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Time Capsule

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The gym felt crowded. This event was reserved for juniors and seniors, but they were only allowed to fill one part of the stands, so it might have as well been the whole school stacked in there.

Mitch waved at Sarah, who sat in the fourth row along with a group of her friends from chess club, but didn’t join her. He would usually sit with Sarah in the classes they shared and he counted her among his friends, but chess club wasn’t his usual sort and he didn’t want to impose on them. And he had other people he wanted to sit with.

It took him a while before he found his two best friends in the crowd. They were sitting with a few choir members, mostly seniors, chatting excitedly. He winced when he noticed that one of them was Jasper.

Jasper sat by the group, but none of them actually paid attention to him. He probably sneaked in. Scott and especially Kirstie were not exactly subtle about their dislike for Jasper, so it was likely the guy kept enough distance so they wouldn’t notice him. Still, even this felt like too close to Mitch.

Jasper was a junior who transferred schools and joined the choir last year, immediately trying to latch on the trio, which was fine with them at first, until it turned out Jasper was a homophobic piece of shit. He was a good singer with a pretty good ear and he could play the piano and the guitar really well, but he saw the world through a very narrow lens. While he was completely capable of ignoring the fact that Scott was queer as fuck, because he fit the stereotypically straight white dude cardboard cutout well enough, Jasper was not able to stomach Mitch. Not that Mitch was obnoxious with his looks. He wanted to be, but this was Texas and even if he had quite a number of friends that accepted him, standing out too much still wasn’t a great idea.

Mitch guessed quite early on, that Jasper wanted to take his place in The Trio. Which, as Scott put it, was ridiculous since there was only one Mitch and no way were they going to ditch him. But a few months ago when his and Scott’s brief attempt at a relationship ended up in ruins, Mitch was a bit worried it could be Jasper’s chance.

The first two or three weeks after, Scott was really upset and Mitch was annoyed that Scott was upset. They couldn’t even be in the same room, because Scott would look like a kicked puppy, which would usually make Mitch snap at him for something inconsequential within the first five minutes.

Thankfully, it turned out Scott’s general disposition made it practically impossible for him to hold a grudge against someone, especially if he liked them, and after less than three weeks, Scott was making attempts to talk to Mitch normally and Mitch was honestly relieved while at the same time annoyed at himself for thinking Scott would actually befriend Jasper even if he stopped being friends with Mitch. Scott never even so much as looked Jasper’s way during this little crisis.

All insecurities aside though, Jasper’s problem was Jasper’s and Mitch wasn’t about to let that keep him from his group of friends, but he still approached them from the side opposite to where Jasper sat, so he wouldn’t have to be close to him.

“Hey, Mitch!” Scott called out as soon as Mitch got to their row. “What do you think about the song we did in the choir yesterday?”

There was obviously some kind of argument happening. Mitch sat down next to Scott and tried to ignore the stab of annoyance when Scott twitched and moved his leg away, so it would brush against Mitch’s.

Remembering yesterday’s debacle, he shrugged: “Butchered it,” he said. “Though Mr. Hale didn’t have to be so pissy about it. I don’t know what he expects when he keeps switching our parts.”

Scott turned to Rebecca, one of their friends from the choir. “I told you so!”

She wasn’t impressed. “Calm down, Hoying. I didn’t say it was good. Even a deaf person could hear the dissonance on the bridge, which definitely shouldn’t have been there. And some people were seriously all over the place with the tempo. I just said it could have been worse, considering.”

She wasn’t exactly wrong, but Mitch immediately understood why they were arguing about it. Scott was kind of a perfectionist. If something wasn’t good enough, it just wasn’t. There were no levels to it.

Layla, who was given the solo in yesterday’s song, gave Rebecca a frustrated look. “I kept falling in with the harmonies on the switch to minor key. And I don’t know what the fuck Eric was doing, but it kept throwing me off. And don’t even remind me of the tempo. I miss my cues half the time, because I keep trying to sing off of others. I don’t know what Mr. Hale was thinking. I’m not a soloist!”

Layla wasn’t a bad singer, but she didn’t have the experience or confidence to be up front and Mr. Hale’s jabs and sharp criticism didn’t help at all.

“Eric was trying to be creative as usual,” said Mitch, hoping to console her a little. “I honestly thought there was something wrong with my hearing at first. And you sounded really good on the verses.”

Layla gave him a weak smile. “You’re sweet, Mitch. Maybe if we had time, I could work on it, but we have less than a month and all I can do are the quiet parts.”

“We should have started rehearsing with a new soloist at the end of last year,” Scott said. “Did Mr. Hale think Hannah wasn’t gonna graduate or what?”

“He probably didn’t want her to feel like she was replaceable or some shit like that,” Rebecca said. “You know how he was with her.”

“He would solve half his problems if he gave at least some of Hannah’s parts to Mitch,” Kirstin chimed in.

“Damn straight,” Rebecca snickered.

Mitch rolled his eyes at her. “Very funny, Fischel. I seriously want to see the day Mr. Hale gives me Hannah’s solos. Hannah’s solos are girl parts,” he went on, perfectly imitating Mr. Hale’s manner of speech, “and I’m sure Mr. Grassi has no interest in those.

Layla snorted. “Nice try, but he’s not that witty. Besides, if he said that, you could totally report him for discrimination.”

Mitch raised an eyebrow. “And stomp my designer shoes all over his first amendment? God forbid.”

Rebecca looked at his shoes. “You’re wearing like a hundred-year old sneakers, Grassi.”

“I’d wear designer shoes for that.”

“Are you guys even serious?!?” Dominic, another choir member, who kept silent until now, was sitting behind Rebecca and this made everyone turn to him. “What are you even talking about? Am I the only one who’s freaking out about this?” He made a wild gesture to the center of the gym.

There was a stage set up, with a few microphones but not much else. Teachers kept running around looking stressed out and while most students were talking among themselves. The general atmosphere was tense. Some seemed excited, but a lot of people’s faces had all sorts of unhealthy colors.

Back behind the stage was a curtain that separated the other half of the gym from them. You could actually hear things from behind and it seemed like the atmosphere was a lot more relaxed there, which made sense.

Mitch’s stomach clenched. He was trying hard not to think about why they were here.

It was an experiment with time travel that was introduced a few years back. Apparently, it was possible to create a neutral space in time where matter from different points in time could exist simultaneously. Well, something like that, anyway. Their teachers were trying to explain it, but most of them didn’t understand it either, so all Mitch really got was, that they were going to see their future selves, apparently.

Dominic was now arguing with Rebecca if freaking out silently was better than freaking out out loud and stressing others.

“Do we even know what they’re testing?” Layla asked, ignoring the argument.

“Probably just the machine,” Rebecca said, turning away from Dominic. “And something about how much we actually remember after, I think. My aunt was in one of the control groups last year and she said she didn’t remember any specifics almost immediately after she left the bubble. Whatever she did remember kind of faded away, as if it was just a dream.”

Kirstin frowned. “So we meet our future selves and find out what happens with us, only to forget it right away? What’s the point?”

Rebecca rolled her eyes. “Well, not high school students learning about their future, obviously. They need to see how exactly it works before they can do something useful with it. Or…potentially disastrous. Whatever it is, we can’t do much about it at this point. Besides, what do you know? Maybe some of us won’t show.”

“And that’s a good thing how?” Dominic asked. “From what I’ve heard it usually means you’re ashamed to show up or too ill. Or worse.”

“If no one remembers what happened, how do we know that?” Layla retorted.

“They read the rules out loud in class,” Kirstin reminded her. “You need to have a really good reason if you’re not going to show up, since it can’t clash with anyone’s schedule or anything like that. So you can basically only get out of it for all the wrong reasons, as far as our future is concerned.”

“Which means, I’m about as worried that I won’t show up as I’m worried that I will,” Dominic wrapped it up. “I don’t know if I want to know my future, even if it’s just for a few hours. I just think that something has to stay, you know? Like, you’ll forget the specifics, but you’ll still have a hunch.”

Mitch supposed that could be true. He didn’t know anyone who went through this, so he didn’t dare to guess. He wasn’t even really sure what he was scared of. That his future self wouldn’t show up, sure, but if he did, then what?

Part of it was that he was ok with his high school life. Sure, there were things that weren’t that great, but they were all things he knew how to deal with and that he was used to. Any life after school will likely include a whole set of completely different problems that he can barely imagine now. Just the thought of simple things like going off to college or looking for a job - things that most people did regularly - filled him with terror. Summer jobs were a step in that direction, but they didn’t really prepare Mitch in the ways that mattered to him. No one expected you to go somewhere from there, have ambitions, shoot higher.

What if his future self is stuck as a waiter or a barista somewhere? Not that there was anything wrong with that in normal life. But here, where everyone was going to be measured against everyone else and mercilessly judged, you pretty much had to end up being successful to even have a chance to survive the immediate aftermath of all this.

Whoever thought a bunch of teenagers were a great control group for such an experiment was clearly insane. He imagined some kind of a mad scientist with a mustache and a glass eye, wearing a lab coat, cackling madly as he pulled some kind of lever that would create the time capsule.

Scott was fidgeting next to him. Mitch looked at his friend, mildly annoyed, but that feeling evaporated when he saw that Scott was very pale, his eyes fixated on the stage.

Mitch touched his arm lightly. “You ok?” It was easier to worry about someone else right now.

Scott took a shaky breath and turned to Mitch, smiling sheepishly. “Well, nervous, I guess.” When he saw the dubious look on Mitch’s face, he let out a short laugh. “Ok, scratch that. I’m terrified. I mean, you’re not?”

Mitch gave him a forced smile. “I’m pretty sure everyone is. I honestly agree with Dominic. I don’t know if I’m more scared that I’ll show up or that I won’t.”

“I think I heard you,” Scott said quietly.

Mitch looked at him, confused. “What?”

Scott nodded towards the curtain behind the stage. “From back there. I think I heard your voice.”

Mitch turned to look in that direction as if he could pick up his own voice between the many voices just by focusing on it. He knew Scott wouldn’t lie about this, but he could have misheard or imagine it. “That why you looked like you saw a ghost?” he asked after a moment.

Scott shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s weird. You’re sitting right here and I hear you yelling ‘no‘ from all the way over there.”

“I was yelling ‘no‘?” Mitch asked, a little alarmed.

“Not in a bad way,” Scott added quickly. “It sounded more like when you’re pretending you’re annoyed about something.”

This made Mitch even more nervous. This was way too specific for Scott simply mishearing or imagining things. “Ok,” he said slowly. “You heard anyone else?”

Scott shook his head. “Not anyone specifically. Your voice is just…recognizable.”

Mitch knew what Scott meant, but it still annoyed him. The small flicker of shame he caught in Scott’s voice was enough to tell him that this wasn’t only about the general pitch of Mitch’s voice, but rather about Scott still being…attuned to him. Which would be fine if it was just in a platonic sort of way. Only then Scott wouldn’t be ashamed of it.

“Yeah, I’m sure,” Mitch mumbled irritably. There was still some nasty part of him that wanted to deepen that shame for some reason. He hated that part, but he couldn’t seem to stop it sometimes. He was probably paying the price for holding back way too many things. Sometimes, something had to give.

And Scott was an easy target. For the most part, he seemed to accept Mitch’s mood swings as some sort of inevitable punishment and Mitch hated that too. He wished Scott would stand up to him, tell him off for being a bitch. Anything that would right the imbalance between them.

“Earth to Mitch!” he heard Kirstie’s voice just as he saw her hand waving in front of his face.

He slapped it off lightly and gave her an annoyed look. “All systems shut down. I’m carrying out psychological data analysis.”

“Great,” Kirstie retorted. “Make sure you don’t fry the hardware.”

He rolled his eyes at her and then looked at Scott carefully. It appeared that his previous comment had hit its target. Scott was staring at his hands and he obviously tried to move even further away. Mitch felt a twitch of guilt, but he had no idea what to say to make it better. Should he apologize? Would acknowledging the problem make it even worse?

It was such a swing back from how they were during those short weeks together, spilling their hearts to each other like there was no tomorrow. And now they strictly avoided any substantial conversation that had anything to do with their feelings.

