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I'll Be Something Better Yet

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AUGUST

EVAN

 

“Hi you’ve reached Heidi Hansen. I’m not able to take your call, but please leave me a brief message, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Have a good day.”

Evan didn’t know what he had expected. She was at work. He knew that. She had work to do, she wasn’t looking at her phone, of course she wasn’t, she had old people to take care of meds to hand out and butts to wipe and Erica to deal with, she was busy, she had work she had work she had work. 

It was probably good. Better, honestly. If she picked up he might not do it. 

The tree was gorgeous. Perfect for climbing. Strong, steady branches reaching skyward, with layers upon layers of lush green leaves all soaking up the sun. 

Sunbathing really. 

He started to climb. Evan loved climbing trees. Or he used to love it. 

Like he was doing it now and there was none of the joy that it used to bring. He didn’t feel a rush as he realized he was ten, fifteen, twenty feet up. He used to love this. He used to love stuff. Climbing trees? It used to make him laugh, make him pleased, proud even. He could do this and not a lot of other people could. He had been doing it since he was small, he had been doing since his mom used to shout at him not to climb too high at the park near his house. 

Evan had never climbed this high before. 

It was sort of dizzying, sort of unreal, looking down over his ranger boots to see how far away the ground really was. How small it all looked from up here. You could practically see the whole park, all the way out to the interstate… He could hear the quiet sound of leaves rustling in the breeze, Evan could feel the warmth of the sun shining on his face. He was covered in freckles these days from so much time outside. When he was little, his mom said they made constellations on his skin, that they came from stardust. 

She wasn’t totally lying. The sun was a star, after all. 

Evan thought he might miss her. If there was a him after all of this. Judaism didn’t really have a consensus on the afterlife. Notoriously ambiguous interpretations. 

There was also the possibility that Judaism was wrong. 

Not that Evan cared, but for his mom’s sake he’d sort of prefer if it was right. He thought it might help. Might help her. 

Evan stared out at the park, taking in the symphony of trees swaying in the wind, birds chirping, of squirrels chasing each other across the treetops, of the babble of the small creek that floated in and out in the gaps between other sounds, soft and melodic and nice. 

It was peaceful here. 

As good a place as any to die. 

Evan climbed one branch higher. 

Looked around, took in the view. He looked up and all he could see was sky, beautiful, robin’s egg blue sky. Evan was seventeen. The sky was blue, the sun shining. He had climbed, higher and higher, until the entire sun shone on his face. 

He let go. 

 

 

He’d let go.

He’d fallen.

And then he opened his eyes. Disoriented. On the ground.

Alive.

He’d fallen, he’d fallen he’d fell.

His left arm felt numb. 

Evan rolled onto his side, spitting. There were pine needles stuck to his lips and his spit was thick, phlegmy, like he had been screaming and he realized he had been screaming. His face felt itchy, wet, and he spat again to get the fucking pine needles out of his mouth. So so many pine needles, in his mouth, his throat. 

Evan was seventeen. 

Evan rolled onto his back, waiting. Somebody was coming, somebody must have seen, any second now… 

He looked, his head spinning and strange, at his arm, his numb left arm, and saw it wasn’t sitting right. It looked misshapen, just a little. He must have tried to catch himself, break his fall in his panic.

He must have broken his arm.

He couldn’t even fucking die right. 

Somebody must have heard, must have seen him crashing through the forest. He should stay still, he’d had a fall, he should stay put because otherwise he might fuck up his neck or his spine or something, be a vegetable or a quadriplegic or something.

He stayed still. The breeze rustled the leaves of the trees. He stayed still, listening to the babble of the creek not far from here, to the way that leaves scattered in the wake of rushing chipmunks and squirrels. Someone was coming, someone had to come, he was seventeen, he was a kid, people worried about kids, people noticed them. 

Nobody came. 

Nobody came and nobody was going to come.

People didn’t notice him. People never noticed Evan. Nobody would notice or care if he went off by himself, disappeared for hours. That was the whole fucking point, that’s why he wanted to do it here…

He was seventeen. Nobody was looking for him.

Nobody was going to come. 

Evan had to get up. He had to get up. 

He didn’t want to. He wanted to just stay here forever, stay here where nobody could see this mess he had made. The mess that he was, broken in so many ways, splintered and fractured. Nobody got to see that.

But he had to get up. 

He very carefully got to his feet. 

Evan’s arm hung awkwardly, numbly at his side. His elbow was bleeding. His knees stung, because he had scraped them in his landing. He felt dizzy. He felt nauseated. He’d fallen at least forty feet.

Nobody came.

Nobody, nobody came.

Evan slowly and carefully made his way back to the marked trail. His eyes adjusted to the darkness of the tree cover and he shuffled and limped a little on his way back to the ranger station, his eyes scanning the trail for somebody who could help. 

Nobody. 

Dead day in the park. Not a lot of traffic. 

Evan pulled open the creaky screen door of the ranger station, stepped into the musty cabin smell of it and walked to his boss’s office in the back. Mr. Johnson didn’t even look up when he walked in, he didn’t notice. Evan had to knock on his door with his good hand.

“What the hell happened?” Mr. Johnson was the head of the environmental education program. It said so on the plaque by his door. He had a thick mustache, and everybody in the park knew that he didn’t really like teenagers. He got up from behind his desk, hurrying over to Evan, his face looking more angry than concerned, his eyes narrowed and scanning, taking in all of Evan, taking in his disaster, his fracture, his brokenness.

“Uh.” Evan blinked. He… he realized he didn’t know what the hell had happened. He didn’t know what was wrong with him, he didn’t know why it hadn’t worked, he didn’t know how he had survived and gotten up and walked, he didn’t know anything he just walked here, he’d walked, because otherwise he would have stayed put forever.

“Kid, what happened?” His boss repeated. 

“I fell out of a tree,” Evan mumbled, his head down. 

“Aren’t you supposed to be patrolling the south trails? You’re not supposed to be climbing trees on your shift, we talked about this in orientation we -”

Evan didn’t hear the rest, he just kept his head down. He felt like crying but he couldn’t let himself do that, not here, not now, not in front of Mr. Fucking Johnson who all of the other apprentice park rangers made fun of for his mustache and his bad attitude and the fact that he kept confusing facebook with myspace and calling it “facespace,” unironically. 

“Shit, look at your arm.”

Evan didn’t want to look at it, but some of the numbness was ebbing away, replaced by a throbbing, sickening pain. He didn’t want to look, to see it hanging there, wrong, from his shoulder.

“Okay, that’s definitely broken, we’re gonna have to get you to the hospital.”

Evan nodded. 

“Call your mom, kid, fuck -” Mr. Johnson seemed to realize he was swearing in front of a kid and stopped himself and Evan thought that was strange because he was fucking seventeen and he said fuck all of the fucking time, but now was not the time. He accepted an ice pack from Mr. Johnson and sat down in one of the hard backed plastic chairs, the color of pea soup, and fished his phone out of his shorts’ pocket. He flipped it open, calling his mom’s number. While the phone ran, Evan watched a small river of blood as it traveled down his knee to his sock, staining the cuff. 

“Hi you’ve reached Heidi Hansen. I’m not able to take your call, but please leave me a brief message, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Have a good day.”

“Hi… uh. Mom. Can you call me back please?” Evan said, his voice sounding weirdly light and casual to his own ears. He hung up. He wasn’t really here he hadn’t actually done this, this wasn’t real it wasn’t real it wasn’t real it wasn’t real it wasn’t real it wasn’t.

“Come on, kid,” Mr. Johnson said, and then he did this weird sort of dad-like thing where he put his hand on the back of Evan’s neck and sort of guided him toward his jeep and then opened the door for him. Or at least it seemed dad-like. Evan’s dad fucked off when he was seven, so he couldn’t be sure about dad behaviors. “You got the seatbelt okay or…?”

“I got it,” Evan said, pulling the seatbelt across himself. He looked down at his broken arm and watched a fat drop of blood drip onto the armrest and shit, he was being so fucking rude, he was bleeding all over Mr. Johnson’s car no wonder he didn’t like teenagers no wonder he didn’t like Evan, Evan didn’t like fucking Evan. 

It was ten minutes to the hospital. Mr. Johnson played the oldies station and asked questions, like if Evan had hit his head or if he thought he was going to puke. 

“No. I’m fine. Thanks.” 

In the ER, Mr. Johnson checked Evan in and then without asking, took the clipboard and said, “Here, let me have your phone. I’ll call your mom again.”

Evan watched as Mr. Johnson left a message for his mom and thought that, well, he was right handed. He could have filled out the paperwork while he did that. 

Mr. Johnson came back and then very awkwardly asked Evan how he spelled his last name and Evan realized if he weren’t wearing a nametag, he might have had to ask what Evan’s name altogether. That he was that forgettable, that unnoticed. His own boss didn’t know his name. That was how little he mattered. 

Evan closed his eyes. Opened them. He wanted to wake up now. This was a bad dream and he wanted to wake up. He wanted to wake up. 

He couldn’t because it was real this was all real. 

“You uh. You ought to be all set with the front desk. It won’t be too long.”

Evan nodded.

When the nurse called him back, Mr. Johnson apologetically said he needed to get back to the park. “Sorry, kid, but you’re over sixteen so…”

“It’s fine.”

“I just. I gotta get back to the park.”

“It’s okay. Thank you, uh. Thanks. For the ride.”

“Feel better, kid.”

Not terribly likely. 

He got up to walk himself back to the exam room, led by a nurse. “Evan, right?” Evan nodded because yep, apparently, that’s who he was. He had a nametag and everything. “Looks like you had a pretty nasty fall. Want to head into that exam room for me? I’ll get you all checked out.”

Evan did as he was told. 

He needed stitches in his elbow. 

She could tell by looking at him that his arm was broken. 

She gave Evan some Tylenol and a little cup of water to take it with and smiled at him and he felt so fucking small and stupid and couldn’t believe this poor, nice nurse was stuck dealing with him.

“Let me give your mom another try,” She said, gently tugging his phone free of his hand. 

“She works a lot,” Evan tried to explain, his voice all broken and weird, like an out of tune radio. “She’s busy… it’s not. She’s just busy.” He wasn’t sure who he was trying to convince, himself or Shelly the nice nurse in green scrubs. 

“I know sweetheart, but she’d want to know what happened. I’d want to know if I were her.”

Evan had never felt so lonely as when he was sitting there on that exam table, hearing a nurse try and fail to contact his mother. Hearing her cheery voice leaving a message for his mom, knowing his mom wouldn’t see it, wouldn’t hear it for ages. Evan was kind of crushed by the loneliness of it all. 

He wished that he had someone, anyone to wait here with him. 

Shelly came back, a sort of sad frown on her face, and said, “I’m really sorry, your mom’s not answering. Is there another number? Or someone else we could try? Your dad maybe?”

“My dad’s… he lives in Colorado,” Evan said softly, looking down. “You… There’s nobody else. I…”

“That’s alright, sweetheart, we’ll keep trying her, okay?” Shelly said, patting his shoulder that wasn’t attached to his broken arm. “In the meantime, we’re gonna take you to get an X-ray, and we’ll stitch that cut on your arm up. Sound good?”

Evan nodded. 

What choice did he have?

In his imaginary world, there was someone here with him. Someone cracking stupid jokes, someone who’d bug the nurse for more Tylenol or an ice pack. Someone who would hand over a tangled pair of earbuds, give Evan something he could distract himself with. 

He didn’t know why he bothered doing this. Imaginary friends were supposed to be a thing you outgrew. 

He was just waiting by himself in a hospital. 

It took forever. 

There was a long line for the X-ray. And then someone struggled to breathe two beds over, so the doctors all got called away. It took a while before he got stitched up and then they gave him some fucking exam room with a clown for a doctor who treated Evan like he was fucking seven, not seventeen. 

“Hey there, Evan!” said Dr. Whoever, this huge dopey clownish smile on his face. Evan half expected him to pull out a flower that shot water or a bicycle horn. “How you doing?”

“I broke my arm?” Evan said, confused. He was bad, obviously. He was doing badly. “So… that’s. My arm’s broken? It like, hurts?”

“Yeah, I see that,” he said, looking at the X-ray. “Ooh boy, yeah, that’s a pretty nasty break.” He pointed to the fracture on the image. A diagonal slice between the two bones. A gap where one didn’t belong, the edges of his bones misaligned and wrong. “You see, your radius and your ulna both snapped right here.” He pointed again, with vigor, with enthusiasm. “You probably opened your hand to try to catch yourself, right? So that’s why the stress ended up here.”

“Right.”

“So we’ll need to set this in plaster. You’ll be in a cast few a bit, probably six to eight weeks.”

Six to eight weeks. 

Evan couldn’t imagine living another six to eight weeks. He couldn’t think that far ahead, he couldn’t think. 

He expected to be manic but he was calm. Too calm. Serial killer calm about having ruined his whole fucking life. 

“Right.”

“So what’s your favorite color?” Dr. Clown asked, still smiling. “You’re going to be seeing a lot of it, we’ve got all the good ones, red, blue, yellow, pink, purple -”

“Will you shut up?” Evan snapped, laughing bitterly. “Just. Stop. Please. It’s fucking embarrassing. I broke my arm. I don’t give a shit what color the cast is, okay? Just wrap it up so I can go fucking home -”

“Sweetheart?” His mom was standing in the doorway, her face all pinched and worried… guilty. She looked guilty. “Shit, Evan what did you do to yourself?”

Evan closed his mouth. He said nothing. 

His mom came over to him, her hands hovering over him, like she wanted to touch him but was terrified to hurt him more. “Baby I’m so sorry I didn’t answer, I wasn’t looking at my phone I…” She looked between Evan and then the doctor. “What happened?”

“I fell. At work. Out of a tree,” Evan said. 

“Pretty bad break in his arm,” the clown doctor explained. “So we’re gonna get him set up in a cast. In six to eight weeks, we’ll get him out and he’ll be good as new.”

“Okay,” His mom said, her face still tight. “Does it hurt, Evan? How did you fall?”

He shrugged, his eyes down. He handed his arm over to the doctor who made quick work of setting his arm in plaster. Dr. Clownface gave him a whole informational sheet about how to keep his cast clean, how he’d need to keep it wrapped when he showered, how to manage the pain with ibuprofen and ice. His mom nodded and took notes on a scrap sheet of paper and Evan stared at the stain of dried blood on his sock, this stupid brownish-red spotch dried to his skin and how fucking stupid was it, really, that bodies bled like that. The blood streaked down from his knee, a little red trail that had dried and hadn’t been cleaned up, catching some of the hairs on his leg and the knee of his stupid uniform shorts had a smear of dirt at the hem and was he even going to be able to work now that he’d busted his arm?

His mom was really quiet on the way home. 

Really quiet. 

So quiet he kept catching himself trying to fill the silence, only to stop and remember he was angry at her.

“Evan… I am so sorry,” She started when they pulled up CVS so she could pick up the medication he was being given to manage pain. “It was just really busy at work… Shit. Shit, I’m so sorry.”

“It’s alright,” Evan said, not looking at her. 

“You… So you just fell at work?”

Evan nodded. 

“But… what were you even doing in a tree at work?”

“It was stupid,” Evan said. “I was… It was stupid. I shouldn’t have been up there.”

His mom pressed her lips together. “How’d you get to the hospital?”

“My boss, Mr. Johnson. He drove me.” He ran his finger around the edge of his new white cast. It hurt. He shouldn’t fucking do that. 

“I should have picked up,” his mom went on, her voice gentle. Soft. She looked like she might cry and he would be sick if she cried, he would lose it totally if she cried.  “I… shit, sweetheart. I’m really sorry. That was probably really scary.”

“It’s okay,” Evan lied, not looking at her. 

But it wasn’t okay. 

Because he had to tell some nurse about how his dad wasn’t around, because his boss drove him to the hospital and filled out his paperwork, because he was embarrassed and hurting and she wasn’t there she was never fucking there when he needed her. 

But he couldn’t tell her that. He shifted in his seat, uncomfortable. His arm twinged in his new cast. His knees stung. His face felt dirty and gritty and he’d been crying, earlier, somewhere over the course of the day he had cried but nobody even noticed. “The nurse was really nice? It was okay.” He picked at the hem of his work shirt, untucked now. “That doctor was… I was rude to him.”

His mom said nothing. 

“He asked me what my favorite color was?” Evan went on, shaking his head. “It was stupid but I just got mad… I shouldn’t have been rude to him. It wasn’t his fault.”

“It’s alright baby. You had a rough day.” She leaned over the center console, pressed a kiss to his dirty cheek. “Want to go inside with me? I’ll grab us some ice cream, how’s that sound?”

It was pretty fucking bad if she was offering to get him ice cream. Normally she got on him about avoiding dairy because he was lactose intolerant. 

“Okay.”

He followed her into the store. Wished he was smaller, so he looked less… stupid, following his mommy around the pharmacy with this bulky, white cast on his arm and skinned knees and blood on his sock. He wished he was smaller because then maybe he could have fixed whatever was wrong with him forever ago. 

When he got home he washed the blood off of his leg. Threw his sock in the trash. Splashed cold water on his face, one handedly, and caught a look at himself in the mirror. 

Evan was seventeen.

He had a scratch on the side of his face. Freckles all over his nose and cheeks. Big, dull eyes. A broken arm. 

A broken fucking arm. 

He couldn’t even die right. 

He changed out of his work clothes very carefully. With his shirt off he saw there were other marks on him, bruises on his shoulder and chest, scrapes on his arms and hands and feet. 

Nobody found him. 

Nobody was even looking. 

If he hadn’t been able to get up, how long would it have taken… How long would he had been out there? If he had died, how long until someone found his body? He’d failed, he had totally failed, one more thing he couldn’t even fucking do. He had no friends, no people, no family other than his overworked and overstressed mom, he had nothing to show for seventeen years of existing. He was nothing but a compound fracture and a collection of failures.

Evan pressed a hand to his mouth and let himself have a thirty second break down. He cried. He hated crying. He hated how it made his throat all thick with snot, how it made him shake, how the act was so nonsensical and stupid and it didn’t accomplish anything and he didn’t want his mom to know, he couldn’t let her hear him so he pressed his good hand to his mouth harder and told himself to stop it. He wiped his face. 

Stop it. 

He blinked a few more times, took a shuddery breath.

Stop it. 

Evan pulled on pajamas gently, as if clean clothes could tuck away the hurt and the broken parts of him. He went back downstairs, heard his mom calling her work and explaining she was going to be out tomorrow, a personal day, her son had broken his arm and she wanted to stay with him and help him adjust. 

He wanted to tell her to just go to work. 

Evan kept his mouth shut. He let himself need her, even though he shouldn’t. 

“Mom?” He said. 

“Yeah?” She turned to look at him. 

“I’m… I’m really sorry,” Evan said to her, his eyes down. 

“Sweetheart this… this isn’t something you need to be sorry for, alright? It’s okay. I’m glad that you’re safe. I’m glad it wasn’t worse. It could have been so much worse, baby, so I’m glad that you’re going to be fine.”

“Okay.”

He let his mom baby him a little bit that night, and he knew that was stupid, but he did it anyway. She put on Spider-man, the first one, the one with Tobey McGuire, and they ate ice cream out of the container and she ordered them pizza for dinner and sat next to him on the couch all night. He was too old for it, but he let his mom wrap her arm around his shoulders, let himself rest his head against her, let her hold on for a little bit before he pulled away. So he didn’t start crying or hyperventilating. So he didn’t spit out the truth, why he was in that tree, why he had fallen in the first place. He let her hold onto him and wished things were different, before he went up to his room, and stared down at his cast. 

The cast was the worst part, Evan thought. 

He was wearing the proof of his failure right there, on his arm.

A failure is a failure is a failure.

“You’ll probably have the cast when you start school,” His mom said after a while, when she went into his room to say goodnight. 

“Oh. Yeah. I guess?”

“Maybe you can get some of the other kids to sign your cast.”

“Yeah. Maybe.”

Chapter Text

September

EVAN

This was a bad dream and he couldn’t wake up. Jared thought it was hilarious, the absolute height of comedy, that Connor Murphy had taken his “weird sex letter” and was probably going to ruin his life with it. Why had he fucking told Jared?

He kept reliving it, kept seeing it again, hearing it again. 

Connor Murphy with his big boots and his oversized jacket and his thin face, thin smile, noticing him. 

“You fell out of a tree? That is just the saddest fucking thing I’ve ever heard. Oh my god.”

Why the fuck would he print it at school? Why on earth would that be the best move? Any other self respecting loser whose mom made them see a therapist who told them to write letters to themselves would be smart enough to email the damn thing rather than physically print it on literal paper in a public computer lab. 

God, he had been so…

“No one’s signed your cast.”

Evan kept hoping he’d open his eyes and wake up, wake up, wake up from this nightmare of a fucking scenario but it was real, it was undeniably real and it wasn’t going anywhere. There were no do overs. This wasn’t a video game. He didn’t have another guy he could send in and try it again. 

He couldn’t stop thinking about how this kid, how Connor, had been, like, almost nice at first? When he came in he had been almost nice to Evan. He asked about his arm. Nobody else asked. It felt so weird to have someone acknowledge it, acknowledge him, to have someone notice that he was walking around with this big blank slate of a cast. He’d tried, that morning, with Alana and then Jared and then botched asking Zoe Murphy because, really, she’d only talked to him to apologize because of her brother acting like a psycho… but he hadn’t asked any of them to sign it. 

But he offered to sign Evan’s cast, and he felt that. Like a pressure valve had been released inside of him. Sort an “oh.” Because, well, okay, Connor Murphy had in fact shoved Evan in the hall this morning even though it was their first interaction since, like, ninth grade, but the school shooter thing Jared said was way out of line and Evan understood why Connor would be pissed because he was sort of pissed, really, because Jared spent too much time online and not enough interacting with people whose feelings he might hurt and had the emotional intelligence of a wet sock. But Connor had noticed, had seen that his cast was blank and lonely and Evan wasn’t used to being noticed, he wasn’t used to being seen and it felt like something. He felt it. 

And then Connor offered to sign Evan’s cast and Evan barely cared that it sort of hurt to have Connor grab his arm like he had, he moved so fast to respond, he knew he gave away how desperate he was to put that sharpie in Connor’s hand before he could change his mind. He wanted that signature on his cast. He wanted and he was so obvious and Connor had clearly seen it all over his fucking face.

“Now we can both pretend that we have friends.”

It was fucking stupid how hopeful Evan had been about some other loser saying they could both pretend to have friends. How fast his mind worked to plan it out, how he envisioned showing off the signature on his cast to his mom, imagining being able to sit at the same lunch table as someone without being too nervous to actually eat because pretend was just pretend, maybe even having someone to pair off with in the English class they had together because nothing was more disheartening than trying to do group work on your own...

And now his arm read CONNOR in massive letters. 

And Connor Murphy had his fucking letter. Connor Murphy thought he was trying to intentionally fuck with him. Connor Murphy hated him because of that letter.

His stupid, idiotic fucking letter that said too much and mentioned Zoe. 

Why’d he have to mention her? She didn’t know he existed… well. She knew his name but she knew everyone , she was everything he wasn’t and everything he wanted to be like and that was part of why he liked her, why he’d followed her around after that jazz band concert like a freak trying to tell her she had done a good job because she was liked and likable and actually spoke to actual people. And Evan just had to mention her in the letter and now Connor had it and he’d probably shown it to Zoe and they were having a laugh about the loser who wrote letters to himself like someone who had escaped from an asylum. 

Fuck.

Fuck. 

He wondered if his mom would let him drop out of school. 

Probably not. 

Fuck. 

If only he was eighteen… When he was eighteen she couldn’t stop him. 

Dr. Sherman said Evan seemed distracted in their session, and Evan choked out that someone at school had taken his letter and Dr. Sherman went on and on about vulnerability and reaching out and blah blah blah maybe this was an opportunity to speak to Connor Murphy but honestly, fuck that. 

It didn’t matter. It didn’t get the letter back. It didn’t make Connor unread it. It didn’t make Jared find things less hilarious. It…

He wished Jared wasn’t such an asshole. If he could commiserate a little, act a little less like this was Evan’s fault for being a moron… He knew it was stupid he knew this was his fucking fault but he was just trying to do one fucking thing right. He fucked that up too. He never got anything right. He couldn’t even make a fucking pretend friend and he was seventeen years old. 

If Jared was actually his friend, not his family friend, not just someone who made it clear he only tolerated Evan because he had to… But he wasn’t Evan’s friend. The closest thing he had to a friend was a couple of people who had also worked at the park this summer who sometimes included him on emails about schedules without realizing he didn’t work at the park anymore.

Jared stopped messaging him back after a little bit, which was his usual thing. He’d talk back at first and then eventually disappeared. Evan didn’t know what to think other than he just got bored with Evan and started to ignore him. Maybe he used the messages to show his mom for proof of car insurance…

God that was embarrassing. He hoped Jared didn’t, like, start telling people that. Not that people in general talked to Evan or cared about him, but still. The idea was fucking horrifying.  Just what Evan needed, to have it get out that he was so certifiably pathetic that people paid their kids to be nice to him. 

When Evan got home he went on his laptop and sort of clicked around aimlessly online. The computer was a present from his dad for his sixteenth birthday. The first present he had gotten in three years. He had offered to just give Evan some money toward buying a car, but Evan had failed driver’s ed. 

Well. 

Technically he took an incomplete. Because when it came time for the behind the wheel portion of the class, Evan couldn’t bring himself to actually get behind the wheel. The class was taught by one of the facist gym teachers and Evan just stood there, his face getting hotter and hotter while he was instructed to climb into the car and then he threw up in front of Sabrina Patel who was supposed to be starting behind the wheel too and he dropped the class. His mom had been pissed. It was three hundred dollars for driver’s ed, and last spring she had all but dragged him out into the driveway to try to make him drive because she didn’t want him wasting that money, money she had scraped and worked doubles to get for them.

He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t. Evan started hyperventilating before he could even shift into drive, he slammed on the brakes before even turning the key and his mom started to get frustrated, telling him that he couldn’t go the rest of his life without learning how to drive, she couldn’t keep driving him everywhere forever he was sixteen didn’t he want to go places without his mommy dropping him off and he’d stormed up to his bedroom and slammed the door, praying for a freak April snowstorm to keep him from having to show his face again at school for a while. 

It didn’t come. 

He never got what he fucking wanted. 

His mom got home around ten. She looked tired but she gave him this big sunny smile when she saw him sitting there, still in the first day of school outfit they’d picked out together. “Hi sweetheart,” She said, sinking onto the sofa beside him. “How was your first day back?”

He nodded, trying to smile at her. “Good, it was. It was good. I like my English teacher?”

“That’s great.” She gave his shoulder a squeeze, very momlike and he had to hold himself back from just sinking into it, letting it turn into a full on hug because he wanted that from her but he was seventeen years old and boys weren’t supposed to hang on their moms once they got to his age. “Did you eat anything?”

He hadn’t. He’d been too twisted up after school that he’d only just managed to swallow a spoonful of peanut butter before giving up. “I had a sandwich,” He lied. “Too warm for dumplings.”

She nodded, smile going a bit tighter. “Okay. Tell me all about your day! How was seeing Dr. Sherman?”

“Good,” Evan said, shrugging. 

“And you showed him your letter?”

“Yep, yeah. He said it… looked good.” He nodded, closing his laptop and putting it on the side table. “I should put on my pajamas -”

“Someone signed your cast!” His mom said suddenly, her eyes catching on the big blocky letters on his arm. 

“I… yeah,” He said, not looking at her. Fuck .

“Did you ask him?”

“Uh-huh,” Evan lied, self conscious. 

“Who is Connor?”

“Oh Connor’s my, uh. He’s my friend,” Evan invented, still not meeting her eyes. “We have English together.”

“That’s great honey. You know if you wanted him to come over after school, he’d be welcome.”

Evan almost laughed, imagining how that would go down. He’d go up to Connor tomorrow, Connor who thought he was fucking with him, who thought he was intentionally writing creepy shit about Connor’s sister, and go “hey my mommy says you could come over for a playdate if you wanted.” He tried to imagine Connor in his massive boots and big faded jacket in this tiny ass living room, too tall to fit properly, sitting on the sofa while Evan hyperventilated over ordering pizza or something. 

What a fucking joke. 

“Okay mom.”

“I’m so proud of you,” She said, pulling him into a hug. He let himself have that, just for a bit, because she cared she cared she cared. He could practically fit her under his chin now, but he ducked his head, rested it against her shoulder. She was his mom and he wished he could be smaller, be younger, unfuck up his life. 

“Thanks,” Evan said, pulling away gently. 

“I’m sorry I couldn’t pick you up today,” She said, “I really wanted to be there for your last first day of high school.”

“It’s okay,” Evan said, not meeting her eyes. “I think I’m gonna go to bed? I’m kinda… today was sort of long.”

“Okay. I love you, Evan.”

“Love you too.”

He climbed the stairs to his room, flopping back onto his bed, closing his eyes. He pictured Connor Murphy’s expression. Confused, then. Hurt. Angry. Evan had done that. He had done that just by doing the thing he had to do for his stupid therapy because he was fucked up like that and he hated how wrong it had all gone. 

If his life were a movie, tomorrow he would march up to Connor and explain himself. That he hadn’t meant anything by it, that he wrote it because his mom was making him go to therapy and it was a drag, right, and then they’d laugh about the misunderstanding and suddenly their pretend friendship would be a real one. 

But life wasn’t a movie and Evan knew himself too well to think he could actually talk to him. To think he could talk to anyone. It had taken him twenty minutes of psyching himself up to admit what happened to Jared and Jared… hadn’t read what he had written. 

Fuck. 

He barely remembered it, he’d written it because he was pissed and because today had been shitty and he just wanted to skip therapy and go home and sleep until graduation when things had to be better, they had to be better. And now the one bright spot in this whole shitty day was also ruined because Zoe Murphy was in Evan’s calculus class. He hadn’t even known she was taking calculus as a junior. He’d known she was smart but that was impressive. And he hadn’t known. Apparently, Evan didn’t know her that well after all. Just one more thing he had convinced himself of that turned out to be wrong. And he couldn’t even, like, let himself look at her or be pleased that someone like her was in his fucking calc class because if word got back to Connor that Evan was looking at Zoe or had smiled at her or tried to talk to her. 

Maybe if I could just talk to her…

Nothing would be different at all. 

Evan wanted to be different but he couldn’t just make himself be different. He wanted to be better but he just… wasn’t. 

He just wasn’t and now fucking Connor Murphy knew it. 

He spent the rest of the week at school looking over his shoulder, waiting to be shoved to the ground, waiting to find his garbage spread via facebook or something. Waiting for his secrets to come spilling out, waiting....

He knew, stupidly, that he would probably be relieved if that letter came out. That people would just know. Know Evan was broken and scared and that he felt worthless and forgettable. If it got out, maybe then someone would notice he always felt like he was standing in a room screaming and everyone just ignored it. 

But the relief didn’t come that week. Evan spent most mornings before classes hyperventilating under a tree outside of the school until his anxiety about being late overruled his anxiety about Connor Murphy ruining his life. For his part, Connor ignored him every time Evan spotted him, other than contradicting something Evan said about a short story called “The Lottery” they read in English. Evan said that he thought the townspeople were unfeeling about stoning a woman to death. Connor raised his hand and said, in this bored and slightly thinner than expected voice that he thought it wasn’t so much unfeeling as complacency. That they accepted that this was just how things were done. 

Evan thought about complacency a lot that week. 

But Connor, even though he knew all about Evan’s disaster, didn’t say anything.

 

CONNOR

When he gets back home on the first day of school, Zoe’s in the living room, half watching TV and half doing… homework, he guesses, from the looks of it. 

Connor has no fucking idea if he’s gotten homework. It’s bullshit to get homework on the first day of school, for one thing. And even if he does have homework, he’s got no plans of actually doing it. 

He’s got other plans entirely. 

Zoe looks up when he walks in, her eyes narrowing, her face taking on an all-too-familiar expression of disgust and disappointment. 

“Seriously, Connor, what the fuck is wrong with you?”

Connor blinks. “You’re going to have to be more specific.”

