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easier to doubt, harder to love.

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jeremy looks at himself in the selfie he just took of him and michael on his bed. the smile on his face slowly dies out as he studies himself. he saves the picture to his camera roll but doesn’t post the snap. he shuts his phone off, setting it on his night table. his stomach is doing flips and he feels sick but he doesn’t want michael to notice his shift in behavior. with a grimace he’s trying to wipe off his face, he leans back against his wall as the commercial for their movie comes to an end and the next scene starts up again.

he sighs and apparently, he does a shit job at keeping his shifting mood under wraps because michael turns to him and says, “you alright, dude?”

bless his soul, jeremy thinks, and bless anyone who’s lucky enough to date him. jeremy’s grimace deepens. he knows he isn’t worth michael’s time or love or effort, but he can’t help but still want to be the one that michael calls “his.”

he turns his head away from michael and pointedly stares at his tv with a blank stare. “yeah, man, just--just thinking about school and such. nothing to worry about,” he brushes his question off dismissively, almost aloof.

he can feel michael’s stare boring into the side of his head. he isn’t buying it he isn’t buying it he isn’t buying it, jeremy thinks. panics, actually, his heart rate is starting to pick up. jeremy feels his face warm as michael continues to stare at him. he gives in and turns his head, almost banging heads. “wh- michael, dude, i’m okay, really.” a beat. “scouts honor.” he holds up his right hand.

michael chews his lip, watching jeremy carefully, watching how jeremy’s eyes shift from michael to past michael. that’s nothing new jere, michael thinks, but it is more often right now than normally. “alright. but if you wanna talk about anything, dude, let me know. no questions asked, you have my full confidentiality.”

jeremy’s eyes finally come to a stop on michael’s, his eyes immediately softening but still having that nervous glint he always seems to have. he looks down, studying michael’s lips but playing it off like he was memorizing every crease and fold of the collar of his hoodie. “yeah, i know, dude,” he fiddles with his thumbs, itching to keep some part of his mind busy and distracted. “i just… wouldn’t really know where to start?” he shrugs, scrunching his face in a confused look.

he wrings his hands out, nervous. he can feel them getting clammy, he wants to wash them and get rid of his anxieties and clamminess.

he folds them under his arms and brings his legs close to him, closing himself off. “i…” he panics for what feels like the millionth time in ten minutes. “i’ll be right back,” he chokes out, stumbling off his bed and hurriedly walking to the bathroom, keeping his head down to avoid eye contact.

in the bathroom, jeremy quickly shuts the door and locks it, turning the faucet on to block out any noises he might make. he shakes his hands out, pacing in front of the mirror. he wants to rub his face, press the heels of his palms into his eyes, but he remembers that they’re clammy and immediately shoves them under the running water. he reaches up and pumps the soap dispenser twice, always twice, and lathers his hands up.

he rubs his hands together for a while, trying to ease his fast moving mind with the thousands of outcomes that could potentially happen when he walks out of his bathroom and back into his bedroom.

“jeremy?” there’s a soft knock on the bathroom door but the not-so-soft voice on the other side of the door sounds muffled.

“yuh-yeah?” he sounds strangled and he visibly winces (i’m so eternally grateful that i just winced like in a bathroom and not in front of people, he thinks).

“are you good, bro? you’ve been in there for, like, twenty minutes.” michael shifts his weight from foot to foot, hand gently falling on the knob.

twenty minutes? jeremy’s been in here for that long? how did he split all that time up? or did he pace for a minute and spend the remaining nineteen minutes scrubbing at his hands? he doesn’t want to think about all those questions, they’re making his head hurt and worsening his panic attack.

oh, right. he forgot there was a word for those long bouts and fits of fear he goes through. thank you, google search.

“uh… yeah, i’m good, just washing my hands.” he hopes he was loud enough for michael to hear him.

michael doesn’t respond but jeremy knows he’s still there, can hear michael’s finger tap-tap-tapping against the metal door knob, can feel it like a frying pan over his head (it sounds a lot like: bang! bang! bang! bang!).

his best friend speaks after a moment, so soft that jeremy barely hears him. “jeremy, can i come in?”

with shaky hands, jeremy shuts the tap, dries his hands and flips the lock on the door. he keeps his hands wrapped in the towel, afraid to see them and have them be seen.

carefully, the door opens and from the tiny sliver, jeremy sees michael peek through at him with his big brown puppy dog eyes. “c-c-come in and shut the door, please,” he squeezed out meekly.

michael pushed a hand behind him to give the door the extra nudge it needed to snap shut. “‘miah, you’re making me worried,” he chews on his lip. “can i touch you?” at jeremy’s nod, michael gently grabs his thin biceps and sits him down on the edge of his bathtub. with his hands lingering on him, michael sits next to him, facing him and looking jeremy in the eyes. “if you want, i can totally turn away so you can vent and say what you need to say.”

jeremy shakes his head, rubbing his already dry hands with the towel. his hands were going to itch and be all red later. “no, i… i think i should tell you straight forward.” he takes a few deep breaths -  inhale, one, two, three. hold, one, two, three. exhale, one, two, three - and shakily starts to tell michael his current emotional state.