Mitch wondered whether their two counterparts behind that curtain even knew each other anymore. If they saw each other for the first time since high school right here, in the time capsule, and said awkward ‘hellos‘ before looking away uncomfortably, not knowing what to say. If they found each other in that crowd. If they were even looking.

Mitch knew there is no guarantee he would stay in contact with any of his high school friends in the future. Part of him still wanted to hold onto that and believe that he would, no matter what. But he knew better than that. He knew people drifted apart all the time.

Right now though, he wanted to cling to that hope. No matter what happened between them, Scott was still one of his closest friends. He could at least make an effort not to drive them apart while they still saw each other every day.

So he leaned in and gently bumped his shoulder against Scott’s and when his friend looked up at him in surprise, he gave him a little smile. Scott’s tense expression immediately melted into one of relief as he bumped his shoulder back against Mitch’s.

“Stop flirting and pay attention to me,” Rebecca said in a tone that suggested she was trying to get their attention for a while.

Scott blushed a little, but otherwise ignored her. Mitch turned to her and rolled his eyes. He caught Kirstie’s exasperated look and realized it must have been the reason she was waving her hand in front of his face earlier.

“I’m all ears, Fischel.”

“What do you think you’re gonna be like?” she asked.

He stared at her for a moment. “That’s it? That’s the important question? I have no idea, Fischel. I don’t even know if I’m gonna go to college. Let alone where or what I’d study.” He could hear traces of the panic he was feeling in his own voice. He breathed out and then in slowly to calm down. “I really don’t understand why they have to make such a spectacle out of it. Stage and everything. We could literally just go there,” he waved his hand towards the curtain, “and talk to them in person.”

Rebecca grimaced. “Probably because this is high school. Why do the simple thing if you can go about it with as much drama as possible. And as for the important question, we were just trying to prepare ourselves.”

“Well,” said Mitch. “Do you have any idea what you’re gonna be like?”

She pursed her lips. “No, you’re right,” she sighed. “But this is nerve-wrecking. I need to talk to someone about something or I’ll go crazy and Dominic is annoying me.”

“Hey!” Dominic yelped, but then gave up on her and turned to one of the guys sitting behind him.

“Well, I’m going to be a musician,” said Jasper. It was the first time he spoke since Mitch sat down and Mitch instantly wanted him to shut back up.

“Thanks for the contribution,” said Kirstie a little more sharply than she usually spoke. “It’s nice to know at least someone doesn’t lack confidence.”

“I’m actually being realistic here, Kirstin,” he said calmly even if the tension around his mouth betrayed a little of his annoyance. “I didn’t say I’d be successful. But music is the only thing I can do properly. Even if I had to work at McDonald‘s to earn some money, I’m gonna make music.”

This was one thing that Mitch actually liked about Jasper. He was dedicated and he knew what he wanted. Of course, Scott and Kirstin were both going to apply for music related majors, but that still didn’t mean they would end up with a related job offers. Mitch was sure that they both would end up doing something related to music anyway though.

Kirstin looked like she was about to say something, but right in that moment, one of the teachers, Mr. Davidson, came up to one of the microphones on the stage. “Attention, please! Take your seats and pay attention.”

The students quieted almost immediately. Well, at least on this side of the curtain. The other side didn’t even lower the volume. Considering it was supposed to be full of adults in their late twenties or early thirties, it was almost funny to think they behaved worse than teenagers.

It took Mr. Davidson a while to calm the people behind the curtain down. When they finally did, he turned back to the students, fidgeting nervously. “This will be quite an emotional and exhausting afternoon for a lot of you, I imagine, but it could also be freeing and reassuring. I am going to ask you to respect your peers and allow them to see and hear their counterparts properly. You are of course allowed to discuss things among yourselves, but please do so as quietly as you can.”

While the students barely moved a muscle, there was some laughter from the other side of the curtain. It quieted down pretty quickly though, as Mr. Davidson continued: “Your counterparts were allowed to bring people with them, if they thought they would be interesting to you. Kids weren’t allowed though. There is no particular order that we’re going to call you in, so I will again, ask the future section to keep quiet and pay attention.”

The other side didn’t react much this time and after this announcement, there was not much delaying, before the first name was called: Deborah Rogers.

There was complete silence among the students as they were all curious how this was going to go in general.

Mitch didn’t know Deborah well. She was a cheerleader and moved in very different circles than him, but they had a couple of classes together and the few times they talked, she was always nice to him, thought she never really went out of her way either.

The woman who walked out from behind the curtain and onto the stage didn’t resemble Deborah that much at first. Her hair were dyed dark brown and pinned to her head. She was wearing a dark blue ladies suit and Mitch thought she might look intimidating with her professional vibe, if her face didn’t split into a friendly smile as soon as she saw the crowd. That smile made her look more like the Deborah he knew.

Deborah stayed on the stage for about twenty minutes. She talked about her job as a human resources manager in one of the companies in Arlington, she talked about her husband, who didn’t come so someone could stay with their two-year-old daughter. The first part of the conversation was conducted by Mr. Davidson, but soon he turned to young Deborah and she was allowed to ask questions.

While this was how a lot of the subsequent conversations went, there were also some that changed the normal format. The first one who broke it was actually Rebecca  Fischel.

She practically ran onto the stage, clearly full of energy and though Mr. Davidson did his best to make her answer the same questions Deborah and everyone else did, Rebecca could not care less, that much was obvious. She said she was a high school teacher, but didn’t really elaborate on anything. Before Mr. Davidson could react, Rebecca ran back to the curtain and ushered a group of people on the stage, claiming they were all her coworkers.

Mr. Davidson could only stand there and stare as Rebecca and her crew proceeded to stage a dramatic but hilarious play about a group of students who decide to go against the future they saw at the test run. The whole play lasted about half an hour, during which most students forgot any nerves or fear they had about this and laughed so hard most of them were full on crying by the end.

The ending included some sort of side story about a group of superheroes called Five Tones who ran in to destroy the evil overlord who was trying to stop the students from achieving their dreams. The group alone had most people gasping for breath, between a rabbi who blew up the overlord’s computer with his deep, thundering voice, all the way to a male angel in a magnificent evening robe who let out such a high note, the overlord’s head exploded.

Someone on the other side of the curtain was laughing so hard and in such a distinct way that it kept cracking people up even when they tried to calm down for a bit in places that were more dramatic than funny.

All the actors bowed deeply when the play ended and started clearing out the props they brought on the stage.

Rebecca turned to the crowd. “We hope you enjoyed the play,” she said, smiling.

The students cheered loudly and shouted out praise, even though a few people complained that the entire play should have been about the superheroes, Rebecca laughed and waved her hand dismissively. “Don’t worry, they’ll make another appearance.”

Mr. Davidson protested, saying that you can only come to the stage once and that the actors who played the superheroes weren’t even students in this school. In response, Rebecca only shot him an unpredictable grin, before turning back to the crowd. “I should warn you, though that this play has unfortunately not been updated for a few years and I’m sorry to say that it contains certain outdated elements now. The rabbi, for example, has retired.”

“Wait,” a student from the crowd yelled. “So, he’s like…old or something?”

“You don’t have to be old to retire, dumbass,” another student answered. “Maybe he got injured.”

Rebecca waved her hands to quiet them before she said: “He just retired from the group. He wanted to slay villains at his own pace.”

Mr. Davidson looked like he was about to cry. His feeble control over the situation practically dissolved. The students were now focused on a debate over fictional superheroes and their standard retirement age, which future Rebecca engaged in, her colleagues were talking among themselves, showing no intention of leaving the stage, and if the noises were anything to judge by, the other side of the curtain got invaded by escaped zoo animals.

It took nearly another fifteen minutes before some sort of order was restored and Rebecca left the stage to rapturous applause. When it settled, there were still some remains of laughter here and there, but mostly people were quiet now. In fact, you could hear the person, clearly a guy, with the loud laugh from behind the curtain as he finally calmed down and gasped: “Man, I think I’m dead.”

Mitch and the others finally had a chance to talk to their Rebecca, who looked extremely self-satisfied.

“I gotta admit, I make a pretty cool adult, don’t you think?” she said.

Dominic rolled his eyes. “Great, she’s gonna be impossible to talk to now,” he muttered and gave Rebecca a fake grin when she glared at him.

“No one ever asked you to talk to me,” she snapped. “In fact, I distinctly remember asking you to shut up. Many times.”

Mitch wondered amusedly if future Rebecca was married, because he would place a bet on the husband. Maybe Dominic would mention it when he appears later.

Husband or no husband, Mitch was happy that future Rebecca seemed to be happy and successful in her career. He would never guess she, of all people, would end up being a teacher, but whatever school she worked at was apparently the mecca for cool teachers if she had colleagues who were down to stage such a ridiculous play with her.

He only hoped he would end up working with people he would get along with at least half as much. He sighed. Another thing to stress over. Just what he needed.

Chapter Text

The next few people that were called on stage were almost boring, compared to Rebecca. They answered questions and talked about their lives, their educations and their jobs, occasionally inviting someone on the stage.

One of these people was Sarah, one of Mitch’s closest friends from his grade. He was happy to see that she was glowing as she talked about the coffee shop that she owned and her two kids. She had her husband with her and while they weren’t very touchy-feely with each other on the stage, they seemed to be attuned to each other in a way only long-term couples could be, sharing a quiet intimacy and soft smiles.

There were people who seemed to be more successful than others, but despite Mitch’s worries, it didn’t result in any insults or mockery. Well, at least nothing out of ordinary.

So far, neither Mitch nor Scott or Kirstie were called and they were more and more nervous with each name. About four people did not show up so far, but none of them was anyone they knew that well. One of the girls broke down into tears and was lead out of the gym early. Mitch considered it a great example how fucked up this whole thing was that he hoped the girl’s future self was injured, very ill or grieving a close relative. Surely, four dead people in two grades by the age of thirty was way too many.

A break was scheduled after about a quarter of people was done. On one hand, Mitch was happy to stretch his legs, but it only meant more time to think and talk about what happened, without having the advantage of seeing his future self. Out of their little group, only Rebecca and Dominic’s friend Mitch didn’t know very well were lucky enough for that.

“Well, so far no president of the United States, no Hollywood actors, no Grammy winners and no millionaires from what I can tell,” Rebecca said. “That’s disappointing.”

“I’m sure we have all of those,” Layla said, trying to sound cheerful. “They’re just saving the best for last.”

“Hardly,” Rebecca retorted. “I was one of the first ones to be called.”

“Exactly,” Dominic said and shot Rebecca a wide grin.

She didn’t even grace it with an answer and instead turned to the trio. “Do you guys wanna go get a snack with me?”

There were tables with food in one corner of the gym, so the students wouldn’t have to leave the time capsule. Technically, they weren’t supposed to need food as long as they were here, but it wasn’t wise to cut a herd of growing teenagers off their food supply anyway.

Scott jumped up immediately. Food was never far from his mind. Kirstie shrugged but got up too, which made up Mitch’s mind. He wasn’t about to sit there with Jasper practically alone. Dominic was talking to his friend and as sweet as Layla was, she would not be much of a support. Especially not since she was currently struggling with her new position in the choir and Jasper was not a person she would be able to handle if he decided to make it even worse for her.

So he stood up too and slowly made his way through the stands, trailing behind Kirstie. At the end of the row he tripped over someone’s bag and almost fell out into the isle, crashing into another student that was trying to make his way down towards the tables.

“Don’t touch me,” the guy hissed, shoving Mitch so hard he nearly fell backwards.

He barely had time to identify the guy as Simon Harwick, a fellow junior, who was in the basketball team with Scott, before Simon grabbed his arm in a painful grip and pulled Mitch a little closer.

“Running around, falling on guys, so you could grope them, aren’t ya?” Simon asked. He was keeping his voice down, aware that they were in public, but he was close enough that Mitch could hear him clearly.

Mitch wasn’t a stranger to a confrontation of a similar type, but no matter how often it happened, he could never quite shake off the fear that gripped him, squeezing his lungs and making his heart beat faster. He tried to take as long of a breath as he could. He could not afford a panic attack right now. Mitch tried to look past Simon to see if Scott or Kirstie noticed what happened, but they were too far away now.