“Pushing that kid this morning,” Zoe says, practically spitting out the words. “Like, what the fuck? The kid has a broken arm and hasn’t ever done anything to you. What is your fucking problem?”

Connor responds before he can process whether or not it’s a good idea to. “Look, I didn’t notice the cast until-”

“Can’t you pick on someone less pathetic?” Zoe continues, like he hasn’t even said anything. Not like anything he says matters anyway. “You just had to go for the weakest target. That’s so fucked up, Connor.”

He thinks about ways he could respond, things he could say. 

I wasn’t targeting anyone, you’re acting like I fucked planned this. 

When someone calls you a fucking school shooter, let’s see how you respond. 

You probably don’t even know the kid’s name and he wrote about you in a weird letter to himself. 

He doesn’t say any of them. 

There wouldn’t be any point. 

Zoe just looks at him, her expression thunderous, then she rolls her eyes. 

“You know Mom doesn’t want you wearing those stupid boots in the house.”

“Right,” says Connor, and he heads back to the front door to take off his boots and leave them on the shoe rack. It’s a little too small to fit his combat boots but he puts them there anyway, knowing that eventually his mom will move them and put them to the side, tucked away behind the shoe rack so they don’t get noticed, so they don’t get in the way, so they don’t muddy the image of the perfect family she tries so hard to create. 

If everything goes to plan, she won’t need to keep moving his boots. She won’t need to try so hard to make things perfect.  

He’d be doing her a fucking favor, in the long run. 

That’s what he keeps reminding himself. That’s what’s been running through his head the whole day. All the people who say suicide is selfish can go fuck themselves, because he’s not being selfish, he’s not. He’s doing what’s best for everyone. He’s taking himself out of the equation, making things easier on his mom and his dad and Zoe. 

Fuck, he’s even making things easier on fucking Evan Hansen. It might give him one less thing to be fucking terrified of. 

He heads upstairs to his room and sits on the bed, then just… lies down for a while. Looks at the ceiling. Thinks about getting high. He could roll another joint but he doesn’t know if he has the energy right now. 

He should have gone home after first period like he was planning to. 

Just gone home and had it all over and done with. 

Instead, he stayed at school the whole damn day and now he’s tired, too tired to kill himself, too tired to roll a joint, too tired to do anything but just lie here and look at the ceiling. 

Connor thinks it would be easier if he could just… wish himself out of existence. 

If he could just say the right words in the right order and have everything stop. 

He wonders if it would be possible to Avada Kedavra yourself. It seems like it’d be straightforward and easy. A flash of green light and then it’s done, it’s all done. 

In Harry Potter they spent so much time talking about how awful Avada Kedavra was, how terrible it was to have this killing curse, how it was an Unforgivable, but… well, it at least it’s quick, right?

At least it would be quick. 

It’s not the first time Connor’s found himself wishing he was a wizard, wishing he could do magic. Hogwarts seemed a whole lot more interesting than any school he’d ever been at. He’s pretty sure he’s a Ravenclaw - if he’d been at Hogwarts, he’d have wanted to read every book, learn every spell, know everything there was to know about magic. 

When he was a kid, he thought everything in his life would be better if he could do magic. 

Then he got a little older and daydreamed about magic fixing all his mistakes. All his problems. 

Now? He’s just thinking about a quick and painless exit. 

After a while, he does get up. Retrieves his weed stash from under his mattress. Rolls a joint then climbs out the window onto the roof and smokes for a while, making sure the window is closed so the smell doesn’t waft through.

When he looks over, he can see vaguely that Zoe’s window is open. 

She’ll probably complain about it later. 

He deserves her giving him shit, he knows that. And considering that he’s about to cut off her chances of really letting him have it, it might even be a good thing that he’s given her something else to complain about. 

One last fuck-up to rub in his face.  

He’s nowhere near buzzed enough to stomach whatever the fuck it is his mom has made for dinner, but the universe seems to have smiled on him or whatever because it turns out his dad is working late. 

“It’s the first day of school,” Zoe grumbles as she stabs a sad looking carrot on her plate. “The least he could do is come home and spend some time with his family.”

“It was an emergency,” says his mom, a sympathetic smile not sitting right as she fucking lies to their faces, again, because it’s always an emergency, there’s always some reason why their dad is always at work, and no one ever says that the real reason is because Connor is a fuck-up and he doesn’t want to face it. 

“Whatever,” Zoe says under her breath, before putting the carrot in her mouth and grimacing. Connor follows suit and realizes that somehow, the carrot is soft and gritty at the same time, and that’s honestly kind of impressive in the grand scheme of things. 

It’s fucking disgusting. 

Connor read an article about the last meals of prisoners on death row once. A murderer in Oklahoma in the nineties apparently complained about his last meal because he’d wanted SpaghettiOs, not regular canned spaghetti. Overall, though, people mostly requested things like lobster, chocolate, steak and fried chicken, which… sounds fine, Connor guesses. 

He looks at his plate with the sad-looking carrots, under-cooked potatoes and some kind of bean stew thing and laughs to himself. 

No one in their right mind would want this for their last meal. He’s such a disaster. 

Zoe looks at him. “What the fuck, Connor.”

“Zoe, don’t talk to your brother like that.”

Zoe rolls her eyes. “Oh please. He’s sitting there laughing at nothing like some kind of freak.” She looks at him, a little more intently, then lets out a bitter laugh of her own. “Because he’s high. Again. Perfect.” She pushes her plate away from her and looks at their mom. “Can I be excused?”

“You haven’t finished your dinner, sweetheart.”

“I’m not hungry.” 

Zoe stands up and leaves. Cynthia lets out this small sigh, and it’s the tiniest sound but it says so much, and Connor feels this horrible twinge in his chest, because she just sounds so sad and so disappointed but so resigned, and he knows it’s all his fucking fault, it’s his fault because he can’t just be fucking normal, he can’t just be a normal teenager who’s not a total asshole to his family. 

His mom catches him looking at her and offers a smile, another smile that doesn’t sit properly on her face. “Did you want more carrots?”

Connor nods a little and lets her pile more of the very sad vegetable onto his plate. Then he squares his shoulders and eats the entire meal without complaining. 

It’s the least he can do. 

When he gets back to his room, he puts his desk chair under the door handle to stop anyone from getting in and just… thinks for a while. 

He’s still high, which he thinks will probably help him go through with it, but he just needs to figure this out, figure out what he’s doing, how this is going to work. 

He’ll have to do it somewhere other than the house, he thinks. Somewhere no one will find him for a while, but not somewhere so out of the way that his body will be all gross and decomposed by the time it’s found. 

He’s done a lot of reading about this. A lot. He’s spent a lot of time at the public library looking up methods on one of their computers, mostly because he didn’t want all that shit in his search history on his computer, even though he knows how to delete it. 

Anyone who thinks that taking pills is a nice, quiet, pain-free way to go is fooling themselves, that much he can say for sure. Research says that it’s not like falling asleep - it’s more likely to end up with him choking to death on his own vomit than anything else. 

Connor’s hoping that if he’s high enough, it won’t be so bad. 

Anything has to be better than… this. This fucked-up nightmare of existence where nothing he does matters, trying to be better blows up in his face and he can’t escape the all-encompassing feeling that he’s nothing, he’s nowhere, he’s no one, that no one cares, that all he’s doing is taking up space that would be better served by more oxygen in the air, because at least oxygen keeps people alive. 

He remembers being really, really high one night this summer, at a park somewhere, lying on a bench and staring at the stars. He could see the branches of a tree above him, just kind of peeking into his line of vision, and he thought about how trees take the carbon dioxide humans breathe and turn it into oxygen. 

At that moment, he was convinced that he produced more carbon dioxide than anyone else, that everything about him was so fucked up and dark and wrong that even his breathing hurt the world, that there wouldn’t be enough trees in the world to soak up his damage, to turn it into something good. 

He’s not quite as high now and he’s well aware that’s not how biology works, but he can’t help but still be kind of convinced that on some level, he was right. 

Dimly, Connor registers an argument going on downstairs and realizes it’s dark outside, realizes that more time has passed than he’s really understood, and turns on his bedside lamp. The light hurts his eyes, makes him feel exposed, like he’s not meant to see it, and there’s something in his pocket. 

He pulls out the piece of paper and unfolds it, wondering to himself when he folded it up neatly, fucking hell. It takes him all but a second to realize that this is Evan Hansen’s letter, this is the letter where he says creepy shit about Connor’s sister. 

Connor can feel something angry and ugly rising in his chest, twisting and turning, grabbing his heart and yanking it, freezing it but burning it at the same time, because how fucking dare this kid say such fucked up things about his sister, and…

He finds himself reading the letter in its entirety for the first time. 

 

Dear Evan Hansen:

It turns out, this wasn’t an amazing day after all. This isn’t going to be an amazing week or an amazing year. Because… why would it be? 

Oh, I know. Because there’s Zoe. And all my hope is pinned on Zoe. Who I don’t even know, and doesn’t know me. But maybe if I did. Maybe if I could just talk to her, then maybe… maybe nothing would be different at all. 

I wish that everything was different. I wish I was part of… something. I wish that anything I said… mattered, to anyone. I mean, face it: Would anyone notice if I just disappeared tomorrow? 

Sincerely, your best and most dearest friend, 

Me.

 

There is still something twisting and turning in his chest, perhaps even more so now, but it’s not anger anymore, it’s… it’s something else, and it’s still ugly and messy but it’s more freezing than burning now, so much more freezing, because…

Fuck. 

He knows this. 

He knows this feeling, he…

 

I wish that everything was different. I wish I was part of… something. I wish that anything I said… mattered, to anyone. I mean, face it: Would anyone notice if I just disappeared tomorrow? 

 

“Probably not,” he answers, even though he knows he’s not the intended recipient of this letter, even though he knows this question isn’t for him. “But they wouldn’t notice me, either.”

 

I wish that everything was different. 

I wish that everything was different. 

I wish that everything was different. 

 

Connor folds the letter up again, even more carefully this time, like he’s holding something precious. He puts it in his pocket, the pocket of his vest, right by his heart, because it…

It says something. 

He rolls another joint. Then another, and another, and puts them all in another pocket. Then he goes to his desk drawer and pulls out the collection of pills he’s been systematically stealing from his mom for the last few weeks. He’s got a nice big pile of sleeping pills now, all tucked away in an empty matchbox, wrapped up in a Kleenex so they don’t spill, don’t make any noise. There’s a razor there, too, also wrapped up, which he slips into the matchbox, just in case. 

He puts them in his pocket, then grabs his messenger bag and fills it with a rope he bought at an army surplus store a few months back. It’s sturdy and shouldn’t break. He checked out a book about tying knots last spring and he’s been practicing, he’s figured it out, he…

He’s covering his bases. He’s prepared. He’ll just… figure it out when he gets there. 

Wherever ‘there’ is. 

When the argument from downstairs stops, he opens the window and looks out into the night. He’ll easily be able to get out, get down off the roof from a tree in the yard, and head out somewhere to go and die quietly. 

Connor can feel himself shaking a little, and he doesn’t know if it’s from nerves or anticipation. 

It’s finally happening. He’s finally doing this. He…

He needs to get some water, he realizes slowly. And his boots. He blinks a few times and goes over his next move. 

Right. It’s quiet, so everyone must have gone to bed. He’ll head downstairs, put on his boots, go to the kitchen and get a bottle of water, then come back upstairs. He’ll make sure to shut his door audibly when he gets back to his room - not loud enough to disturb anyone, but loud enough that people will have figured out he’s gone back into his room, so they won’t suspect he’s gone. 

Connor takes a deep breath. 

Moves the chair away from the door and heads out of his room and down the hallway toward the stairs. 

He can hear the faint sound of music coming from Zoe’s room. It’s something twinkly on the guitar, and he’s not sure if it’s a recording or if it’s Zoe playing. 

It might be Zoe playing, he thinks. She’s good. She’s really, really good. 

He’s always liked listening to her play, even if he would never admit it. 

There’s a part of him that wants to just sit by the door and listen to whatever the hell it is that’s been played in his sister’s room until the sun rises. 

There’s another part of him that wants to knock on her door and see if she’s the one playing. 

He blinks a few times, feeling his eyes burn, then takes in a steadying breath and heads down the stairs. 

The house is dark, washing out everything into shades of grey. Slowly, carefully, he makes his way to the front door and reaches for his boots, noticing that yes, his mom has indeed moved them to the side, just like he knew she would. 

Moved his boots to the side so they wouldn’t mess with her image of the perfect family. 

He’s doing her a favor by taking the boots away. 

He’s doing her a favor by taking himself out of existence.

He has to believe that. 

Once his shoes are on, he carefully makes his way to the kitchen and heads to the fridge. Opens it. Pulls out a bottle of water. He’s about to close the door when the light switches on. 

Connor freezes. 

“Couldn’t sleep?”

Connor turns towards his mother, once again feeling something cold gripping his chest. Guilt rises up in his throat, like liquid, like he’s in the depths of the ocean and it’s trying to drown him. She’s wearing her glasses, which she barely does anymore, and has her hair up in a bun and isn’t wearing any makeup and is in a bathrobe. 

“Just getting some water,” he says, the words feeling sour in his mouth, because he’s lying he’s lying he’s lying. 

She smiles at him, and this smile isn’t quite as fake as the one she wore through dinner. Then she heads to a cabinet over the oven and opens it and pulls out… a packet of Oreos. 

Connor watches as she takes a butter knife from the drawer. Opens the packet of Oreos. Twists the cookie open, then uses the knife to scoop out the filling and…

Offers it to him. 

“I know dinner was bad,” she says softly, holding out the knife covered in Oreo filling. “Come on, you like the filling. Help me out here.” 

Connor feels frozen for a long moment. 

He takes the filling off the knife and puts it in his mouth. It’s sweet and soft and melts on his tongue and takes away the sour taste that’s been sitting there since the light switched on. 

They sit at the kitchen island for the next ten minutes and eat their way through a packet of Oreos, Cynthia eating the cookies and Connor eating the filling. 

They don’t talk, not really. 

When they’re done, his mom throws away the packet, hiding it under something else in the trash, and Connor kind of laughs at that, because he knows for a fact that every other member of the family has tried to hide junk food wrapping from Cynthia at some point in the last month. 

At Connor’s quiet laugh, his mom turns a little pink, but she looks at him and smiles a little. 

“You know, Oreos are vegan.”

“I didn’t know that,” Connor admits. He tries to smile. “Bet they’re not organic or gluten-free, though.”

“Vegan’s a good start,” says his mom, smiling a little. She looks him up and down, then sighs a little. “Shoes off in the house please, sweetie.” 

Connor nods, and heads back to the front door. 

Puts his shoes next to the shoe rack. 

When he goes back upstairs, the light in the kitchen isn’t on anymore. His mom must have gone to sleep. 

He sits on his bed and he thinks. 

He has other shoes, he knows. He could just… put on another pair of shoes and go. 

But he left the water bottle downstairs. 

And his mom…

It wouldn’t be fair on her. 

Not tonight. 

He won’t…

Not tonight. 

Carefully, he takes the letter out of his pocket and reads it again. 

 

Would anyone notice if I just disappeared tomorrow? 

 

“I don’t know,” he says quietly. 

He folds the letter back up and puts it under his mattress. 

Lies down on his bed. 

Closes his eyes. 

When he opens them next, the morning is breaking.

Chapter Text

October

 

CONNOR

 

Stupidly, Connor’s still alive by October. 

He keeps making damn excuses to himself, keeps putting it off, even though he knows deep down that it has to happen, that he’s just delaying the inevitable. 

His excuses, his reasons to not kill himself are all just dumb little things. 

It’s his mom and the damn cookies. 

It’s a moment when he and Zoe are on their way to school and they both start singing along to Welcome to the Black Parade and share a look that’s almost a smile. 

It’s this weird feeling that maybe he’s got something in common with Evan Hansen and if they could just have a goddamn conversation, things might be… better. 

It’s stupid. 

He knows it’s stupid. People don’t just make other people better, it’s not how people work. 

It’s stupid and it’s selfish, because Connor is a disaster, a bomb waiting to explode, and Evan doesn’t deserve to be near that again. The stupidest fucking thing could set him off and he wouldn’t even see it coming.

He has gunpowder in his veins, explosives in his heart, he’s…

He needs to fucking get over himself. There’s nothing poetic about this. 

Connor keeps going, though. 

Keeps acting like everything’s fine, like he’s planning for a future. 

He applies to colleges. 

Good colleges. 

Mrs. Byers, the guidance counsellor, tells him that his grades are good enough to apply to Columbia, and he’s always liked the idea of living in New York City. She offers to help him with applications and ends up reading over one of his application essays. 

The feedback she gives him is something along the lines of “great essay, but are you okay?” , which, in retrospect when looking over his essay later that night, is probably fair enough. 

It’s kind of… grim. 

Unsurprising, really. 

There’s so much dark in him that it leaks out everywhere, blackening everything he touches. 

The semester continues and Connor doesn’t talk to Evan Hansen, even though part of him wants to. He finds himself watching him, more than he should, and he knows it’s creepy and fucked up but then again, he’s creepy and fucked up so it really shouldn’t be a surprise, should it? 

Every now and then, he finds himself writing letters to Evan Hansen in his head. 

Sometime in September, Evan shows up at school without his cast and Connor feels this weird pang in his chest, not seeing his name on this kid’s arm anymore. He’s getting something out of his locker when he hears Jared Kleinman’s obnoxious voice ringing out in the hallway, telling Evan that his arm looks “kind of dead”, and Connor rolls his eyes at the inside of his locker because that’s just a stupid fucking thing to say. 

Pretty much every time Connor has the misfortune of crossing paths with Jared, he has something snarky to say, some assholeish comment about his hair or his nails or something. It’s nothing he doesn’t know already, nothing new at all, but the comments still sting, and Connor hates that they sting. He hates that they have any impact at all because Jared Kleinman is a fucking jackass and Connor knows for a fact that he’s far from the only person at this school who can’t fucking stand him, has heard plenty of people complain about his general jackassery. 

And yet, somehow it seems like Jared Kleinman is Evan’s only friend, even though Jared’s jackassery extends to Evan, too. Almost every time he sees them together, Jared’s being his usual charming self, saying something bitchy to Evan, and every time Connor watches as Evan awkwardly laughs it off like it’s some kind of joke or curls in on himself or just… deflates a little, and Connor thinks it’s completely fucked up. 

 

Dear Evan Hansen,

Jared Kleinman is an asshole. Get better friends. 

Sincerely,

Me.

 

He skips gym on a Thursday to get high in the parking lot then has a nap in the backseat of Zoe’s car after swiping her keys from her locker at lunch. He has every intention of putting the keys back in her locker before the end of the day so she never has to find out, but he doesn’t wake up until after last period when she’s pounding on the door because he’s locked her out. 

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” she seethes once he unlocks the car door gives the keys back. “Why can’t you just be fucking normal?” 

He stays in the backseat as she drives them home, still curled up in the too-small space, staring at the ceiling. 

 

Dear Evan Hansen,

You said that all your hope was pinned on Zoe. What does that even mean? Do you think you’re going to make her fall in love with you somehow and she’s going to fix you? Don’t you know that’s not how it fucking works? She’s not some manic pixie dream girl, she’s just… normal. A normal girl with normal parents, unlucky enough to be stuck with a toxic freak of a brother. She’s not going to fix you. She can’t fix anyone, and she shouldn’t have to. 

Sincerely,

Me.

 

It’s a stupid habit, Connor knows, but he finds himself getting into it anyway. Something will happen and he’ll write this stupid letter to Evan Hansen in his head, this stupid, dumb thing he wants to say but knows he won’t. 

Sometimes it gets too real, though, and he’ll find himself almost talking to him, a greeting on the tip of his tongue, but he stops himself just in time or Evan makes a hasty exit and it just reminds Connor that he doesn’t know this kid, they’re not friends, that just because Connor read his letter and felt it echoing in his gut doesn’t mean that Evan owes him anything, that he owes Evan anything. 

He spends a Saturday in Dennis’s basement where they get high and play X-Box. Connor’s aware that it’s lame for his only friend to be his weed guy, but at the end of the day, Dennis is probably the only person who isn’t living in fear he’s going to shoot up the school. 

 

Mostly because he graduated three years ago and Connor’s reputation wasn’t nearly as threatening as a freshman. 

“So, like, are you going to college?” Dennis asks after Connor beats him at some generic first person shooter game. “You should go to college. You’re smart.”

“How the fuck would you know?” Connor asks, picking up the bong from the coffee table. 

Dennis shrugs. “You’re always reading.”

Connor rolls his eyes. “Plenty of people who are fucking idiots can still read.”

“Yeah, but…” Dennis watches as Connor takes a hit, then takes the bong off him and takes a hit of his own. 

It’s a cool-looking bong, Connor thinks. If you put it right next to the lamp, it makes cool-looking patterns. 

He takes a picture on his phone once Dennis puts it back on the table. Dennis looks at him quizzically. Connor shrugs again.

“New Facebook profile pic.”

Dennis laughs. “I guess it’s kinda artsy and shit.”

They play a few more rounds of whatever game it is they’re playing and smoke a lot and have a couple of beers until Dennis’s roommate comes home and wants to use the TV. 

Dennis offers to drop Connor home. Connor is absolutely certain that Dennis is too high to drive, but takes him up on it anyway, because he doesn’t exactly have the strongest self-preservation instincts and dying in a car crash might hurt his mom a little bit less.

It takes a while for Connor to realize they’re going the wrong direction. 

“We’re going to IHOP,” Dennis announces. “I need pancakes.”

It’s nearly eleven at night but the place is still full. There are people Connor vaguely recognizes from school. Some of them are openly staring at him.

He stares back, and they quickly look at their meals, or the table, or the wall, or anywhere but him.

Dennis lets out a low whistle. “Wow.”

“Shut the fuck up.”

When their food finally arrives, they eat pancakes for a while in silence. Dennis is texting someone and Connor gets this feeling that he’s only here because Dennis doesn’t want to cook and feels weird about going to IHOP himself.

Which makes sense.

It’s not like Dennis is actually his friend. Not really. He’s just his weed guy who occasionally takes pity on him and hangs out with him. 

Dennis drops him home about midnight. Connor reaches for the door handle of the car when Dennis grabs his arm. Connor only barely manages to stop himself from punching him in the face. 

“You should go to college,” Dennis says, his voice firmer than Connor’s ever heard it. “You’re smart. You belong at college, learning shit.” He squeezes Connor’s arm a little tighter and Connor wants to shrug him off, wants to tell him he’s being an asshole, wants to punch him, because people don’t just touch him they don’t get near him doesn’t this idiot know that Connor’s a bomb waiting to explode? 

“I applied to some colleges,” Connor says after a long moment.

“Where?”

Connor shrugs. “Mostly out of state.” He thinks back. “Columbia.”

Dennis lets go of his arm. “Good,” he says, and he sounds… relieved. “You need to get the fuck out of this town, kid.”

He’s right and Connor knows it. 

Dennis just doesn’t know how right he really is. Connor needs to get out of this town, out of this state, out of this reality. 

Connor changes his profile picture on Facebook when he gets back into his room to the picture he took of the bong. It’s only really one step above the generic face thing that you get by default, which is what he’s been using until now. He doesn’t exactly use Facebook, except to talk to Dennis occasionally, but when he signed up, he ended up with, like, a couple of people from school friend requesting him and he just accepted the requests in a kind of morbid fascination. 

And then just didn’t really post anything ever to fuck with them, because they clearly only send him friend requests to see what kind of freaky shit he’d post. 

He fucks around on Facebook for a while, looking at his news feed and seeing people post what they’re up to on a Saturday night. There are photos from some kind of party where people are drunk and stupid and Connor just knows that’s going to bite them in the ass sometime but obviously wouldn’t say anything. 

A thought occurs to him. 

He clicks on the search bar and types. 

Moments later, he’s staring at a picture of a tree and the name Evan Hansen. There’s not a lot on the page, which is probably about privacy settings or whatever, but it’s a nice tree, Connor thinks. 

“You fell out of a tree? That’s the saddest fucking thing I ever heard.”

Why the fuck did he say that? Why the fuck is such a fucking asshole?

It’s the middle of the night so Connor figures he’ll risk smoking more. He rolls another joint and lights it up and just kind of… stares at the computer screen until it goes black, then moves the mouse and it comes back, and so on and so forth.

He could send Evan a friend request, Connor realises dimly. 

He could just… reach out that way. Maybe it’d be easier than talking in real life, maybe it’d be less likely to scare the fuck out of him, maybe…

Connor smokes the entire joint and mulls it over in his brain until the sun rises, bathing his room in a dishwater gray. 

He closes his laptop and lies down on his back and stares at the ceiling. 

Sending Evan Hansen a friend request is a terrible idea. 

A fucking terrible idea. 

He just…

He needs to leave the kid alone. Evan doesn’t deserve to have to put up with his garbage.

As he drifts off to sleep, he composes one last mental letter to a friend he’ll never have. 

 

Dear Evan Hansen

Maybe if I could just talk to you, then maybe… maybe nothing would be different at all. 

Sincerely, 

Me.

 

JARED



Connor Murphy’s new haircut, or lack thereof, is really starting to get on Jared’s nerves. 

It’s fucking distracting. 

It’s fucking annoying. 

Jared can’t seem to stop watching how the strands of hair nearly touch the desk when Connor hunches over, focusing on whatever the fuck it is he’s writing while the teacher drones on and on in AP Calculus, which Jared still can’t quite believe he managed to get into because calculus is a fucking nightmare. 

Whatever. 

It’s not like anyone really likes calculus, anyway, and Jared’s not paying even a little bit of attention but he can always borrow Evan’s notes 

Jared doubts that Connor fucking Murphy is taking notes. He’s probably, like, writing the creepy manifesto that’ll get printed in all the newspapers when he blows this place to hell. 

Not that Jared believes in hell, or any real concept of an afterlife. He does, however, believe that Connor Murphy is absolutely capable of blowing up the school. 

Connor’s hair touches the desk when he hunches over to write whatever it is he’s writing and it’s really fucking annoying to Jared that it’s so distracting, because it’s not even that nice hair. 

The guy could definitely stand to invest in some conditioner. It’s not like his family can’t afford it. 

The teacher is talking some bullshit about differentiation and Jared’s too tired for this because he was up all night watching porn which probably makes him some kind of disgusting pervert but he still maintains he is absolutely watching porn for research purposes. 

Making out with Yael Rosenberg at summer camp hadn’t been bad. He’d kind of liked it. But then she’d, like, guided his hand under her shirt and the reality of Actually Touching A Titty had resulted in him nearly throwing up on her shoes. 

Thank fuck he didn’t actually throw up on her shoes because she’d have told everyone at camp and he’d have been so fucking humiliated he’d have had no choice but to drown himself in the lake or ritualistically fall on a samurai sword or something. 

Howard Mackiewicz swore all summer he had a real samurai sword at home. 

Jared is one hundred percent sure that Howard Mackiewicz is full of shit. 

So yeah, maybe Jared’s watching a lot of porn these days to try to figure out if he’s, like, not into tits in general or just not into Yael Rosenberg’s tits, which all the other guys in his cabin had said were, like, pretty big but not like the biggest they’d ever seen in real life. 

He’s not really sure who has the biggest tits he’s ever seen in real life. Probably Sabrina Patel, but his camp friends would probably argue it doesn’t count because Sabrina’s, like, big everywhere, and tits are the only thing on a girl that are supposed to be big. 

Objectively, Jared thinks that Sabrina Patel has nice tits. He wonders if he’d puke if he touched her tits. 

Not that it’s something he can just go up and ask. 

‘Hey Sabrina, can I touch your tits? I’m not being pervy, I’m just trying to do some empirical research - I want to see if I want to puke when I touch them.’

Sabrina Patel is three seats ahead of him, watching the board intently, and would probably, like, bodyslam him if she knew what he was thinking. She’s always really fucking nice to everyone but Jared just knows she’s probably got a ton of aggression under the surface. Micah says that fat chicks always do. 

In the seat diagonally opposite Jared’s, Connor Murphy tucks a strand of hair behind his ear. 

It falls back across his face almost instantly, making the action fucking pointless. 

It does, however, give Jared a good look at Connor’s long, slender fingers and painted black nails, which are just so…

It’s a fucking joke that Jared’s here, having some kind of crisis about his sexuality, and Connor fucking Murphy is sitting there with his long hair and his painted nails and his stupid, way too long neck that Jared can only kind of see from this angle but is still distracting. 

What fucking right does Connor Murphy have to run around with long hair and painted nails and just not seem to give a fuck that everyone thinks he’s gay?

Jared really, really wants to know if Connor Murphy is, like, actually gay, or if that’s just a rumor. 

He’s gotta be gay, right? 

He absolutely has to be. It would make no fucking sense if he wasn’t. 

People are saying all sorts of shit about him this year, which isn’t any different from any other year. There are all sorts of rumors. Brian Harris swears that Connor spent the summer in rehab, talking about how their parents are friends and he overheard his parents talking about it. 

Brian Harris also started the rumor in sophomore year that Connor sucked a guy’s dick for meth and Jared’s pretty sure that’s not true because if Connor Murphy was on meth the entire student body would probably be dead by now. 

In freshman year, there was a rumor going around that Connor was gay, but that got old pretty quickly when Connor made friends with this senior who sold weed to, like, half the school. After the captain of the football team showed up at school with a mysteriously broken nose, everyone started saying that Connor was the one this Dennis guy sent after people who owed him money because he was a fucking psycho. 

Jared doesn’t give a fuck if Connor’s on meth or if he punched some football player but he’s really fucking curious about the dick sucking. 

Connor reaches down to where his bag is by his feet and takes out what looks like a pencil case. His hair falls in front of his face almost immediately, but not before Jared catches a glimpse of his lips.

Fuck. 

It’s just complete bullshit that Jared’s sitting here, still obsessing over not liking Yael Rosenberg’s titty, while Connor Murphy is there with his long hair and his painted nails and nice lips and the potential to murder everyone in the room. 

Connor looks right at Jared and scowls, then goes back to whatever terrifying thing it is he’s writing that he apparently needs an eraser for. 

When Jared gets to his locker between classes, Evan’s there, picking at the edges of his hoodie, which is a fucking annoying habit. 

It is, however, less annoying than when his arm was still broken and he’d pick at the edge of the cast, that stupid white cast with CONNOR written across it in big black letters, like some kind of fucking brand, which still makes zero fucking sense. It makes zero fucking sense that Connor Murphy would even notice Evan Hansen for a minute, much less take the time to sign his fucking cast when no one else did. 

Jared still feels a little bad he didn’t sign Evan’s cast, but the less people associate him with Evan, the better, because…

Evan is just.

So. Fucking. Weird. 

Jared’s known him for a long time, so he figures he’s basically the expert on this kid now. For some reason, Jared’s parents fucking love Evan and there’s always been this whole bullshit about how Jared should look out for him because his mom has to work all the time and his dad left when he was a kid and boohoo, what a fucking sob story. 

“You had AP Calculus, right?” says Evan, his voice quiet and way too quick, as always. He looks around nervously, like he’s giving away state secrets or some shit, fidgeting with his hoodie and hunched over and not so much leaning against the locker as trying to melt into it or something. 

“Yeah,” Jared replies, putting the book in his locker. “Can I borrow your notes? I got, like, absolutely fuck all from that class, oh my god.”

Evan kind of scrunches up his nose a little, then shrugs. “I guess.” 

“Great,” says Jared distractedly as Evan opens his bag. “Connor Murphy was busy being a fucking psycho in class, as per usual.”

Evan kind of jumps a little, like someone sneaked up on him. “What did he do?” he asks, a little too loudly, a little too nervously. 

“I didn’t say he, like, ritualistically slaughtered a kitten in front of the class or anything,” Jared replies with a roll of his eyes as Evan takes out a binder and starts going through pages and pages of immaculately written notes. Evan’s notes are completely insane, like absolutely OCD, but they make sense and they’re always really useful. 

Evan hands him the notes, frowning a little. “So he didn’t… he didn’t do anything?”