“i… i was fine, right? all fine and dandy and then we took the picture and i-i didn’t post it but i did save it. i couldn’t stand to look at myself,” he admits, looking down at the baby blue hand towel that hid his hands. “all i could think was ‘god, i’m so ugly, i wish i didn’t look like this, i wish i had filled out more in middle school, i wish i looked like michael, not ugly or lanky and pasty pale,’” jeremy takes a shaky breath and closes his eyes tight to fight back tears. “a-and then i thought, ‘wow. whoever is lucky enough to be able to call michael theirs is going to be so-so happy,’” he hiccups. “‘because i know i’m not perfect enough for him.’ i know it deep in me, in my heart, and i-” his words get choked on a sob and he quickly brings the towel up to his face to cry into and muffle his sobs.

michael’s heart ached for the sobbing boy in front of him. his chest hurt, the lingering hand he had on jeremy’s shoulder moved to his back to rub up and down soothingly. michael scooted closer to jeremy, wrapping his arm around his shoulders, and letting his free hand rest on his arm. jeremy fell into him, finding comfort and solace in michael and simultaneously hating himself for being a pity party.

michael let him cry on his lap for a while, waiting for jeremy’s sobs to subside. as he cried, michael rubbed his back and hummed and shh’d him soothingly.

when jeremy stopped hyperventilating and sat up straight, having half a mind to try and crack it, he rubbed his face with the damp towel and sniffled. “i’m sorry.”

“for what, jere?”

“dumping all that on you, being an absolute nuisance,” he shrugged, tangling his fingers together.

michael shook his head, offering jeremy a sad but still hopeful and happy smile in that way that he always does when he tries cheering him up. “no worries, dude, that’s what i’m here for. we’re best friends for a reason. we make everything a two-player game because we always have each others’ backs.”

jeremy felt another wave of tears bubbling up in his throat. michael saw this and cupped jeremys face, effectively squishing his cheeks and making jeremy smile small.

“however,” michael continued. “i have to disagree with what you said. you are perfect, just the way you are, lankiness, paleness, and all. i-i’ll get back to that other thing you said when we’re back in your room, but please believe me when i say that you are absolutely amazing in every which way possible, jeremy.” he looks into jeremy’s blue eyes, “i love how red you get from being in the sun for just ten minutes, how you nearly burn when we walk home from school, how you always wear your blue cardigan to prevent bad sunburns. i love how, when you forget yours, you wear my hoodie and it practically swallows you whole. i love how you can ramble on for hours on end about strategies to beat level nine in apocalypse.” michael takes a short breath before continuing, “jeremy, everything about you is so perfect.”

a few new fresh tears fell down jeremy’s face and he looked down and bit his lower lip. there’s silence, save for the sound of his stuffed nose.

“michael, i can give you a thousand and one reasons why im not.”

“and i can give you a thousand and two reasons why you are,” michael fires back just as quickly. “come on, lets wash your face and go back inside. and if you’re feeling up for it, i can pack us a bowl. but i am totally down with just chilling with you in the dark listening to our playlist.” he stands, holding his hand out to jeremy.

jeremy looks at michael’s hand before hesitantly removing one of his hands from the bundle of towel and placed it into michael’s softer one, grasping at him like he was his only lifeline - and in a way, jeremy thinks, he is.

he stands, walking over to the sink and sets the towel down, planning to use it to dry his face after washing. as he’s scrubbing at his face, his eyes close in concentration and michael takes the chance to switch out his hand towel for another clean and dry baby blue one, tossing the damp one in the hamper next to the sink.

jeremy dries his face and grabs two tissues to blow his nose and offhandedly thinks, michael’s seen me in worse states.

he clears his nose as much as he can, picking up the towel again to wipe at his face once more. “okay,” he says. “i wanna grab a water first.” he fiddles with the hem of his shirt.

michael gives him a warm, familiar smile and a nod, “whatever you need to do, man.”

“and… could we smoke later? i wanna calm down some more before we do.”

“totally,” michael holds two thumbs up. “i’ll be in your room, getting the vibe set.”

jeremy laughs at that, and michael’s heart flutters at hearing his laugh rather than his sobs. “okay,” he still sounds sniffly. “i’ll be right up, don’t have too much fun without me.” jeremy turns and hops down the stairs quickly, making a beeline for the kitchen, silently thankful that his dad was actually at work today.

he sings a little tune to himself as he reaches into the fridge and grabs two water bottles and two Welch’s Fruit Snacks packages. he climbs back up the stairs, and can hear the muffled sound of bob marley through his door. he nudges the door open and kicks it closed. “i brought provisions,” he smiles shyly at michael.

“you are awesome, dude.” michael takes the bottle and snacks from jeremy and watches as jeremy sits across from him on his bed, criss cross.

“uh,” jeremy goes back to fiddling with his shirt. “so, you said you were gonna go back to that other part i mentioned…?”

michael pops a gummy into his mouth. “hm? oh, yeah. you think about us? as… more than we are now?”

how he was so forward, jeremy will never know. “is-is that a bad thing?” please don’t hate me, he thinks.

“not at all,” michael lets a slow, lazy grin take over his face. he seems so casual about this for someone who’s been pining for jeremy since the seventh grade. “i do, too.”

jeremy nearly chokes on his water. “ what ?!”

“you heard me,” michael pops another gummy into his mouth, two at a time. “i think about us together as more than friends, dude. i have since the seventh grade.”

jeremy stutters and stammers, at a loss for words. michael laughs, trying to hide it behind his hand. “you’re so cute, jer--”

“i’ve liked you since the eighth grade, michael.” he blurts out, his face as red as a tomato. he’s staring right at michael, unwavering and determined.

“like me or like like?” he jokes, winking at jeremy.

jeremy rolls his eyes. “shut up, dude, im confessing my crush on you here!” he laughs, the smile on his face big and wide and toothy.

“ah, so its like like, huh?”

“yes, if it’ll satisfy you and your juvenile vernacular, i like like you.”

michael grins at his best friend (potential boyfriend?) and throws a gummy at him. “thanks for the clarification, shakespeare.”