“It was an accident,” he said to Simon, as calmly as he could manage. “I assure you I don’t need to grope random guys to get some.” He blurted this out without thinking and almost immediately regretted it.

Sure, it was true enough. There were a few other gay guys at school, out or not and Mitch was good looking and quite popular in his social circle. He wasn’t exactly lacking offers. But it also wasn’t the smartest thing to point out to a homophobic bully.

Simon made a disgusted face and let go of Mitch’s arm as if it burned him. “I know you don’t need to, you pervert. I saw you in that car. With Hoying.”

Mitch froze. He could feel his cheeks coloring. With shame or anger, he wasn’t quite sure at the moment. He wasn’t ashamed of who he was. Not anymore. But knowing that someone saw him during a private moment was not pleasant. He also did not understand why Simon was only talking about it now. It had been just over two months since he broke up with Scott.

“You should really know better than to peek into cars in that particular parking lot,” Mitch said finally. There was only one place they’d go. It was a pretty popular spot for high school students to go to when they wanted a little privacy. Well, as much privacy as they could get in a public parking lot, no matter how deserted it usually was.

Maybe Mitch imagined it, but Simon’s cheeks seemed to gain a bit more color than usual. So it wasn’t an accident? Not entirely, perhaps. Simon might have been a voyeur. Or he was there to watch someone in particular and got the wrong car. Or…he knew exactly which car he was peeking into. Mitch narrowed his eyes and counted his options.

“In case you’re jealous though, I’ll let you know that Scott is single now,” Mitch said. He didn’t want to cause Scott any trouble, but he knew that when it came to team hierarchy, Scott was higher than Simon. It should be ok.

Simon gave him a mean smile. “Of course he is. What the hell would he do with you? He probably needed something close enough to blow off some steam.”

Another guy in some serious denial about Scott, then? How did they manage that, Mitch would never know. Scott wasn’t talking about his sexual orientation to everyone he met, but he wasn’t bending over backwards in order to hide it either. Not anymore, anyway. Mitch knew that Scott’s basketball team knew. Scott seriously considered quitting at the end of his junior year and he only decided not to because the two guys that gave him the most trouble graduated. Until then, he had to deal with some mean shit, especially when it came to sharing the locker room and showers.

Thankfully, Scott had enough of a social status at school to protect him from the absolute worse. He had a natural charm that drew people to him and with all the extracurriculars he did, he had friends all over the school, which meant the bullies were too scared to do anything serious. Mitch supposed he had a similar privilege though, at least to an extent.

Simon’s denial was not that big of a surprise, but he never really knew how to react to it. He wasn’t about to throw Scott under the bus and tell Simon that Scott had come onto him, that they dated for a few weeks and that Scott went as far as telling Mitch he was falling in love with him. At which point Mitch immediately ended things, knowing that something this fast and intense would eventually blow up into their faces.

“Cat got your tongue? Can’t even face the truth, can you, loser?” Simon said when it became clear Mitch wasn’t going to answer, too lost in his own thoughts.

“I thought you were getting us a drink,” said a voice behind Simon. “What are you doing, wasting your time with this nerd?”

Taylor Harper looked bored, as she usually did, but behind that facade, one could always see an alert mind, ready to gather any information that could be useful or simply interesting to her. She looked Mitch up and down and her eyes remained impassive. She knew exactly who he was, but he was insignificant to her and he was glad for it. She occasionally mocked the trio, calling them “the three loud nerds” and she seemed to have a mild dislike for choir members in general, but she never outright targeted them.

“I was just putting him in his place,” Simon said, almost apologetically.

Mitch almost laughed. Simon and Taylor were about the most clichéd high school couple you could find. A basketball player and the head cheerleader, with her clearly having the upper hand.

Taylor sighed and rolled her eyes. “Why bother? Let’s go get our drinks. Mark here can keep on looking like a lost puppy.” She looked at Mitch, raising one eyebrow, daring him to correct her on his name.

He wasn’t about to give her the satisfaction. “I would,” he said instead. “Unfortunately, I was heading in the same direction as you when your boyfriend stopped me.”

Taylor gave him a fake smile and gestured her hand. “Well then, why don’t you lead the way?”

Simon looked at her as if she went mad. Taylor pretended not to notice, so he made up for it by glaring at Mitch.

“The first part was interesting, don’t you think?” Taylor said pleasantly as they were making towards the tables. “Personally, I see it as a warning to check the school I’m going to put my child in, to make sure Fischel is not a teacher there.”

Mitch ignored her. Simon was also silent and Mitch guessed that he probably liked Rebecca’s play, though he wasn’t about to argue with his girlfriend.

“But I guess I can’t blame her for trying to make the best out of what she has,” Taylor went on after a minute of silence. “Of course, I still don’t know what I’ll be doing, but then again, I have a lot of options. At least one of them is bound to work for me.”

Mitch was trying to tune her out, desperately searching for Scott in the crowd around the tables. Taylor went on about out-of-state colleges and the programs she was checking out even though she still had a year before she could apply. She also talked about modeling and acting, listing out the reasons why she would be the top choice for any agency in L.A. Mitch was sure that if there were agencies that hired based on ego, Taylor would definitely be their girl.

Mitch almost ran into Kirstie, who suddenly appeared right in front of him, holding three large bottles of water.

“Oh, I was just looking for you!” she exclaimed. “Scott and Rebecca are getting food. I need you to help me with the drinks. What held you?”

Mitch looked around but thankfully, Simon and Taylor were already lost in the crowd. So he just shrugged. “Sorry, I got dragged into a conversation.”

She raised an eyebrow at him, but didn’t ask, which he was grateful for. “Ok. Can you take the orange juice? And more water, if there’s any left. And maybe some Pepsi, or something.”

He gave her a look. “You think Rebecca needs more sugar?”

Kirstie laughed. “Ok, maybe not. She was suggesting we try to take a peek behind the curtains. If she gets any more pumped up, she will probably just march there through the center.”

They managed to get back to their seats in a relatively short time. The students were now mostly occupying the limited amount of space around the tables and Mitch thanked their luck that they weren’t caught in that crowd.

Scott appeared pretty soon after them wearing only a t-shirt. He took his shirt off so he could carry more food in it. “Have you seen Rebecca?” he asked immediately, looking around.

Kirstie gave him a horrified look. “I told you to keep an eye on her!”

“I swear, I turned around for two seconds and she was gone. And there were so many people, I thought maybe she went back here.”

“After she specifically said she wants to peek behind the curtain? Scott…” Kirstie shook her head as if she was deeply disappointed with him.

“I’m not her mother, Kirstie. And she’s eighteen. If she’s going to make stupid decisions, it’s not on me!”

“Oh my God!”

Mitch barely had time to turn around before someone slammed into him in full speed, almost knocking him off his feet. Again. Seriously, screw his luck today. He grabbed the person by the shoulders and pulled them away. It was Rebecca.

She had four chocolate bars in her hand, which she immediately shoved into Mitch’s arms and turned to Scott, her eyes wide with excitement. “Oh my God,” she squealed again. “Oh my God!”

Scott looked a bit frightened, especially when Rebecca grabbed his upper arm. “What?!”

“I saw you!”

Mitch swore that if her voice went even higher, she would only be heard by dogs.

“I saw you!” she repeated and then looked at Kirstie, grabbing her with her other arm. “And you too!”

Kirstie went white. “Oh no. Oh no, you actually…”

Rebecca rolled her eyes. “Oh, please. It wasn’t even that hard. Nobody saw me. And we will get to see you anyway, so it’s not a big deal.”

Kirstie stared at her. “You’re insane. You’re completely insane.” But she sounded rather impressed. And curious. “You really saw us?” she asked then, clearly against her own better judgment.

Rebecca grinned. “Yes. You were sitting together, talking. With three other guys I didn’t recognize. Two black dudes and one like really hip, tattooed guy. I don’t think they’re from our school, so you probably brought them with you.”

Mitch’s stomach sank. “What about me?”

Rebecca shot him an apologetic smile. “I didn’t see you. But I couldn’t look around much. There were so many people and I only noticed Kirstie and Scott because they were pretty close to where I peeked.”

“And I heard you, remember?” Scott said, gently touching Mitch’s shoulder. “You’re there.”

But not with his friends, apparently. Up until now he hadn’t realized how much he actually wanted to believe that this would last past high school. A small part of him hoped that Kirstie and Scott only actually met here, in the capsule, and that was why they were sitting together. It wasn’t like he didn’t want his friends to stay in touch, but he didn’t want them to be without him. They were the trio. There was no trio without him. Scott said so. Scott promised.

He swallowed the surge of irrational anger. He knew it wasn’t Scott’s fault and he also understood what could have happened. Scott and Kirstie were the same age. They were going to graduate while he would have to stay in high school for another year. Maybe they went to the same college. They weren’t actively planning it, but if the opportunity presented itself, they would probably take it. And while Mitch always planned to follow them and at least try for the colleges they would go to, there was no guarantee he would get there.

“Did you see Jasper?” Mitch blurted out before he could stop himself. He eyed the guy in question, but luckily, he was too immerged in a conversation with Layla to notice he was being discussed.

Scott shot Mitch a sharp look.

“Jasper?” Rebecca asked, clearly confused. “Why?”

Mitch shrugged, trying to look nonchalant. “No reason. What exactly did you see, then?” he asked quickly to cover up his slip-up.

Scott frowned at him. Mitch frowned back.

It was a relief that Scott seemed to be so annoyed about Mitch’s concerns about Jasper. Though it didn’t really change anything as far as their future was concerned.

Rebecca grinned again and looked at Scott. “You have a beard. And you’re probably even taller than now, if that’s even possible. You look really good, for an old guy.”

“We’re supposed to be like thirty,” Scott said.

“Exactly,” Rebecca retorted. “Ancient.”

“So, we looked ok?” Kirstie interjected.

“More than ok, if you ask me. You looked happy. You,” Rebecca pointed at Scott, “were pretty much glowing. And you were really cuddly with the tattooed guy, so…”

Mitch did not feel like someone punched him in the stomach when she said that. And even if he was a little taken aback, so what? It hadn’t been that long since Scott was really cuddly with him. Contrary to anyone’s belief, Mitch liked Scott a lot. It didn’t change the fact that Scott was jumping head first into something neither of them was ready for. Mitch might have been the one to end things, but he wasn’t unaffected by it.

“Otherwise, there wasn’t really much to see. You were too far from me to hear anything. Oh!” she exclaimed then. “One of the guys you were with was the one who was laughing at the play so much. You remember?”

“The tattooed guy?” Kirstin asked and gave Scott a teasing look.

Rebecca shook her head. “No, one of the other two. I heard him laugh, because apparently, your boyfriend…” she nodded to Scott, “is hilarious. I didn’t hear what he said, but it must have been good.”

They finally sat down as they spoke and started distributing the food and the water. Scott asked about his supposed boyfriend. Mitch was doing his best to pretend, even to himself, that he didn’t care.

Rebecca didn’t really have much to add though. “You’ll see him for yourself soon enough, so calm down, Hoying.”

“At least tell me how many tattoos,” Scott said. “He’s not one of those walking works of art, is he? Because that’s cool and all, but I’m not into that.”

“Then I suppose he’s not, or you wouldn’t be dating him, would you?” Mitch retorted, his tone sharp and spiteful. It was as if his mouth had a mind of its own, because he definitely did not mean to say this. He didn’t mean to say anything.

Rebecca rolled her eyes. “Jesus, Grassi. Jealous much? Look, I’m not here, to play marriage counseling, so you-“ she pointed at Scott, “can wait and check him out when he’s on stage. And you-“ she looked at Mitch, “go and get a bunch of tattoos, so you can compete with that guy, for all I care. Because I don’t. I’m hungry and I’m over this conversation. Y’all should have come with me.”

Scott just blinked at her outburst, but didn’t ask any more questions. Instead, he turned to Mitch: “You really don’t have to be such a jerk, you know?” he said then. His voice was steady and almost soft, but not apologetic.