“I was just, like, staring into space or whatever,” Jared lies, “and I guess he thought I was staring at him or whatever and just gave me this, like, fucking death glare.” He puts Evan’s notes in his locker. “It’s like he has resting murder face.”

Evan doesn’t say anything. He’s still frowning, this little frown he gets whenever Jared mentions Connor. 

“And he’s still got those painted nails, fuck,” Jared continues, even though he’s pretty sure Evan would rather he dropped it. “Like, okay, we get it. You like dick. You don’t have to fucking flaunt it.”

Evan still doesn’t say anything, just puts his binder back in his bag. “I’ll need those notes back,” he says. “Can I get them back after school? You have study hall in fifth period, right?”

“Sure, I guess,” Jared says with a shrug. Evan’s always, like, super on top of Jared’s schedule, which is… a thing, even though he’s not sure what. He always seems to know what classes Jared has just had or is having and no one else ever seems to remember that except Evan, so it’s… maybe it’s nice, Jared doesn’t know. 

Jared’s pretty much got Evan’s schedule down as well - he knows Evan just had AP Biology - but it’s not like he ever says anything or asks about Evan’s classes, or at least not the ones Jared doesn’t take, because he doesn’t want Evan thinking that they’re real friends or whatever, even though…

If he’s been totally honest with himself, Jared likes having Evan around. 

It’s nice to have someone who’s more of a fucking disaster than he is, for one. Evan’s smart, so that’s always useful when his grades could use some help, and his notes are fucking amazing. Fuck, when the AP tests come up at the end of the year, Evan could make fucking bank selling his notes. They’re that good. 

And yeah, his arm looks weird and dead after getting the cast off, but aside from falling out of a fucking tree, the whole park ranger thing this summer seemed to kind of work for Evan. In junior year Evan had just been kind of weird and thin and awkward. Now that he’s a senior, he’s still weird and awkward but he’s not as thin - he’s broader in the shoulders, but in a strong way. Like he’s gotten muscles climbing trees or whatever.

It’s kind of fucking disappointing that Evan’s pretty much wearing long sleeves all the time now because despite the cast, he hadn’t been bad to look at in those polos, as dorky as they are. Nice arms. And he’s got nice eyes, and all these freckles that are actually kind of fucking cute, and…

Jared slams his locker. 

Great work, subconscious. Really appreciating the wealth of gay thoughts today, Jesus fucking Christ. 

He heads to his next class tries to think about Beyonce’s ass, which is basically fucking perfect, in a ‘visually appealing’ way rather than a ‘I want to lick it’ kind of way. 

If he were straight, maybe he’d want to lick it. He doesn’t fucking know. 

It occurs to Jared later that day when he’s leaving the IT club meeting that having gay thoughts about Evan Hansen’s freckles is a whole lot safer than having gay thoughts about Connor Murphy’s hair, because at least Jared knows Evan wouldn’t, like, burn down his house if he knew about them. 

And if he’s going to figure out this whole being gay bullshit, then Evan wouldn’t be, like, the worst person to figure it out with. 

That is, of course, if Evan’s gay, or at least curious enough to find out. 

Maybe Jared should just, like, grab Evan’s dick sometime and see what happens. It’s gotta be safer than grabbing Sabrina Patel’s tits. Or -

Jared has got to stop thinking about Connor fucking Murphy unless he wants to wake up murdered

Jesus fucking Christ. 

 

SABRINA

Jared Kleinman had stared at her all through AP Calc today and it had twisted her insides up. Sabrina knew why. She knew it was because of her desk. She barely fit in it. She was a fucking cow, her gut pressed against the desk top because their calc class had those idiotic desks where the chairs were attached and her stomach pressed into the desk and her boobs hung over and took up a good part of her workspace and Jared Kleinman was absolutely thinking about how huge and gross she was he absolutely was. 

Sabrina tried to tuck her elbows in, to pull herself in as small as she could in the halls. Her nightmare was having someone bump into her just because she was so massive. Sabrina looked on, envious, of the other girls who breezed through the hallways with their petite, birdlike frames and tiny waists. She was just all around huge. Dana P. could probably wear her ribs like a roomy vest. 

Back in ninth grade, before Sabrina became Huge, she used to get a lot of comparisons to her older sister Sam. Samantha was gorgeous and curvy and she had amazing hair. And in tenth grade, she got a lot of comparisons to Mindy Kaling from The Office, which Sabrina found a little annoying because other than both being Indian, she didn’t look anything like Mindy. But she took it because Mindy Kaling was successful and funny and beautiful. 

But then the comparisons just stopped. Suddenly, Sabrina was pretty… for a fat girl. 

Sabrina couldn’t be certain when she’d woken up and realized that she was Fat, capital F. Not puppy fat or puberty chubby but well and truly Fat. It was like she went into junior year and realized that despite the promises that puberty was going to turn her into a sexy hourglass-figure having person, she was shaped more like a Dairy Queen cone than Jessica Rabbit. She wasn’t sexy, she wasn’t curvy or womanly, she was just… fat and big and she didn’t fit. Pretty, for a fat girl. She was “really nice.” She was “that Indian girl… you know. The one who is kind of… bigger?” Her own grandmother told her a few times she’d be “so pretty if she just lost that tummy,” patting the humiliating roll of flesh hidden inside of her sari at her cousin’s wedding last summer. Sabrina had cried off her eyeliner in the bathroom and her little sister Tabitha told her parents that she had eaten a weird samosa and was sick. 

Bless Tabby, she was so good. 

Sabrina was certain the reason that Jared Kleinman was staring at her was because she was so fat and she barely fit into her desk. She was super grateful her parents had given up their grand plans to visit India after she graduated because she didn’t think she would fit into a standard coach seat, and definitely couldn’t stand to be squished into one for nineteen and a half hours. 

Sam had come home for dinner that night, back from the local state college with all of these stories about her fabulous life full of friends and parties and boys. Well, the boys bit she left out until after Sabrina had finished pushing her rice around her plate and their parents had retired to watch some reality show in living room. 

Sam talked about boys. Plural. All kinds of boys. She had a gay friend. Sam’s roommate had a boyfriend named Marcus who smoked weed and had introduced Sam to his roommate, Hassan. She had gone on three dates with a white boy named Josh who was apparently “so hot” and looked a lot like Justin Timberlake. 

“Did you kiss him?”

Sam rolled her eyes like Sabrina was so middle school. “I did more than kiss him,” Sam said, a sort of drama in her voice. She wiggled her eyebrows suggestively. “I slept with him.”

Sabrina wasn’t like… surprised. Like, Sam loved to play Perfect Muslim Daughter, but Sabrina knew she drank beer and smoked weed and kissed boys. She wasn’t surprised to hear that Sam had had sex with someone. She was a bit surprised that she was telling Sabrina. When she still lived at home, Sam liked to throw Sabrina out of the room before she or any of her friends talked about stuff like sex or boys, even after Sabrina was sixteen and knew exactly what she was talking about.

“Was it… did you like it?” She was dying to know. She wasn’t innocent or stupid. Sabrina had done a lot of research about sex and pleasure and she had even done a little experimenting with masturbation. But there wasn’t exactly a wealth of people in the honors classes who wanted to spill about their sex lives, and Sabrina was a little bit desperate to learn more from places that weren’t Cosmo or PornHub.

“Yeah. It was really good,” Sam said, all wise and wordly. “He was like. Really big. I wasn’t sure he’d fit at first.”

“He did right?” Sabrina asked, a little concerned. That wasn’t possible, right? That someone was too big, right? Did Sam have like a freakishly small vagina? Did tiny vaginas, like, run in families? Should Sabrina go and get hers inspected by a gynecologist or something?

“Yeah, he did,” Sam said, like Sabrina was sooooo stupid. “I just needed to get like, really wet and stuff.” She shrugged, like, oh no big deal, just how you do stuff. “So, what about you? Any boys you like?”

Sabrina shook her head. She wanted Sam to keep talking about her sex life. “No.” All she could think about was Jared Kleinman staring at her in class today and feeling wigged out by it. Not a love connection, obviously. Plus Jared was sort of mean sometimes. He picked on other kids who were dorkier than he was. “Not really.”

“Didn’t you go to prom with someone last year?”

Sabrina had. She had done tech all spring of last year for Guys and Dolls with Bertie Simons, painting sets and running lights and sound and stage managing. He asked her to go to the prom and they had a super fun time, dancing the chicken dance and then going out for pancakes at like one in the morning in their formal attire. Sabrina had worn the sari she had worn to her cousin’s wedding the summer before and her mom had put her hair in a long braid with flowers threaded in it. Sabrina had an awesome time. But they were just friends and Bertie graduated in June, so even though Sabrina had nursed a crush on him, he was off to college in Chicago by the end of August. So since then, no boys on the horizon. “Yeah, with Bertie. He graduated last year.”

“He was kind of dorky.”

“He’s nice,” Sabrina said, defending Bertie who was a little dorky but in the best possible way. They still talked a lot. Texted sometimes. 

“Did you kiss him?”

“No. We’re just friends,” Sabrina said. 

“Bean,” Sam said, relying on her little-kid nickname from back when Sam had a hard time saying her Rs so “Sabrina” became “Sa-bean-a” and then, finally, just “Bean.” “Are you even trying to get boys to like you? I mean… do you even talk to them?”

Sabrina talked to everyone. It was sort of her thing. Boys, girls, she wasn’t picky or shy. Sabrina loved to talk to folks. But she didn’t know what, specifically, you were supposed to do differently when you talked to boys to, like, get them to like you. “I mean. I talk to boys.”

“Maybe you should start dressing cuter,” Sam said, like she was solving a problem. “Skinny jeans are really in right now?” Sam was wearing them. Sabrina kind of wanted to hit her. There was nothing about her that belonged in skinny anything. 

“I think I look cute,” Sabrina protested. She looked down at her hot pink dress. 

“You look like a librarian or a kindergarten teacher,” Sam said, pointing an accusing finger at her. “Way too wholesome. You have nice boobs. You could show them off a little.”

But big boobs didn’t count if you were big all over. Big boobs didn’t matter when you were fat. Everyone knew that. It was better just to hide everything away, under dresses and sweaters and scarves, show nothing from her neck down. “I… thanks for the advice, Sam,” Sabrina muttered, annoyed. 

“Just trying to help. You want to get laid before college. If you’re still a virgin by the time you go to college, you’re gonna end up one on your wedding night too.”

Sabrina swallowed nervously.

If she even had a wedding night. Nobody wanted to marry a fat virgin.

“You could always get those, like, tummy flattening tights or whatever,” Sam added thoughtlessly. “Give you more of a shape.”

“Yeah. Maybe.”

Sabrina laid on her bed after Sam left, knowing she needed to get up and work on her calculus assignment but not having any motivation or energy and maybe go for a jog or something. She couldn’t just… lay around. 

She tried hard not to be like this once school started up again. Sabrina started to watch what she ate more diligently. No junk foods or fattening meats or dairy. No fun. She exercised more, going for jogs and long walks and bike rides. She actually ran and played softball and stuff in gym class, even though it made her out of breath and super sweaty. She stopped wearing tight fitting jeans, despite that being the most popular style, because skirts and dresses allowed her to hide her gross rolls away more easily. She went out of her way to be nice to everyone so that she might distract them from her hugeness. 

She never managed to get her calc assignment finished that night which meant she had to get up early and skip breakfast to finish it. Sabrina stared at it sort of hopelessly in the minutes before her AP US History class started, stuck on one last problem. A moment passed before she realized that Evan Hansen had turned around in his seat and he was looking her boobs hanging over the desk.

“Sorry,” he said immediately when she caught him looking, his cheeks going a bit pink. “S-sorry, I wasn’t - It’s just… I had trouble with that one too? The calc problem?”

“Oh,” Sabrina said, suddenly relieved. He was looking at her paper not at her body. He was looking at her math homework. “Yeah, I’m kind of lost.”

“Here,” Evan said, and he dove too fast for his notebook, nearly sending it skittering across the floor of the classroom. He briefly cradled his arm to his chest and Sabrina thought, wait, hadn’t he broken that recently. She thought she remembered a cast? Sabrina caught the notebook with her foot, stopping it before it got too far away. “Shit,” Evan muttered, his face even redder. “Shit, sorry, I’m sorry I didn’t - I wasn’t trying to -”

“You’re good,” Sabrina said, stooping and picking up the notebook. “Here.”

“S-sorry,” Evan said, obviously still really embarrassed. “I just. There’s. I have an example problem, in-in my notes?” He flipped to the page, tapped his neatly handwritten notes. Sabrina noticed his arm looked a little… weird. Pale. Skin sort of flaky, like pastry crust, and his hair was a bit darker there. Evan noticed her looking and pulled his sleeve down, wrapping his other arm around the bad one. Yes, he’d definitely just gotten off his cast. Evan had used a few different pens to take notes, highlighting important parts with maker and sticky note tabs. The example problem was exactly what she was stuck on. 

“Oh my god you just saved my life,” Sabrina said, scribbling down the answer and smiling at Evan. “Thank you so much.”

“It’s… You’re welcome? I just? Yeah,” Evan said, still pink in the face, but he was almost smiling. “Oh uh,” He said suddenly, his smile a bit wider now. “You uh. I like your dress?” He said it almost shyly. Like he wasn’t sure if that was weird or inappropriate to say to her.

Sabrina glanced down at her sunflower patterned dress. Black and yellow. She thought it looked nice with her skin. And a boy liked it. A skinny white boy with freckles. She smiled at him, a small smile, and Evan smiled back. She grinned wider. “Thanks,” She said, almost shyly. “And thanks again. For the calculus help. You could tutor, you know? You’re really good.”

“Oh,” Evan looked surprised, “Y-yeah, maybe. You’re wel- I mean thanks .”

They grinned at each other for a moment, but then the teacher called their attention to the front of the room and Evan turned back around, his shoulders tense and hunched and the good feeling of his compliment turned sour. Maybe he just said that because she looked so awful, so massive that all he could do was politely compliment her outfit. He was friends with Jared, wasn’t he? Maybe they were plotting to make her uncomfortable by staring and compliments and generally looking at her. 

Shit. 

Sabrina crossed her arms gingerly over her chest, trying to hide her boobs from view, trying to disappear from view. Of course. He was probably just making fun of her. It wasn’t like some skinny white boy would actually like her. 

At lunch, Sabrina barely nibbled at her carrot sticks. She sat with Alana who was talking through a poster campaign for a food drive she was chairing. Clarke was on some field trip to the art museum, and Stephanie, Siobhan, and Jenna were all super focused on some assignment for Spanish that was kicking their asses. Alana, meanwhile, was coloring in her neat block letters on a piece of poster board and saying she needed to collect a thousand canned goods by Thanksgiving. To feed the hungry. Sabrina stopped eating, feeling it was a bit rude to snack while Alana told her about starving people in their own community. 

“My parents could probably help,” Sabrina said to her. “Put up posters at the mosque?”

Alana’s eyes lit up. “Yes! That’s exactly what we need, more involvement from communities of faith! You’re so right Sabrina.”

“Thanks,” Sabrina said quietly. Alana was smiling this bright, slightly manic smile. Sabrina frowned a bit. Alana was nice, but she didn’t exactly have a lot of friends. She’d hung around with a lot of the seniors who graduated last year. Sabrina had spotted her alone in the halls a lot. Alana had stopped really been a part of Sabrina’s group, with Siobhan and Clarke and sometimes Jenna and Stephanie, after eighth grade. In middle school, Sabrina and Alana were best friends, but come high school some things shifted. Sabrina spent more time with Clarke and Siobhan. Alana got involved with student government. She was always just a little bit outside of Sabrina’s core group of girls, in their orbit but not ever really included because she hung around with the seniors and the student government kids and the mathletes. Sabrina wondered if the slightly manic smile was because she was lonely. If she was trying to fill her time up with more and more activities so she didn’t have to think about how she spent her lunch working instead of socializing most days. 

“Did you want to like? Hang out this weekend?” Sabrina asked her. “We could go to the mall or something?”

Alana’s eyes went wide. “Well. I. There’s the Senior Citizen Homecoming Dance this Saturday for NHS…”

“Oh. Right. Duh,” Sabrina said, because she was actually supposed to work the raffle ticket booth there for a couple of hours. “I meant after.”

Alana shook her head sort of awkwardly. “That’s extremely thoughtful of you, but I- I. My dads and I are supposed to visit my grandma?”

“I thought your grandma passed away?”

“My other grandma,” Alana said, her face stricken. 

“Do you not want to hang out with me?” Sabrina asked suddenly, feeling a ripple of rejection, thinking that it was because she was too big, too much, too loud. “I won’t be offended, I just thought it could be fun -”

Alana’s face went even tighter. “No no no! I just… I don’t really. Go shopping?”

“Oh,” Sabrina said. “I mean. Me either, I guess? I have a hard time finding clothes… we could do something else?”

“You actually want to hang out with me?” Alana asked, and she did not manage to keep the surprise out of her voice. Stephanie and Jenna both looked up briefly, and then Stephanie rolled her eyes. 

“Yeah,” Sabrina said, voice a little bit louder. “I want to hang out with you Alana.”

After the Senior Citizen Homecoming, Alana and Sabrina decided to go to Alana’s parents’ house for a sleepover because Sabrina’s sister Tabby was having her own sleepover with six other ten year olds at the Patel home, and that sounded like a migraine in the making. 

Alana’s parents were at some charity event for the evening, but they had left cash for take out on the refrigerator. Sabrina’s stomach turned at the idea. What if Alana wanted to order pizza or something fattening? 

“Sorry,” Alana said desperately, her face falling as she noticed Sabrina’s eyes falling on the bills and the note on the fridge. “Sorry… that’s terribly embarrassing, I’m -”

The note read, “Order some food when your friend is over, Lonnie! Doublecheck with her if she has any food allergies, please. We love you so so much!” 

“That’s… your dads are so sweet?” Sabrina said with a smile. “They call you Lonnie?”

“Sometimes,” Alana said, her eyes still big behind her glasses.

“I don’t have any food allergies,” Sabrina went on, still smiling. “Sometimes I wish I did though! Maybe then I wouldn’t eat everything in sight!”

Alana blinked at her, her eyebrows furrowed in confusion. 

“Oh I mean. Since. You know. Since I’m… kind of…” Sabrina couldn’t make herself say it, so she just sort of held her arms out from her body to indicate her size. 

“You’re not fat,” Alana said, but then she flinched, seeming to realize that Sabrina hadn’t actually said fat. She slapped a hand over her mouth. “I… Forgive me, that was rude, I.  Social situations can be. I have a hard time with?” She looked near tears. “I didn’t mean to imply -”

“Don’t worry about it.” Sabrina gave her an awkward smile. “It’s… I know what I look like.”

“I didn’t… I. You aren’t -”

“You don’t have to say that,” Sabrina said briskly. “I know what I look like.” Pretty, for a fat girl. Pretty, if she lost a few pounds. Pretty, if you were into that kind of thing. She straightened out her shoulders. “Can I put my stuff in your room?”

Alana seemed to come back to herself. She perked up immediately, her usual sort of bouncy mania in her steps as she led Sabrina up the stairs to a bedroom with seafoam green walls. The bed was made up with military precision, an eggplant colored comforter covering it. There were no posters. No pictures haphazardly pinned up with tacks or tape, just a few photos in tasteful frames on her bedside table and a pair of floral prints in plain black frames.

Alana’s room was like… an adult’s room. Like something out of a magazine. Sophisticated.

“Wow,” Sabrina smiled. “This is your room?” Hers was covered in other people’s senior photos and posters of bands she’d bought for five bucks at Target and old pastel purple paint.  “It’s so nice. Wow.”

“My… Papa’s a decorator?” Alana said looking around. “Until last year I still had… a princess room, basically?”

“That’s so cute.” Sabrina smiled. She remembered Alana’s princess room from middle school. “ There was a castle painted over there. And your bed had a canopy.”

“I just. I felt a bit old for it? So for my birthday last year we… redecorated.”

“I like it.” Sabrina really did. 

“You don’t have to say that,” Alana said. “I know it’s…. It’s not exactly -”

“It’s perfectly you.”

Alana smiled. 

After that things were easier. They ordered Chinese food and watched The Notebook, both of them kind of trashing the movie. 

“I just think Noah is extremely inappropriate with Allie at the beginning,” Alana said primly, crossing her arms in displeasure. 

“Right? Threatening to kill yourself to get a date is not sexy or charming, it’s just kind of… fucked up.” Sabrina looked around, realized she’d swore, and to her delight, Alana erupted in peels of laughter. 

“Yes! It’s… it’s extremely. Fucked up!”

They ate Chinese as the movie continued to roll, and when Allie and Noah finally had sex, Alana rolled her eyes. “He wouldn’t have been able to carry her up the stairs with his pants around his ankles.”

Sabrina had been imagining that as a bit romantic, to be small enough to be picked up that way… But Alana had a point. Sabrina giggled. “I’m just imagining him wiping out now, just dropping her and falling down the stairs.”

Alana laughed too. Allie and Noah started to have sex on screen, and Allie was gasping and moaning and generally looking like she was coming all over herself the second Noah was in her. Sabrina figured that had to be fake. Like. It didn’t feel that good right away, right? Alana rolled her eyes, “All this build up and her rambling about how good it was, but you know it was short lived and she probably didn’t even have an orgasm.”

Sabrina cracked up. 

“Just, statistically, most women are not able to climax on intercourse alone. She probably pretended to have an orgasm because she’s never had one before.”

Sabrina threw a fortune cookie at her. “You’re so right. She’s totally faking it.”

“He’d have done better just to perform cunnilingus.” 

Sabrina lost her shit, she started to laugh so hard she was nearly in tears.

“What?” Alana hit pause. She sounded embarrassed. 

“Never change Alana,” Sabrina said, flinging an affectionate arm over her shoulders. 

“Research indicates -”

Sabrina kept laughing. “I know, I know. I’ve read Cosmo. It was just your delivery. It was very funny.”

“I…” Alana smiled. “It was funny?”

“Yeah. It’s really unusual for, like, anybody our age to be so frank about sex. It was surprising and that made it funny.”

Alana smiled a little wider, a little looser. “I was just being honest.”

“I know. I love it.” Sabrina grinned.

They finished the movie, then did silly green face masks and filled out dumb Cosmo quizzes and also discussed college and their goals. Alana wanted to go into politics. Sabrina was going to be a teacher. 

 

EVAN

 

Because the warm weather held out, Evan was forced to endure gym class outside. The only good thing about breaking his arm over the summer was it meant a free pass from all gym class activities for most of the first month back at school. No running, no softball, definitely no dodge ball…

But that small silver lining had an expiration date. 

Two weeks after the cast had come off, and Evan was expected to start participating in gym class again, barring any contact sports. Still no dodgeball, but he was allowed to play softball, soccer, start running again. 

Mentally, Evan bid the bleachers where he had hung out and read during class for the last couple of weeks farewell. 

Evan had gotten his cast off back in the middle of September, and the only person who said a word was fucking Jared, and all he had done was tell Evan his arm looked “kind of dead.” He wasn’t wrong. The limb looked skinny, shrunken and pale, with patches of flaky dry skin and too thick hair and it looked disgusting. Like the flesh of a zombie in a B-horror movie. Jared kept laughing at him whenever he saw Evan, asking if “all of that jerking off had been worth it.” The whole thing sort of made him want to crawl into a hole and live there forever. And he had a fucking cast tan line. It was horrible. He kept wearing hoodies and long sleeves even as the temperatures stayed firmly in the low seventies because he was so embarrassed by the sore, shrunken pale thing his arm had morphed into after eight weeks in a cast. 

When they sawed his cast off in his doctor’s office, the doctor had pronounced Evan “good as new.” His mom had smiled at him, this tight half baked smile, and then she insisted they go out for dinner to celebrate. 

He’d wanted to say no, say he couldn’t be around people right now, say he was too anxious, too aware of how strange his arm looked and felt… but he couldn’t crush her hopes. Plus, it was the first time in weeks she was actually around to eat dinner with so Evan didn’t complain. It was nice not to have to eat alone for a change. 

Mercifully, the place his mom picked wasn’t terribly crowded at five o’clock on a Friday night. Mostly just old couples checking out the early bird special. His mom’s eyes lit up when she saw there was matzo ball soup on the menu. “Look, honey, they’ve got stars next to all of their kosher menu items.”

Evan couldn’t stop himself from rolling his eyes. He and his mom were fucking bad at being, like, actively religious these days. They hadn’t even bothered going to his Grandma Norah’s for dinner on Yom Kippur this year, and that was something they never skipped. But his mom had class and she had work and really, he couldn’t exactly beg to be called out of school for religious reasons if he was just going to sit at home and watch The Price Is Right.

“What?” His mom said, her smile going tighter. Her jaw probably hurt from the way she was clenching it.

“Nothing,” He said, shrugging. 

“Evan, come on, what is it?”

“Just…” He fiddled with his paper napkin, ripping it in half, then in fourths, then in eighths, sixteenths… “It seems sort of stupid to bother with kosher when we don’t even, like, do religious stuff anymore.” His napkin totally shredded, Evan started picking at an overgrown bit of his cuticle on his bad arm. “Like. It kind of feels like we’re faking it.”

He couldn’t look at her, but he knew he had upset her from the way her breathing changed. She sucked in a deep breath, then said in this slightly too high, slightly too forced voice, “I know this year we’ve been kind of slacking, but we’re both so busy with school… We’ll do better next year, huh? What do you say? That’ll be our… lunar new year’s resolution, huh?”

“Rosh Hashanah,” Evan said dully. “Was weeks ago.”

“I know but… it’s still early in the year! We’ve got time to make up for it.”

“When?” Evan said, starting to rip up the paper wrapper from his straw because his cuticle had begun to bleed. “You’re never home.”

It landed. His mom exhaled. Went quiet. When their waitress came by, Evan noticed his mom sounded kind of congested when she ordered. 

He picked the cheapest kosher option, trying to make up for it, but they ate mostly in stony silence and Evan thought that eating lunch in the bathroom was probably less lonely. 

His mom had been less cheerful in the weeks since. She stopped popping into his bedroom in the morning to encourage him before school, instead usually just shouting from downstairs for him to have a good day before she left. He knew, he knew he’d made her feel bad, like she was a shitty mom. He didn’t want her to feel bad he just… 

At least before she went back to school he wasn’t home alone all of the time. 

At least then if he sat home every weekend complaining about how he had no friends, he had someone to complain to… 

He kept trying to write the letters Dr. Sherman was trying to make him work on, but he was getting progressively worse at them it seemed. They had stopped seeming like pep talks a long time ago. 

 

Dear Evan Hansen, 

 

Today is going to be an amazing day and here’s why: You’re a senior this year. You’re going to graduate and… do something with your life. You’re going to get into a good college and get a degree and do something with your life. Because you have to do something. You have to succeed at something. 

 

Sincerely, 

Me

 

Dear Evan Hansen,  

 

You talked to Sabrina Patel today and helped her with math and told her you liked her dress and then she seemed really upset. You literally can’t do anything right, can you? You fuck up everything, you’re a mistake, it’s a mistake that you’re even alive. 

 

Sincerely,

Me

 

Dear Evan Hansen, 

 

Mom keeps saying that high school sucks and that you’re going to find yourself in college, but what if you don’t like what you find? What if there’s nothing there to find? What if it never gets better?

 

Sincerely, 

Me

 

Dear Evan Hansen, 

 

You’re faking it. You’re faking everything. You’re a fake and a liar and you’re never going to get any better than this. Nobody looks at you, nobody notices you. You’re probably going to do the same thing forever. 

 

Sincerely, 

Me



Dear Evan Hansen, 

 

There’s no point in writing these. There’s no point to any of it. 

 

Sincerely, 

Me

Things weren’t great.

And gym class sucked. 

Some asshole who had gym the period before Evan had delightedly shoved someone else’s gym uniform in the toilet before Evan walked into the locker room, and then the guy had run off cackling, and Evan didn’t know who the unlucky person getting their clothes dunked in toilet water was but somehow it felt pointed, like it was a message to him that maybe he was invisible but invisibility had it’s upside. Nobody was shoving his gym clothes into a toilet. 

Nobody paid attention to him at all. 

He changed in a bathroom stall. Just to be safe. 

Outside, the air was fresh and the sun was bright and normally, this was the sort of day Evan loved being outside for. Big, fluffy white clouds, the blue of the sky brilliant against the lush green trees that formed the horizon line, the sun warm but not hot on his skin. But today it just seemed to highlight everything about Evan that he wanted to hide. His dorky, off brand sneakers. The beads of sweat collecting at the back of his neck, his hairline, his armpits, staining his shirt dark. His shrunken, too pale arm. The fact that he really needed to start shaving like every other day but he had gotten up too late to deal with it this morning so he had a weird, fuzzy stubbly situation on his face that sort of just made it look like his chin and neck were growing mold. 

And he was expected to play softball.

Nightmare. 

Evan wasn’t designed for softball. His arms lacked the strength and coordination for a solid hit. Evan could catch okay, but he threw like a girl. He wasn’t a terribly fast runner. Softball was not his strong suit. 

But he needed to pass all of his classes, even gym, in order to get into a decent college or he’d tank his entire future. So he tried, like, really hard every class. Until he wheezed with effort, until he was sweat soaked and smelled, because if he tried then the teacher couldn’t flunk him. In gym class you could get an A for effort. 

Which was why when he was stuck in the outfield, Evan didn’t dick around like the other bored outfielders who were all texting or taking pictures of themselves or making gross jerk-off motions at the gym teacher. Evan hated this fucking school. 

He kept his eyes fixed on home plate, watching the batter, prepared to spring into action if the ball should come flying his way. He flexed his hand in the sweaty, borrowed glove he had gotten at the start of class. Evan’s eyes followed the ball as Dana P. hit it soldily, a hollow metal sound echoing throughout the diamond as she took off for first base. Evan realized, with a start, that the ball was heading directly at him. If he caught it, Dana would be out. Would be the other team’s third out. 

“I got it,” he said, louder than he meant to, but he had it. Evan had it. 

Only the moment the ball was inches from his glove, someone else barrelled into him, shouting “I GOT IT” as their entire body collided with Evan, jostling his bad arm and making him yelp, the ball landing squarely in their mitt before the mit smashed itself into Evan’s temple, landing like a punch. 

“Shit, dude, are you alright?” the kid who just almost knocked him out asked, his hands on Evan’s shoulders steadying him. “I didn’t even see you, shit, I’m sorry.”

Evan blinked a few times, disoriented, to see Nick Schultz apologizing and asking if he was alright. Evan tried to say he was fine, tried to nod and reassure but Nick hadn’t seen him. Hadn’t heard him. He had just blended into the background, the other kid didn’t even see him, Evan was basically invisible, he was basically Mia from The Princess Diaries when someone sat on her and it was funny, really, it was so fucking funny except it wasn’t. At all. It wasn’t funny. 

He wheezed out a laugh, slowly walking to the teacher. His head was throbbing above his ear. He was going to throw up. He was real, this was really happening, this was real. “I need to go to the nurse.”

“You’re gonna be fine, walk it off,” his gym teacher muttered 

“My head… it really hurts. It’s - I think, I mean, no I need to… I need to go to the nurse.” He tried, but the teacher was literally texting, literally looking at his phone, literally acting like Evan wasn’t there. “...Please?”

He rolled his eyes. “Sure, kid, whatever fine.”

None of this would have happened if he hadn’t tried. What was the point in trying, really? So what if he failed gym and had to go to community college and never amounted to anything? He was already such a stupid waste of space...

Evan walked back toward the school. He realized that he was still wearing his stupid gym uniform when he got there and regretted not thinking far enough ahead to go change, regretted it because even though every other kid in this school wore this exact uniform for class, this exact pair of mesh shorts and this exact heather gray CENTRAL HIGH t-shirt, it fit him oddly. Too tight across his hunched together shoulders, shorts hanging too far down his knees, his weird hairy legs sticking out like grubby popsicle sticks. His head throbbed and throbbed and throbbed worse with each step, his eye ached, his jaw hurt, his bad arm twinged and he didn’t know if that was related to being smacked in the head or if that was just the reality of him Having An Arm now. 

