. Where I live it’s not as unusual as here.” Now Jay was really confused. If that was true, then why the hell did Aziz care? “It’s just-here people are going to assume that there’s something going on with you two. Since you’re so affectionate.”
“Oh,” Jay thought. “That’s really weird, to me. I mean, isn’t it obvious that I like girls?” Privately, Jay thought the aggressive interest Auradon had in exclusive relationships at a young age was weird. Maybe he should call them on that.
“I know,” Aziz said. But I don’t know-I guess they’re a little weird about people being so close when they’re not related. It’s probably stupid.” Jay watched as Aziz got flustered and backtracked, and decided to give him an out.
“Well, Carlos is the closest thing I have to a brother. So if anyone says anything, you tell them that. Okay buddy?” He actually kind of liked Aziz, so he was glad when Aziz agreed, with another friendly hand to his shoulder.
It seemed to Jay that Auradon males were touch-starved, and the only time it was acceptable was when celebrating sports wins. But he wasn’t going to say that. He got showered and dressed, and then left the locker room with Carlos. He could feel the stares, but he didn’t care.
After that whole business with Mal turning her mother into a lizard, they all tried to settle into Auradon life and attempt this ‘being good’ business. Ben helped a lot, trying to explain Auradon norms in a way that made more sense than when FG tried it.
But try as he did to understand them, even Ben was taken aback the first time he found all four of them sprawled on Jay’s bed. Carlos had his head in Mal’s lap. Jay had his head on Evie’s chest, and she was playing with his hair. “Uh, am I interrupting something?”
Mal looked over and grinned. “Ben! Come join us.” Ben still stood in the doorway, then awkwardly closed the door behind him. “Come on, I think there’s room for one more.”
“Well...” Ben looked. “What am I agreeing to if I do?”
“Cuddling,” Jay said. “Just cuddling, we swear. And maybe after a while, Evie will paint your nails.”
“She’s a big believer in the concept “If you look good, you feel good,” Carlos said from his place in Mal’s lap. Mal looked down at him with affection.
“Well, sure, okay.” Ben sat on Carlos’s bed, and took his shoes off. Then he gingerly tried to find a place on the crowded bed. “There’s not a lot of room-hey!” He yelped the last part as Jay bodily pulled him into the puppy pile. Ben wound up with his face dangerously close to Jay’s crotch, and everyone laughed as he sputtered. “Holy shit. Didn’t expect that.” He moved over, trying not to elbow or knee anyone.
“Auradon people have so many issues about personal space,” Mal said. Then she looked directly into Ben’s wide eyes. “You know what I’ve told you about the Isle. We survived because we had each other. We needed each other, and we still do. What’s some cuddles among family?”
“Oh okay, that makes sense...wait.” Ben looked at Mal with dawning realization. “So you all consider me family, then?”
The four looked at each other.
“Yes,” Evie said.
“Well yeah.” Carlos reached out and ruffled Ben’s hair.
“Well, you’re more like an in-law to me, but that still counts.” Jay grinned then, and Even smacked him. “Ow!”
Mal tipped Ben’s face up with one gentle hand. “You know I do. Now just relax. Evie, do you have the remote? Put something on, but not any celeb shows. I’m sick of seeing myself.”
Evie put on a game show, and everyone groaned. “Your taste is terrible, Eve,” Jay said. “And don’t smack me again, you already got me just now.”
“Everyone shut up,” Mal said. “Let’s just enjoy this.”
Ben wriggled around a little, out of his comfort zone. But soon he wound up sandwiched between Evie and Carlos, with an arm thrown over Carlos’s waist. Evie put a hand on his shoulder, rubbing lightly. After a few minutes, Ben closed his eyes.