The wave of relief that hit Mitch at that statement was absurd. His friend was mad at him and Mitch was actually glad for it. He almost laughed and only managed to keep a straight face because he didn’t want Scott to get pissed. “You’re just mad, because now you have to wait to see if your future boyfriend has dicks tattooed all over his face,” he said instead, keeping his tone light.

It worked. Scott rolled his eyes, but the tension around his mouth subsided. “In that case, I actually hope you’ll try to compete with him, because that would be a great look on you.”

Mitch wondered if throwing a party in celebration of the first joke Scott made about their relationship would be considered too much. He smirked. “Well, at least we know your type now.”

Scott was clearly about to answer, but he was interrupted by Mr. Davidson, who announced the break was over. It still took over ten minutes until everyone was back in their seats and quiet enough that Mr. Davidson could call the next person. It was Kimberly Fry, a fellow junior and Mitch’s friend. They sat together in History and they were both in film club. Despite that, Mitch found it incredibly difficult to pay attention to what she was saying. The only thing he caught was that she did something around financial analysis. She seemed to be done pretty quickly.

“Jasper Aveyard!”

Mitch flinched so hard he almost made Scott spill his water all over himself.

Scott frowned at him and looked back over his shoulder to check if present Jasper wasn’t listening, before he leaned closer to Mitch: “What the hell is it with you and Jasper? Are you seriously still paranoid about him taking over your life or something? You know we’re not in a psychological thriller, right?”

Mitch rolled his eyes. “I don’t think he’ll take over my life. Don’t be ridiculous.”

“Yeah,” Scott said dubiously. “I’m ridiculous. He’s not back there with us, Mitchy.” His tone softened as he gestured towards the curtain.

“Of course he’s not,” Mitch retorted, giving Scott a hard look. “He’s right here.” He pointed at the stage where future Jasper was talking to Mr. Davidson about college. Or rather about dropping out of college in order to pursue career with his band, apparently.

Mitch turned back to Scott to see his friend scowling at him again.

“Don’t be a smartass.”

Mitch sighed. It was good to see the old Scott again, talking back at him and calling him out on his shit. But he almost forgot how insistent his friend could be. And how Mitch almost always caved in, because he was crap at hiding things from his friends.

“It’s just…” Mitch said, waving his hand towards the stage. “He was right, see? He really is that dedicated. Leaving college behind, giving things up for what he really wants to do. He has ambitions and he’s not afraid to go after them. You’re kind of like that too.”

Scott snorted. “Yeah, Jasper and I are basically the same person.”

“I didn’t say that,” Mitch retorted. “I’m just not sure I could do that, so…”

“You’re pragmatic,” Scott said, cutting him off. “That’s not a bad thing. Jasper and I would kill each other in the first five minutes of trying to figure out an arrangement. If we even got that far. I’m not even talking about the fact, that you’re a much better singer and a better person.” His eyes slid to the stage again for a second. He blinked. “Wait. What did we miss?”

There were other people on the stage now. From the looks of it, Jasper brought his band with him and they were getting ready to play.

“The drummer was dragging his stuff on the stage the whole time Jasper was speaking,” Kirstie said and looked at Mitch and Scott disbelievingly. Then she sighed and shook her head. “Seriously, you two.”

Mitch didn’t want to know what exactly she meant by that. She was the only person who knew the details of their relationship and while she wasn’t one to use these things against them in an argument or even as a joke, that didn’t mean she wouldn’t point things out or call them out if she thought it was needed.

So he ignored her and fixed his gaze on the stage instead. Future Jasper was talking about his band as they were getting ready. Every once in a while he looked at present Jasper and he smiled a little bit. His future self looked a bit more pleasant than the Jasper Mitch knew from school, but he guessed it would be the case with a lot of people once they grew out of high school drama.

The next time future Jasper looked towards his present self, however, his eyes slid over Mitch and he stopped and stiffened. He looked at the trio for a second and then focused his eyes directly at Mitch. Mitch braced himself, not knowing what to expect. Jasper held his gaze for a moment and then gave a strange jerk of his head, which might have been a nod as much as a muscle spasm.

Why would future Jasper be nodding at him was a mystery to Mitch and from what he could see when he looked over at the younger version of his classmate, it was a mystery to present Jasper himself. The gesture seemed almost respectful and there was not a lot of people Mitch knew about that Jasper respected.

Jasper’s band had a classic local country rock feel to it, which surprised Mitch. Jasper didn’t strike him as the country type. Granted, the songs were pretty good. A bit old school, but with just enough cheek to make it sound cool, instead of cheesy. Mitch gathered, based on the sound and on what he caught or Jasper’s conversation with Mr. Davidson, they were pretty popular in Arlington, possibly even a broader area of Texas, and made a good living for themselves just with the gigs they got.

Mitch looked around at present Jasper, who looked pretty satisfied and Mitch might have felt happy for him if he wasn’t so worried about his own future. And...admittedly a little jealous of the fact that Jasper got to do what he wanted.

The crowd seemed pretty entertained. Mitch caught a glimpse of Simon, whose eyes were glued to the stage and his body was rocking into the music. That was until Taylor, who was sitting next to him, elbowed him into the ribs and glared at him. Mitch sighed and rolled his eyes. Taylor was just determined to dislike anything that had to do with the choir. Jasper could have three Grammys and several multi-platinum albums and sold out stadiums all over the world and Taylor would still do everything in her power to be unimpressed.

Jasper and his band played five songs before they waved at the cheering students and started to move their instruments off the stage.

“It wasn’t bad,” Mitch said, keeping his voice low so Jasper wouldn’t hear him.

Kirstie shrugged noncommittally which Mitch knew was the extend of approval she was willing to show for Jasper on Mitch’s behalf.

Scott looked uncomfortable. “I mean, if you’re into that kind of stuff…”

Mitch almost laughed. He could tell Scott liked it well enough and was now battling his predisposition to be nice and his desire to reassure Mitch. He didn’t know why this, of all things, made him feel better, but it did.

He gave Scott a smile. “It’s ok, you’re officially allowed to admit it was decent.”

“Alright. It was decent,” Scott said hesitantly. “I guess.”

“I appreciate the lack of enthusiasm, though. Nice touch,” Mitch said, grinning. Damn, he loved his friends. Maybe Rebecca’s play had some truth to it and he would be able to change his future to some degree. Enough to keep in touch with Scott and Kirstie. Enough that he could say he at least tried. He was not going to think about the possibility that his future self did try and failed.

Scott smiled at him in a way that almost made Mitch blush. Any other time, this would make him annoyed again, but right now he just didn’t have it in him. So he turned away and fixed his gaze on the stage. He could see, in the corner of his eye, that Scott did the same thing. No awkward shifting, no sideways glances, no pulling away. Maybe there really was hope. Maybe their friendship was actually healing. It was still too soon to be sure, but the fact Scott was improving in his reactions to him showed that, at the very least, Mitch didn’t hurt him beyond repair.

He almost rolled his eyes at himself. Hurting Scott beyond repair? They were still teenagers for God’s sake. This was no grand love story. They weren’t some meant-to-be trope. They were friends who briefly dated, got caught up in the intensity of it and then broke up. It wasn’t the end of the world.

Chapter Text

“Simon Harwick!”

Mitch jumped in his seat. He had been staring at the stage, but was so lost in thought, he missed one of his classmates, who was just leaving. An older version of Simon walked out instead.

Mitch blinked. Then rubbed his eyes.

“You want me to pinch you?” Scott asked.

Mitch looked at him, his eyes wide. “Please, tell me you see Simon Harwick in a scarlet suit.”

Scott tilted his head and narrowed his eyes, pretending to assess the situation. “I don’t know. It looks more like cherry than scarlet.”

Mitch rolled his eyes. “You’re so gay.”

“I don’t know who started with the scarlet. It’s a red suit!”

“Ok,” Mitch said impatiently. “But do we agree, that Simon Harwick is standing on that stage in a flaming red suit and that I’m not hallucinating?”

Scott nodded a smiled a little. “Looks like he figured stuff out.”

“You don’t seem surprised,” Mitch said. “Why are you not surprised?”

Scott raised an eyebrow. “Are you serious? I mean, Simon is so deep in the closet he has a Narnian citizenship, but with how jealous of you he was when we were dating, I thought you’d catch on.”

Mitch stared. Oh. Oh.

“He knew which car he was peeking into,” he said then, mostly to himself. “Oh God.”

This time Scott did look startled. “What?”

Mitch grimaced. “I ran into Simon during the break. He said he saw us... In your car.”

If Mitch had even a slight inclination to think that Scott knew anything about it, his friend’s expression would have immediately told him he was mistaken. Scott went white.

“When?” he asked.

“Jesus, I don’t know,” Mitch snapped. “Judging from what he said, probably one of the times I was blowing you. Take your pick.”

Kirstie cleared her throat. “Guys, either shut up right now or wait a second, so I can pierce my eardrums.”

Mitch blushed and took a quick look around.

“No one else heard you,” Kirstie hissed. “But I hear one more word about anything that happened in any cars and you’re paying for my therapy, ok?”

Mitch wanted to remind her that not that long ago she was drilling him for details on how Scott asked him to be his boyfriend. But that would be petty and he also didn’t want to make Scott uncomfortable. The situation with Simon was enough.

Scott leaned closer to Mitch and spoke straight into his ear, so Kirstin wouldn’t hear: “What was he even doing there? Peeking into people’s cars.”

“I would take a wild guess that he was looking for you.”

Scott frowned. “I’ll have to talk to him.”

Mitch’s eyes widened. “You make it sound like you two already talked.”

“We did.” Scott shrugged. When he saw Mitch’s incredulous look, he threw his hands up. “He was acting out in basketball practices. I thought he was just another bully at first, but then I caught him looking at me.”

As much as Mitch disliked Simon, he could understand the dread of someone confronting you about this sort of thing. “You probably scared the hell out of him,” he said, keeping his voice neutral. It wasn’t like he blamed Scott.

“That guy was already terrified,” Scott said. “But I’m not trying to make excuses for him or anything. If he crossed any lines with you I will punch him.”

Mitch gave him a smile. “I’ll tell you if it’s something I can’t handle myself.” He hoped for Simon’s sake it wouldn’t come to that.

He focused on the stage again. He seriously wanted to hear what Simon had to say.

“...I’m not exactly Conan O’Brien,” Simon was just saying. He was smiling and seemed to be comfortable on stage. “It’s a local channel, but I do well for myself. I’m also doing red carpet interviews for a Youtube channel sometimes.”

“Any interesting people you can talk about?” Mr. Davidson asked. He looked pretty excited about the idea that one of his former student might have juicy gossip about Beyoncé or Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Simon chuckled. “Well, actually, I interviewed a couple of superheroes last week.”

Mr. Davidson looked confused.

“What is it with these people and superheroes?” Kirstie asked.

Rebecca rolled her eyes. “It’s probably not superheroes, you get that right? I was being metaphorical in the play. Maybe they’re some actors from a Marvel movie or something.”

“Which Marvel superheroes kill with their voices?” Dominic asked.

“There are bound to be some,” Rebecca said. “Maybe they did something like The Umbrella Academy.”

Dominic seemed unconvinced. “The Umbrella Academy has a violinist. There are no scary rabbis, banshee drag queens or black dudes who can pull things out of thin air by imitating their sounds. Which, I have to admit, is a really cool superpower, though.”

“I said something like The Umbrella Academy,“ Rebecca snapped. „You need to pay attention.”

Mitch filtered their bickering out and tried to concentrate on Simon, who just turned to the crowd after one of the students shouted: “You look gay!”

“Well, thank you,” Simon said pleasantly. “That’s a relief.”

There was laughter and a few cheers from behind the curtain. Some of the students laughed too.

Mitch checked on present Simon only to see that he was beat red, staring at his future self in terror. Mitch really felt sorry for him now. But future Simon knew himself better than Mitch did, so maybe this would be helpful in the long run. Or maybe future Simon just counted on everyone forgetting what happened here.

Who was more puzzling to Mitch, was Taylor. She looked angry and very uncomfortable, but not surprised.

“I think Taylor knows,” Mitch whispered to Scott.

Scott peeked over his shoulder at the girl in question and nodded. “That makes sense. She is dating him and she’s not one to miss things like that.”