Evan and the school nurse, Joyce, had a bit of an understanding. She kept herself abreast of his various Mental Health Concerns because she kind of knew Evan’s mom from the nursing home where she filled in on weekends, and Evan used that fact to skip out of his more overwhelming classes sometimes (usually calc, but also any class where reading aloud sometimes became a thing). Sometimes he’d take a nap on the weird cot in her office with the tracing paper-like cover. Sometimes he’d just stare at the eye chart across from the exam table. He didn’t even know if she was really a nurse. He’d read once that not all school nurses were actually qualified medical professionals. Usually they just needed to know first aid. He could be a school nurse. He had to learn CPR at the park this summer. 

“Evan?”

Joyce’s face swam in front of him. 

“I got hit in the head with a softball in gym class,” He mumbled, his head woozy. “Well. Some kid’s glove but the ball… was there.”

He was led to that cot with the paper sheets, given an ice pack and a basin to puke in if he needed, and Joyce told him she’d call his mom. Evan wanted to protest, say he was okay, but before he could he was actually throwing up, because he was probably actually concussed, and that settled things for Joyce. 

Evan’s mom showed up over an hour later. He tried not to resent her for it, but his efforts were pretty half-assed. She always promised she would be around, and then the minute he needed her, she was unreachable. 

“Evan,” She said when she arrived, looking at him with this tight smile and her scrubs with palm trees on them, smiling like maybe her teeth hurt or something. He imagined them cracking under the strain, cracking with the effort of smiling. “Come on honey.”

He followed her out to the main office where she signed him out for the rest of the day. “Feel better soon, Ethan,” One of the women behind the main desk said distantly with a distracted smile. 

This wasn’t real this wasn’t happening this wasn’t real. 

“Sweetheart,” His mom prompted outside of her car. 

“What?” He said, sort of stupidly.

She was trying to hand him a plastic shopping bag. “In case you need to be sick again? Joyce said you were throwing up.”

“Right.”

He took the bag. Climbed into the passenger side of her car. There were books scattered in the backseat, like she had moved them hastily. 

They went to the emergency room. His mom used three different cards to cover the one hundred dollar copay. After a couple of tests, Evan was officially concussed. No gym class for two weeks, and someone needed to watch Evan tonight. Wake him every few hours.

His mom’s face wrinkled and she looked forlornly down at her phone. “Okay,” she said, and he could tell she was trying to sound reassuring and calm but it fell short. 

In the car, he mumbled an apology. “I know you have class tonight.”

“It’s fine honey.”

“It’s not,” Evan said softly. “I’m messing this up.”

“It’s not like you keep hurting yourself on purpose,” His mom said and her voice was a little sharp, a little too telling and Evan couldn’t catch his breath, he couldn’t breathe because she knew she knew she knew. 

“Sweetheart?”

He was dying he was dying his heart raced way too fast, galloping hundreds of miles an hour, going to burst through his chest any second now, any moment, he was dying he could be dying his heart rapped out a steadily increasing drumbeat of she knew she knew she knew. She knew he was hurting himself on purpose she knew she knew.

She stopped the car. “Evan. Look at me.”

He couldn’t because if he looked, then she’d see, if she saw she’d hate him she’d hate him she already did but she was just good at hiding it. 

“Baby. I need you to focus on breathing, okay? Slow breath in, slow breath out.”

He heard her like he was underwater, all distorted and strange. 

“You can do this. Just try to breathe with me, how about that? Just breathe with me.”

She took a slow, deep breath. He mimicked with a shallower, faster one, a pale impression, but after a few minutes his heart started to slow and their breathing synced up and it felt less like he was dying. 

“I… Aren’t you supposed to be working on this with Dr. Sherman?” His mom said helplessly. 

Evan squeezed his eyes shut but it didn’t him from feeling overwhelmed by just how much he was disappointing her, how much he was ruining her life, how much she must hate him must regret his existence. “I’m trying,” he confessed because he was, he was trying, but he never got better he never got better he’d never be better than this.

“Okay,” She said, her voice a little softer now. She reached out and squeezed his shoulder. “It’s alright. You’re alright.” 

But he wasn’t. He wasn’t alright, he’d never been alright. They got home and his mom sent him up to his room, saying he should lie down and relax and she would check on him in an hour.  “I’m sorry. About making you leave work. And miss class. I’m… I’m trying to be better,” Evan mumbled. 

“Don’t worry about it,” She said, her voice a little too clipped. “I’ll get notes from someone. It’s fine.”

But he knew she was lying. She lied to him all of the time to make him feel better and he let her so she’d feel better and it just created this whole toxic loop of lying to each other and Evan didn’t know how to get off the ride. How to stop lying. If he even could. 

Evan had an impressive bruise on his face for the next few days from where he’d gotten hit. Jared found him at his locker and laughed at him, asking if Connor Murphy had finally punched him over the “weird sex letter.”

“No,” Evan said, trying to keep his voice down because Connor Murphy was right fucking there in the hallway outside of his English class, he was within earshot. “Please don’t say that? I just. I got hit with a ball in gym class.”

“God you’re so pathetic,” Jared said, almost affectionately. “Man I wish someone had put that on YouTube. You’d probably go viral.” 

Chapter Text

November

***

EVAN

Connor Murphy hadn’t ruined Evan’s life.

Yet. 

Honestly, maybe since reading the letter, Connor had realized there was nothing to ruin. He was ruined already. He was pathetic. 

Things weren’t going great. 

He watched every doorway for the shadow Connor Murphy cast, wary he might announce to their English class that Evan was the saddest motherfucker in the school, worried that Jared was right and he might show up and start shooting people (especially after he got into an argument with some junior who had made a snide comment about his shoes or something). Connor hadn’t ruined his life… yet. 

But Evan got the distinct impression that he was just biding his time. Waiting for the perfect moment to Xerox a hundred copies of that letter and distribute it around the school like the Burn Book in Mean Girls. Evan had caught Connor looking at him a few times, his mouth slightly open, like he might say something, talk to him. Evan didn’t want that, he couldn’t have that. Every time he spotted that, he’d get away as fast as he fucking could because otherwise he might dissolve on the spot into a pile of embarrassed dust and teeth.

Fuck. 

His mom was in the middle of midterms, which meant Evan saw less and less of her… but she kept leaving piles of printed out FastWeb scholarship essay prompts with little encouraging post-it notes saying stuff like “I think you’d have something interesting to say about this!” or “$5,000 honey!” and it made him sick to his stomach.

Actually, he’d been sick to his stomach a lot. After calling out of school twice for stomach aches, his mom insisted he go to the doctor and sighed heavily when they diagnosed him with a stomach ulcer. The doctor thought it was a combination of stress and taking a lot of over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs after he broke his arm. He walked away with a prescription for antibiotics and an antacid and felt horrible guilt as his mom wrung her hands and used two credit cards to cover the fucking copay. They’d be paying off the tests the doctors had run for months. Years maybe.

“I’m sorry,” Evan told her, his head down in the car as she dropped him off at school for third hour. She was going in late today. “I’m really - I’m sorry.”

“Baby, this isn’t your fault. You just have to be careful about taking too much ibuprofen. It’s not like you’re getting hurt on purpose.”

He sort of wanted to cry and tell her it was his fault, tell her how he’d broken his arm… But he couldn’t stand the way she was frowning the way she looked so fucking sad, so he just nodded and swallowed the feeling that he was the worst thing that had ever happened to her and said he loved her and went to school. 

And then he got there and found out that he had gotten a B+ on his last math test, which was not going to get him into a good college, no matter what scholarships he applied for. Fuck fuck fuck. He had shoved the paper into his backpack, all the way to the bottom, his face burning and his hands sweating and his stomach hurting because he had studied for hours and still only got a B+ and it wasn’t fair it wasn’t fair it wasn’t fair. 

That night, Evan’s mom had left him cash and told him to order whatever he wanted for dinner. He was too exhausted to deal with this trap she had laid out for him (eat whatever he wanted, but forced to interact with a delivery person) and instead pocketed the cash and went up to his bedroom to sleep. The bed was still unmade, the sheets needed to be changed, but Evan collapsed into it and let sleep take him almost immediately. 

When he woke up, it was already after ten o’clock. His eyes felt gritty and his throat dry. He wondered, not for the first time, if he snored and then realized if he did it wouldn’t matter. Nobody ever saw him asleep. 

His mom wasn’t home yet, so Evan skipped pretending to do his homework and instead opened up his laptop and went on facebook. He weirdly had… not like a ton, but more facebook friends than he expected to have considering that nobody ever really talked to him. Probably because it was still cool to try to get as many friends as possible. It was the only reason Evan could think of to explain all forty five of his. 

On the sidebar of the page, under “People You May Know,” Evan saw a profile for Connor Murphy. He didn’t click on it. 

But his finger hovered off of the trackpad for a moment. He considered it. 

Connor Murphy and Evan had sixteen mutual friends. 

Connor Murphy had a bong for a profile picture.

Connor Murphy hadn’t ruined his life. 

Yet.

It had been almost two months. Maybe he didn’t want to ruin Evan’s life. Maybe all of the shit Jared had to say about him was overdramatized, maybe he wasn’t so bad? He could have ruined Evan’s life but he hadn’t. That felt… like something. 

Evan considered sending Connor Murphy a message. Explaining himself, explaining the letter… He always thought better on paper, better when he could plan and strategize what he would say before he said it. He could proofread, scan for typos, he could fix mistakes before he made them on paper. In person? In person, Evan made mistakes before he even realized he was making them. 

So he imagined sending Connor Murphy a message. Apologizing. Explaining himself. He imagined waiting for a response, and getting one. A real life message back. A person who could see him…

 

Dear Evan Hansen,

 

Stop thinking about Connor Murphy. It’s Officially Creepy. Face it: Connor Murphy hasn’t thought about you at all since he took that letter. If he had, he’d have said something by now. He’d have probably ruined your life. He just doesn’t care. He’s not your friend or pretend friend. He’s just a normal person. He’s not going to save you. You’re not even worth saving.

Sincerely, 

Me

Connor was just a person. A person who wanted nothing to do with Evan. And Evan couldn’t blame him for that.  

Just because Connor Murphy had seen him, noticed him for a brief, flicking moment didn’t mean it meant anything. Evan didn’t matter to anyone. He ought to fucking accept that. 

When Evan got ready for bed that night, he swallowed his medication and felt the weight of the bottle of pills in his hand. They rattled violently. He wondered what might happen if he uncapped the bottle and swallowed them all. 

He tried not to think like that. He tried to push the thought out of his head. He didn’t want to think about that, to indulge that morbid curiosity, because he had played that game before and wound up in the hospital with a broken arm. 

Evan tried not to think about it. He tried not to think about it so hard he ended up not thinking about anything, just absently staring into his locker. 

“Yo. Dude.”

Jared was waving a hand over Evan’s face. He’d been staring into his locker for a minute, trying to decide if he ought to go to the nurse and ask if he could lay down in there instead of going to English where he was sure Connor Murphy would stare at him all through class with his unnervingly watchful eyes but then he’d have to actually talk to the nurse, he’d have to make up some reason he couldn’t be in class and since he was just at the doctor yesterday, since he had been out sick a few times since the start of the year already, they might call his mom and she’d have to come and pick him up and miss even more work and she was trying to get extra hours so that when she missed a shift or two to take her exams their bank accounts wouldn’t be in such bad shape and fuck his hands were so sweaty was it possible to spot sweaty hands from a distance? He had to turn in a paper in his history class and what if the paper got all damp and curled at the edges because of his gross hands and then Mr. Johnson wouldn’t accept it and he’d have to take a late grade and that would tank his GPA, push him below a 3.75 and he needed at least a 3.75 to get into most of the schools he wanted to attend and then he’d end up stuck at home going to community college and his mom would be so disappointed and -

“Dude,” Jared said again, snapping his fingers in front of Evan’s nose. “You’re not even listening.”

“Y-yeah? Sorry. I’m- I. Sorry.”

“I said , my parents aren’t around this weekend. They haven’t used their liquor cabinet since, like,  Rosh Hashanah 1994, so we can drink whatever we want.”

“You’re… You want me to come over?” Evan sputtered stupidly. Jared didn’t do that. Jared never wanted to hang out with him, he always said he had other people to hang out with. “Why don’t you invite one of your camp friends?”

“They’re all busy this weekend,” He said with a shrug like it didn’t matter.  “You’re not a bad last choice.”

“Right,” Evan said kind of coldly. He didn’t want to go over to Jared’s and drink. He’d never really drank and he’d probably be fucking bad at it anyway. Plus Jared was sort of a dick to him and he wasn’t interested in just making an appearance for the sake of Jared’s car insurance. He hated that Jared’s mom talked to his and she apparently knew of all about Evan’s loserly habit of spending the weekends reading and editing wikipedia articles on various plants because he had nothing else to do, like, at all. 

“What, you got big plans?” Jared sounded annoyed. “Gonna go write more creepy sex letters to Murphy over there?”

Evan’s eyes immediately traveled to where Connor Murphy was reading, leaned back against one of the lockers. Evan saw he had huge bags under his eyes and his hair looked like it had never been introduced to a hairbrush. It was sort of amazing that he was related to Zoe, really. He noticed Evan looking and Evan looked away fast.

“No,” Evan said, irritated. “Fine. When?”

“Friday. I can drive you back to my place after school.”

“I’ll ask my mom,” Evan said, nodding. 

“Dude are you fucking stupid? You don’t ask your mommy for permission to come over and get shitfaced with me.”

“I meant… I meant if it-it was okay to come over, I - I mean, obviously, I wasn’t going to -” He stopped, shaking his head. “I wasn’t… I wouldn’t tell her.”

“You’re like a six year old. Just make sure you pack your pullups if you’re gonna wet the bed or whatever.”

Evan opened his mouth to retort, to spit that Jared had actually been the one with the bedwetting problem growing up if Evan recalled from their sleepovers as kids, but he snapped his mouth shut because was he really about to ruin a chance to hang out with another actual, real life person this weekend?

His mom made a point to come home for dinner that night. They had Chinese food from Lucky’s while his mom looked through legal terms and Evan dicked around with a scholarship essay about “overcoming adversity” and his mom suggested that maybe he write about his anxiety and he’d gotten pissed and told her, flat out, no and instead said he was going to write about starting the school year with a broken arm. 

“Fine. I just don’t think that’s going to be a very compelling essay, Evan, but if you don’t want to get a thousand dollars-”

“I’m not going to win it anyway,” He said, irritably. “Nobody actually wins these things.”

“Don’t start with that. If you just try -”

“Can I go over to Jared’s this weekend?” Evan said then, cutting across her. “On Friday? He asked if I wanted to stay over.”

“Oh,” She said. His mom didn’t even bother trying not to look surprised. “Yeah, honey, okay. Sure.”

“Great,” Evan said, smiling, or trying to smile. 

“What are you boys going to do?” She asked and it was such a fucking childish question, like he was ten or something. 

“I don’t know, like, just, hang out or whatever?” Evan muttered. “He got a new Xbox?”

“What’s that?”

“A video game thing.”

“Ah, you and your boy stuff. Video games and all that. Do they still make Mortal Kombat?”

Evan rolled his eyes. That was the one game he used to enjoy playing on his cousin’s SEGA back when he was little and still saw his dad’s side of the family. “Don’t do that.”

“What?”

“Don’t make it weird okay?”

“It was a genuine question!” She said, hands up in surrender. “Are you going to stay over? I can call Rebecca and ask if they have any soy milk if you have cereal for breakfast-”

“Mom!” Evan said, mortified. “Stop. Please.”

“When you drink dairy milk it upsets your stomach, and you just found out you have an ulcer -”

“Stop, okay! I know! I know. I will eat dry cereal, please, just don’t make a big deal out of this and do not call Jared’s mom.”

“Well, shit, Evan, I’m sorry that I’m worried about you! I want to make sure you’re okay, and I don’t want you coming home sick and miserable. I think it’s great that you’re going over to Jared’s! But, just, can you do me a favor -”

Evan put his head down on the table. “But what , mom?”

“Just can you make sure you bring your meds with you? I don’t… I know doing new stuff can be stressful and -”

“Mom! Enough. It’s just… I’m just hanging out with someone. You’re making it way too big of a deal.”

“I just. I think it’s good. Get you out of the house a little. It’s better than you sitting here every weekend, telling me you don’t have any friends.”

Evan felt his face heat up, ashamed. “I just said -”

“I know, I’m sorry, I just think… If you bring your meds, then you won’t have to worry -”

“Come on mom,” Evan said, getting up from the table. “Can’t you just. Tell me not to do fucking drugs or get drunk like I’m a normal person? Just this once?”

His mom’s jaw dropped. “Evan, sweetheart -”

“I’m going in my room,” he said shortly. 

“We should talk about this.”

“I am so done talking to you right now.” He picked his laptop up and went into his bedroom, slamming the door behind him even though he knew that pissed her off. Evan felt just. So fucking stupid . His mom couldn’t even… Just for once he was going to go and do something normal and she was making a big deal out of it and. 

Fuck. 

   

On Friday, Evan packed his pajamas and toothbrush and meds into his backpack. He rode the bus to school and hurried to finish a worksheet on the bones of the arms of mammals for the science class he was taking, flinching as he labeled the ulna and radius, which were the bones he’d broken that summer, feeling a strange twinge in his newly healed arm. 

Evan tried not to seem too overly eager when Jared showed up at his locker at the end of the day, instead he gripped the straps of his bag like this was super totally normal and he was totally one-hundred percent used to hanging out with people on Friday nights, definitely got invited to get drunk with people all of the time, yep, totally casual. 

They bummed around Jared’s parents’ house for a bit. It was… sort of uncomfortable. Jared turned on MTV and they mostly just sat there on opposite ends of the couch for a while and Evan kept wiping his palms on his jeans because they were sweaty because, like, when did they start drinking? Why were they just sitting here? They literally just sat around while the TV played for a long time and it made Evan super nervous because, like, what was he meant to be doing right now? Should he be trying to talk? Should he have brought his homework or something? 

Eventually Jared started to just complain about his computer science teacher and that went on for, like, a while, with Evan sort of nodding and agreeing and going along with the topic because even though he didn’t know this teacher and had never taken his class, it was better than silently watching some cable show he had never seen before on the other end of the sofa. 

From there, Jared moved onto his favorite topic of conversation: Connor Murphy. Specifically, how much of a freak he thought Connor was. His new favorite thing to bitch about was the fact that Connor painted his fingernails. “Isn’t that, like, the gayest shit you’ve ever heard?”

Evan shrugged. He didn’t know what fingernails had to do with being gay. He didn’t know anybody gay, not in real life. Like he had watched Will and Grace sometimes with his mom when he was younger? He didn’t know anything about being gay. Sometimes, Evan wondered if maybe he was gay but that wasn’t something he was going to volunteer to Jared because Jared was still giving him shit about following Zoe Murphy around after the jazz band concert last year. Evan didn’t know what being gay felt like or meant he just… Sometimes there were other guys and he’d think, well, they were attractive? But so were girls? Sometimes when he was jerking off, he let his mind wander and it wasn’t always thinking about having sex with girls, sometimes it was guys too and he’d watched some gay porn before and it was pretty hot but like that didn’t mean he was gay, did it? He didn’t know and he wasn’t going to ask. Evan kept that information to himself because it seemed like the kind of thing Jared would never let him live down. 

He went on about Connor’s fingernails for a long time. Evan just sort of listened and nodded. He kind of… thought it was sort of gay how obsessed Jared was with Connor, really, because he loved fucking talking about the guy even though they never spoke. But he kept that to himself too. 

Jared insisted they order a pizza around six because apparently you could get “really fucked up” if you drank on an empty stomach. Evan privately wondered how much drinking Jared had actually done because he spent a lot of time staring into his parents’ liquor cabinet before settling on whiskey. 

Evan was… not really a fan. It tasted like how his mom’s hairspray smelled. But then Jared called him a pussy for flinching when he first swallowed and Evan really didn’t need this night to turn into Jared ragging on him until he called his mom to pick him up, so he squared his shoulders and swallowed the rest of the whiskey in one go. It burned on the way down and it was sort of sweet but mostly just tasted like how lumber smelled and Evan poured himself a second drink so that Jared couldn’t say a fucking word. 

After two drinks a piece, Jared insisted they play Grand Theft Auto, which Evan knew literally nothing about. He made Evan play too but he couldn’t really do much of anything, especially since he couldn’t quite get his head around the controller and things were getting a little blurry at the edges after the whiskey. He fucked up a few times, but Jared was in a decent mood, even showing him how not to do that again. They paused a few times, getting more and more to drink and Evan started to wonder how truthful Jared was about his parents not checking their liquor cabinet because they had definitely drunk enough that the bottle was noticeably lighter.

“It’s fine. They literally never check. It’s fine.”

“But I -” Evan started, imagining Jared’s mom calling his, imagining his mom being pissed off and disappointed that he was getting drunk and that he had lied to her about what they were doing tonight, imagining getting grounded which would make literally no impact on his life because Jared was probably never going to invite him over again after this anyway. 

“Chill. Come on.”

They had another drink, then another, then Jared turned off the game and said he was tired of doing all of the work. They sat for a few minutes and it occurred to Evan that Jared didn’t know what they were meant to do now either. They’d drank. They’d played video games. It was eleven o’clock by then. 

Jared said something about someone taking his “freaking kidney” which Evan didn’t understand, so then they both saddled up to Jared’s desk and he showed Evan some weird video about unicorns which was funny but kind of disturbing and Jared kept saying shit about “candy mountain” and Evan realized, huh, he thought that was super fucking funny even though it really wasn’t all that funny, and huh, maybe he was drunk. 

Weird. 

It was a weird feeling. He sort of liked it. 

They sort of fell down a youtube rabbit hole after that, watching a lot of weird videos and before long they were talking about how Beyonce was sort of hot after one of her videos came up. 

“Yeah, I mean, her ass is sort of perfect right?” Jared said. 

“Yeah, uh. It’s nice, I guess.”

“Dude, you sure you’ve even got a dick?” Jared said, rolling his eyes. “Or are you just like a Ken doll down there?”

“Shut up,” Evan mumbled. “She’s hot, whatever, okay?”

Jared said something else, something Evan didn’t exactly catch, and he was sort of slow on the uptake or just slow because of the whiskey but somehow Jared had basically just turned on porn. Some girl was bent over a table and a guy was doing her from behind. Evan opened his mouth, but he closed it again, not sure what he was even planning to say because was he seriously just sitting there watching porn with Jared? Was this… was this what people did ? Was it even legal, like they were both under eighteen? What if his mom found out? 

“Was it hard to jerk off when your arm was in that cast?” Jared said to him, his words a bit slurred. 

“I just used the other hand,” Evan said, and then regretted volunteering that information because like why was he telling Jared about how he jerked off, what was the matter with him?

“Yeah right,” Jared said. “I bet you don’t even do it. You’re as pure as the driven snow. All innocent and shit.”

“Fuck off,” Evan said, rolling his eyes. “I do… I mean, not like. Not a lot. Like. Normal.. A normal amount. Whatever,  I don’t… shut up.”

“I bet you’ve never even gotten off,” Jared said, and it felt like he was taunting Evan at first but then his leg was sort of pressed against Evan’s weirdly and it felt too hot in the room suddenly. “If you jizzed you’d probably thing you were dying or something.”

“I’ve jerked off before,” Evan insisted stupidly. “Why do you want to know, anyway? Do you need someone to show you how?”

Why had he said that, why had he said that? What was wrong with him? Now Jared definitely thought he was some freak, some sort of pervert, he probably thought the letter Connor Murphy had stolen had weird shit in it about teaching people to jerk off and why were they watching porn while this was happening? The girl on the screen looked like she might be in pain and Evan couldn’t seem to look away from the way her chest moved, couldn’t stop focusing on the sound of the guy’s skin slapping against hers and then. 

Jared’s hand moved first. 

Evan followed suit. 

They didn’t look at each other, both of them keeping their eyes focused on the screen, watching the girl getting fucked, their motions quick and a little awkward, unzipping and grabbing, and Evan stopped suddenly, realizing Jared used this desk for this quite a bit obviously because there was lotion and tissues, and he reached out to pump some of the lotion into his hand and Jared did the same and he sort of whispered “fuck” when Evan twisted his hand up slightly and Evan didn’t know why but he was sort of satisfied to make Jared finish first but then suddenly equally mortified because then he came and. 

What the fuck. 

Had just happened.

Jared passed Evan a box of Kleenex and they both wiped off their hands and Evan didn’t look at Jared and Jared didn’t look at Evan and what the fuck what the fuck what the fuck. 

Jared got up. Went to the bathroom. Evan just sat there, dazed, as the video finished with the guy finishing on the girl’s chest and oh my god he was such a fucking freak the first time someone invited him over in literal years and he jerked him off? What was the matter with him?

Jared came back into his room in different boxers than he’d been wearing before and announced that he was “super wasted” and needed to sleep it off and that Evan could sleep on the couch if he wanted so. 

Evan got up. Changed into his pajamas and slept on the sofa. 

The next morning his mom picked him up and his head hurt badly and his mouth felt too dry, but when she asked if he had fun Evan said yes because well. What else was he supposed to say? He wasn’t about to tell his mother he’d gotten a drunken handjob with his family friend since he was like six. 

He went home and slept for a few hours. He got distracted trying to work on his math homework because his mind kept flashing back to Jared’s bedroom, to Jared’s hand and what did that mean, was that what people did when they hung out? 

They hadn’t even kissed or whatever. They hadn’t looked at each other. 

What did that mean? That was… that was pretty gay, there was no denying it, that was pretty undeniably gay which made it all the weirder that earlier in the night Jared had been going on and on about how gay Connor Murphy was and then he fucking jerked Evan off like. What the hell did that mean? 

He felt bad about it. That… that wasn’t how it was supposed to go, the first time you did, like, stuff with another person. Right? Weren’t you supposed to at least like each other? Jared basically actively hated Evan. 

Evan was a nervous wreck by Monday morning. He threw up before first hour and then spent ten minutes rummaging in his bag, knowing he had some gum somewhere in there but instead all he pulled out was his fucking math test where he had gotten a B+ and his hands were slick with sweat and he couldn’t find his fucking gum but he couldn’t go to class with puke breath that was disgusting and he was doubled over his bag by the sink in the boys bathroom, frantically searching when the door opened and Connor Murphy walked in, his boots entering the room almost a full second before the rest of him. 

He stared at Evan. His eyes were bloodshot. This was it this was the moment when Connor Murphy ruined his fucking life and he had puke breath and couldn’t find his goddamn gum and this was it. 

Connor opened his mouth. Evan curled inward a little, braced for impact. 

Instead, Connor just pointed to the floor. “You dropped that.” 

His pack of gum was sitting on the bathroom floor. “Oh.” Evan stooped quickly to pick it up.

Connor didn’t say anything else, he just headed into a stall and Evan felt like maybe he should warn him that he had just thrown up in there, that it probably reeked of puke, but his legs had other ideas, carrying him so fast out of the bathroom he didn’t even get a chance to zip his bag up first. He shoved a piece of gum into his mouth and slid into class ten minutes late. His teacher asked him for a pass and he didn’t have one, he didn’t have any excuse for being late and he just stood there, feeling sweat drip down the back of his neck and he opened and closed his mouth a few times, unable to find words, and eventually she just got frustrated and told him to sit down. 

“Dude,” Jared whispered beside him as they launched into the lesson. “You need to calm the fuck down.”

Evan watched every doorway, every hall and sidewalk for Connor Murphy for the rest of the day, heat prickling at the back of his neck, paranoia unspooling his barely strung together calm. He finally did spot him, outside after lunch, coming back into the school from the parking lot without a jacket. It was freezing outside. The weatherman this morning was talking snow. Evan watched Connor without a coat and worried he might freeze to death.

Might freeze to death. That his family might find that letter of Evan’s, the one Connor took. That they might read into it too much, assume they were friends, assume they were close and Evan would find himself lying because he always ended up lying it didn’t matter what he tried to do differently he was a liar he lied he lied he lied. 

He wished Connor would put on a coat. For his own sake. 

 


ZOE

 

At the beginning of the year, Zoe had been kind of excited about taking AP Calculus as a junior. Mrs. Byers, the guidance counselor, had told her at the end of her sophomore year when she was picking classes for next year that she’d be the only junior, that normally they wouldn’t let juniors take AP Calculus, but they’d made an exception for her because of how well she’d been doing. 

“It’s a demanding class,” Mrs. Byers had said at the time. “But you tested into it, fair and square. Plus, you’re not taking any other AP classes, so I’m confident you can handle it.”

Zoe remembers walking into her first AP Calculus class at the beginning of the year, taking a seat and having Alana Beck come right up to her and ask her if she was lost. 

“This is an AP Calculus class,” Alana had said, her voice loud enough for anyone listening in to hear. “And you’re a junior.”

“I know,” Zoe had replied, pulling her pencil case and textbook out of her bag. “I’m in this class.”

Alana’s eyes had widened, she’d pressed her lips together in obvious irritation. “But juniors can’t take AP Calculus,” she’d said, voice getting even louder. “Mrs. Byers said that juniors can’t take AP Calculus. It’s a school rule.”

“I think it’s more of a guideline?” Zoe had said, feeling people start to watch their conversation. “I tested into it at the end of last year, so…”

Alana had opened her mouth, then closed it, and taken a seat at the front of the room, right by the teacher’s desk. Zoe remembers Alana practically pouncing on Ms. Magnusson when she arrived, making sure it wasn’t a mistake that Zoe was taking AP Calculus, and Ms. Magnusson looking very tired and very stressed out and announcing that she had a class list and yes, Zoe Murphy was supposed to be here. 

Anyone in the class who hadn’t been paying attention to Alana making a scene had definitely taken notice the minute Ms. Magnusson said her last name. 

Because the AP Calculus class is full of seniors. 

Seniors who know her brother. 

Seniors who, for the most part, really don’t like her brother. 

So yeah, even though Zoe started the year pretty excited about AP Calculus, it got old pretty fucking quickly because she had the misfortune of being the little sister of one of the most infamous members of the senior class. 

It fucking figured. 

It fucking figured that Connor could ruin this for Zoe without even being in the same fucking room. 

The school had been careful not to put them in the same AP Calculus class, seeing as somehow Connor had managed to test into it as well despite never putting any fucking effort into his school work. Connor’s taking mostly AP classes, actually, which Zoe resents more than a little. 

It’s bullshit. It’s bullshit that her stoner brother puts in the bare minimum and gets into AP classes, while Zoe works her butt off for her grades in everything but math, which she’s always been good at. He just sails through without doing anything and it pisses Zoe off. 

It pisses Zoe off that any chance she had of making friends in this AP Calculus class has been completely blown by the fact that she’s associated with Connor, that she’s his sister. That these kids who’ve grown up with him hate him so fucking much that they don’t trust her just because she’s his sister. 

It’s such fucking bullshit. 

It’s easier in her other classes, classes where people know her for her, know her as “Zoe who plays guitar in jazz band”, not “the school psycho’s sister”.

Thank fuck for jazz band. 

It feels like the one thing she’s got that’s just hers. It’s easy to get lost in the music when she’s playing guitar, easy to transport herself somewhere else. Pretend she’s someone else, someone who she’s trying desperately to be - someone cool and unaffected, who doesn’t have a fucked-up stoner brother and a mom who tries too hard and a dad who doesn’t try hard enough. 

She’s learning a piece for the mid-winter concert that she really likes. It’s challenging, but it’s pretty, and she practices until her fingers bleed, she practices until it sounds right, she practices until it’s so stuck in her head that she doesn’t have to think about the fact that her older brother reeks of pot and walks around like a skeleton in a hoodie and stares people down with “eyes like a fucking serial killer, Jesus fuck, I swear he’s going to shoot up the school one day, they shouldn’t even let him on campus-”

“You’ve been playing the same thing over and over again for two fucking hours.”

Zoe looks up to see Connor standing in the doorway. His hair is a fucking mess, like he hasn’t washed it or brushed it in days, hanging in front of his face in long, greasy strands, and his eyes are bloodshot and he looks cold in a worn military-style jacket and he’s scowling at her. 

Zoe rolls her eyes. “That’s how practice works, asshole. You keep going until you get it right.”

Connor’s eyes flash with something dark that twists Zoe’s stomach. “Two. Fucking. Hours. That’s enough, fucking Christ.”

“Fuck you,” Zoe spits out, putting the guitar down and heading into the hallway. “Just because you’ve never worked at anything in your life.”

“No one needs to play the same four bars on the fucking guitar for two fucking hours, Zoe!” Connor erupts, clenching his fists. “Fuck! Some of us are trying to fucking concentrate!”

“On what?” Zoe challenges. “On another history essay you write while you’re fucking high that they hold up as an example of ‘excellent work’ the following year that you put zero effort into? Some of us actually have to try, Connor! I’m so fucking sick of you!”

“I have fucking homework,” Connor spits back. “Fuck you!”

“Yeah? What homework?”

“AP Calculus.”

Zoe actually laughs at that. “Fucking AP Calculus, fuck. You don’t even fucking know, do you? You don’t fucking know and you don’t fucking care that you are fucking ruining my life, fuck, Connor!”

“I just want to you to stop fucking playing the same fucking song on your fucking guitar!” Connor yells. “Is that too much to ask? Fuck you!”

“Fuck you!”

Connor takes a step toward her, and he’s tall, impossibly tall, and he’s raising his arm and he’s moving toward her and Zoe’s heart is pounding fuck fuck fuck he could hurt her he might hurt her fuck fuck fuck. 

Connor puts his arm down and stares at her, and his eyes look dead, they looks so fucking dead. 

‘Eyes like a fucking serial killer, Jesus fuck.’

Zoe heads back into her room. Shuts the door. 

Locks it. 

Her heart is still pounding. 

She doesn’t pick her guitar back up again that night. 

 

In AP Calculus, Zoe sits beside Donna Matthews, who always looks tired. They’ve never had a real conversation, but Zoe knows from things people say when she’s in earshot that Donna works as a tutor, and also as a server at the local IHOP, and that she’s been saving up for college since middle school. 

In the middle of November, Donna comes into class looking even more exhausted than usual and looks at Zoe like she’s seeing her for the first time. 

“You’re Connor Murphy’s sister, right?”

“Yeah,” Zoe says curtly, before looking at her workbook and letting her hair fall so it creates a curtain she can hide behind. 

Who the fuck knows what her psycho brother has done to this poor girl. 

Donna doesn’t say anything for a while, and Zoe thinks the conversation is over, but then Donna speaks up again. 

“Aren’t your parents, like, super loaded?”

Zoe turns to look at her, giving her a withering glare. “What’s that got to do with anything?”

Donna doesn’t let up. She looks so tired. 

At the desk behind her, Evan Hansen is pulling his book out of his bag, which is by his feet. 

Zoe can’t tell if he’s listening in. 

“Your dad’s a lawyer,” Donna says, her expression stony. “Bet he could pay for you and Connor to go to any college you wanted.”

Zoe feels this stab of… something. A mixture of guilt and annoyance. 

Evan Hansen clears his throat.

“Probably,” says Zoe, trying to sound bored. “Are we done here?”

Donna blinks, then opens up her textbook. She tucks a strand of straw-colored hair behind her ear. 

She looks really, really tired. 

Zoe lets her hair fall in front of her face again, trying to hide herself from view.

Trying to disappear. 


 

ALANA

    Alana Beck did her best to seem collected and calm while she waited to be seen by Mrs. Byers, her guidance counselor, for their first semester check-in. For most students, this was a basic “how is school?” and “are you going to college?” type of meeting but Alana was not most students. 

    She wasn’t there to decide if she went to college, but which prestigious institution was the best fit for her talents and aspirations. She wasn’t there to figure out how to keep her grades up for the rest of the year but rather to find out, officially, if she had managed to land the number one ranking in the senior class. 

    Alana had to be valedictorian. She had worked so hard. Her grades were beyond perfect. Nobody had taken as many AP classes as she had. She deserved it. She had worked for it, she’d broken her back, she had earned this. She felt like she might vibrate across the floor like a wind up toy. Alana twisted a braid between her fingers anxiously. She had to, had to be valedictorian. 

    “Ah, Alana, you’re early,” Mrs. Byers said, stepping out of her office. Alana liked to be punctual. She straightened her shoulders and smiled at Mrs. Byers. “Well, come on back. Sorry I was just eating lunch so it might smell a little like peanut butter.”

    Alana smiled like that didn’t bother her. And really, she had bigger concerns. Her whole future was in Mrs. Byers’s hands. She couldn’t allow something as silly as peanut butter bother her. 

    Mrs. Byers cleared away the debris from her lunch, and then smiled at Alana. “You’ve been doing extremely well in your classes,” She said, a bright smile on her face. “And I know my letters of recommendation have been received by your top choice schools.”

    Alana nodded mutely. 

    “As it stands right now, Alana, you are on track to graduate at valedictorian,” Mrs. Byers said. “Actually, if you chose, you could actually graduate today. You’ve completed all of your requirements.”

    Alana swallowed hard. “Why would I want to graduate early? The AP Tests -”

    Mrs. Byers smiled at her gently. “You don’t have to, Alana. I’m congratulating you. You’re first in the senior class.”

    Alana sucked in a deep breath. She’d done it. She’d done it she’d done it. “I’m first?” She said, her voice tremulous and thin. “I’m valedictorian?”

    “You are,” Mrs. Byers said, nodding. 

    “I... “ Alana tried to swallow. “Are you sure? Are you absolutely certain?”

    “Yes,” Mrs. Byers said, sounding… surprised. “You’ve got the highest GPA of the entire senior class, and you’ve also taken the most AP classes out of anyone. You’re ranked number one.”

    Alana tried to take a steadying breath. “Can I… Who else? Who’s salutatorian?” 

    Mrs. Byer’s smile faltered a little. “I haven’t spoken to that student yet, Alana, I can’t -”
    “I wouldn’t tell anyone,” Alana insisted, smiling. “I just… I would like to know so we can start to compare notes for our graduation speeches.”

    “Well, that won’t be decided until the end of the third quarter,” Mrs. Byers said. “And I’m really not supposed to show this to other students… but if I can trust you to use your discretion…” She clicked a few things on her computer and then the printer whirred to life. A moment later, Mrs. Byers set a double spaced list of the top ten students in the senior class in front of her. “Okay, so as it stands now, you have two GPA points on both Stephanie Wheeler and Connor Murphy. But Stephanie has taken one more AP class than Connor, so she outranks him right now.”

    “And me?”

    “You’ve taken one more AP class than Stephanie,” Mrs. Byers said with a little nod to herself. “Yes, see, you took AP Government… so even if she caught up by GPA points, your still ranked higher because AP classes are weighted more heavily.”

    Alana nodded, but this information… it wasn’t terribly comforting. 

    Two points wasn’t much to be ahead by. And Connor Murphy? How had he ranked so highly when he barely managed to show up to school? That didn’t seem fair. 

    “You’re in extremely good shape here, Alana,” Mrs. Byers said, smiling at her. “You should absolutely no problem getting into an Ivy League school of your choosing. Did you apply for early acceptance?”

    “I did,” Alana said. “I’ve only heard back from Dartmouth so far. I was accepted, of course.”

    “Of course you were,” Mrs. Byers said. “You’re so bright and driven. I’m sure you’re going to be swimming in acceptance letters by Christmas.”

    “Thank you,” Alana said. When Mrs. Byers turned around to collect some information for Alana about an ACT tutoring program the school was recruiting tutors for, Alana slid the list of the top ten students off of her desk. She folded it up neatly and tucked it into the pocket of her blazer. She knew it was wrong, but she needed to see her name in writing. Outranking everyone. She had to be able to check if when she became unsure of herself. She had to be able to check.

    But somehow Alana found herself standing at the copier during her TA hour, running off ten copies of that list. She didn’t know why, exactly, but she found herself marching up to Stephanie Wheeler at lunch, where she sat at the end of Sabrina Patel’s table and handing her the list. 

    “What’s this?” Stephanie asked, her eyes narrowed. 

    “It’s the top ten ranked seniors. You’re number two,” Alana said. “And I’m number one. We’re the top of the class. I thought it was only fair that we both knew.”

    Stephanie raised her eyebrows. “Okay…?”

    “I… I just figured since I knew, maybe you might like to know as well.”

    “Yeah, well. Thanks, I guess,” Stephanie said, stuffing the list into her bag. Siobhan Miles giggled slightly. Alana felt her face get warm. 

    “Well. I hope you have a pleasant day,” She said, backing away, and hurrying out of the cafeteria, ignoring how Sabrina tried to wave her over. She went and sat in the computer lab, which was mostly deserted during lunch. The only other person was Evan Hansen, who was frowning to himself and filling out a FastWed scholarship page. 

    “You know that nobody ever wins those right?” Alana heard herself say. “You’re much more likely to get a scholarship from the college you attend.”

    “Oh I-I know,” Evan said, sounding… exhausted. “My mom is obsessed? I just… I figure it’s easier to just. Do them for her.”

    Alana couldn’t imagine having a parent who didn’t understand how to properly finance a college education, but she kept her mouth shut. She knew from grade school that Evan’s parents divorced when he was young and his mom worked as a CNA. “Seems like your time would be better spent applying to schools known for offering a lot of need-based financial aid,” She added, unable to stop herself. 

    Evan blinked a few times. “Need-based?” He repeated, his voice high and unnatural. 

    “Well for. Students who don’t… Students whose parents are unable to cover the cost of college.”

    Evan swallowed audibly. “Right.”

    “Not that I think your parents aren’t able to pay for college -”

    “They aren’t. You’re, uh. You’re right? S-so thanks,” Evan said, turning his eyes back to his screen, his typing slowing down considerably. 

    Alana picked a computer a few rows ahead of Evan and checked her emails. Nothing new. Just some spam. Then she checked her social media pages. Nothing new there either. She decided to send a facebook friend request to Connor Murphy, the only person in the top ten who she was not currently friends with, and she noticed with distaste that he had a bong as his profile photo. Not someone she wanted to associate with, even just on facebook. She did not send the request.

    Perhaps she ought to message him, suggest that she would like to connect but that his profile photo made her concerned about his future? Maybe it would be best to do that, just so that she could solidify the connect before the holidays? A bong as a profile picture was not going to get Connor Murphy into any decent schools. 

    Rather than messaging him directly, Alana went to Sabrina, who often proved to be a useful sounding board in social situations like these. “No, absolutely do not message him,” Sabrina said with a laugh as she closed her locker. 

    “Please don’t tell me you believe the horrid rumors,” Alana said, rolling her eyes. “We were Chem Lab partners, and he absolutely did not attempt to make any explosives -”

    “No I don’t think that stuff is real,” Sabrina said, shaking her head. “I just think the guy probably gets enough crap from everybody else that he doesn’t need you telling him how to run his facebook.”

    “But weed is illegal!” Alana protested weakly. 

    Sabrina smiled at her, this gentle smile she often gave to Alana. “I know it is, but come on. Not your business, right?”

    Alana didn’t exactly believe in things not being her business. She used a payphone from around the block a few days later to place an anonymous call to the local police non-emergency number saying that she knew several seniors at Central High had been spotted publicly smoking and selling marijuana. 

    Connor Murphy was number three and she couldn’t afford for him to inch any closer. 

    Unfortunately, despite the tip and the fact that the school sent drug sniffing dogs through the hallways with the senior lockers, Connor Murphy wasn’t found with pot on him. Kids complained about locker searches, and even Evan Hansen (who Alana had on good authority had never smoked weed) mumbled to her in the hall that locker searches were “violating fourth amendment rights.”

    “That only applies to unreasonable searches and seizures,” Alana said, nodding to herself. 

    “You don’t think l-locker searches and-and-and drug sniffing dogs are unreasonable?”     

   


CONNOR

He doesn’t know what the fuck he’s waiting for. Not really. 

At this point, all he’s really doing is waiting. Existing in a holding pattern. 

Waiting for something to change. 

Nothing ever changes. Everyone still thinks he’s a freak, even his own sister. 

Especially his sister. 

Fuck, all they do is fight. And it’s always about dumb shit, like how Connor took her hairties, or finished the milk, or how Zoe practices this one verse in this jazz band piece over and over and over again until he fucking loses it and tells her to shut the fuck up because the same four bars over and over and over again is fucking torture, it’s actually torture. 

They scream at each other until something in him snaps and he finds himself moving toward her, arm raised. Zoe goes deathly pale, so fucking pale, and her eyes are wide and terrified and he puts his arm down because this is his sister, this is his fucking sister, he’d never hurt her.

Except that it’s all he does.

All he does is hurt people. 

She rushes into her room and he hears her lock the door. 

Zoe’s got a lock on her door. 

Connor remembers when their dad installed it. They said it was to give her privacy, but he knows it’s because they want to keep her safe. 

From him. 

They want to keep her safe from him. 

He’s a monster he’s a fucking monster he’s a fucking fucked up monster who deserves to die and someone will find out soon, someone’s got to call him on it soon, right? Tell him that he’s been wasting his time, waiting for nothing, waiting for…

What the fuck is he even waiting for?

Connor texts Dennis at three in the morning to pick up. 

Unsurprisingly, Dennis is awake. 

Surprisingly, Dennis is sober. 

They sit in Connor’s car two blocks away from Dennis’s house, the car Connor’s not supposed to be driving because he’s grounded for… fuck, he can’t even remember now. Dennis sells him weed and sometimes oxy but Connor feels like there are ants under his skin, like his skin in on fire, like he doesn’t belong in his own body, like he’s vibrating at some insane frequency that’ll eventually dissolve him into the ground. 

“Do you have anything stronger?”

Dennis looks at him, eyes narrowed. “No,” he says, his voice firm. “Oxy’s my limit, dude.”

“Where can I get something stronger?” Connor asks. 

Dennis looks… weird. Connor can’t quite figure out the expression on his face. It takes him a while to speak again. 

“I’m not telling you that.”

Connor blinks. “Why not? It’s not like I’m taking my business elsewhere or whatever. I’d still buy weed and oxy from you, man.”

Dennis shakes his head. “You don’t want to get into anything stronger, kid.”

“I’m barely three years younger than you.”

“Connor, I’m not fucking joking.” Dennis looks at him, brown eyes wide and serious, more serious than Connor’s ever seen him. “You’re not… don’t, okay? Just don’t. It’ll fuck you up. You’re too… you’re too fucking smart for that shit, it’ll ruin your life. You don’t wanna go there.”

Connor snorts. “That’s rich, coming from my weed guy.”

“There’s a fucking reason I only deal weed and a little oxy,” Dennis presses, eyebrows knit together. “A damn good fucking reason.”

Connor kind of wants to punch him, but he doesn’t. Instead, he gives him the cash he owes him and heads home. 

When he’s alone in his room, he crushes up some oxy and snorts a line, which is something he vaguely promised himself he wouldn’t do after rehab, stupid fucking rehab last summer which was a total overreaction to his mom finding pills in his room. 

He doesn’t have a drug problem - he’s the fucking problem. He’s just trying to address it the best he can because his dad doesn’t believe in therapy and his mom once legitimately tried to burn incense in his room to cleanse it of negative energies. 

Maybe if he got his hands on some heroin or something, he might be able to, like, overdose on that and not even notice. 

Connor’s pretty sure he knows who to talk to if he wants something stronger than what Dennis can or will sell him, but…

He keeps thinking about the weird look on Dennis’s face. 

Keeps thinking about Dennis being uncharacteristically serious with him. 

“You’re too fucking smart for that shit, it’ll ruin your life.”

He crushes up more oxy and snorts another line before crawling into bed and thankfully falling asleep quickly.

 

Connor gets home from school on an unremarkable Tuesday to find a large envelope on the kitchen table with his name on it. There’s a ringing in his ears and a strange, hollow feeling in his stomach as he opens it and finds he has early acceptance to Columbia.    

There’s a huge part of him that wants to set the fucking letter on fire. 

He can’t… he can’t think about that right now, he can’t let some stupid hope of things being different if he just kept going and moved to New York and started over somewhere new get in the way of what he knows he has to do, what he knows is the right move, the best outcome for everyone. 

He puts everything back in the envelope and takes it to his room, then smokes three joints without bothering to open the window and snorts some oxy and hopes that’ll do the job of erasing the knowledge that he’s got some kind of… fuck, he doesn’t know. 

A tiny window of hope? 

A possibility of things being better?

He’s an idiot. He’s a fucking idiot. 

That’s not strictly true, he knows, if you’re going by academic standards. He’s a straight A student, despite putting very little effort into anything ever and skipping class more than he should. The school gives him some leeway because his grades never slip and because his parents are rich, but aside from English, he’s pretty sure every teacher in the school is more than a little pissed off that he can hand in an A-worthy assignment or pass a test with flying colors. 

His grades are probably the only reason he got into Columbia. He can’t even remember what he wrote his essay on. 

He remembers rereading it and thinking it was super fucking depressing. 

His dad’s actually home for dinner that night, which is nothing short of a miracle. His mom’s made gluten-free, vegan lasagna that tastes a little like wet sand and nothing like lasagna. They eat in silence for a long time until finally, his mom breaks the silence. 

“What did the letter from Columbia say, Connor?”

Zoe starts. Looks at him with suspicion. “Columbia?” 

“I got in,” Connor mutters, trying to slice through a piece of pasta that’s soggy yet somehow not cooked. 

“You got into Columbia?” Zoe asks, laughing a little. “What the fuck?”

“That’s wonderful, sweetheart,” says his mom, offering what looks like an actual smile, and Connor feels that like a tug on his heart and it’s wrongwrongwrong, she shouldn’t be proud of him, she shouldn’t be happy about this, he’s a complete fuckup and she knows, she knows, she-

“I thought Columbia was supposed to be a good school,” says his dad, his voice caustic. “You might want to call them to make sure there wasn’t a mistake.”

“Larry, please.”

His dad gestures toward Connor with his fork. “Cynthia, be reasonable. Connor’s not exactly…”

“Exactly what?” Connor asks, his voice cold. 

Larry looks him dead in the eye. “You might be able to sail through high school with the bare minimum effort, but college is another story entirely.”

“He got into Columbia,” Cynthia says firmly. “It’s a good school. A very good school. It’ll be good for him. A fresh start, a chance to make some friends, to get a good education-”

“He’s high, Cynthia.”

His mom lets out this disbelieving laugh. “No, he’s not.”

Zoe looks at their mom like she’s lost her mind. “Of course he is, Mom. He’s always fucking high.”

“Zoe, we don’t use that kind of language in this house.”

“Do you really think I want to deal with any of you sober?” Connor spits out. He can hear blood rushing through him, feel it roaring in his ears, feel his heart pounding and his face heating up and fuck, fuck this, fuck all of them, fucking hell, fuck this whole fucking thing. He stands up. “I’m not hungry.”

“We haven’t finished discussing this-”

“What’s to discuss?” Connor asks, genuinely curious at this stage. “I get early acceptance to a good college and Dad wants to call them and find out if they made a mistake letting me in. Pretty obvious that’s not a fucking congratulations.”

“If you’d actually put any effort into your studies, you could have had your pick of any college in the country,” Larry shoots back. “You’ve just sailed through without putting in the work. You won’t be able to do that in college, especially not if you’re high all the time-”

“Columbia is an Ivy League school,” his mom interrupts, frowning. “It’s a very good school, Larry, we should be congratulating him-”

“He doesn’t have any work ethic,” Larry says firmly, and it’s like Connor’s not even there, like he doesn’t even deserve to be part of this conversation. “Forgive me if I’m not over the moon that he’s somehow been accepted into such a good school and he’s already set himself up to fail because he doesn’t have any concept of the idea of hard work-”

“Larry, please-”

“And New York? You’re really going to let him go to New York for university, Cynthia? Who knows what he’ll get up to unsupervised? We’ve already sent him to rehab once, chances are he’ll end up a heroin addict in a city like New York-”

“Dad, come on,” says Zoe, her expression slightly pained, and Connor feels it like a jolt, because this isn’t right, she doesn’t defend him, that’s not how things go, she probably just wants this conversation to be over, just wants it to be done.

“What are you planning on studying at Columbia?” Larry asks, finally actually looking at Connor. 

“English Literature,” he replies flatly. 

Larry lets out a sharp laugh. “Sure, there are definitely job prospects in that.”

“He doesn’t have to decide straight away,” says his mom, and she’s clearly trying to smooth things over. “Who knows, he might even consider following in your footsteps, Larry.”

Zoe blinks. “Connor? A lawyer? Really, Mom?” 

“He’s got the brains,” says Larry, his tone impatient. “But he doesn’t have the drive, he doesn’t have the work ethic-”

“I don’t want to be a fucking lawyer, fucking hell.”

“Well, what do you want to do, Connor? What’s your grand plan?”

“Getting as far away from this fucking family as I can,” Connor manages to choke out, then makes his exit as quickly as humanly possible. 

 

The day before Thanksgiving vacation, Connor finds Alana Beck standing in front of his locker. He stands there and looks at her for a moment, kind of hoping she’ll take the hint and fucking move. 

She does not. 

“Good morning, Connor!”

He blinks. “Hi.”

She smiles, this too-bright smile that kind of makes him want sunglasses. “I’m creating a statistical analysis of the colleges and universities everyone in the senior class applied and got accepted at for my by AP stats class and, since I just got my early acceptance to Brown and Dartmouth I’m asking everybody to contribute some data.”

“Right,” he says, gesturing to his locker. “Can I…?”Alana takes a small step to the side, allowing him to actually open his locker, put in his book for AP Chem and grab his book for… actually, he’s just going to throw all of his textbooks into his bag so he doesn’t have to go back to his locker again today. He doesn’t like the idea that someone could be waiting at his locker, that there’s a place people know they can definitely find him.

He’s trying to make his AP History book fit when Alana clears her throat primly. “Well?”

“What?”

“College,” she says, her voice bright and confident but somewhat hollow. “I got early acceptance to Brown and Dartmouth. Have you heard back from anywhere?” Her smile smoothes out into something… kind of smug. “Of course, it’s alright if you haven’t heard from anywhere yet. And if you’ve already got a rejection letter, you don’t have to-”

“Columbia,” he finds himself saying. 

Alana blinks. “Columbia sent you a rejection letter?”

“No,” he says, almost snaps. “I got in.”

Alana’s smile falters. “You got in? To Columbia?”

“Yes.”

“Columbia University in New York?”

“Yes.”

“You got into an Ivy League school?”

“Do you need to ask all these questions for your stats class?” Connor asks bluntly. 

Alana’s smile drops. “I’m just…” The smile reappears, looking somewhat forced. “Congratulations, that’s really impressive! You just never seemed like the type to go for an Ivy League school. It’s an interesting choice for you, that’s all.”

“Sure,” says Connor, feeling his shoulders tense a little. He doesn’t bother saying goodbye, just closes his locker and walks away. 

It’s later on in the day that he finds himself sitting behind Stephanie Wheeler in AP History, where she’s having a conversation with someone he doesn’t know about the class rankings. 

“So Alana Beck just shows up at my lunch table and gives me this list of the top ten in the class rankings,” says Stephanie to her friend, and Connor can’t see it but knows she’s rolling her eyes. “She said I might like to know I’m ranked second. Right behind her.”

“Oh my god,” says Stephanie’s friend with a laugh in her voice. “Who’s third?”

“Okay, so,” says Stephanie, this disbelieving tone in her voice, “you’ll never guess, I swear.” Connor sees her slide a piece of paper over to her friend, who immediately starts laughing. 

“Seriously? What the fuck?”

“I know, right?”

“He’s like, never in class, oh my god, and he’s such a fucking freak.” There’s a pause, and Connor can see Stephanie’s friend reading the list. “Oh hey, Nick’s on here, well done him. Donna Matthews, that makes sense.” There’s another pause. “Who the fuck is Evan Hansen?”

“Who?”

“Evan Hansen,” Stephanie’s friend repeats. “He’s number seven.”

“I have no idea.”

Connor’s not really surprised, to be honest. Evan seems to pay attention in class, and even though he’s nervous as fuck, he knows his shit, especially when it comes to biology, and he usually has something intelligent to say in class on the rare occasion a teacher is cruel enough to call on him. 

He finds himself hoping that Evan got into a good college. Hopefully one far, far away from all the assholes here. 

Evan Hansen is the kind of person who deserves a future. 

Connor knows he isn’t.

 

Chapter Text

DECEMBER

 

CONNOR

 

Connor knows that his mom is at some kind of all day yoga retreat thing, that Zoe’s got a jazz band concert that night and will be staying at school for rehearsals until show time. He knows that his dad is planning on going to the jazz band concert and needs to stop at home before the concert to get the video camera, which is plugged in to charge. 

It’s the perfect opportunity. 

The perfect time. 

He doesn’t want some stranger traumatized when they find his dead body but he knows his dad won’t care, he knows it won’t hurt his dad at all. 

It stands to reason that his dad should be the one to find him.

It goes like this. 

Connor goes to school with Zoe as usual, ignoring his mother’s pleas to wear a warmer jacket, even though it feels like it might snow. He doesn’t have that kind of self-preservation right now, or ever, really. 

When they get to school, Zoe heads off like a shot, walking as fast as she can away from him, which makes sense. 

If he could get away from himself, he would. 

Connor decides he’s going to go to English class one last time, because he likes English class. They’re supposed to pair up for a quick poetry analysis exercise.

Because the universe hates him, his English teacher pairs him up with Evan Hansen. He puts a piece of paper in front of the two of them once they’re sitting together. Connor takes it and looks at the poem in disbelief. 

“Fucking hell,” he mutters to himself as he sees the poem they’ve been assigned. He knows this one. He skims it, then pushes it toward Evan, whose eyebrows knit together as he reads it. 

There is something strangely familiar on his face as he does. This feeling of… recognition. 

Connor can probably recite this poem from memory. 

 

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,

And Mourners to and fro

Kept treading - treading - till it seemed

That Sense was breaking through -

 

And when they all were seated,

A Service, like a Drum -

Kept beating - beating - till I thought

My mind was going numb -

 

And then I heard them lift a Box

And creak across my Soul

With those same Boots of Lead, again,

Then Space - began to toll,

 

As all the Heavens were a Bell,

And Being, but an Ear,

And I, and Silence, some strange Race,

Wrecked, solitary, here -

 

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,

And I dropped down, and down -

And hit a World, at every plunge,

And Finished knowing - then -

 

He watches as Evan reads it, mouthing the words quietly under his breath as he does. Once he’s finished, he looks at Connor, gaze hesitant, and blinks a few times, like he’s not quite sure where he is, or why he’s there, and honestly Connor can relate. 

“So… what do you think this is about?” Evan asks, so fast Connor can barely understand him. 

Connor blinks. “Descent into madness.” 

Evan looks at him, eyes widening. He opens his mouth, then closes it. Then opens it again. 

They sit there in silence for what feels like a long time. The rest of the class is paired off and everyone else is in conversation, but they’re just… sitting there. 

There’s a part of Connor that wants to say something, something that’s important, something that will last when he knows today’s his last day, that this is the last time he’ll see this kid, whose letter he’s read over and over and over again. 

A letter that made him feel, just for a moment, like he was a little less alone. 

Like it wasn’t just him who felt this way. 

“Repetition,” Evan blurts out finally, and Connor looks at him. His face is turning red. “There’s… repetition. In the… treading, treading, and-and-and beating, beating, and…”

“Down and down,” Connor continues. “Yeah.”

“Yeah.”

Connor thinks about repetition. Doing the same thing over and over again. How nothing changes, nothing ever changes, how he’s stuck. 

How he’s changing the pattern today, because he has to. 

Evan looks like he’s about to say something else, but the teacher calls for their attention and starts talking about poetry analysis, discussing the various poems that have been handed out amongst the class and what they have in common, and Connor can’t really focus, can’t really pay attention, because he’s just waiting, just waiting for the class to be over, he shouldn’t have come, he should have just gone straight home, he should have- 

The bell rings. 

Evan gathers up his things and makes a hasty exit. 

Once Connor leaves English class, he sets out on the walk home. It’s starting to snow, just a little, and it’s bitterly cold, the wind going right through him, and he idly thinks to himself that he’s probably going to get sick because he’s not wearing a warm enough fucking jacket. 

Sure, like a cold is the thing to be worried about now. 

When he gets back to the house, it’s empty, unsettlingly still. He takes off his boots, puts them beside the shoe rack neatly, then heads upstairs to his room. 

It goes like this. 

Connor smokes three joints, one right after the other, on the roof of his house outside his window, the window closed so the house doesn’t smell. 

The letter Evan Hansen wrote to himself is in his hand. 

He rips it into tiny pieces and watches as the pieces fly out on the bitter winter wind. 

Connor doesn’t want anyone else to see it. Doesn’t deserve to read it again, doesn’t deserve the stupid, tiny, fucked up amount of comfort it brings. 

He’s shivering by the time he gets into the house, shaking hard, but he manages to crush up the rest of his stash of oxy into a fine powder then snorts it all. 

He’s still shaking, but the high is starting to kick in. 

He takes the matchbox from his desk drawer, opens it and pulls out the razor. 

Holds it up to the light for a moment, gets distracted by the way it shines. 

He takes off his jacket, which is soaked through by now thanks to the snow, leaving him in jeans and a t-shirt and socks. 

Then he heads to the bathroom. 

The bathtub is fucking huge. Perks of having a rich family, he guesses. It’s been years since he’s had a bath, as he’s usually a shower person, but research says that it’ll hurt a little less if he runs a hot bath. 

It’ll hurt a little less if he slits his wrists in the bath.

It goes like this. 

Sinking into hot water, letting out a hiss at the temperature difference. 

More pain than he’d expected, more pain than he can handle, except that he has to handle it because this is something he has to do, something he has to do to make things right. 

Pain and heat and steam and… drifting. 

Things start to blur around the edges. He closes his eyes and welcomes the dark. 

Time seems to stand still for what feels like forever as he drifts.

 

It goes like this. 

He’s gasping for air on the bathroom floor, there’s a terrified face in his blurry vision, long hair touching his face, a voice calling his name that’s too high and too young and this is wrong, this is wrongwrongwrong - 

“Connor. Connor, fuck you, fuck… you have to hold on.”

“It wasn’t… supposed to be you,” Connor manages to choke out, just before everything goes black. 

 


 

EVAN

Evan noticed immediately that Zoe Murphy had been crying. It was obvious when she slunk into the library over lunch and sat there not even bothering to crack a book. He wasn’t an expert on girls or crying, but he was kind of an expert on Zoe Murphy. 

Well. At least. He watched her a lot. 

Fuck that sounded so stalkerish and creepy and Evan caught himself self-conciously looking over his shoulder as if Connor Murphy might have materialized there to punch him in the face or something. 

He didn’t. 

Evan was a bit paranoid, even though as far as he could tell, Connor Murphy was off school. There were rumors about him, but Evan didn’t have friends or know anyone who really knew him so he could only guess what might be real. All he knew was Connor hadn’t been in English class for a week. The last time he saw him they’d been paired up to analyze an Emily Dickinson poem and the poem felt familiar, the poem reminded Evan that he was repeating himself all of the time, living these identical days, and Evan started to apologize to Connor, because Connor had seen his bullshit letter, because it was early in the morning and Connor smelled like pot and was sort of curling in on himself and maybe the poem made him think of Evan’s creepy letter but when Evan opened his mouth their teacher called everyone back together. And Connor Murphy wasn’t at school this week. 

And Zoe Murphy had been crying. 

Her eyes were red and a bit puffy. Zoe didn’t normally go super heavy with eye makeup, but today she had either skipped it entirely or cried it off. She still looked… Evan always thought she looked pretty, even with red eyes and a red nose and a frown on her face, but that was probably a really rude and selfish thing to think about someone who seemed upset so Evan tried not to think about it. 

He should probably say something, right? When you notice someone is upset the polite thing to do was to ask if they were okay, wasn’t it? Like... That’s what people did, wasn’t it? 

Except Evan didn’t know what the fuck people did. 

People did all sorts of things that made no sense to him, like deny global warming or jerk each other off and then pretend like it never happened. 

But Zoe Murphy looked upset and Evan hated that she looked upset and he wanted to be the type of person who did something, who didn’t just sit there and watch and do nothing. 