If Taylor knew and was still dating Simon, it probably meant she was using him. What for, Mitch didn’t dare to guess, but whatever it was, Taylor wouldn’t want people to know she was a beard. The fact that everyone was going to forget about this when they walk out of here was probably the only thing to save Simon from her wrath.

Future Simon actually went even further and introduced his husband, who walked out on the stage and gracefully accepted Mr. Davidson’s awkward handshake. Mr. Davidson was one of those people who were so desperately trying to show everyone how accepting they were, it made people uncomfortable.

Simon’s husband, Jake, was a very good looking, tall, blond and quite a butch guy. He bore no freaky resemblance to Scott or anything, but it was obvious Simon had a type.

Kirstie snickered and leaned over Scott to Mitch: “ You think we should tip Simon off on the tattoos?”

Scott rolled his eyes. “Simon is not my type. Tattoos or no tattoos.”

“Maybe if he had Mitch’s face tattooed over his own,” Rebecca quipped in.

Kirstie snorted, but immediately tried to school her expression into a neutral one. Scott blushed and said nothing. He was staring at this hands again.

Mitch glared at Rebecca. “I thought you and Dominic were too busy with your little foreplay to be listening in to other people’s conversations?”

Rebecca rolled her eyes. “You seriously need to chill, Grassi. Hoying is a big boy, he can handle being called out on his bullshit.”

This was the last drop for Mitch’s cup to run over. It had been weeks that he spent angry at this whole situation. Angry at Scott, at himself and at everyone else who thought they had the right to judge them.

He turned his whole body to Rebecca and fixed her with another glare. “He’s my best friend. His bullshit is my bullshit. I don’t care what you think about our relationship or about Scott’s feelings for me, because whatever you think is probably wrong. You’re my friend and I like you, but this particular bullshit is off limits and if you call Scott out on it one more time, I will take you down. Are we clear?”

There was long silence.

“That was hot,” Scott said finally. There was nothing shy about the way he said it. It was a simple statement of fact.

Mitch smiled and winked at him, which made Scott laugh.

Rebecca just stared from one to the other and then shook her head. “Seriously, I don’t understand you two.” She did seem to be affected by Mitch’s outburst and her tone was careful.

Mitch raised an eyebrow at her. “That was exactly my point.”

Rebecca gave him a pensive look and finally nodded. “Alright, that’s fair. I respect that.” Then she caught Scott’s gaze and added: “I’m sorry, Scott. And, honestly...” She leaned towards him. “...good luck getting over this guy.”

Scott just laughed. “Yeah, I’ll need it. Thanks.”

Mitch, who tensed at Rebecca’s comment, relaxed and turned back to the stage. Partly to see what was happening with Simon and partly to hide the blush that spread over his cheeks.

This was probably the first time he and Scott talked openly about Scott‘s feelings since they broke up and on top of everything, it was in front of other people. The downside of it was that this was likely going to be another thing they’ll forget about once they step out of the gym. All the progress would be lost and they’d have to start over. But it was nice to know that things between them were fixable.

Future Simon was now talking about his decision to move to L.A. after graduating from college. “To be honest, I was kind of following this guy. I knew from TV and social media that he was there and I hoped to see him again. You know how it is.”

“Wait a second!” Rebecca called out so future Simon would hear her. “You moved to L.A. to stalk a celebrity? This is finally starting to get interesting.”

Simon laughed. “I’m afraid it’s less interesting than that. I knew him from before. Used to have a huge crush on him. I didn’t end up meeting him again until much later, but I have him to thank for being where I am today. Otherwise, I would probably stay in Arlington, I would never have the job I love and I would never meet Jake.”

“So you did get to see the guy eventually?” some girl in the front row asked.

“Yeah.” Simon gave a self-deprecating laugh. “Didn’t really go the way I imagined it. He barely recognized me and when he did, he almost punched me. For old times sake. Not that I didn’t deserve it.”

Mitch leaned towards Scott. “You think he’s talking about you?”

Scott looked doubtful. “I wouldn’t punch him.”

“He said almost. And you can be really protective. Maybe he was bothering your tattooed boyfriend.”

Scott rolled his eyes. “Seriously, I’m sure the guy has other features than a bunch of tattoos. You guys make it sound like I have a fetish or something.”

“That’s half the fun,” Kirstie said. “The other half is you getting flustered about it.”

“I really want to stick my tongue out at you right now,” Scott retorted.

Kirstie grinned. “Oh, please do.”

“Oh, this is going to be fun,” Rebecca said, pointing at the stage.

Simon had left and the next person to be called was Taylor Harper. She didn’t look particularly happy, but it didn’t seem like Simon’s interview bothered her that much.

Taylor hadn‘t changed her appearance much. Her blond hair were cut a little shorter and there were lines around her mouth that didn’t speak of a pleasant kind of person. Her answers were short, said in a clipped tone that was making Mr. Davidson more and more nervous as the conversation progressed.

Their future selves weren’t allowed to downright lie. Mitch wasn’t sure how it was enforced exactly, but it seemed to work well. Not that he could be sure, of course. But none of the things he heard struck him as far fetched or too good to be true. The students were told their future selves wouldn’t lie, but they could omit facts or refuse to answer something and Mitch suspected Taylor was using this to her advantage.

She said she was an actress, but was currently between roles and worked temporarily as a waitress. Taylor was a master of poker face, so judging from her expression, she could be working this temporary job for anywhere from ten weeks to ten years. Her wording was so careful though, that Mitch guessed it would be closer to the later.

She was married, but didn’t bring her husband with her. There were no children, though she did say she and her husband were planning for one.

“For being such a bitch, she must be the most boring person ever,” Rebecca said. “I’m really counting on you guys to make this more interesting.”

“Considering the things that you would find interesting, probably not,” Kirstie said.

“You’re The Trio. You could at least sing some Beyoncé or something.”

Mitch gave her a dry look. “You make it sound like we could just come out and whip out a Trio arrangement like it’s nothing. From what you saw, I might have not even talked to Scott and Kirstie since high school, much less sing with them.”

“Could you be any more dramatic?” Rebecca retorted. “That you weren’t there for the minute I peeked in means absolutely nothing.”

Rebecca was correct, of course, but Mitch didn’t need any false hopes right now. There was a very low chance he would even find out anyway. If Mr. Davidson’s interview style was anything to go by, they probably won’t even get to talk about how often he sees his high school classmates.

“Scott Hoying!”

Scott tensed and Mitch felt his friend’s hand on his arm again, Scott‘s fingers digging into his skin painfully.

“Ow,” Kirstie yelped and Mitch realized Scott was doing the same thing to her as well.

The man that came on stage was most definitely Scott. His smile was still the same and his features changed very little though they might have sharpened with age, making him look like a man rather than a boy. But his expression was soft and the lines around his eyes suggested he laughed and smiled quite a lot.

His hair was styled and he had a beard and Mitch had to admit that Rebecca was right. He looked good. Really good. The grey hoodie he was wearing accentuated his broad shoulders and he looked pretty fit. But probably the most striking thing about this Scott was how content he looked. He gave off a vibe of someone who is comfortable in his own skin and his soft, calm smile made Mitch think that this guy could probably take on the world if he felt like it. He understood what Rebecca meant when she said Scott was glowing.

Future Scott’s eyes found the younger version of himself almost immediately and he grinned. “This is so weird,” he said then, raising a few chuckles in the crowd. “And it makes me feel old.”

“Does it?” Mr. Davidson asked. He wasn’t used to the guest taking an initiative.

“Seriously? Look at us.” Future Scott gestured towards himself, Mitch and Kirstie. “I’ve been coaching a few kids who are older than that and I feel like their dad. I’m not sure how to take that, to be honest.”

“So, you’re a coach?” Mr. Davidson seemed relieved to stumble upon a topic he could ask about. “Basketball? I know you were on the team in high school.”

Future Scott blinked at him, confused for a second, and then laughed again. “No, not basketball, singing. It’s just a few side projects I have going on.”

There was laughter from the other side of the curtain.

“You’re an asshole, Hoying,” yelled a voice that unmistakably belonged to future Rebecca. “You and your side projects, I swear to God!”

Future Scott raised his hands in a defensive gesture, but he was laughing. “They are side projects.”

“I know, that’s what pisses me off!”

He shook his head at Rebecca’s answer, smiling. “I’m actually less involved with them now than I used to be. They are mostly self-sufficient now. They don’t need me anymore.” He made a sad face and pretended to wipe tears from his eyes.

“So you do have some sort of full time job, then?” Mr. Davidson asked.

Future Scott shrugged. “You could say that.” He had a soft, amused smile on his face.

Mitch knew that expression. Future Scott was obviously withholding information, but not because he wouldn’t want to share. He was trying to make Mr. Davidson ask specific questions so he could see where this was going. There was obviously some kind of inside joke involved.

Poor Mr. Davidson was not sure what to make of this, so he started asking about college. His go-to topic, it seemed.

“I went to USC,” future Scott said. “But I dropped out.”

He wasn’t the first person on that stage to drop out of college but he was certainly the first one to admit it without any kind of difficulty, as if it was no big deal.”

That made Mr. Davidson even more flustered. “Oh,” he stammered. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

Future Scott laughed. “Don’t worry about it, Mr. Davidson. I guess it’s not the best thing to say to a bunch of high school students, but I survived. I had other priorities.”

Mr. Davidson seemed horrified at the suggestion that there were things more important than college.

“This is already way more entertaining than 50% of the others,” Rebecca said. “I didn’t think you’d be such a tease, Hoying.”

Scott didn’t answer. He just gulped and looked at Mitch. His palm felt sweaty against Mitch’s arm. “This is so weird,” he said then. He sounded a little out of breath.

Mitch gave him a reassuring smile, but quickly turned his attention to the stage. He didn’t want to miss a word of this.

“What priorities?” Mr. Davidson managed to ask.

“Oh, I don’t know,” future Scott said with a cheeky grin. “Some sources say I put together a team of superheroes.”

The other side of the curtain cheered loudly.

“They’re actually here, if you want to meet them,” future Scott added, gesturing towards the curtain.

“Oh my God,” Rebecca squealed and nudged Scott. “I knew it was some kind of a metaphore. Kirstie and the guys you were sitting with, that must be the team. Just watch.”

“Mr. Hoying, this might not be the best time to make jokes,” Mr. Davidson protested.

Future Scott laughed. “I’m not joking. They’re obviously not real superheroes, but some of them might be close. Come out, guys.”

Mitch could see from the corner of his eye that Kirstie was absolutely still, both her hands clenched into fists. Rebecca was leaning forward, one of her hands gripping Scott’s and the other Kirstie’s shoulder.

Future Kirstie was the first to come out on the stage, her face split into a wide grin. She had her hair pulled up into a messy ponytail and much like Scott, she was wearing a hoodie. Mitch had to smile when he saw her. She looked beautiful and there was confidence in her step that Mitch never saw in his friend before. It suited her.

There were two black guys that Mitch had never seen before, much like Rebecca said.

And then…

“That’s him!” Rebecca pointed vigorously at the last person that walked out on the stage. “That’s Scott’s boyfriend. He’s wearing a hoodie now, so you can’t see the tattoos on his arms, but just look at his hands!”

The guy had a slim frame and his black hoodie seemed almost too big for him. He seemed to be on the shorter side, especially compared to the other men on stage, but he was wearing what looked like black platform shoes. There were clear black marks on both his hands, but Mitch couldn’t really see the details.

Mitch finally raised his eyes to the man’s face and frowned. Maybe it was the haircut or some changes that the age did to the features, but it took Mitch a few seconds to figure out why he was struck with an overwhelming sense of familiarity.

“Rebecca,” Kirstie said in a strained voice, “that’s Mitch.”

Rebecca was completely silent for a few seconds and then burst out laughing.

Mitch turned to her, his head still spinning from the realization. “You fucking knew, didn’t you?” he hissed. “You knew it was me.”

Rebecca struggled to calm down and shook her head. “No, I didn’t, I swear,” she gasped out. “I didn’t see his face very clearly and everything else just threw me off. I mean...look at him.”