He wiped his hands on his pants, then realized he was being sort of stupid obsessing over his sweaty hands because she had introduced herself to him at the beginning of the school year it wasn’t like she was going to want to shake his hand or something. 

What did you say to someone who had been crying that came across as normal and not creepy? Like he couldn’t go, “Hey, noticed you were crying in part because your usual makeup isn’t on, what’s up?” because that was really weird. He was so painfully fucking weird. 

Zoe looked up, noticed him looking at her and scowled. Were Evan smart, he might have pretended he was just looking off into the middle distance, he might have faked like he was reading a sign behind her head but he wasn’t quick on his feet like that so instead he just dropped his gaze and stared at the table in front of him. Fuck. Now she thought he was just… staring at her like a freak. He didn’t want to creep her out. He was trying to communicate a sympathetic attitude but instead came across as super rude and like he just had a habit of staring at her. Which he sort of did and he knew that was bad and made him sort of gross so he kept trying to stop but like biting his cuticles, it wasn’t an easy habit to break. 

She was just. Nice to look at. He kept getting distracted in AP Calc because she sat in front of him.

But that wasn’t the point, fuck, he wasn’t trying to like hit on her he just wanted to ask if she was okay because she seemed like she wasn’t and Evan wanted to do something. Just anything, anything that might make her day slightly less tearful or miserable. 

His mom had left a note on the fridge encouraging him to “seize the day!” today and Evan blamed himself because he caught her watching Dead Poets Society over the weekend and didn’t make her switch it off. She was pissed at him because he’d ignored another scholarship application deadline and because he had gone behind her back and called his dad to see if he was willing to help pay the application fee to a few colleges Evan was applying to for next fall. His dad had told him he would, but then immediately turned around and called his mom and then apparently there was some big argument about the child support his dad wasn’t paying. Evan, meanwhile, was kind of pissed at his mom because after her whole big promise about being better about holidays and stuff, she had totally forgotten about the first night of Hanukkah and he just fucking sat there waiting around all night, texting her and asking if she was going to come home or…? They got into a big fight and both of them went to bed angry and now the menorah was just sitting out, taunting them. And Evan didn’t make her switch the movie off later. Even though he usually did because it always made her cry. She got weepy about depressed teenagers and Robin Williams. He just… went in his room and clicked around online to try to figure out what the protocol for broaching the handjob subject with Jared was. 

Anywho, his mom was back on her “Carpe diem” kick and Evan tried to summon some of that energy from the note to just go and fucking talk to Zoe Murphy. He could talk to her. Evan pictured his imaginary friend giving him an encouraging thumbs up, trying to egg him on. He knew Zoe was nice; he knew basically everything about her (or everything you could learn about someone from sort of just watching them for the better part of three years). She would understand that he was just trying to be nice if he approached her. He could do it. 

“You got this, Evan,” His imaginary friend would say. 

Just be fucking normal, Evan told himself as he packed his things up into his backpack and then started to head toward her table. 

Only he couldn’t just be normal. This was Zoe Murphy who was beautiful and kind and played guitar in jazz band and drew stars on the cuffs of her jeans and was cool enough to dye part of her hair indigo last year and it made her look so pretty and he could never just talk to her because what would he even say to someone like that, someone like her who was happy and whole. 

He realized too late that he was just standing there, he was just lingering at the corner of Zoe Murphy’s table, saying nothing and looking at her and she seemed very annoyed which was understandable because, wow, shit, what he was doing was seriously fucking annoying. 

“Did you want something?” She said, her voice coming out harsh and kind of brittle and a little less soft than how he always heard it in his head. 

Fuck. 

“Y-yes,” Evan stammered. Closed his eyes because fuck. “I mean, I mean no. I don’t, I don’t uh need anything? I just… I saw you and you. Not that I was like, you know, looking at you or whatever I just looked at you and you seemed. Um. Like? Like you’re not, exactly, uh, good right now and just. Shit.” He tried to take a breath, to wipe his sweaty hands on the tops of his pant legs. “Are you okay?”

Zoe stared at him like maybe he had offered her a one way ticket to Mars or something. 

“I just… I’m sorry, I’ll just… You looked like you might be upset,” He tried again tripping over his words and feeling his face heat up while he spoke. 

“I’m fine,” Zoe said flatly. 

“Oh,” Evan said and apparently he was so stupid he didn’t think far enough ahead to consider wouldn’t want to talk to him because he was a stranger, because she didn’t know him or care about him or even look at him. “Oh, oh! Yeah, I mean. Of-of course. You’re good. Sorry for bothering you, I’m sorry.”

He backed up fast, catching his bad elbow on the side of a bookcase and swearing loudly, like really loudly, doubling over and yelping “SHIT” and then Zoe was looking at him, probably watching to make sure he didn’t try to come back and talk to her again because that had been a pathetic disaster, that had been a total crash and burn. He hurried out of the library, feeling like such a fucking failure, feeling idiotic and not just embarrassed but totally defeated all he wanted to do was ask a girl who had been nice to him if she was okay and instead he stared at her and made her feel worse and he was such a fucking asshole he was such a fuck up and a disaster no wonder people didn’t talk to him. Evan wouldn’t talk to himself if he had the choice not to. 

He went home that night and Jared had messaged him which he was sort of doing more 

sometimes now, and Evan kind of thought that was weird but also he didn’t want to piss off the only person other than his mom that regularly put up with him so he never asked why. 

“Did you hear Connor Murphy totally went psycho and like tried to kill his mom?”

Evan stared at that. 

Was that… was that why Zoe Murphy looked so sad at school today? Was her mom okay? Had her brother really tried to kill their mom? What was she even doing at school today if that was what happened, shouldn’t you get like an automatic 4.0 and a year off if something like that happened?

“Who told you that?”

“I heard from Josh Cameron that he was in a mental institution for criminals or whatever. That’s why he hasn’t been at school.”

Evan stared at the message for a long time. 

“Do you want to come over? My parents are at my dad’s holiday party.”

Evan’s stomach flipped. His mom wasn’t around to ask, and he was admittedly just going to sit here all night and obsess over having made an ass of himself in front of Zoe Murphy earlier. He wrote back, “I’d need a ride.”

“Cool, I’ll pick you up in twenty. Mom asked me to bring you some leftover latkes from Hanukkah and I forgot and she’s being a total bitch so when they get home make a big deal out of how I gave them to you yeah?”

Evan went downstairs and scrawled a note for his mom, saying, “I went to Jared’s. Call if you need me.” Then he went upstairs and changed shirts three times, put on more deodorant, and then changed his shirt again. He brushed his teeth and… he didn’t even know why it just sort of seemed like the kind of thing he ought to be doing before he went over to Jared’s house. Then he managed to get toothpaste on the shirt he had picked out, so he went back to his room and changed again, hating how his face was all hot and red and he tried to just breathe, he tried to do the thing Dr. Sherman told him to do when this kind of thing happened, to just focus on breathing in long and slow, put his energy on his diaphragm expanding and contracting. 

He managed, barely, to get his breathing back under control just as Jared beeped his horn outside. Evan took a few more gulps of air, shaking himself mentally, trying to get it together, to calm the fuck down. Evan closed his eyes, took two more deep breaths, and then Jared laid on the horn again so he grabbed his jacket and headed out to meet him. 

“Let’s stop for Taco Bell,” Jared said. 

“Um,” Evan said awkwardly because, like, well, Evan was 90% sure there wasn’t a single kosher item on their menu and also wasn’t he supposed to be eating Jared’s mom’s pity latkes? Well. Maybe there was a bean burrito or something he could eat? But also he only had like five dollars right now because he’d put all of his paychecks from the park into the bank because he was trying to save up for college. His mom kept kind of suggesting that he get another job since the park thing was done until next summer but he couldn’t imagine having to go through the whole interview thing again. 

But he had no money or appetite or interest in breaking kosher for fast food but Jared had already pulled into the parking lot, was already halfway out of the car and Evan scrambled to keep up, keep moving, keep pace. 

Jared ordered a truly disgusting amount of food including two chalupas, whatever those were. Evan got a ninety-nine cent burrito that didn’t break kosher and a small soda. He followed Jared over to the soda machine and Jared took the time to expound the virtues of Baja Blast Mountain Dew. “It’s, like, the best flavor. I don’t even know what flavor it is. Like, it’s just a blue green. I fucking love it.”

“Yeah,” Evan said, nodding too much. He’d never even had it. He got himself a lemonade. “Cool.”

“Cool?” Jared repeated, rolling his eyes. “You’d think this was the first time you’d been let out of the house before, Jesus.”

Evan noticed that Jared said “Jesus” an awful lot for someone who was Extremely Jewish. Like his dad was a Big Deal at their synagogue. Jared’s mom took kids on trips to Israel every other year. His parents had two separate dishwashers. But Jared said “Jesus” a lot and broke kosher and hadn’t gone to schul in a very long time and his mom had made Evan pity latkes. 

They got their food and sat down at a slightly sticky table and Jared, talking with his mouth full, told Evan about how over winter break he and his camp friends were going to Akiva’s parents’ cabin and they’d throw a massive party. 

Evan nodded because apparently saying “cool” was uncool. He took a bite of his very disappointing burrito and tried not to gag at the sort of mushy interior texture. 

“What are you doing over break?” Jared asked, and it almost sounded sincere and Evan was so surprised he sort of choked on his lemonade. 

“Uh. I’m. Like. Applying to schools and… that’s it. I uh. I missed the early admission deadline for a few places so.”

“You’re not visiting your dad?” Jared asked, his eyebrows doing something akin to being concerned. “Thought you said you might.”

Evan shook his head. There was talk of him going out to Colorado last winter but the plans never materialized and all told he hadn’t been out to see his dad or his new wife Tracy since he was about fifteen. His dad worked a lot of that trip, and Evan sort of just sat around his house and thought about how unfair it was that this house was nicer than the one Evan lived in with his mom but his dad couldn’t seem to get his fucking child support checks in on time. 

He found out later that sometime that summer Tracy had a miscarriage and his dad was really broken up about it and then Evan got so mad that he refused to talk to his dad for weeks, for over a month because fuck him for trying to go and make a replacement family and fuck him more for not even bothering to tell Evan about it. 

Also even if he was invited to visit, which he wasn’t, but even if he was, there was the whole factor of getting on a plane by himself and Evan sincerely doubted he could manage that. He was a terribly flyer. And then his mom would give him their weird smile the whole way, like her jaw hurt, and Evan would throw up in the bathroom and then get stuck at his dad’s for a week just, like, doing nothing but getting more and more pissed off about his nice house in Colorado and his nice wife and his nice new fucking life and then he’d just want to break things so he’d go home and not be able to tell his mom about it because she already felt bad enough and… Yeah.

“I’m. No. I’m not visiting. He’s got stuff to do with his… with Tracy, my step-mom, probably? I think she - she does Christmas?”

Jared nodded. “Did she take his name? When they got married?” Jared always thought it was so Weird and Strange that Evan’s mom had kept her name, had given it to Evan even though she had been married to his dad. It had been a fun fact Evan had used in a get to know you game at day camp years and years and years ago and it wasn’t received so much as Fun but as Weird and Wrong. “Since you didn’t. And your mom didn’t.” His tone seemed to suggest there was something sort of improper about the fact that Evan had his mother’s last name. He used to feel that way too. Once he realized it was wrong and weird to not have his dad’s, Evan spent a lot of time privately wishing his mom had just, like, gotten over herself. 

“Tracy hyphenated. Balls-Geller.” He hadn’t been at the wedding. They’d eloped. His mom had cried when she found out. She cried for a couple of days, actually, and Evan just sort of tiptoed around the house, trying to be comforting but not knowing how because he was awkward and pathetic and his dad got remarried and didn’t invite him to his wedding.

“Why didn’t your mom want -?”

“Because his last name is Balls ,” Evan said sort of sharply. 

“Just weird that you don’t have your dad’s name.”

“I don’t know why you care so much about that,” Evan mumbled, his face red, feeling like he needed to, like, defend his mom or something. 

“I just. If I had kids, I’d want them to have my name.”

“Right,” Evan said, suddenly feeling precisely how bizarre it was for two literal children to be in a Taco Bell discussing if they had kids. “I like… I mean. My name’s fine.”

“I mean. I know. Imagine being Evan Balls.”

“I. I mean. Yeah.”

Jared finished eating all of his food and then refilled his brightly colored soda and motioned for Evan to follow him. Evan kept some distance between them on the way to the car, wiping his hands on his jeans as he went because this whole thing made him nervous or… more nervous than usual. Differently nervous. Like he was waiting to see what would happen. 

Jared and Evan played video games until his parents came home and told them to go to bed. Then they played them on mute for a while. Got bored and huddled around Jared’s computer to watch some weird YouTube videos. It got late. Evan’s eyes itched with fatigue. He wanted to sleep. He’d gotten a glass of water and taken his meds about an hour ago and his eyes were begging to close for the night. But the rest of him was a livewire, totally ready to spark. 

Somewhere around the time Jared turned on some weird ass 9/11 conspiracy video, he looked at Evan so directly that Evan felt his face heat up. What was Jared looking at? Did he have a gross pimple forming? Was there something on his face? Was this the moment when he was going to tell Evan to stop talking to him, like, permanently?

“You’re breathing kind of weird,” Jared said. His voice had no softness to it. 

“Oh - I - um. Sorry,” Evan stuttered out, looking away swiftly. He was breathing sort of weird but he was always breathing a bit weird and if he focused too much on his breathing he started to worry about how to breathe and he’d start to have trouble breathing in and out because he wasn’t so good at breathing in when he was really small he had terrible asthma attacks -

“God, fuck, I was going to -” Jared said, rolling his eyes. “But when you’re being all. Whatever. Nevermind.”

“What?” Evan said, not understanding, not comprehending. 

“Just. Dude. You’re so fucking weird.”

Evan closed his eyes when that hit him. He was out of breath, like he’d hit the ground suddenly, like he was eight years old at the community pool and Jared had shoved his head underwater, forcing him under, holding him there for so long too long until Evan stopped thrashing and when he surfaced he had never been more desperate for air. 

“Oh. I-I. I know. Sorry.”

Jared shook his head. “It’s like, you know. If you weren’t so… whatever all the time, it would be a lot easier.”

“What would be?” Evan said, still out of breath, his chest still aching. 

“The fact that you like me,” Jared said. 

“That I…?” Evan repeated, eyebrows knitting together, like he was sounding it out. “I… I like you?” He didn’t… he didn’t like Jared. He didn’t know what to think or do around Jared, Jared made him nervous and scared and sweaty and made him feel stupid and pathetic more than he usually did. 

“Yeah, obviously. You, like, talk to me all the time. You’re always messaging me, waiting around my locker and stuff.”

“You’re my - We’re fr-” Evan stopped. “We’re f-family friends, I thought? If I talk too much, I’ll stop, I’ll… I’m sorry.”

“I mean, it’s fine, but you could be a little less obvious.”

Evan dropped his gaze, his face burning. “I can - I’ll go, let me, I just - I’ll call my mom it might take her a while -”

“Fuck, relax, that’s not even what I’m saying,” Jared said like Evan was particularly stupid. “You don’t have to fucking leave.”

“But I. I made you uncomfortable?”

Jared exhaled noisily. “You’re really bad at this.”

“At what?” Evan said. 

Jared rolled his eyes, still looking at Evan full on, right in the face and it made Evan want

to shrink and curl inward and stop existing. Then he leaned forward, wetting his lips, and kissed Evan. 

Evan thought his brain was breaking apart. 

He’d never kissed anyone before. Not really. Esther, Jared’s cousin, a few years back  but Evan didn’t count that really because it was less of a kiss and more of a full on mouth assault. She had braces.   

It was sort of wet. Evan wasn’t sure what to do with his hands. He didn’t want to lean into it too forcefully or pull back too fast and he knew that tongues were meant to be involved but he didn’t know who was responsible for that or how to do that or anything. It was wet, and Evan’s teeth clicked against Jared’s as Jared put his tongue in Evan’s mouth and Evan sort of thought that couldn’t really be how you were meant to do this because it was just kind of… there and sort of wiggly and why was this happening?

Jared pulled away. 

Evan wiped his mouth on the back of his hand, his face on fire, unable to look at Jared. 

“I guess. If you wanted, we could do this.”

Evan said nothing. 

“I mean. You’re not bad looking or whatever. I couldn’t exactly, like, take you places or introduce you to my camp friends or anything. Like, no offense, but you dress like a dork and you’re kind of a spaz a lot of the time.”

Evan said nothing. He opened and closed his mouth a few times. He felt like someone had hollowed out his insides, scooped them out like the seeds of a Jack-O-Lantern. He… he knew his clothes weren’t. Like they weren’t good . He… most of them were clearance finds, and some were from Goodwill and his mom had picked a good chunk of them out because he got so anxious trying to go shopping he had panic attacks in the dressing rooms because the oppressive lighting made his whole body seem improbably ugly, like just so hunched and malformed and somehow too skinny and too fat and so his mom just handled the shopping. Evan cracked his knuckles a couple of times, shaking his head, trying to say anything, literally anything to Jared. He couldn’t. His voice dried up in his throat. “Um. Oh. I… Uh. Okay.”

“Like that,” Jared went on, exasperated. 

“Sorry,’ Evan said, blinking too much. “Sorry. So… So wait. Are. Hang on. You’re? I mean, a-a-are you-?”

Jared sighed. “Spit it out. Use your big boy words.”

“You’re gay?” He wheezed. 

Jared shrugged. “Aren’t you?”

“I don’t know,” Evan admitted. “I’m not… I don’t think. I’m - Gay’s not, it isn’t - I’m-

“You jerked me off,” Jared said plainly. “That’s gay.”

“But I… You… It wasn’t just-”

“You don’t have to keep pretending you’re into Zoe Murphy, dude. It’s kind of obvious that she’s a cover. Like, you picked the most flat chested and boyish looking girl. She plays guitar and looked all emo last year with the blue hair and the eyeliner and the writing all over her pants. Like, I get it, you’re into the Pete Wentz-emo thing.”

Evan blinked rapidly, too much, sort of squinting at Jared because he did not like Zoe because he thought she looked like a boy. He liked Zoe because she was beautiful and she drew stars on the cuffs of her jeans and filled out quizzes in the back of Teen Vogue, because she got this smile on her face when she played guitar that made it seem like she just was so… real and thoughtful, like she had just heard the funniest thing in the world but it was a secret and she couldn’t tell anyone. He liked her because she wasn’t showy or attention seeking, because she dyed her hair and didn’t make a big deal out of it. Jared had misread that so badly, so laughably that Evan almost called him on it. But then he remembered he was Evan Hansen, not a real person, not someone who could tease a friend, not someone who could even have one so he just sort of looked blankly at his socked feet and hoped Jared wouldn’t leave him dangling on that accusation for too long. 

“It’s not a big deal. Nobody cares about that stuff,” Jared said, impatiently. “It’s not like Zoe Murphy’s gonna be all heartbroken you’re not pretending to moon over her anymore. She probably couldn’t pick you out of a lineup.”

“Yeah… Good. Good point,” Evan mumbled, still looking at his feet, at the slightly graying material of his socks, the way his left big toe was in danger of poking through the fabric, punching a hole in it and Evan was extremely ashamed and disgusted with himself for, like, even having toes. For daring to exist in a physical body, for taking up space. He worried about that a lot, the space he took up, his people’s lives, in the rooms he inhabited, on the planet. He worried about the hole in the ozone layer and all the greenhouse gases he was responsible for, he worried about the impact he had on landfills and how many trees had died to provide paper in Evan’s lifetime…

“Dude,” Jared said, zapping him back into the moment. He was doing this a lot now, drifting into his own thoughts and out of reality, out of the present and into something more vague and less tangible. It started not long after he’d switched meds in the middle of the summer and Evan thought this set made him sort of spacey. Set him adrift from reality, just enough to make it inconvenient, just enough to make him seem rude and more awkward than before. Just enough that sometimes he would imagine conversations with someone who was his friend, someone who wanted to hang out with him and would care -

“What? Sorry, I’m sorry, I.... What?”

Jared rolled his eyes, tugging on Evan’s collar and kissing him again. It wasn’t much better, but it surprised him less than before, and that was something. 

They jerked each other off again. Evan slept on the floor in Jared’s room. Jared shut the lights off and Evan stared up at his ceiling, at the ghostly shapes and shadows his furniture cast in the dim street light that came in the window. The Kleinmans’ were the only house on the block without Christmas lights.

Feeling a little emboldened by the darkness, Evan opened his mouth and didn’t shut it. “If I were better… If I were less, like -”

“Nervous? Spastic? Freaked out? Stop me if I get there.”

“If I were better,” Evan pressed on. “You’d… We’d go places? Together?”

“Yeah,” Jared said. Evan wished he could see his face. “I guess.” He blew out a breath. “I’m not saying it to be mean, but like, dude. Come on. I couldn’t even take you to an IHOP without giving you a pep talk in the car on the way there.”

He was probably right. He was definitely right, Evan thought. He couldn’t blame Jared for being right. “But if I were better?” He pressed. 

“Yeah I mean, I guess. Maybe.”

Evan nodded to himself. 

If he were better, maybe… maybe he could have this. He could do this. This could be real, not pretend, not hidden but real. 

 

Chapter Text

January

 

JARED

 

Evan Hansen is full of surprises, Jared is quickly discovering. Full of things he hadn’t expected, hadn’t seen coming. 

For example, Evan is a fantastic kisser. Not that Jared has a huge pool of people to compare him to, but… kissing him is nice. His lips are soft and his mouth tastes good and sometimes he uses a chapstick that’s mint-flavored which Jared really, really likes but would never tell him. 

And there’s something really fucking satisfying about having another human being touch his dick. Evan’s really, really good at jerking Jared off, and he really, really likes it. Maybe it’s just that he’s a little overwhelmed that he’s not having to get himself off for a change, that the thing that makes it good is that it’s someone else, not Evan specifically, but… 

Evan’s good at it. 

Surprisingly good at it. 

Jared had not seen that coming, fuck. 

Considering how well Evan seems to know his way around a dick, how good he can make Jared feel just with his hand, there’s a part of Jared that feels like Evan should be way less fucking stressed out about life in general. If he’s this good at jerking Jared off, then he’s gotta be able to get himself off easily enough, right? And, like, every time Evan gets Jared off, he feels so fucking good, like nothing in the world could bother him. All the bullshit buzzing around his head about his mediocre grades, his parents who spend more time at the synagogue than at home, the fact that he’s still terrified about people finding out he likes guys… it all goes away with Evan’s hand is on his dick. 

There’s a part of Jared that kind of… wants Evan to have that. 

The ability to calm the fuck down, even if it’s just for a few minutes. 

Not that he’d ever say anything. 

It’s a weird fucking thing to try to explain. 

Jared’s not even sure what the fuck it is he’s doing with Evan, anyway. Sometimes he finds himself thinking that he’s just getting in practice for college so that when he’s far away from this hellhole and surrounded by hot guys, he doesn’t fucking short-circuit when they take off their pants. So that he actually knows what the hell to do. 

But then sometimes there are moments when Evan’s jerking him off and he’s concentrating so hard on making Jared feel good, and Jared has to stop himself from saying something stupid. 

Something stupid like ‘you’re amazing at this, holy shit, Evan’. 

Something stupid like ‘I wish we’d done this months ago. Years ago.’

There are moments when he and Evan are making out and jerking each other off and Jared’s just kind of fucking overwhelmed with how much he likes it, how good it feels, and it’s in one of those moments where he finds himself blurting out something else that’s stupid. 

Evan stares at him for a long moment, eyes wide. 

And then starts fucking hyperventilating. 

“Jesus,” Jared mutters as Evan splutters and gasps and he’s definitely not breathing properly and part of Jared feels like an absolute dick but the other part is just… kind of pissed off. “Can you… fuck, you need to just breathe, it’s not that big a deal, come on.”

“It is,” Evan says immediately, his voice coming out strained and rough. “It is a big deal.”

Jared feels his shoulders tense. He tries to shrug, to shrug off this buzzing feeling that he’s fucked up. “If you don’t want to, I’m not gonna force you or anything, Jesus-”

“I want to,” Evan says immediately. Jared feels his heart clench weirdly. “It’s not that I don’t want to,” Evan continues, like he’s trying to clarify. “It’s just… it’s not just… sex is a big deal, okay? It-it isn’t just… I can’t just... it’s a big deal. To me.”

“Okay,” Jared says, almost snaps, feeling defensive. “We don’t have to… whatever.” 

He moves away from Evan. Pulls up his pajama pants, trying to ignore his now flagging erection. Gets his laptop and puts on an episode of The Office and just… sits there and waits for Evan to start breathing like a normal fucking human being. 

It’s bitterly cold the next week. Everyone’s bundled up in hats and scarves and mittens as they enter the school grounds in the morning, layers and layers of clothing. 

Jared keeps thinking about how Connor Murphy never wore a hat or a scarf or mittens, how he just ran around in that too-thin jacket that can’t have done fucking anything against the weather. 

Connor Murphy hasn’t been at school since just after Thanksgiving. 

Not that Jared cares or anything. 

He’s just… curious. It’s weird to just stop coming to school for weeks on end. Something has to have happened, but no one seems to know. There are rumors, sure. Lots of rumors. 

Some of them Jared started himself, so he knows they’re probably not true. But no one seems to really know exactly what’s happening. 

Jared considers going up to Zoe Murphy and asking what the fuck happened to her psycho brother, and nearly does it, too. But then he looks at her face, sees this look in her eyes that’s so eerily similar to Connor’s dead-eyed staredown that it sends something cold down his spine and he chickens out. 

Nick Schultz is the president of the IT club and Jared knows he’s in an AP Calculus class with Zoe Murphy, who’s apparently really fucking good at math. Jared remembers hearing that Alana Beck nearly had a fucking meltdown at the beginning of the year when she found out a junior was accepted into the AP Calculus class when Mrs. Byers hadn’t let her do the same thing the year before because she’d already been enrolled in, like, four other AP classes or whatever. 

Nick’s the kind of person who always seems to know things, so Jared asks. 

“Hey Nick. You’re in AP Calculus with Zoe Murphy, right?” he asks after the weekly IT club meeting. 

Nick looks at him, a little confused. “Yeah?”

“Did she say anything about why her brother’s not in school?” Jared finds himself asking. 

Nick frowns. Jared gets the distinct impression that he knows something about what happened to Connor, or has heard something, or… Jared doesn’t know if he’s projecting because he wants Nick to know, because he wants Nick to tell him, or if he actually knows. 

“Just because we’re in the same class doesn’t mean we’re friends,” Nick says, his voice flat. “She’s a junior.”

“Yeah, but you do the sound mixing for the jazz band sometimes,” Jared presses. “You know her. Come on, man, what’s the story with Connor?” He tries for a joking tone. “Did he, like, murder someone? Start a cult? Go on a journey to find Bigfoot? I gotta know.”

Nick gives him this look that Jared can’t quite figure out but he knows it’s not good, exactly. “Don’t think it’s your business, man,” he says, his tone almost breezy. “I gotta go, I’ll see you around.”

With that, he’s gone, leaving Jared no closer to an actual answer about what the fuck is causing Connor Murphy to miss an entire month of school. 

A month and counting, it seems, because there’s no sign of him all through January. 

Jared’s mom is hosting something at their house, so Jared asks if he can go to Evan’s that Friday after school. Evan seems a little taken aback but agrees. Jared drives them to the tiny house Evan and his mom live in and feels this weird fucking twist in his stomach when he sees how small it is, how rundown. 

Evan’s mom works really hard and this is all she can afford. It doesn’t seem fair. 

“Fuck, you gotta get one of those home renovation shows in here, it’s super fucking depressing,” Jared finds himself saying, looking at the backyard. There’s this ceramic turtle that’s kind of cute but mostly weird. “What the fuck is this?” 

“The, uh… the-the previous owners? Left it here?” Evan says, his voice shaky. “And-and-and we thought it was… I don’t know, cute or whatever.”

“Let’s go to your room,” Jared says, not bothering to reply. 

“Okay.”

Jared follows Evan upstairs to his room. Jared hasn’t been here in years. Literal years. When they were kids, they hung out a lot more, saw each other a lot more. Evan’s room is… weirdly empty. 

Except for posters of trees.

Always with the fucking trees. 

“So the tree thing’s not a joke then?” Jared asks, looking at Evan. 

Evan’s cheeks flush. “Uh. No. It’s - I. I just think that, like… Trees are cool.”

“Trees are cool?” Jared repeats. Fuck, that’s pathetic. He sits on Evan’s bed and looks at Evan. He’s wearing a hoodie that’s… actually not bad, considering how fucking dorky he usually looks. 

Jared kind of wants to take it off. To see Evan’s nice arms and nice shoulders and those fucking abs, abs that he really shouldn’t have, and honestly it’s not fucking fair that Evan has such a nice body. 

It makes him self-conscious. Makes him feel weird and soft and gross and disgusting. 

“You jerk off looking at these?” he says, gesturing to the tree posters, and fuck that’s an assholeish thing to say, he’s such a fucking asshole. 

“No,” Evan says immediately, his cheeks turning even redder. He looks… kind of pissed off.  “You know, you-you could just go. I don’t… I’ve got homework anyway.”

Wow. Okay.. 

This is… new. 

“You’re kicking me out?” Jared asks. 

Evan looks right at him, his expression challenging. “Yeah, I mean, if you’re. If you’re not going to even pretend to be nice. Then yeah.”

Fuck. 

Jared finds himself smiling, can feel his face breaking out into a proper smile, because he likes this, he likes it when Evan’s kind of a dick, when Evan’s assertive and doesn’t take his shit. 

It’s… hot. Evan’s hot like this. 

“I think I want to stick around,” he says, looking at Evan, who’s looking at him, an unreadable expression on his face. Jared thinks he might still be kind of pissed, but he also looks… interested. 

It’s stupidly, stupidly hot. 

“You ever given a blowjob before?” Jared asks, before he can stop himself. 

Evan looks like he wants to roll his eyes. “Obviously not. You?”

“No,” says Jared. It’s not like he’s got people lining up who want a piece of him, after all. It’s not like he’s the kind of person that hot guys look at twice, the kind of person they find attractive. 

Fuck. He’s just… 

It’s lucky that no one knows Evan’s hot. It’s lucky that no one knows that Evan Hansen is stupidly attractive under his dorky clothes, that he’s a great kisser and great at giving handjobs. 

If people knew that, then Jared wouldn’t get this. 

If Evan knew that, he’d be done with Jared in a heartbeat. If Evan knew how attractive he was, how good he could make a guy feel…

That’s why Jared won’t tell him.

And yeah, it’s a dick move, but Jared’s a dick, and he wants to keep Evan to himself, and he wants Evan to stay, he wants Evan to keep touching him, keep kissing him, keep choosing him because he doesn’t think he has any other options. 

Doesn’t know he could have, like, all the options he wanted, fuck. 

Jared knows he’s an asshole. Knows he’s a complete fucking asshole. But he doesn’t have to think about it while Evan’s on his knees with Jared’s dick in his mouth, because when Evan’s touching him all his thoughts fly out the window and all Jared can focus on is how good it feels. 

He comes embarrassingly fast and doesn’t offer to blow Evan in return. Not because he doesn’t want to - it’s mortifying how much he wants to - but because he’s afraid that if he’s not good enough, Evan might start to realize what’s obvious. 

That Evan might start to realize that he could do so, so much better. 


 

 

EVAN

The first week back at school after winter break, Evan was surprised to find Alana Beck standing at his locker before first period. She was wearing this big confident smile, the sort Evan tried to practice in the mirror in the morning sometimes after brushing his teeth. He greeted her with a smile of his own, far less sparkling or toothpaste add approved, and gripped the straps of his backpack tightly. 

“Good morning, Evan,” Alana said, her voice bright and crisp and vaguely professional. 

“Hi, uh, morning?” He returned uneasily. “What’s u - I mean, erm, how-how are you?”

“I’m well, thank you for asking,” She said, rocking forward then back then forward again on her heels. She sucked in a deep breath, then said, very quickly, “I’m creating a statistical analysis of the colleges and universities everyone in the senior class applied and got accepted at for my by AP stats class and, since I just got my early acceptance to Columbia, Brown, and Dartmouth I’m asking everybody to contribute some data.”

“Oh,” Evan said, feeling himself deflate slightly. She was asking everyone. She wasn’t asking him, specifically, she wasn’t asking Evan, she wasn’t here to speak with him specifically . “Congratulations?” He meant it more like, you know, actually congratulating her but somewhere in his brain the certainty went out of his words and it came out like a question. 

“Thank you,” Alana said briskly. “Have you heard back from anywhere yet?”

Evan nodded, a sort of jittery manic nod. “Uh-huh. Yeah, I um. I got into a-a… I got into. Ohio State? And University of Wisconsin. Still. I’m still waiting to hear back on Northwestern?”

Alana gave him this sort of potentially condescending smile. “Those are all big ten schools.”

Evan nodded kind of sheepishly, chewing uncomfortably on his cuticles. He’d gotten application fee waivers from all of them, which was really the only reason he could afford to apply. All of them were moderately affordable. Most of them had options to double or triple major. He’d have options. It wasn’t like he was going to get into an Ivy League school. He was only ranked seventh in his class, and he had that Incomplete for Driver’s Ed still. “I… Yeah.”

“Are you a big football fan? Or basketball?”

Evan shook his head. He wasn’t, not really, he just liked the idea of being able to disappear into a bigger school, starting over somewhere where nobody would know him or know he wasn’t anybody. He liked the idea of disappearing into a sea of school colors, of diving into something meaningless just because everyone else was doing it and nobody would know it wasn’t his scene. He liked the concept of anonymity when he chose it. Anonymous, unknown, but by intention, not coincidence. 

And that was all assuming he kept it together to make it to college. 

Alana was still talking. Fuck, Evan was so spacey these days, he hadn’t been listening at all. “Though I suppose if you were, say, considering a pre-law track, none of them are bad options.”

Evan almost laughed. Pre-law? Sure thing. Evan Hansen as a lawyer. Now that was a good fucking joke. “Oh, I don’t -”

“I’ve peer edited a few of your essays,” She went on. “You’re a very strong writer, particularly when it comes to defending your positions. You make very concise arguments, though you might consider going a little easier on the adverbs. Your Sula paper was very good. The writing was very clear and not too flowery, which I thought was beneficial.”

“You read my Sula paper?” Evan said, his eyes going wide. “I thought… Peer critiques are sup-supposed to be anonymous.” That was the only thing that allowed him to even submit those essays for peer critiques, the fact that nobody would know they were his, his teacher had reassured him that they wouldn’t have his name on them, that he could just use his student ID number fuck fuck fuck-

Alana waved a hand dismissively, saying something about how she recognized it because of his reliance on the semicolon which was not something Evan even knew about his own writing style. “Have you decided where you want to go yet?” She asked, as if he wasn’t mid-freak out about her having known whose Sula paper she had read. 

Evan shook his head. “Ohio State is… closest. But I’m not. I mean. My mom and I need to, y’know, crunch the numbers and whatever.”

“Smart,” Alana said, though it didn’t sound terribly sincere. “I’m leaning toward Dartmouth, myself, but Columbia has its appeal.”

Evan nodded. 

“Did you know Connor Murphy got early acceptance to Columbia?” She said suddenly, her smile so brittle and painful he wondered how she didn’t hurt her teeth. Like she couldn’t believe someone else had gotten into that good of a school. Like she had been robbed somehow by it. “Apparently, he’s ranked third in the class. Can you believe that? Apparently, I’m only beating him and Stephanie Wheeler out because I took AP Government via distance learning last year.” She smiled even brighter, and it almost blinded Evan. “And Connor Murphy got early acceptance to Columbia.”

“No,” Evan said. “Why would I know - He’s not even in school right now?” 

“I heard it was for health reasons,” Alana said, her eyebrows raised significantly, as if Evan should be able to discern her meaning from them. 

“Okay?” Evan tugged at the hem of his shirt. “Did you… How do you even, even know where he’s going to school? And why would you tell me about it? Maybe he-he doesn’t want people knowing he’s, like, third in the class or-or-or whatever?” Fuck, he was stuttering. Fuck, he did that when we got more nervous and he twisted his fingers tightly in the hem of his shirt. 

“Oh,” Alana’s smile went sort of wrinkled. “I thought you two were, like… friends?”

Evan shook his head. “We… I…”

“He signed your cast at the beginning of the year.”

Evan felt suddenly winded, like he had run a while or sprinted up twenty flights of stairs or hit the ground from a forty foot drop. “Oh yeah, uh. Look I gotta…” He looked at his watch awkwardly.

“Did you know you’re number seven?”

“What?” Evan wheezed. 

“In the class? You’re number seven.”

“Oh,” Evan said, nodding a little. He knew. His guidance counselor told him during an appointment that was half about applying for college and half about how Evan needed to quit faking stomach aches to go to the nurse and get out of gym class. At the time, seventh sounded pretty good. Top ten. But Alana Beck knew, and she wasn’t impressed, and suddenly it didn’t feel like an accomplishment but another way in which he was deeply, deeply mediocre. Even Connor Murphy who never went to school was higher than he was. 

The bell rang. 

“Seven’s pretty good,” Alana said, like she realized suddenly that maybe she had offended him. “I have the whole top ten list. Mrs. Byers gave it to me?”

“Right,” Evan said dully, gripping his backpack straps harder. His knuckles were white. “Well I gotta… Bye.”


Dear Evan Hansen, 

 

This year is going to be a good year and here’s why: Jared sort of likes you. You go over to his place sometimes, and sometimes the kissing isn’t that bad anymore. You read out loud in AP Biology last week and didn’t stutter or throw up. You got into Northwestern, which is a pretty good school. Especially since you’re only number seven in class rankings. It’s not Columbia or whatever but it’s pretty good.

 

Zoe smiled at you in the hallway yesterday and you’re like 90% sure it was actually for you, not for anyone who might have been standing behind you (since you checked). Even if you don’t really like her that way anymore, it’s nice to be noticed. 

 

Sincerely, 

Me

 

It went like this: Evan went to school. He went to therapy. He wrote letters like he was supposed to. He kissed Jared, sometimes, and other stuff too, sometimes. He didn’t sleep with him though. When Jared suggested it, one night when they were alone at Jared’s, Evan panicked. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to, just that he didn’t… It was a big deal. He tried to explain to Jared, through the snot and the frantic breathing, that it was a big deal for him. Sex wasn’t just… Evan wasn’t a casual person. He wasn’t able to just be chill about it. 

He started to slowly decrease the amount of drugs he was taking, sneaking them one by one out of his prescription bottle and hiding them in another under his bed so his mom wouldn’t find out. He found a new hoodie on sale after the holidays and it was less dorky than his other clothes so he wore it a lot. He tried to be better. 

He tried to stop imagining friends to keep him company when he was home alone. He tried not to have sad, one sided conversations with imaginary people who might give a shit about his AP Calculus grade or how stressful he found writing all of these scholarship essays to be. Evan did his best not to do this. Not to be alone as much as possible, because this was weird, he was getting too old for this imaginary friend shit, he needed to just be fucking normal. 

Evan returned his father’s phone calls even though they made him mad. His dad said something about flying in from Colorado for Evan’s graduation. He’d missed his middle school graduation and Evan and his mom had a big, stupid, tearful argument about his tie. Mr. Kleinman had to tie it for him in the parking lot of the school while his mom wrung her hands and Evan pretended he wasn’t crying. His dad hadn’t been back here since Evan’s (poorly attended) bar mitzvah. He wanted to come to Evan’s graduation from high school. 

“I’m not like valedictorian or anything,” Evan said, his mind echoing seventh, seventh, seventh.

“It’s your high school graduation, kid. Of course I’m coming. Tracy is excited to see you graduate.”

Evan doubted very much that his stepmom gave a flying fuck if he finished high school. 

“Come on, I’m booking flights. We’ll all go out for a nice dinner after, huh? It’ll be really good to see you.”

He said okay. He didn’t know what else to say. He tried to be better. 

It went like this: Evan practiced ordering food over the phone, writing out little scripts and saying them out loud in his empty house until he had no bumps in his voice, until he could smoothly say, “Large pizza with green peppers, please,” and give his address without stuttering or hyperventilating. He rehearsed how he would hand the cash to the delivery driver, practiced his small talk skills, like, “some weather we’re having!” and “they say it’ll be above freezing this week, can you believe that?” and also some vague sports trivia stuff because people as a general rule seemed to like sports. 

He got better at it. So much better at it that he even did it once in front of his mom, and she beamed at him this big sunny smile and it made her look younger, made her look her real age and then it kind of smacked Evan in the face that his mom was only nineteen when he was born. Nineteen was less than two years older than he was now. When his mom was basically his age, she was a parent, caring for an actual human person. And Evan was proud he could order a fucking pizza. It took some of the excitement out of the action, deflated it like a balloon. 

“That was so great honey,” his mom said, ruffling his hair like he was a little kid, kissing his cheek. He wanted to push her away suddenly, for babying him, for rewarding this bullshit non-accomplishment. 

“It’s just a fucking pizza,” Evan mumbled, his eyes down, his hands curling into fists. “Don’t make a bigger deal out of it than it is.”

“Honey…” His mom started to reach out, but then she stopped herself. “I know it feels small. But just a couple of weeks ago you got too anxious to pick up the phone. You’re working really hard! I think you should give yourself more credit.”

Evan rolled his eyes and told her he wasn’t hungry anymore and sent himself to bed. He woke up in the middle of the night to a rumbling stomach but couldn’t make himself get out of bed and steal a slice of the pizza he had been so briefly proud to order for himself. Instead he rolled over and over and over until it was dawn. He sucked at trying to be better. 

 

Dear Evan Hansen, 

 

You’re such a fucking joke. You’re seventh in class. Seventh, because you never finished driver’s ed because you’re such a stupid loser who can’t just drive a fucking car. Jared doesn’t even really like you, he thinks you’re a spaz and a freak and he’s just using you because you’re desperate enough to do whatever he wants. Your dad probably doesn’t even want to come to your graduation, he’s probably just coming because mom guilted him into it. You’re hurting her by existing. She was only nineteen when you were born and you ruined her whole life. You can’t even order a pizza without it being a big fucking deal. You should do yourself a favor and disappear. Do her a favor. Give her her life back before you’ve ruined it permanently.

 

Sincerely, 

Me

It went like this: Jared came to his house for a change. 

He made a snide remark about the sad little backyard, about the silly ceramic turtle that had been left behind by the old owner that Evan and his mom had never gotten rid of because it was sort of cute in a weird way. 

Evan stuttered, embarrassed, to explain why it was there. 

“Let’s go to your room,” Jared said, ignoring him. 

“Okay.”

Evan took him up the stairs to his bedroom and wished that he hadn’t. His room… sucked. It looked kind of like an old man’s in a nursing home or something, the walls too bare, his bedspread too cheerfully red, his posters of Ellison State Park and redwoods from California too obvious and weird. 

“So the tree thing’s not a joke then?” Jared said, turning to look at Evan. 

“Uh. No. It’s - I. I just think that, like… Trees are cool.”

“Trees are cool?” Jared repeated, his voice mocking. He sat on Evan’s bed. Evan flinched. “You jerk off looking at these?”

“No,” Evan said shortly, his face heating up. “You know, you-you could just go. I don’t… I’ve got homework anyway.”

Something in Jared’s face changed. “You’re kicking me out?”

“Yeah, I mean, if you’re. If you’re not going to even pretend to be nice. Then yeah.”

Jared smiled, like actually smiled. “I think I want to stick around,” he said, this big stupid grin on his face and Evan wasn’t sure if he wanted to punch him or kiss him or maybe a little of both. “You ever given a blowjob before?” Jared asked, all fake innocent. 

“Obviously not,” Evan muttered. “You?”

“No,” Jared said. 

It went like this: Evan gave Jared a blowjob and he didn’t feel great about it after. Jared did not return the favor. He went home maybe thirty minutes after, and Evan realized he was only there for that reason, and that made him angry so he decided he wasn’t going to talk to Jared anymore for about ten minutes until it dawned on him that being angry did not erase his general inability to do anything about shitty situations. Fuck trying. Fuck trying to be better. 

 

Dear Evan Hansen, 

 

You’re pathetic. Jared can convince you to do anything, huh? You’ll do anything so he doesn’t stop talking to you. He doesn’t even like you. He probably hates you. You know that feeling so at least now you have something in common. 

 

Sincerely, 

Me

 

His mom was home for dinner the next night, and Evan frustratedly twirled his noodles on his chopsticks and then shoved them into the takeout container and didn’t eat. 

“What’s the matter?” His mom asked. 

“Nothing.”

She raised her eyebrows, chewing in a very accusatory manner. 

“Jared. He’s…” Evan rubbed a hand over his face and took a deep breath. “If I tell you something, can you promise not to freak out or-or get all weird?”

“Depends on what it is, I guess,” His mom said. “Like if you tell me Jared’s going to shoot up the school, I’m going to have to freak out. Like. Legally.”

Evan’s lips twitched into a smile, thinking about how pissed off Jared would be that his mom compared him to a school shooter for a change. “No, nothing like that. Just.” He took a bite of his food. Stalling. “He… We might be dating? Kind of?" Evan squinted his eyes shut. Waited for the fall out.

It didn’t come. “Oh. Okay.” He heard his mom chewing, and peeled his eyes open again. “And what’s the problem?”

“He doesn’t want people to know?” Evan explained. “And… I don’t think it’s the gay thing, I think it’s more of a… me thing.”

His mom put her food on the coffee table, fixing Evan with a look. “Are you telling me you’re gay?”

“No. I don’t… I don’t think I am,” Evan said, his shoulders sort of slouching. He’d never really said this. It felt weird and wrong to try to explain. “I think I… I know I like girls. And boys too. So.”

“Okay,” His mom said. “Do you have a word you’d want to use?”

Evan shrugged. “I… I dunno, I thought ‘bi’ but everyone says that’s faking it or like, you know, a layover on the way to being gay…”

“I think if that’s the word you like, then that’s the word we’ll use, unless or until you find something you like better.” She smiled at him. “Fuck everyone else.”

“Right,” Evan said with a small smile. She could always make him smile by swearing. A dumb thing she used to do when he was little. She’d let him swear too, as long as he promised to never do it at school or in front of the other parents in the neighborhood.

“Thank you for telling me,” His mom said at length. 

Evan nodded a little. 

“Jared Kleinman…” His mom said then, her eyebrows up. “I guess. I guess I just didn’t see that one coming?”

“What do you mean?”

“I meant. You’re such a good kid, Evan? And Jared well. He’s just… I think he’s a bit spoiled,” She said, diplomatically. He thought it was weird to hear her say that. Like Jared was a little kid. “And I don’t like hearing that he doesn’t want people to know you’re sort of dating.”

Evan shrugged. “I dunno. I know I’m kind of a loser.”

His mom’s smile wrinkled. “Baby, are you trying to tell me that Jared is Mr. Popularity?”

“No, but I mean -”

“And even if he was, if he likes you it shouldn’t be an issue. He shouldn’t be trying to hide you away, you know? Do I need to make you watch Pretty in Pink again?”

Evan shrugged. He took a bite of his noodles. “I guess I kind of get it. What’s more of a target than being a loser by yourself? Dating another loser, right?”

“I don’t like that, Evan,” His mom said. “And don’t call yourself a loser. So you’re not popular, that doesn’t make you a loser. I was a loser in high school, so trust me, I’d know.”

“Weren’t you kind of a stoner?” Evan said, teased. 

“Yes and I told you that so you didn’t feel tempted to follow my shitty example. I love you baby, but I want you to have it better than I did. So… don’t settle for someone who thinks you’re a loser, alright?”

Evan felt his face heat up. “Yeah.”

They ate the rest of their food together, quiet and tranquil and Evan thought it was the best conversation they’d had in months. Maybe years. 

It went like this: Evan’s mom threw herself a little bit too hard into trying to supportive after Evan told her about the thing with Jared. She insisted on taking off a Friday night, making way too much popcorn, and entire tray of pizza bagels, and brought home enough candy to rot both of their teeth. She said she had been doing some googling and she had rented this movie called But I’m A Cheerleader and then spent the first, like, thirty minutes of the movie trying to shut it off, apologizing for bringing home this conversion therapy movie. 

“The internet said it was positive!” She said, embarrassed. “I was trying to… Be supportive in a way where I didn’t make a big deal out of it.”

Evan felt bad for her. She was so wrapped up in doing this right she was missing the fact that he was laughing hysterically. That it was obviously a satire. That it was funny.  “Mom, RuPaul is playing one of the counselors?”

“What?”

“RuPaul? You know, like, the drag queen? That’s… that’s one of the ex-gays?”

“How - but why -?”

“Mom,” Evan said, smiling at her. “It’s… that’s the joke? LIke, the joke is that conversation camp is bad and it doesn’t work.”

Her whole face relaxed. “Oh. Oh wow. I really… I missed that, huh?”

“It’s okay.”

“I just wanted this to… to go okay? Because I really am proud of you honey, I’m not. No bullshit. I’m proud of you and think it’s great that this is something you know about yourself.”

“I know mom. Thanks.”

He settled in beside her, watching the rest of the movie, smiling when Graham and Megan got together. 

It went like this: Evan tried to be better. 


 

SABRINA

 

Sabrina stared down at her notebook, totalling up the calories she had eaten for the day. She was trying to stay under five hundred. If she was going to actually drop a dress size before prom, she needed to be really careful about what she ate. She wanted to look nice , not like a mother of the bride. 

She had a bowl of Special K with skim milk for breakfast. That was about one hundred and sixty calories. She wanted to skip lunch, just drink a diet coke she had brought from home, but then Clarke, Siohban, and Stephanie all got pizza from the hot lunch line and she broke down and ate the emergency granola bar she carried around in her backpack. 

That was one hundred and ninety calories. And she had to eat dinner with her parents tonight, so. Fuck. Fuck fuck. 

Sabrina raised her hand and asked to go to the bathroom. When Mr. Michaelson started grumbling about how she had lunch last period, Sabrina loudly sighed and said, “Fine, I’ll just bleed on the seat then?”

Worked every time. Sucker. 

Her period was like the one thing about her body that was absolutely, in no way her fault, and Sabrina refused to suddenly start being ashamed of that too. 

She squeezed herself gingerly out of her desk, tucking her arms and elbows and sucking in her stomach as she walked the narrow row of desks toward the door, careful that her belly or ass didn’t knock into anybody. Sabrina opened and shut the door to the classroom gently, then walked to the bathroom, grasping Mr. Michaelson’s ridiculous lawn flamingo bathroom pass by the neck. Some of the other kids in class had “pimped out” the flamingo. He had a gold chain with a Flava Flav clock around his neck, a tiny baseball cap made of paper perched on his head, and someone had written “thug life” on his left wing. Personally, Sabrina found that all a bit racist and half considered asking Alana if she wanted to go talk to the administration about it. Thug was a racist term, and this bird was absolutely decorated by the white kids. But she worried Alana might think that Sabrina had only asked her because she was basically the only black girl in their grade and… It would be a whole thing. 

Making a stink about a racist lawn flamingo didn’t exactly gel with Sabrina’s plan to be as nice as humanly possible to every single person no matter how heinous so that nobody would talk about how fat she was behind her back. She was nice so they’d have to do it to her face. 

Sabrina knew she’d need to make herself puke if she wanted to stay under five hundred calories for today. 

Sabrina hated puke. Like it was not something she handled well. She’d (mercifully) outgrown her tendency to sympathy vomit, because that had made for a rough first decade of life. If Sam or Tabby barfed, Sabrina wasn’t far behind. But she grew out of that, eventually. Which was a good thing too, because she had ended up in a lot of classes with Evan Hansen sophomore and junior year, and that kid didn’t seem to make it through a week without barfing. He was a polite puker, at least. Never just barfed on the floor or desk or whatever. Always in a garbage can or in the bathroom. During driver’s ed, Sabrina had awkwardly patted his back when he threw up before their first ever behind the wheel lesson in a trash can outside. He didn’t show up to the next lesson. 

Point was, Sabrina didn’t exactly relish the fact that she was going to have to go and puke. She’d have to stick her fingers down her throat and last time she did that she’d ended up with puke on her hand and the whole thing was gross and she didn’t feel any better afterward. 

But she had to do it. For the fucking prom dress. To get her mom to stop tsking when they went shopping and Sabrina had to shamefacedly march over toward the “plus size” section where everything looked like, grandmotherly or entirely shapeless. She had to fit. She didn’t fit right now, she was too big and everyone knew it so she had to work on getting smaller. 

Sabrina objectively knew that trying to force herself to develop an eating disorder was admittedly kind of messed up. It was weird to be envious of those girls in magazines starving themselves when they were practically nothing but skeletons in a skin suit. But she also knew that the biggest fear those girls had was waking up and looking like her. She knew that some girls talked shit about her behind her back, calling her a slut because she had boobs and a butt even though she had never even kissed anyone, she knew that the school had to give her a boys’ gym uniform because the girls’ shirts only went up to an XL, she knew that her sisters were both beautiful and small and she had to be nice and smart and funny if she had any hopes of distracting people from the fact that she was a cow in people’s clothing. 

Brian Harris once told some bullshit joke, in like eighth grade or whatever, saying that since she was Hindu and “worshipped cows” she’d gone out and become one. Sabrina had felt her face heat up, heard herself mumble that she was actually Muslim, and Hindus didn’t even worship cows and -

People laughed. 

Alana had passed her a note the next day saying how awful she thought Brian Harris was and then a week later there was this whole cultural sensitivity workshop that Sabrina suspected was Alana’s doing and she was grateful for that, she was, because the racism sort of died down. She and Alana were best friends for most of eighth grade after that. 

The thing was that nobody made a fat sensitivity workshop. 

Which brought Sabrina back to the bathroom, holding a pink lawn flamingo, and trying to think of as many gross things as she could to make herself puke as quickly as she could. If she could just throw up, she could stay on track. She didn’t even want to be skinny, just less massive and bulbous and round. She tried to think about other people throwing up, the sound and the smell, to make herself gag and give in and throw up already. 

Only, when she finally leaned over the toilet, finally almost put her fingers down her throat, she heard the door burst open and the sound of someone sobbing. 

Shit.

Sabrina stood up. Flushed the toilet so it seemed like she was just in the stall to pee. Stepped out of the stall and watched as Zoe Murphy took her in with these massive, horrified eyes. She was the one crying, her chest heaving, and she took one look at Sabrina and only sobbed harder, hands going to cover her face. 

Sabrina went and washed her hands for show, picked up her lawn flamingo, and walked over to Zoe. She smoothed out her skirt and sunk to the floor beside her and gently put her hand on Zoe’s shoulder. Zoe made this horrible choking noise and Sabrina’s older sister genes kicked in. She wrapped Zoe in a hug and let her cry. 

Sabrina had no idea what was going on. Maybe it would have been better, kinder, to just ignore a crying girl in the bathroom. But Sabrina was bad at that kind of thing. She just couldn’t leave Zoe Murphy like that. She had to do something. She offered Zoe a tissue from her bag and didn’t move until Zoe pulled away. 

“Fuck,” She said, her voice all wobbly and strange. “Sorry. Jesus, I’m sorry.”

Sabrina tried to smile at her, “It’s alright. I tutor freshmen in math. I am super used to getting cried on.”

Zoe gave her a twitch of a smile. 

“It would be stupid to ask if you’re okay,” Sabrina said gently. “Because I can tell that you’re not. But if you wanted to talk about it…?”

“Don’t you have class?”

“Mr. Michaelson thinks I'm in here having my period, so. Probably don’t need to rush back.”

Zoe’s lip twitched again. “I almost punched someone today. I think I’m going crazy? I’ve never… I’m having a bad day.” She blew air up, ruffling her bangs. “Or a bad… life . I dunno.”

Sabrina nodded. 

“You uh… You know my brother, right? Connor?” Zoe said, her voice halting, hesitant. 

Sabrina knew Connor. They’d gone to grade school together. She had a hazy and distant memory of reading Where The Wild Things Are together when they were super little. He had sort of a reputation now. People were scared of him. Sabrina didn’t know exactly why. He’d always just been sort of quiet, as far as Sabrina knew. She sort of wondered if it was the fact that he wore nail polish sometimes that freaked people out. People got weird about that sort of thing. Alana had gotten all bent out of shape about his facebook picture being of a bong before Thanksgiving and Sabrina had sort of persuaded her not to charge into the principal’s office with accusations of drug trafficking because, like, basically everyone but Alana smoked weed sometimes. “Yeah, I know Connor. He’s been out of school for a while. We’re in the same gym class and he hasn’t been there. ”

“He’s in the hospital,” Zoe confessed, her eyes getting this sort of far off look in them. Glassy and unfocused. She looked exhausted. Sabrina wondered when the last time she slept had been. “Connor’s in the hospital. That’s why he’s not in school. He tried to kill himself.”

“Oh god,” Sabrina said softly, feeling an intense pang of guilt and sadness. She hadn’t known. “I’m so sorry. That must be really hard.” She pulled another tissue out of her bag.

“I found him. When he tried to…. There was all this blood? I found him.”

Sabrina, ironically, felt a little sick to her stomach. She tried to picture finding Sam or Tabby like that, bloodied and having tried to take their lives. It would kill her. She was absolutely certain. She would die on the spot. “I’m sorry you’re going through this.”

“I shouldn’t even be complaining, like… I’m fine. He’s the one... I’m fine.

“You don’t have to be fine,” Sabrina said gently, rubbing Zoe’s back. “I think you’re more than allowed to freak out. Or, like, almost punch someone. That’s really tough.”

That set Zoe off again, crying a little more, quieter this time and Sabrina just rubbed her back and told her it was okay if she felt bad. It was okay to feel whatever she felt. It was okay. 

“I knew something was wrong. I’ve known, for years, that something was wrong but… I just kind of ignored it because Connor’s an asshole. And now I’m really scared. And my parents? They can’t keep a civil conversation going long enough to make any decisions. They just keep yelling.”

Sabrina nodded. “I’m sure they’re just scared too. Parents are, like, people too.”

“I never used to think they were,” Zoe said softly. Her voice was sad. “I used to think they were, like, superheros.”

Sabrina totally understood that feeling. When she was younger she thought her dad could literally move mountains. She thought her mom had magic powers. It was a crushing disappointment when she realized they were just people. People who grew zucchinis and watched TVLand and frowned if Sabrina ever went for seconds at dinner. 

“I just. It’s stupid, but I want… I just want to pretend this isn’t happening. Pretend like everything is normal.”

Sabrina understood. “It makes sense. What you’re going through? Sounds so awful and heartbreaking. It makes sense to want to take breaks from that. That you’d want to try to feel a little bit normal.”

Zoe chuckled, a wet and sad smile. “Sorry again. For like. Crying on you and stuff.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Sabrina said. “You’re allowed to cry if you need to.”

Zoe nodded, looking awkwardly down at the jeans she was wearing. There were stars all over the cuffs of them, of various sizes. A little galaxy around her ankles. That was such a perfectly Zoe Murphy thing, to doodle on her clothes. It was like how she kept her fingernails short to play the guitar or streaked her hair indigo last year. She was a real person, and she was hurting and sometimes Sabrina knew she wasn’t the best at recognizing the pain happening outside of herself. Sabrina gave Zoe’s shoulder another squeeze, trying to reassure her. 

“Could you… could you maybe not? Tell anyone? About my brother?”

Sabrina smiled ever so slightly. “I wouldn’t. I won’t.” She pushed her hair over her shoulder. “But if you wanted to talk, like… I’m around.”

“Yeah. Thanks.”

Zoe Murphy stayed on Sabrina’s mind all night. 

And all day the next day. 

She couldn’t imagine how horrible it would be to almost lose a sibling. She couldn’t picture it in her mind, she couldn’t fathom it. 

Zoe Murphy was funny. Sarcastic. Nice to people. Last year when Sabrina worked on the sets for Guys and Dolls and Zoe played in the pit band, she had told Sabrina that she had a good voice when she overheard her singing “Adelaide’s Lament” while she painted the interior of the Hot Box Club, really hamming it up to amuse Clarke. Zoe complimented her. Zoe was nice. 

Zoe was in pain. 

And Sabrina wanted to help. She wanted to do something…

It weighed on her all through the rest of the school day. Through dinner with her parents, even after her mom not-so-gently suggested she skip out on the lasagna she had made for everyone else and just have a bowl of Special K. 

Sam shot her a sort of disapproving look but didn’t say anything. Tabitha just sort of frowned a little. This big family dinner and her mom had to say that shit now.

Sabrina ate exactly one cup of Special K for dinner. With a half cup of skim milk. It tasted like cardboard and a little like trying not to cry. 

She wanted to just… do something. Make something a little bit better.

So on Saturday morning, Sabrina got up early. She drove her car to the grocery store and picked up all of the supplies she needed to make cookies (including real butter, real flour with gluten, and nice chocolate, because she had heard through the grapevine that Mrs. Murphy had been on a health food kick and her kids hadn’t had any real food in months). She went home to her parents and made up a batch of cookies, humming while she stirred and scooped and baked. 

“Sabrina,” Her mom sounded disappointed when she discovered her in the kitchen. “Cookies? Really?”

“They’re for a friend of mine,” she said with a benign smile. “She’s having a rough time, and I think cookies will help.” Sabrina taste tested one cookie, right in front of her mother, who looked pissed. “Besides. We both know I’m not going to drop a dress size by prom. And nobody will know what the number on the tag says anyway.”

Her mom blinked a few times in surprise, but then she turned on her heel and left Sabrina to her baking. The cookies were admittedly very good. She hoped Zoe liked them. 

Sabrina bundled herself up in a hat and scarf, taking a wrapped plate of cookies with her. She drove to the Murphys’ house on memory, because she had dropped Zoe off once or twice before Zoe had her license. The house was… big. A real McMansion. Sabrina straightened her shoulders, then stepped out of the car and headed up the walk. 

She was going to make something better.



ZOE


Zoe Murphy has spent a considerable portion of her life wishing that her brother would just disappear, wishing he would just vanish into thin air so she wouldn’t have to deal with his bullshit. 

There’s a part of her that feels like this whole fucking thing is her fault. She wished too hard, and look where it got her. 

Look where it got Connor. About to start his second month in the psych ward. 

There are moments when Zoe can almost convince herself that this is a good thing. That her parents have finally stopped ignoring the obvious, finally woken up and realized that Connor needed help, has needed help for nearly a fucking decade, and neither of them have been doing anything about it. Dad was too strict, Mom was too lenient and Connor just got worse and worse and worse. 

Aside from the brief stint in rehab - which, let’s be honest, wasn’t even proper rehab, it was more like a fucking yoga retreat - they’ve all just kind of ignored it and hoped it’d sort itself out. 

So yeah, Connor’s in the psych ward, and her parents are barely speaking to each other, and her dad’s never home and her mom has genuinely gone to see a spiritualist to try to find out if Connor’s ever going to be fucking normal, which is so completely fucked up that Zoe doesn’t even know where to start, but…

Connor’s alive. 

Zoe still wants to punch him in the face, wants to scream and rage and hit and cry and yell at him until she’s hoarse, but she doesn’t want him dead. 

She hasn’t been sleeping. Not really. Whenever she closes her eyes, she’s back there again, dragging his body out of the bathtub, putting pressure on the gaping wounds on his wrists, watching as he struggles to breathe, his skin almost gray, looking so close to death it makes her throat close up, it makes her eyes sting, it makes her heart clench painfully, it gives her phantom pains in her own wrists, it…

Or the ambulance, where he stopped breathing, he stopped fucking breathing, he stopped moving, and she screamed at the paramedics who pushed her out of the way and did CPR and told her that he was a fighter, that he’d make it through this. 

She felt like her own heart stopped then, too. 

There’s a part of her that stopped, that disappeared in the back of that ambulance, watching her brother stop breathing. 

Even though they got him back, even though he’s alive and safe and getting the help he needs, Zoe still feels like she lost something, like somehow she’s still stuck in the back of that fucking ambulance. 