Mitch did. He supposed she was right. His future self wasn’t instantly recognizable. Much like future Scott and future Kirstie, this Mitch had an air of calm confidence around him. Like nothing could touch him. But it was difficult to point out what exactly made him less recognizable than his friends.

“Hi, Mr. Davidson,” future Mitch said, grinning.

Mr. Davidson stared at him as if he just formed out of thin air. “Hi?” he said, making it sound more like a question than a greeting. “Mr…?”

Future Mitch raised an eyebrow. “Grassi,” he said slowly. “Mitchell. You might remember me. I used to be your student.”

“Give the poor guy a break, dude,” one of the black men said. “You change your look more often than Kevin changes his socks.”

The other black man, Kevin apparently, made a sound of protest, but was grinning. “It would be more fun if you still had purple hair. Or the mustache. That was cool.”

“No hair was fun too,” future Scott quipped in.

Future Mitch rolled his eyes. “You only say that because you were the one to shave it.”

“You make it sound like I tied you up and gave you no choice.”

“Well, you didn’t do that... but it’s certainly an idea. I mean, don’t you dare mess with my hair. As for the rest though…” He gave future Scott a suggestive smile.

“Oh God, not again,” present Kirstie said, but when Mitch looked at her, he saw she was very clearly traing not to smile.

Mitch still didn’t have time to assess how exactly he felt about this information. Even if he didn’t believe Rebecca about them being cuddly behind the curtain, and even if it wasn’t for the teasing, he could now see from the body language of both future Mitch and future Scott that there was something between them.

They stood close to each other, leaning into each other’s space, though not directly touching. When they looked at each other, it was an open, direct gaze with no reservation, no fear or hesitation. They looked comfortable with each other in ways Mitch couldn’t quite grasp.

It was almost painful to witness, because all of a sudden Mitch wished he could have this. Right now. But this sort of connection needed years to form and rushing it would help no one. And they would eventually get there.

They would get there.

Mitch turned his head to look at Scott, who was still staring at the stage with an expression of awed astonishment. He must have felt Mitch’s look though, because he tensed, looked away from the couple on the stage and bit his lip. The hand that was still resting on Mitch’s forearm slipped away. When he finally looked at Mitch, his eyes were worried, almost fearful.

Part of Mitch wanted to take Scott’s hand and squeeze it to reassure him, but he couldn’t afford to get Scott’s hopes up as far as their current relationship was concerned. He knew himself enough to know that he wasn’t ready to commit to this sort of thing. And he didn’t think Scott was either. It was so, so tempting, but it would be too much too soon and if the way future Scott looked at future Mitch was his future, he wasn’t going to risk it.

So he smiled at Scott, trying to make it as light as possible. “Well, I guess I could do worse.”

Scott blinked and stared at Mitch for a moment, clearly surprised. And then, very slowly, his face melted into a relieved smile.

“I agree,” Rebecca said. “The beard looks a little scratchy, but otherwise, future Hoying looks like a catch. Though Mr. Davidson still seems worried about the lack of college degree.”

Mitch was not about to reveal to Rebecca that facial hair was the exact opposite of a problem for him. “I’m more concerned about the superhero thing, to be honest, because leotards came out of fashion a while ago.”

It was already quite obvious what this was about though. Five Tones or whatever the heck the name of the group was, was a band. His future self was in one band with Scott and Kirstie and right now it was about all Mitch needed to know to be happy.

“I promise that if you’re in my superhero group, you can wear anything you want,” Scott said. “Except for capes. Those are obviously forbidden for safety reasons.”

“Guys, shut up for a moment, would you?”Kirstie snapped. She looked rather annoyed, but her eyes were lit up and Mitch could see that he wasn’t the only one who was happy about this outcome.

“So, this is the main project,” future Scott was saying, gesturing to his friends. “We’re a band.”

“Oh!” Mr. Davidson looked relieved. It all made more sense now and he was on a firmer ground again. “I do remember the three of you were singing quite a lot. How long have you been in this band together?”

“About ten years,” future Kirstin replied. “It was Scott’s idea. He wanted to try and audition for this competition and he needed a band.”

“And obviously, there was no one better he could think of than Kirstie and I, so he called us,” future Mitch added, grinning up at future Scott.

Future Scott put a hand around his shoulders and pulled him closer. “I dare you to show me someone better than you two.”

“Beyoncé,” future Mitch said triumphantly.

Future Scott laughed. “Well, you should definitely be worried then, because when Beyoncé agrees to join the band, you and Kirstie are out.”

“I’m ok with that,” future Kirstie retorted, “because you would have to gather the courage to talk to her first and we all know that’s never gonna happen.”

Future Mitch snickered.

Future Scott gave him a betrayed look. “I talked to Rihanna for you. You’re supposed to be on my side on this one.”

Mitch felt dizzy. The banter was a little hard to follow, especially since they were talking more among themselves than speaking to the crowd, holding the microphones too low for their voices to be captured properly. He turned to look at Scott. “Did he just say you talked to Rihanna for me?”

“I thought I heard the same thing,” Scott said. “And in that case, the mystery of why you’re with me is explained. You’d probably date Jasper if he did that for you.” His tone was light and it was clear he was teasing, which meant Mitch’s earlier attempt at making this whole thing lighter worked.

Mitch laughed. “Well, you’d ditch me for Beyoncé, so we’re even.”

On the stage, Mr. Davidson was trying to get the situation back under his control. “Well, it’s certainly nice you and your friends were able to keep your group past high school...”

“Oh yeah, it’s so cute,” future Rebecca shouted sarcastically from behind the curtain. “It’s even cuter than Hoying’s little side projects, I’ll tell you that!”

“Miss Fischel,” Mr. Davidson said, “you already had a chance to share your opinions. Please allow your colleagues to do the same.”

Future Scott smiled. “It’s fine, she’s just trying to compensate for the fact that she cried like a baby when we saw each other back there.” He gestured towards the curtain.

“You’re an asshole,” future Rebecca repeated her earlier statement.

“To be fair,” present Rebecca said, her tone dry, “I probably did cry.”

Mr. Davidson gave the curtain one last frown and turned back to Scott. “I assume, Mr. Hoying, you and your band will give us a little concert, much like Mr. Aveyard did. And since Mr. Grassi and Miss Maldonado are already on the stage, it would be better if I interviewed them as well. Perhaps, your colleagues…” He trailed of, looking at the two black guys.

“Oh, yeah, sorry. This is Kevin and and this is Matt,” Scott said.

Kevin bowed slightly when Scott introduced him, while Matt gave a cheery wave.

“Yes, perhaps Kevin and Matt can get the instruments ready in the meantime,” Mr. Davidson finished.

Kevin gave a serious nod, but it looked suspiciously like he was trying very hard not to laugh. He turned around and walked back behind the curtain. Matt stayed where he was and folded his arms over his chest.

Mr. Davidson seemed to hesitate for a second, probably not knowing whether or not it was appropriate to say something, but he was still a teacher and his nature took over. “Mr.... Matt, won’t you help your colleague?”

“Yeah, dude!” Kevin yelled from behind the curtain, traces of suppressed laughter in his voice. “Won’t you help your poor old bandmate?”

Matt rolled his eyes, but disappeared behind the curtain.

Chapter Text

Mr. Davidson, satisfied that Matt listened to him, turned back to the trio on the stage.

“I’ll just warn you,” future Kirstie said before the teacher could open his mouth, “not to ask us about college. I don’t want you to be disappointed again.”

“Yes, I’m afraid we succumbed to Scott’s bad influence,” future Mitch added.

Future Scott snorted. “I remember how hard you were fighting it... For the five minutes before you said yes. You didn’t even give me a chance to try and persuade you. I had such good arguments too.” He grinned at future Mitch. “You know, if this were any indication of how you’d respond to my proposals in general, it would make things easier on me when I ask you to marry me.”

There was a series of gasps from the audience on both sides of the curtain, but future Mitch looked unfazed. This was obviously something they had discussed before.

“You’ll have to find out,” future Mitch retorted. “I’m not cutting you any slacks.”

“Oh,” present Scott let out so softly, Mitch almost missed it. Almost.

They both knew what it meant. If future Mitch were against Scott proposing, he would react differently. In fact, since the topic was obviously discussed before, future Scott would not dare to joke about it unless he was sure Mitch was ok with it.

This was only confirmed by the fact that future Scott seemed amused by the answer. “Well, I’m sure if worst comes to worst, I know a few tricks to make you succumb to my bad influence.”

“You realize your microphone is on, do you?” future Kirstie said loudly. “And this is the kind of information that every single person in this gym can do without.”

Future Scott laughed it off, but Mitch startled when his own future self looked directly at him with a question in his eyes. He was clearly making sure that Mitch was handling this situation.

Mitch gave him a tiny nod. He was more or less ok. After worrying about his future and not seeing his best friends after high school, he could take just about anything if it meant that his worries were unfounded. He didn’t even care if this band was picking crumbs after Jasper’s band, though knowing Scott, this was unlikely. He wouldn‘t settle for something like that if he had other options. Then again, Scott was reckless sometimes and if he bet everything on this card and it fell through, he might have stuck with it for the sake of Mitch and Kirstie.

But the way their future selves held themselves and the mischievous glint in Scott’s eyes when he was being intentionally vague about answering the questions told Mitch that they were doing just fine.

Mr. Davidson just made a feeble attempt at taking control by asking future Kirstie about her family situation. Future Kirstin informed him she had three dogs and before the teacher could further clarify the question, she launched into lengthy descriptions and stories about each of them.

“Floof?” Rebecca said dryly with a look at Kirstin after listening to future Kirstie for a while. “Really? You named your dog Floof?”

Scott immediately jumped to Kirstie’s defense. “Shut up, it’s adorable.”

Rebecca rolled her eyes even though she was clearly trying not to smile. “Of course you’d think so. You’re a sap.”

Mitch gave her a wide grin. “You love that name, just admit it. You only get this indignant over things that make you emotional.”

Rebecca frowned. “Shut up.”

“Or do I have to remind you about your twenty-minute rant about The Lion King?”

“You’re mean, Grassi.”

Rebecca’s words were almost drowned in a pretty loud beat that made them all jump in their seats and look to the stage. The drum set was nowhere to be seen, nor was Kevin and Matt.

“Sorry,” Kevin’s voice said.

Rebecca snorted. “Did they put it together behind the curtain or something? That’s not very smart.”

A deep bass tone cut into her words and before Rebecca could comment on that Matt and Kevin came out on the stage carrying nothing except two microphones each.

“Someone forgot to label them,” Kevin said and then handed one of the microphones to future Mitch, who put the one he was just holding back into the stand and took the new one, eyeing it suspiciously.

The rest of the band was busy putting their earpieces in place.

Mitch, Kirstin, Scott and Rebecca were watching the whole scene in confusion, as did Mr. Davidson who kept looking back to the curtain as if a bunch of musical instruments was about to walk out by itself. The younger version of the trio, however, was starting to have their suspicion.

“Don’t tell me we actually took it somewhere,” Kirstie murmured.

Mitch had to agree. This was either absolutely crazy or absolutely genius. Jasper taking a chance with his band was a risk, sure, but it was nothing against this. And it actually looked like it paid off.

What was he looking at here, exactly? At least ten years of working with his best friends? Sitting around and figuring out arrangements and challenging themselves with making them more complex, practicing harmonies and switching parts to see which one is best suited for the solo. He could practically see it. He could also see them cracking each other up, pranking each other and laughing too much to get any real work done. And he wanted all of that.

“If we did,” Scott said, “this must be the best news we could get out of this.”

“Not so fast,” Kirstie said, though she was smiling too. “This could still mean we’re starving artists.”

“Somehow, I doubt it,” Rebecca said dryly her eyes fixed on the stage.

Mr. Davidson was just asking about the drum set, which Mitch strongly suspected didn’t actually exist.

His suspicion was confirmed when Kevin raised his hand and said: “It’s right here.” He grinned at Matt and then gave a few beats until Matt joined him with rhythm bass.

“Hey, I know this!” Rebecca squealed. Even as she said it she didn’t look away from the stage, hypnotizing Matt and Kevin with disbelieving stare. “That’s Aaliyah. Oh my God, that beat is iconic.”

Mitch also recognized it, but before he could say anything out loud, future Scott started singing. “Well...that’s not Aaliyah.”

While the rhythm and the bass remained the same, future Scott was singing a completely different song.

“I screw up the lyrics sometimes, but I don’t screw up this much,” Scott said. “And this sounds…”

“Good,” Mitch finished for him. “Intentional...and really good.”

Future Mitch and Kirstie came in, harmonizing perfectly, until they mixed up with Scott during the chorus, Kirstie singing background and Mitch harmonizing with Scott.

It was clear that this was a mash-up of two song, one of them being Are You That Somebody by Aaliyah, which present Mitch was familiar with. The other song he didn’t know, but it was catchy and he could imagine it was one of those top 40 hits that got overplayed on the radio.

“Damn,” Rebecca sputtered when the chorus came up again. “You guys just literally sounded like bicycle bells or something.”

Just as she said it, future Kirstie, Scott and Mitch repeated the exact sound, each of them adding one “dm” so quickly and precisely that it almost sounded like a real bell.

Mitch couldn’t help but laugh. This was so far above the arrangements they were practicing in Scott’s room after school it was ridiculous. And he wasn’t even counting Kevin and Matt whose rhythm and bass added so much depth to the melody line it completely changed the final sound of the song.

He looked around to see how the other students reacted to the performance and his heart jumped in his chest. There were quite a few people who were staring at the stage, transfixed. The chess club, including his friend Sarah, were among them. Some of them were actually watching with their mouths hanging open. But most of the others were clearly just having fun, smiling and moving into the beat.

He saw one of the guys from Scott’s basketball team dancing around, laughing and showing thumbs up every time any of the band members looked in his direction. Future Scott noticed him too and communicated the lyrics to him when he was singing the last chorus as if he was giving him brotherly advice: “One: Don’t pick up the phone - you know he’s only calling ‘cause he’s drunk and alone. Two: Don’t let him in - you’ll have to kick him out again. Three: Don’t be his friend - you know you’re gonna wake up in his bed in the morning. And if you’re under him, you ain’t getting over him!

The guy laughed again, nodding into the beat and then shouted “eeey” as he pointed at future Scott.

The song peaked with the last chorus with future Mitch and Kirstie singing louder and with more energy. Future Mitch was moving his whole body into the beat as if it was controlling him, which was actually possible. Whenever there was music, Mitch always felt compelled to move into it, unable to stand still. Even now he realized his body was swaying, almost perfectly copying the movements of his future self on the stage.

I got new rules, I count ‘em,” sang future Scott. He was the last to be heard, his voice soaring out of the background music as his bandmates finished their parts and fell silent.

The applause that followed from both sides of the curtain stunned Mitch almost as much as the performance itself had. If people loved Jasper’s band, this threw them into frenzy.

The five people on the stage were just grinning, throwing in a few thank you’s. They looked as if this was daily occurrence for them even if it was clear they were still grateful for the positive response.

Mitch glanced at Kirstie and Scott and found them grinning. Scott looked like he was about to cry.

Rebecca was actually crying. When she caught Mitch’s eyes, she wiped the tears from her face and frowned. “Shut up.”

Mitch laughed. “I didn’t say anything.”

“You were about to,” Rebecca retorted and sniffled. Then she looked back to the stage and shook her head. “You guys are insane, you realize that, right?”

Mitch, Scott and Kirstie exchanged looks, beaming at each other.

“Don’t you girls dare start crying,” Kirstie said, even as her own eyes were filling with tears.

Only then Mitch realized that his eyes stung suspiciously. He blinked, trying to keep it together.

“I’m friends with rockstars!” Layla joined in the general excitement, jumping up and down in her seat.

Jasper was silent and Mitch didn’t blame him. He was probably busy struggling with his pride as it was now clear why future Jasper felt the need to make at least a small gesture of respect towards Mitch. The two of them would probably never see eye to eye, but it might be easier to handle Jasper now that Mitch wasn’t feeling threatened by him anymore. Well, unless it all comes back after they exit the time capsule, that is.

It was so easy to forget that all this progress could be lost in a few hours. Simon would keep his dirty little secret of spying on Scott, Scott would go back to caving to Mitch’s moods and Mitch’s skin would prickle at the mere sight of Jasper. Maybe, if they’re allowed to keep at least a gut feeling about what happened, some of this might be saved. Mitch prayed that would be the case.

“Well, I guess they didn’t hate it,” future Mitch said, earning a few laughs from the audience and another wave of cheering.

“I hate you, Grassi,” Rebecca said into Mitch’s ear.

He turned around and grinned at her. “I love you too, Fischel.”

She sniffled again, pouting. Then, without warning, she practically threw herself on him, hugging him tightly.

Mitch had to blink furiously to keep his tears at bay.

On the stage, the group was discussing something among themselves, keeping their microphones down, so no one would hear. Finally, they turned back to the audience.

“Do you guys like Daft Punk?” Kevin asked.

The cheering from the back of the curtain was so loud Mitch almost missed Dominic’s “you’ve got to be kidding me”.

The group on the stage only waited a moment for the cheers to calm down a little bit, before they all bowed their heads to get ready for the performance.

With no warning, future Mitch snapped his eyes up to fix the audience with a stare and started: “Buy it, use it, break it, fix it, trash it, change it, mail, upgrade it…

He was joined by Scott for the next line, then Matt and then Kirstie. Kevin was the last to come in with his beat and effects. And then they started mixing.

Mitch blinked as his future self started on One More Time while Scott and Kirstie made vocal swells that sounded like someone put them on a mixing board with Kevin and Matt strengthening the effect.

“No,” Dominic said flatly.

Mitch turned to look at him and saw his face slack with disbelief.

“No,” he repeated. “I don’t believe this. This is not real.”

The medley switched again to a song Mitch didn’t recognize. Probably one that wasn’t released yet. The audience was slowly starting to move to the rhythm and cheering as if they were waking up from a trance.

Before the medley ended with Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger, Mitch’s head was spinning. He was trying to listen to it from the musical standpoint, figure out what they were doing and how, but it was almost impossible to focus on it and disentangle the blend in his mind before the group moved onto the next thing, adding a new effect, mixing several songs together or Kevin changing the beat completely.

The arrangement was ridiculous, that much Mitch could tell. This was definitely a very different level from what they could do now and it made him excited. To know that one day, they would be able to sound like this, was amazing.

The applause after this was even louder than after the first song and went on until Matt waved his hands to ask for silence. It took a while since the people behind the curtain couldn’t see him and kept the cheering up for a little longer.

“I guess you guys would like to know,” Matt said then, looking directly at the young trio in the audience, “that this arrangement won you your first Grammy.”

Mitch stopped breathing.

“Did he say first Grammy?” he heard Rebecca repeat, but it was as if she was speaking from very far away.

He felt Scott’s hand on his and turned to look at his friend, who looked about as shocked as he was, but there was also concern in his eyes. “You ok?” Scott asked.

Mitch nodded, trying to focus on what Matt was saying.

Matt was grinning. “I mean, I can brag about it for you, ‘cause I wasn’t there for that. It was before...um, before the rabbi retired,” he said, clearly suppressing a laugh.

“First of how many?” Rebecca yelled next to Mitch’s ear so loudly, he almost had a heart attack. He glared at her, but immediately turned back to Matt to hear the answer.

“Five so far,” Matt said. “Well, I guess I shouldn’t brag about the last two ones. Those were for me too. Which, just for the record, I still can’t believe.”

“You never will,” future Scott assured him.

“I believe that.” Kirstie let out a breathy laugh and turned her head to rest her forehead against Scott’s shoulder. Then she reached her hand towards Mitch and dragged him in for a group hug.

Mitch let her and buried his nose into Scott’s shirt. He was laughing, still mostly in a state of shock. He took a deep breath to calm himself down and then pulled away just enough so he could look at his friends. He wanted to say something. Wanted to tell them the best thing about this was that they would share it together. Or how happy he was to have them. Or something equally as sappy. But he couldn’t talk. All he could do was beam at them and then join them when they started squealing.

Their group hug was joined by Rebecca, Layla and even Dominic. Mitch ended up pressed so high up against Scott that he could see over everyone’s heads, which is how he noticed Taylor, who looked as if she had bitten into something sour. He had to admit it added to his feeling of self-satisfaction a little bit, but he really did not want to think about Taylor right now, so he disentangled himself from the group hug, disheveled and still grinning.

The group on the stage was watching them, wide smiles on all their faces. Mitch saw future Scott kissing the top of his boyfriend’s head and then look down at him, as they exchanged a few quiet words.

“Ok, ok, ladies,” future Mitch said into the microphone and pulled away from future Scott, “let’s do the rest of the set list. I don’t wanna be up here forever.”

Future Kirstie, who was just talking to Kevin, raised an eyebrow at him. “Let me guess. Scott is hungry.”

Future Mitch gave her a shit eating grin. “Yeah, but I thought you didn’t want us to talk about that in front of you.”

She pretended to make a swipe at him, but then she rolled her eyes and looked at her younger self in the audience. “You know how they say there’s always a price for success? I’m pretty sure this is it. This is the price for me.” She pointed at future Scott and Mitch.

Kirstie didn’t look very bothered, but she nodded her head sympathetically. “I feel your pain.”

It took another few minutes before everyone settled down and the group on the stage prepared for another song, this time shifting, so future Mitch was in the middle. He closed his eyes and relaxed his shoulders before taking a breath. “Roof is fallin’, let me love without ever letting you know…

His voice ran up and down over the notes in a fast succession with no visible effort, as if this sort of vocal acrobatics was second nature to him.

“You’re shitting me, Grassi,” Rebecca mumbled.

Mitch ignored her, but he had to stop himself from grinning. He’s been working on his vocal control and it was good to know he would eventually reach this level of skill. From what he was hearing, especially his higher register was going to improve in ways he could barely imagine yet. He knew high tenor voices, just like most very high or very low registers, improved a lot with age, provided the singer practiced, obviously, so this wasn’t a huge surprise. Especially since everything pointed towards the fact that future Mitch would get a lot of practice. But it was still very encouraging to hear the result.

The song was very laid-back, the delivery almost lazy, but that only served to highlight how skilled this group was. Future Mitch had a solo on this one and everyone else stayed in the background, but didn’t do any less work.

Mitch suspected Kevin was a human computer. That guy had been keeping up the beat with absolute infallibility for three songs now and it didn’t seem he was about to stop or falter any time soon. And combined with Matt’s bass they provided depth to the sound that had been inevitably missing from the trio arrangements Mitch, Scott and Kirstie worked on after school.

The audience was completely silent. Most people Mitch could see looked hypnotized, some even subconsciously copying the way future Mitch was gently swaying into the beat, his head down, eyes closed as if he was completely lost in the music. It fitted the feel of the song perfectly and highlighted the lax vibe of the vocals.

But Mitch, knowing a thing or two about singing, knew that there was nothing lax about this performance. Everything was tight, perfectly timed and planned to the smallest detail. The trio on the stage was doing completely synchronized vocal swells that made it seem like they were reading each other’s minds and it all culminated in the final chorus where they were effortlessly switching parts word by word, overlaying each other to create an effect of a mixed record.

“Ok, now you’re just showing off,” Rebecca said, but she kept her voice down and didn’t take her eyes off the stage even for a second.

There was one final swell and one final line before the song ended and the crowd was cheering again. The guy from Scott’s basketball team Mitch saw dancing earlier looked so excited Mitch was worried he might run on the stage and hug the group or start throwing underwear. He snorted at the mental image.

Scott gave him a questioning look.

“Who’s that guy?” Mitch couldn’t resist asking. “I know he’s in the basketball team with you, but I don’t remember his name. He seems like a fan.”

Scott laughed. “Yeah, that’s Dewayne. That guy can’t hold a tone to save his life, but he loves music. He goes to like all choir performances and everything.”

To be fair, Mitch typically didn’t look at the audience too closely when he was performing. “Maybe he’s another one of your teammates to be crushing on you,” he said. He was teasing, but he was surprised how difficult it was to keep the jealous edge from his voice. This whole future couple thing was starting to mess with him way too much.

Thankfully, Scott didn’t notice anything and just shook his head. “He’s been cool with me being into guys from the beginning, but he’s straight. He just doesn’t care what people think, basically.”

Mitch didn’t know why he even tried to make a mental note that he’d have to meet the guy after this ended. It wasn’t like he had a chance of remembering that. But this guy sounded way too cool and Mitch was surprised he’d never crossed paths with him. Sure, he’d seen him around school, but that was about it.

“I’m kind of worried about him,” Kirstie said, joining the conversation. “If this gets any better, he might pass out.” She chuckled and shook her head when Dewayne grabbed one of his friends, who wasn’t up and cheering and shook him by the shoulders. To the guy’s defense, the audience had mostly stopped by now, waiting for another song.

“If this gets any better, I might have to kill you,” Rebecca retorted. “Because you being this good is already a health hazard and sacrificing you would save lives. I’d be a national hero.”

Dominic rolled his eyes. “Don’t you love it when she’s being a fangirl?”

Rebecca and Dominic started bickering again, so Mitch turned back to the stage.

“...but this is an original song,” future Scott was just saying. “We wanted to do at least one for this set.”

“You know,” Layla said breezily, “just in case you weren’t awesome enough.” She caught Mitch’s eyes and grinned.

Mitch smiled back. He and Scott already tried their hand in songwriting a few times and he was really proud of a lot of what they wrote, both together and individually, so he could already tell this would be good. He didn’t know if someone from the group wrote this one or someone else wrote it for them, but he trusted himself and he trusted Scott and Kirstie’s taste and their sense of what the audience would like.

He was not wrong.

The song opened with future Mitch imitating the sound of an electric guitar with nasal “pow, pow, pow” making the audience laugh and cheer at the same time.

Future Scott started singing, looking at future Mitch: “Tell me, am I going crazy?

Uh-huh,” future Mitch responded.

Tell me, have I lost my mind?” future Scott went on.

Future Mitch tilted his head and smiled sweetly. “Yeah.

The audience was clearly having fun. A lot of them started clapping to the beat and even dancing. Dewayne was doing both with a wide grin on his face, showing off his white teeth to the entire gym.

The song wasn’t really fast or heavy on the beat. It was pretty laid back, but clearly a song that just made people move into it.

Future Mitch took over for the chorus, smiling as he sang: “Give me that can’t sleep love. I want that can’t sleep love. The one I dream about all day, the one that keeps me up all night. Give me that can’t sleep love.

“This is a groove!” Dominic yelled when the chorus came on. He was grinning, his torso was moving from side to side and he was bumping into Rebecca, who was trying to protest, but she was clearly enjoying herself too.

During the second verse some people in the audience, including Rebecca, Dominic and Layla joined future Mitch on the “uh-huh” and “yeah” and kept it up even when the song itself didn’t. No one cared.

“This is fucking catchy. I’m gonna be able to get it out of my head for days,” Rebecca complained, but when the last chorus came on, she was the one who joined in for every “can’t sleep love” the loudest.

Ten future Mitch started rapping, which sent most people into frenzy. Rebecca gasped and started hitting Mitch’s shoulder repeatedly.

„Hey! Why are you doing that,“ Mitch whined and shoved her hand off.

She didn’t seem to notice. She was staring at the stage, her mouth half split into a disbelieving smile and half hanging open.

Kirstie and Scott next to him were grinning, clearly proud of him and Mitch had to look away before he teared up again.

The song ended with future Mitch, giving the audience a cheeky grin and one last “yeah”, which was echoed by Dewayne, who managed to yell: “Fuck yeah!” right before the crowd started cheering.

Scott jumped up and started cheering too, before abruptly stopping. He sat back down with a sheepish grin. “I kinda forgot it’s us for a moment.”

“So?” Rebecca said and waved her hand dismissively. “That was sick and you absolutely should applaud yourselves.”

Scott just laughed and shook his head. Instead of clapping, his hands went to Kirstie’s and Mitch’s hand again, squeezing them tightly.

Mitch squeezed back so hard his knuckles whitened. That was the only thing he could do. Otherwise, he was frozen in his seat, while his entire being wanted to run around and laugh and sing. He was overflowing with emotion.

He chanced a look at Kirstie and his heart skipped a beat. She was holding onto Scott’s hand for dear life and her cheeks were drenched in tears, but her eyes were lit up and she was smiling.

His eyes slid to the students around them. Most were still staring at the stage, but some were turning to look at them as well, probably wanting to see their reactions. This much attention made Mitch a little uneasy. He was used to it when he was performing, but that felt different. This was too personal. They just saw what he’s gonna become in about ten years, they knew he was with Scott and now they were staring at him and their intertwined fingers and they were probably all jumping at conclusions…

“Mitchy?”

He flinched, his hand jerking out of Scott’s grasp. He immediately regretted it, worried Scott would be hurt by it, but his friend didn’t even seem to notice.

“Mitchy, do you hear me?”

Mitch nodded, confused. Scott looked concerned and both his hands were now grasping Mitch’s shoulders. The fog around Mitch’s thoughts lifted and he took a deep breath as the panic that was starting to seize him reluctantly slipped away.

He looked at the audience. No one was staring. The few people that turned to them were looking at the stage again. The only exception was a guy who was sitting directly in front of Mitch. He also looked a little concerned.

“Is everything alright? I could call the nurse, if you want.”

“I’m fine,” Mitch snapped. The guy should seriously mind his own business. Mitch didn’t even know him that well.  He knew his name was Ben Wilson and that he sat with Kirstie in Biology, but he never spoke to Mitch when he stopped by to talk to Kirstin, so Mitch never paid much attention to him. He was used to people ignoring him.

Why the guy thought this was the moment to start talking to Mitch, was baffling.

The senior blinked as if Mitch’s tone surprised him and looked down for a moment. It seemed as if he had to force himself to look up and speak again. “Ok,” he said then, his voice calm and steady. “That’s good. I didn’t mean to intrude.”

He looked genuine as he said this, not a trace of sarcasm or any hard feelings.

Mitch immediately felt guilty, but he couldn’t think of anything to say except: “Right.” He turned his eyes back to the stage to distract himself.

He still heard Kirstie thanking Ben on Mitch’s behalf. He also heard Rebecca saying something about divas. Scott snapped at her and put a protective arm around Mitch’s shoulders.

Mitch was focusing on his breathing and on the warmth of Scott’s body against his. He closed his eyes and leaned into Scott, trying to push everything else out of his mind, pretending they were sitting in Scott’s house and watching TV, talking quietly about whatever comes to their mind or humming a tune to each other when they remember a cool song they heard recently...

Hello darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again…” The soothing, melodic bass that brought Mitch back to reality had a familiar color to it, but Mitch didn’t quite register that until he opened his eyes and looked at the stage.

It was Scott’s voice.

Mitch immediately straightened in his seat, his mind completely alert now. He knew Scott could do some bass notes, but it wasn’t that long ago since his voice changed and Scott was still very unsure of himself in his lower register.

Future Scott seemed to have no trouble using it to its full potential. Not to mention he held the note on a consonant with no apparent trouble.

“Well, fuck me,” Rebecca breathed out.

Scott snorted. “I’d rather not.”

The group on the stage transitioned into another verse by a few perfectly timed tums and distracted Rebecca from further demands.

“Very acappella of you,” Dominic said appreciatively.

Rebecca laughed. “I’m starting to think you have some kind of special chips in your brains, because your timing is inhuman.”

“Shhh!” Layla glared at them before turning back to the stage.

Most students were absolutely quiet, eyes glued to the band and Mitch couldn’t help but feel a swell of pride. His future self was singing now and no one dared to make a sound as his voice slided over the notes, pausing a little bit on the Ls in “flash” and “split” to propel himself over the vowels and depict the movement the words suggested.

The arrangement seemed to turn more to the classic choir roots of acappella. It wasn’t just the background harmonies which were absolutely flawless, soaring into the air and filling the gym to the furthest corner. Mitch also noticed that his future counterpart chose to place his vowels in a more classical way, lowering his jaw a little bit to let out a fuller sound.

It was even more prominent when Matt took over the next verse. The song was gaining track, allowing Matt to belt his part.

It took Mitch a second to realize he was still hearing bass and even longer to figure out it was future Scott again.

“Smooth,” Rebecca said when Matt momentarily switched the lead with future Mitch on the highest part, then came back and did an octave drop, finishing his verse on a bass note.

The transition part changed the key of the song, so future Kirstie could take over and she was not taking prisoners. Mitch couldn’t help but grin when her voice filled the room. She sounded epic and she owned her part in a way Mitch had never heard Kirstie do it before.

Future Kirstin brought it a bit down only to hand the song over to Scott, who all but screamed out the first two lines of the last verse. Kevin on the side was going insane with the beatboxing, him and Matt even stomping their feet on the wooden floor of the stage so hard Mitch could see the microphone stands shaking. The future trio belted most of the last verse only to slide back into a measured five-part harmony to end the song.

There was about five seconds of perfect silence before the gym erupted in applause, people raising to their feet all around Mitch. He could see Sarah jumping up and down, Ben in front of him had his arms up as he clapped and Dewayne was bowing to the band.

The group was grinning and thanking the crowd and Kevin was jokingly shaking out his foot. Future Scott spread both his arms and pulled both future Mitch and Kirstie into a hug. It was heartwarming to see that even after all these years they still clearly loved each other and their friendship was solid.

Present Scott copied his future self’s move and hugged his friends and Mitch melted into it, reaching one of his hands to Kirstie. For once his mind was calm. He wasn’t stressing over what future held, because no matter what it was, he would have Scott and Kirstie by his side. The girl that was his rock and could always cheer him up and the guy he shared his deepest secrets with and that he trusted with all his heart.

The band said their goodbyes, laughing when the crowd protested.

“Don’t worry. It’s not like you won’t hear from us in the future,” future Scott said with one last wave as he followed future Mitch off the stage, his hand casually resting on the small of his boyfriend’s back.

Rebecca cleared her throat. “Allow me to take this opportunity and invite myself to your  future wedding.”

“Feel free,” Scott retorted. “You invite us to yours and Dominic’s and we have a deal.”

Dominic almost choked on the orange juice he was just drinking. Rebecca gave Scott a scandalized look. She glanced at Dominic, who had juice coming out of his nose, and then back at Scott. “Are you serious?”

Scott leveled her with a stare. “Deadly.”

Mitch had to smile. So Scott suspected that Rebecca and Dominic would end up together too. He honestly hoped that future Dominic would confirm this, if for nothing else, then so he could see Rebecca’s face.

Scott and Rebecca kept teasing each other about their future partners while Dominic was blowing his nose, decidedly ignoring the whole conversation. Jasper was still silent, staring at the stage with a faraway look. One of Dewayne’s friends was talking to Mr. Davidson now, but Mitch didn’t think Jasper heard a word of what they were saying.

Mitch turned to Kirstie when she laid her hand on his. His first thought was that maybe she would want to talk about what just happened. That they would shed some tears over the awesome future they would have and say some really sappy stuff to each other.

Instead, Kirstie held up a package to him. “You want a cookie?”

He stared at her for a second, confused, as his mind was trying to understand the difference between his expectations and reality. Then he laughed at the sheer absurdity of her question in the face of everything they just witnessed.

She gave him a cheeky grin, but didn’t say anything, just held the package a bit higher.

Still laughing, he took a cookie. Then he watched as she took another one and shoved it straight into Scott’s mouth just as he was trying to give Rebecca some sort of a comeback. Scott sputtered, spraying everyone around him with crumbs, and gave Kirstie a betrayed look.

Mitch shook his head over them and took a bite of his cookie.

He guessed there was nothing more to say about what they’d seen anyway. He would lie if he said he didn’t care about the fact that they would win several Grammys for example. And he was sure there was a lot the group didn’t mention. The confidence and presence with which they took the stage suggested they were more than used to performing for large audiences. God knows what else they achieved.

But in the end, he didn’t need to know all the details. All he needed was what he just saw.

Future could just go ahead and come for him. For once in his life, he was ready.