Or on the floor of the bathroom. 

The bathroom, which is being completely remodeled. 

Her mom tried to ask her opinion on tiles, whether they should be off-white or this kind of weird blue color. 

Zoe burst into tears and locked herself in her room for three hours. 

Christmas was… weird. She remembers hearing her parents arguing about it a few days prior, because her mom had wanted to bring food to Connor and for all four of them to be together as a family. Her dad had been… not so keen. 

In the end, Zoe’s mom went to visit Connor by herself on Christmas morning, then she and Zoe went to a fancy restaurant for dinner, where her mom drank two entire bottles of wine with her meal. Zoe had to drive them home. 

Dad had to work, or so he said. 

Zoe is pretty sure he just didn’t want to be there. 

Zoe hasn’t visited Connor in the psych ward. She doesn’t know if she can bring herself to do that. 

Not yet. 

She did send a Christmas present along with her mom. Basically she’d just gone to a second-hand bookstore and picked out a bunch of books, about a dozen - a combination of different things, she hadn’t really paid that much attention, because she didn’t think it really mattered. Last year she caught him reading the instruction manual to the fucking microwave while he was high, so she’s pretty sure he’ll read anything. He reads super quickly, so Zoe went for quantity over quality. 

Her mom said he smiled when he saw them and said to thank her. 

Her mom also said that he’d asked if she was going to visit. 

Zoe can’t answer that. 

Not yet. 

School continues to be the worst. There are all sorts of rumors running around about Connor and Zoe wants to punch anyone who’s ever said a fucking thing about her family. Someone genuinely asks her if it’s true that Connor killed their mom and that he’s in a mental institution for the criminally insane and she very nearly did just… punch the guy. 

Instead, she told him to go fuck himself and went to go cry in the bathroom, which is becoming a bad habit. She hates crying. She hates crying in front of people, she hates it. Most people seem to just ignore her, or pretend they haven’t seen her, or genuinely don’t notice, but she’s had a couple of people try to reach out. 

That kid who broke his arm at the beginning of the year, Evan, asked her if she was okay the week after Connor… the week after it happened, and she was kind of a jerk to him. She makes sure to smile at him in the hallway when she remembers to, but she doesn’t have the energy to try to apologize, to try to talk to him. She knows he has a crush on her, or at least had a crush on her last year, because he was always just… kind of there (it had been a little weird but not creepy or anything, just weird) and he’s nice and kind of cute in a dorky way, but that’s not…

That kind of shit’s not on her radar right now. Nowhere near it. 

She had an embarrassingly earnest conversation with Sabrina Patel in the girls’ bathroom just after winter break, where she was just tired and vulnerable enough to actually tell her the truth, tell her what happened. She’d been embarrassed as fuck afterward, completely paranoid that all of a sudden, that version of events was going to be all over the school, but it’s been nearly a week and nothing.

The cherry on top of the sundae of shit shows up at the end of the day on a Friday when she’s walking to her car and sees this tall blond guy waiting for her. He’s in this beat-up jacket and he has a mop of curls, peeking out from under a beanie. She clutches her keys tighter in case she needs to fucking destroy this creep. 

“Zoe,” he says, his voice deeper than she expects. “Zoe Murphy, right?”

“Who the fuck are you?”

The guy looks uncomfortable. “Dennis,” he says, his shoulders tensing. “I’m, uh… look, is Connor okay?”

As Zoe gets closer, she can smell it. 

This guy reeks of pot. 

“How do you know Connor?” she asks, her voice cold. She doesn’t need him to answer, she knows exactly who this fucker is. 

His shoulders slump. “I, uh…”

“You’re his dealer,” she says when it’s obvious he’s not going to say anything else. A wave of fury hits her, so strong she thinks it’s going to knock her over. “You fucking asshole, you’ve got some nerve, asking me if he’s okay, Jesus fuck. You don’t give a shit about him, you’re just pissed off you’re losing out on his money, you sick fucking creep.”

“I’m his friend,” Dennis insists. 

Zoe barks out a laugh. “Connor doesn’t have friends.”

Dennis looks at her, chin raised defiantly. “Yeah, well, I’m the closest thing he’s got to one, okay? I knew he wasn’t… wasn’t doing great, fuck.” He sniffs. Rubs his face. “I just want to know if he’s okay.”

“He’s not,” Zoe hisses, moving closer to him. “And you selling him fuck knows what didn’t fucking help.”

Dennis looks… scared. “I wasn’t… I didn’t…” He blinks a few times, more times than he needs to. “Is he…”

“Fuck you,” Zoe says, anger flowing through her, and she doesn’t care that people are looking, people are staring, people are watching her like they’ve been watching her since it happened. 

She swings her fist and punches Dennis square in the nose. 

It hurts like a motherfucker. 

Dennis swears loudly, and Zoe can see he’s bleeding, and all of a sudden she’s back in her bathroom again, dragging Connor out of the bath, and there’s blood, there’s so much fucking blood, and he nearly died in the ambulance, Connor could have died…

“Stay the fuck away from me,” she warns, taking a step back. “And stay away from my brother.”

Zoe gets into her car and makes it halfway home before she has to pull over because she can’t see the road through her tears. When she finally gets home, she ices her hand, watching dispassionately as she can see the bruising getting darker and darker. 

Just like how the blood on the bathroom floor got darker and darker, how it bled through the towel she tried to use on her brother’s wrists to stop the bleeding…

She locks herself in her room and cries herself to sleep.

 

Zoe’s sitting at home on Saturday when the doorbell rings. She heads to the door to go answer it at exactly the same time as her mom, so they’re both at the door when she opens it to reveal Sabrina standing there with a platter full of cookies. 

She’s in a cute jacket, hat and scarf. Zoe has always liked how Sabrina dresses. It’s just a little bit different from what everyone else wears. Zoe’s never seen Sabrina in jeans, it’s always cute skirts and blouses and scarves and cardigans and dresses. Sabrina always looks super cute. Cute and soft and warm. Zoe likes that about her. 

“Hi,” says Sabrina, smiling nervously, her dark eyes darting back and forth between Zoe and her mom. “Sorry to just… drop in? I don’t want to bother you, I just wanted to drop off these.”

“That is so sweet,” says Zoe’s mom, her voice a little wobbly. “Did you want to come in?”

Sabrina looks at Zoe, a little uncertain, and Zoe nods. “It’s cold out. We could make hot chocolate?”

Sabrina nods a little. “Okay.” She lets Zoe lead her inside, takes off her shoes and jacket as instructed by Zoe’s mom, then follows them into the kitchen. 

“It’s Sabrina, right?” asks Zoe’s mom, smiling widely, a wider smile than Zoe’s seen in a long time. “You’re in Con… you’re a senior?”

“That’s right,” says Sabrina politely, clearly choosing to ignore that Zoe’s mom was obviously about to say “you’re in Connor’s grade.” She takes off her jacket to reveal a soft-looking powder blue sweater, a wool skirt and tights. Zoe really likes her outfit, it’s super cute and makes her look… kind. Like someone you could trust. 

Sabrina has really nice hair, too. It’s dark brown and shiny and looks like it smells really good. It’s got lots of volume and falls nicely on her shoulders, contrasting beautifully with her dark skin, and Zoe kind of wants to touch it to see if it’s as soft as it looks, but that would be weird. 

“Have you made any decisions about college yet?” Zoe’s mom asks Sabrina. 

“I got accepted into Ohio State,” Sabrina says with a nod. “I think that’s where I’m going to go.”

“It’s a good school,” says Zoe’s mom warmly. 

Sabrina turns to Zoe and smiles softly, all shiny white teeth against dark skin. “I know it’s early days for you, but do you have any ideas about what you want to do when it’s time?”

“I’ve been thinking about studying psychology,” Zoe says, and this is the first time she’s actually said it out loud. There’s something about Sabrina that makes her comfortable. 

“Oh?” says Zoe’s mom, her eyes widening. “I thought you were wanting to do music.”

“You could do both?” Sabrina says with a smile. “There are lots of studies about the benefits of music in therapy.” Her cheeks turn a little red. “That’s if you’re wanting to go into being an actual psychologist.”

“It’s good to have options,” says Zoe, heading toward the fridge to pull out some milk, and reaching into the cupboard to get the chocolate. “Hot chocolate?”

Zoe’s mom heads off to give them some privacy, and it’s… nice, Zoe thinks, just sitting and drinking hot chocolate with Sabrina. She’s always kind of vaguely known her - they’re not exactly best friends, but they’re friendly. Zoe remembers playing in the pit band when the school did Guys and Dolls in sophomore year and getting to know Sabrina who was doing set design and working backstage. One time, Sabrina had done her own rendition of ‘Adelaide’s Lament’ while painting a backdrop that Zoe privately thought was miles better than the nasally senior who actually played Adelaide in the show. 

Sabrina looks at Zoe, her expression kind. “How are you doing, really?”

Zoe takes in a breath. “Honestly? I don’t know.”

Sabrina nods. “Yeah. That makes sense.” She frowns a little. “It’s hard. I’m sorry you’re going through this.”

“Thanks for the cookies.” Zoe takes the cling wrap off the platter and helps herself to one. She can’t help but moan at the taste - they’re soft and chewy and perfectly cooked with what tastes like real butter and real chocolate and exactly what Zoe didn’t even know she needed. “These are fantastic, oh my god.”

Sabrina smiles, a real smile that’s wide and open. “Sometimes something sweet helps. Just a little bit.”

Zoe feels her eyes welling up with tears, and before she knows it Sabrina’s giving her a hug. Sabrina is warm and soft and smells good and Zoe lets herself relax into it. 

Sabrina should charge for these hugs, fucking hell, they’re perfect. 

“Thank you,” Zoe manages to choke out, and Sabrina just lets her cry on her shoulder until she’s finally done. 

They sit for a while and talk over hot chocolate about school, about college, about anything but the fact that Zoe’s brother is in the psych ward after trying to kill himself and Zoe’s the one that found him. Sabrina gives her a particularly tight hug before she leaves and tells Zoe that she’s always there if she needs anything. 

Later that night, Zoe packs up some of the cookies into a ziplock bag and gives them to her mom. 

“Will you take these to Connor next time you visit?”

Zoe’s mom’s eyes look sad. “Of course, honey.” She pauses. “You could come with me, if you wanted.”

Zoe shakes her head. “Not yet,” she says softly. “But… maybe next time.”

Chapter Text

February


 

CONNOR

 

Two months and one week. That’s how long Connor spends in the hospital all together. 

To be honest, the first few weeks he doesn’t remember much, only vague snippets, flashes. 

He remembers waking up and being bitterly, bitterly disappointed he wasn’t dead. Realizing he was in the hospital and wanting to yell and scream at whoever it was who’d stubbornly refused to let him die, wanting to punch whatever doctor it was that kept him from just shuffling off this mortal coil, but not having the energy to do it. 

At the end of the day, he supposes it’s not really their fault. They’re just doing their job, even if it’s massively fucking inconvenient to him. 

He remembers being moved to the psych ward and talking to a doctor and being too tired to argue, too tired to lie, just flat out admitting that he’d planned it specifically for no one to be home. 

They told him that Zoe had had a headache and gone home after an AP Calculus test. 

He hadn’t planned for that. 

Honestly, he doesn’t even think he knew that Zoe was taking AP Calculus as a junior. Apparently she’s good at math. 

One more think he might have died not knowing. 

Not that it has any real bearing on his life, but…

Still. 

They put him on medication immediately after he arrives in the psych ward, which in retrospect is a bigger deal than it felt like at the time. Connor’s known there was something wrong for a long time now, a really fucking long time, and his parents have either willfully ignored it or flatout denied it to his face. 

His dad, in particular, is not a fan of antidepressants at all. 

This becomes super obvious when he visits Connor nearly a full month into his stay in the psych ward and freaks out when Connor nearly falls asleep because the first medication he’s on leaves him kind of zombified. 

“How’s he supposed to do anything when he’s drugged up to his eyeballs, Cynthia?” he’d yelled as Connor struggled to keep his eyes open. “Or is this just another way for him to get high? We sent him to rehab last summer, for Christ’s sake!”

His doctor had suggested that perhaps this particular medication wasn’t working for him and they should try something else. Larry had flatout refused to consider it. 

His mom, however, had put her foot down in a spectacular argument that resulted in both of them being asked to leave the premises. 

So in early January, they’d switched him to another medication. 

And, slowly but surely, things had kind of… gotten better. 

Connor is, quite honestly, really fucking surprised that whatever it is they’ve got him on, it’s… making a difference. He’s less… it’s less noisy inside his head, for one. There’s still a voice in there, telling him he’s supposed to be dead, that all he’s doing is fucking up life for everyone else, but it’s… quieter. And the awful churning in his chest, the emotions that he couldn’t control, the anger and frustration he’d always felt, it’s…

It’s quieter. 

Everything is just… quieter. 

He hadn’t realized it had been so loud in his head for so long. 

Connor’s therapist’s name is Bianca. She’s got bright, obviously dyed red hair, thick-framed glasses and a nose piercing and she’s younger than he would have expected for a therapist. 

Larry meets her on one of the rare occasions he bothers to visit with Connor’s mom and makes a whole lot of snarky comments about her hair, her piercing, her age and the fact that therapy is a load of bullshit anyway. 

Connor decides that he likes her when she tells him in their next session that his dad seems like ‘a bit of a dick’. 

A lot of what she says isn’t exactly revolutionary, but it… helps, to externalize things. To examine some of the thoughts that have been in his head, stewing for so long that he’s let them become true. 

He knows the concept of truth is subjective. He’s always known that. 

He just… hasn’t applied it to himself before. He’s starting to realize he needs to examine things. Analyze them. Get all critical about the shit that’s going on in his head. 

“Think of it like literary analysis,” says Bianca, leaning forward in the chair. “You’re trying to get inside the heads of these characters, right? You’re examining the narrative for clues, you’re trying to contextualize how people think and how they act.” She looks at him, eyes big behind thick frames, and smiles. “You ever read a story where it’s just so obvious what’s going on but the characters can’t see it? And you think ‘how can they not see it?’ and it drives you a little crazy?”

Connor’s kind of amused to hear her use the word ‘crazy’ when he is literally in the psych ward, but nods. “Yeah. I’ve definitely read stories like that.”

“There are plenty of things that you don’t seem to be seeing right now,” she says, her voice gentle. “I think you’re an exceptionally intelligent and creative young man who I believe has a lot to offer the world. So… here’s your homework. Make a case for my analysis of your character. What can you find in your narrative that supports my argument?”

It’s probably not the most… traditional way of doing therapy, he assumes, but…

She’s kind of speaking his language right now. 

Looking at things through the lens of literary analysis kind of… works. He guesses. He can get into it, at least. 

He doesn’t just think it’s a complete waste of his fucking time, even if he doesn’t always get it, so that’s… something. 

Connor’s mom visits a lot. A lot more than he expects or probably even deserves. She shows up with books and soft sweaters and hoodies with the strings taken out, as well as packets of Oreos and candy. Little things that make the fact that he is literally in the psych ward a little bit better. 

He doesn’t exactly hate being here. Not really. At first, he was pissed off he wasn’t dead, then he was pretty much constantly out of it with the first medication he was on. Once he got used to the second medication, he’d kind of expected the whole ‘being pissed off he wasn’t dead’ thing to come back, but it just… doesn’t. 

It’s not like he’s sitting there, loving life, overwhelmingly grateful for a second chance, ready to take on the world with a renewed zeal or whatever, but…

He’s not pissed off he’s not dead anymore. 

That’s… something, he guesses. 

Bianca seems to think so, at least. 

Zoe hasn’t visited. Not that he remembers, at least. Apparently she saw him in the hospital, after they stitched up his wrists and gave him a blood transfusion and all of that. He’d been pretty out of it and his memories are hazy, blurry, misty, not fully formed, and then there’d been that first medication, so all in all, it’s just… vague. 

Zoe doesn’t visit at Christmas, but she does send a bag of books with their mom. Another time, it’s a small bag of cookies that taste homemade and make Connor wonder where they came from, because he sure as hell knows Zoe doesn’t bake. 

It’s not until a week before he’s set to leave that Zoe does show up. 

It’s a Thursday afternoon, just after lunch, and he’s sitting reading in the recreation room when he’s told he has a visitor, and his sister walks in. She looks thinner than he remembers, hollower in the cheeks, and she has dark circles under her eyes, and it cuts through him. 

She sits down next to him. 

Opens a packet of M&Ms. 

Takes a few M&Ms, then passes him the packet. 

Connor takes a small handful, then passes it back. 

They sit there, eating M&Ms, passing the packet between them, for what must be at least half an hour. 

“Aren’t you supposed to be at school?” Connor asks about ten minutes in. 

Zoe rolls her eyes. “Allegedly.”

They don’t say much else to each other, they just kind of… sit. The seats are uncomfortable and the room smells a little weird and Connor’s acutely aware of the fact that he’s wearing slippers his mom bought for him, slippers to keep his feet warm because they don’t trust him with shoes that have laces, and he’s never worn slippers before in his whole damn life but he’s wearing slippers now, and his sister is here in a sweater and overalls and shoes with actual shoelaces and they’re just…

They’re sitting right next to each other, but they’re a million worlds apart.

“You’ll be home next week?” Zoe asks as she stands up to leave. 

Connor nods. 

Zoe tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. Nods as well. 

“Okay.”

And then she’s gone. 

 

Connor’s last day in the hospital is uneventful. Going home is uneventful. It’s just his mom who comes to pick him up. When they get home, it’s the middle of the day, so Zoe’s at school and his dad’s at work. He goes to his room to find it clean and tidy and… 

Yeah, someone’s definitely been in here. 

Everything’s gone. 

The stash of pills he’d accumulated. The spare razor blade. The rope. 

His neat, detailed plans of methods, based on his research on the most effective ways to kill himself. 

Something churns in his gut as he realizes that if they’re gone, then someone saw them. 

Probably his mom. 

Fuck. 

Fuck. 

Fuck. 

His mom…

She shouldn’t have had to see that. 

If he’d just died like he was supposed to, he wouldn’t have to live with this guilt, this churning, festering guilt deep inside his stomach, a guilt that won’t stop moving, won’t stop demanding his attention, won’t stop…

Fuck. 

Connor ends up having a nap for a bit, because he’s exhausted. He only wakes up when his mom shakes his shoulder gently, telling him that the pizza has arrived. 

It takes him a moment for him to process that, because his mom has been on an anti-fast-food kick for literal years. 

Weirdly, he’s starving, so he follows his mother downstairs. She walks past the kitchen, past the dining room, and into the living room, where Zoe’s already started up on the pizza and is flicking through cable channels.

Connor sits on the sofa, takes a piece of pizza, and kind of looks around, a little confused, because this isn’t how things normally go in this house. They don’t sit in front of the TV and eat pizza. 

“Where’s Dad?” he asks. 

The minute the words are out of his mouth, he regrets them. His mom freezes, then forces a smile. 

“He had to work. It’s an emergency. He… he said he’s sorry to have not made it home to welcome you back.”

Zoe rolls her eyes so hard Connor thinks it might be causing her physical pain, but doesn’t say anything, just keeps flicking through the channels. She stops when she stumbles across Zoolander, which has just started, and the three of them sit and watch the movie in silence that’s almost comfortable. 

Almost. 

It’s a weird first few days home. It’s the weekend, but his dad is barely home, and his mom doesn’t seem to want to let him out of her sight. 

Mostly they just watch movies together on the couch. He doesn’t really have the energy to do anything else. His mom frets about how pale he is and makes him take a bunch of herbal supplements which are supposed to improve his iron levels naturally using… something, he wasn’t really following her explanation because it didn’t seem to have any grounding in actual science. 

Still, he takes them and doesn’t argue. He figures his mom doesn’t need him being an asshole about this. 

Not after everything he’s put her through. 

On Sunday, his mom tells him he’ll be going back to school on Monday. She assures him it’s going to be fine, that the guidance counsellor will be keeping tabs on him, that it’s good for him to get things back into a normal routine. 

There’s something in her voice that doesn’t sound like she’s entirely convinced. 

He’s in his room when his dad finally comes home. Less than an hour later, his parents start arguing, loud enough that he can hear their conversation. 

“We could homeschool him for the rest of the year, Larry. He could finish everything online, there are ways to do that now.”

“He’s going back to school and that’s final.”

“You’re not listening to me-”

“Look, you won the argument about the drugs. Whatever it is they started giving him in the hospital was supposed to fix this, supposed to make this better. He’s got to finish his senior year if he wants to go to college.”

“He’s only been out of hospital a few days! He needs time to adjust!”

“He needs to buckle down and focus on school. Put this whole mess behind him.”

The argument keeps going around in circles and neither of them seem to get anywhere. 

Connor guesses he’ll have to go back to school at some stage. It may as well be tomorrow.

It’s not like waiting is going to make him feel any more ready. 

Zoe drives him to school. She plugs in her iPod and plays Panic! At The Disco as loud as the car speakers will go so they don’t have to have a conversation. 

When they arrive, she disappears into the crowd of students as fast as she can, and Connor is hit with a nervous feeling so strong, he legitimately considers breaking into Zoe’s car, hotwiring it and driving to Dennis’s to get high in his basement instead of dealing with this garbage fire of a school. 

The nervousness doesn’t go away, and he absolutely does not want to be here, but…

He’s put his mom through enough, fucking hell. 

He braces himself. 

Once more into the fray. 

 

Being back at school is… okay, as long as he keeps his head down. Connor just focuses on class and puts in his headphones whenever he has to walk the halls or go to his locker because he doesn’t want to deal with people. Any time he has free, he spends in the library or the computer lab, catching up on assignments. 

People stare at him like usual, but instead of staring them down like he used to, he doesn’t bother anymore. He’s not here to fuck with people who want to fuck with him. They don’t matter - not that they ever did, but he’s not actively trying to make assholes uncomfortable anymore. 

He has bigger things to worry about. 

Somehow, despite everything, Connor has a tentative hold on the whole ‘life is worth living’ thing, a hold he hasn’t had in a long time. It’s… fragile, and it’s shaky, and it’s not something he wants to put to the test right now, because he’s not sure how well it will stand up to pressure. 

And it all hinges on one thing - getting the fuck out of here. 

And that means Columbia. 

That means making damn sure that two months off school hasn’t fucked up his chances. 

He throws himself into his studies with grim determination. He’s never really had to try that hard before, and it’s not like he has to try hard now, there’s just more to get through if he wants to catch up. When he gets into a rhythm, it’s actually not that bad. 

Takes his mind off things, at least. 

Connor tries not to think about how he’s still not a hundred percent sure he’s not still bleeding in the bathtub in the upstairs bathroom, a bathroom he still can’t bring himself to go back into. He’s been going downstairs to pee and shower and all that shit because he just… he can’t go in there. He can’t. 

Part of him feels like he might still be there. Like if he walks into that room, he’ll see himself, wrists spilling crimson, the life pouring out of him. 

He tries not to think about how he doesn’t know how Ivy League universities feel about suicidal teenage nutcases and he’s dreading the idea of having to find out, of having to confirm that he can still go, of having to talk to someone about all this shit. Surely it’s better to make sure before September so he can make other plans, so he can figure things out, because he applied to other colleges, he has backup plans. 

Which could all fall through. 

Because he’s a suicidal teenage nutcase.

Formerly suicidal. 

Maybe. 

He doesn’t know. 

He really doesn’t know. It kind of varies from day to day, which is… 

He probably should be more concerned about it than he is.

He tries not to think about how sometimes he’s not really sure if he’s really here. If this isn’t all a dream, a hallucination, because… 

Shouldn’t it be… more? Shouldn’t he feel more than this? 

He tried to kill himself. 

He could have died. 

He almost died. 

He tries not to think about how he’s terrified to make eye contact with anyone, because he’s afraid that somehow they’ll know, they’ll know what he did, even though the rumors he does hear about himself are ridiculous and complete lies but preferable to everyone knowing the truth. 

Sometimes he sees Evan Hansen looking at him in English class, something hesitant in his face, and it’s almost like he’s about to say something, about to ask him where he’s been. 

Connor thinks that out of everyone in this whole damn school, Evan’s the person he’s most afraid will ask him where he’s been. 

Because if Evan asks, Connor might just tell him. 

And if Connor tells him, Evan just might understand. 

And that’s horrifying. 

He used to think that maybe having someone who understood would be a comfort, give him something he could hold onto, but now he’s not so sure. He spent months last semester trying to figure out how to talk to Evan because he felt like he might understand, but now…

He thinks that if he told Evan what happened, Evan might have a story of his own that’s too familiar, too close to home, and that might…

That might break him. That might break this fragile, tenuous link to life he’s developed. 

And Connor doesn’t think he wants that. Not anymore. 

 

On his birthday near the end of the month, his mother makes pancakes. They’re gritty and have a weird aftertaste, but there’s real maple syrup, so it’s not so bad. Zoe doesn’t make it down to sit and eat breakfast, but she does eats a pancake in the car, wrapped up in a paper towel like a burrito. 

She gets maple syrup all over her fingers and all over the steering wheel, but doesn’t seem to notice. She seems… off today. Distracted. She doesn’t say anything to him, doesn’t wish him happy birthday, doesn’t even acknowledge what today even is. 

His dad is nowhere to be seen. 

 

When the bell rings at the end of English first period, Mr. Stevens asks if Connor has a moment to chat briefly, and Connor nods, even though part of him wants to tell him to fuck off. 

He tells that part of him to shut the fuck up, because Mr. Stevens is actually not the worst. He’s always been decent to Connor, which is more than can be said for some of the staff in this hellhole. 

“I wanted to touch base with you,” says Mr. Stevens once everyone’s gone. Connor’s struck by the realization that he’s actually kind of young for an English teacher. He vaguely remembers some of the girls in his class mentioning that Mr. Stevens is kind of hot in a dorky, earnest way, and he has to admit they’re not wrong. “About everything.”

“Okay,” says Connor, not quite making eye contact with him, because he’s suddenly paranoid that his English teacher can read his mind and knows that Connor’s thinking about the fact that he thinks he’s hot. 

Mr. Stevens smiles awkwardly, this thin, weird smile that doesn’t reach his eyes and looks horribly sad. “I wanted to give you a bit of time to get back into the swing of things. It’s…” He sighs a little. “I am very, very glad to see you back with us, Connor.” 

Connor swallows uncomfortably. There’s a weird ringing in his ears. “Thank you.”

Mr. Stevens nods. “I know you got early acceptance to Columbia. Given the circumstances, I wasn’t sure if you were still planning to go, but-”

“I’m still planning to go,” Connor interrupts, actually looking him in the eye now. “I… I still want to go. It’s a good school.”

“It’s a great school,” Mr. Stevens says immediately. “And I think you’d do really well there. They have a fantastic English Literature program, if that’s the path you were thinking of going down.”

“It is,” Connor tells him, trying to keep his voice firm and unwavering and portray the image of a well-adjusted eighteen year old who’s worthy of going to a fucking Ivy League university. “English Literature is definitely what I want to study.”

Mr. Stevens smiles, a real smile that sits better on his face. “Good. That’s great.” He looks relieved, somehow, or… Connor doesn’t really know, he’s not great at reading people’s emotions, but there’s something kind of real there and it’s… weird. “Alright. If you’re still planning on going to Columbia, I’m happy to help with anything you need to make that happen. Anything at all.”

Connor feels his cheeks start to burn. “Do you…”

Mr. Stevens’ smile drops. “I know what happened,” he says, his voice careful and almost gentle. 

Connor bites on his lip. Blinks a few times. “It’s not… people aren’t…”

“The only members of the faculty who know are senior management and the ones who have you in their class,” Mr. Stevens says carefully. “This isn’t something that’s been shared with the student body. Your parents asked that it be… carefully managed.”

“Sounds about right,” Connor mutters. He shrugs. Bites his lip again. Looks at Mr. Stevens. “I don’t know if they’ll revoke my acceptance,” he admits, blinking a few more times. “I… I really don’t want that to happen. At all.”

“Completely understandable,” says Mr. Stevens, nodding. He looks thoughtful. “I’ll talk to Mrs. Byers. See what we can do to help.” He pastes on a smile again, but he still looks sad, and it makes Connor feel like shit because his fucking English teacher shouldn’t be sad about him trying to kill himself, that’s not… he’s not worth that, he hates the idea that he’s upset his fucking English teacher. 

He wonders if Mr. Stevens would have gone to his funeral if he had died. 

There’s a cold, cold feeling in his spine, like someone is walking over his grave. 

Connor nods. Adjusts his bag on his shoulder. “I should go,” he says quietly. “But thank you.”

Mr. Stevens nods. Then his expression shifts. “It’s your birthday today, isn’t it?”

Connor blinks. Nods. 

Mr. Stevens smiles again, that same sad smile. “Happy Birthday, Connor.”



EVAN

Things were going better. Sort of.

On paper things were getting better.

Evan was getting straight As in all of his classes. 

He wrote six scholarship essays at his mom’s insistence and actually won one of them. It was small, only five hundred dollars, but it was his and he had done it with an essay on the life cycle of an oak tree. 

Evan spent more time with Jared, and Jared even introduced him to his camp friend Akiva at a Starbucks one afternoon. Evan didn’t even throw up or fret too much when Jared only said, “Oh this is Evan, we go to school together” because they spent the rest of that Saturday with each other, they even saw a movie and Jared briefly for like a second held his hand so that was sort of like a date right?

“Thanks for like. Hanging out with me today?” Evan had said when Jared dropped him off at his house. 

“Of course. If I don’t let you out of the house sometimes, nobody else will.”

Things were going better. Mostly. 

Evan got accepted to a couple more colleges. He had a lot of options. He was considering financial aid packages. 

His dad and Tracy forwarded their flight confirmation from Denver for his graduation in June. They were actually coming. 

Evan was really considering Ohio State. Ohio State was offering him a lot of money. His mind kept replaying his conversation with Alana Beck about pre-law and then he’d laugh but then sometimes he would think about it? Laws were sort of… interesting. And his grand plan to, like, become a conservationist seemed out now that he was too scared to ever be alone in a park, lest his brain try to find another forty foot drop for him. 

Ohio State had a well known speech and debate student organization. A lot of their alumni were lawyers. That was batshit, that was crazy, Evan couldn’t even give a report on Daisy Buchanon, he absolutely couldn’t join a debate team.  

But he kept thinking about it. He was good at writing arguments. Maybe he could be good at giving them. 

But probably not.

Ohio was offering him a lot of money. 

Things were going better. Kind of. 

Jared came over to have dinner with Evan and his mom one night. It was sort of okay. Evan’s mom asked Jared all about next year, about college, about his Plans. He was going to study computer science. He was probably going to go to the same school his dad had attended. It was seven hours away from home. 

That made Evan’s heart give a funny turn and that night he spent a lot of time online looking up how long it might take to travel from Ohio State. It was twelve hours, by car. And Evan didn’t have a car. He couldn’t even drive. His learner’s permit had expired and he’d only barely once managed to back out of the driveway. What was he supposed to do if Jared was twelve hours away? Jared was the only person who even sort of tolerated him, how was he supposed to go off to college without that sort of a safety net? 

His mom found him curled into a ball at the foot of his bed, his laptop having fallen to the ground, breathing unevenly and crying just a little. When he calmed down enough to tell her what was the matter (twelve hours away, twelve ) she smoothed back his hair and said, “Isn’t it a little soon to be worried about all of that?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well,” She said gently. “You haven’t decided on Ohio State for sure yet. And this thing with Jared is… sort of new.”

“You think he’s going to dump me,” Evan accused. 

“Sweetheart, I didn’t -”

“You think he’s going to dump me because I’m such a loser -”

“Baby, you need to breathe.

Evan took several deep, gasping breaths. His was shaky all over, his hands were clammy and cold and he felt sick to his stomach. Even his mom thought Jared was going to dump him. Even his mom knew how much of a pathetic loser he was. “He’s the only person who even talks to me, who even l-likes me, what if - what if college is just worse, what if I’m just like this and-and-and it’s not high school it’s just me?” He couldn’t catch his breath. He pressed his hands into fists, he pressed the balled up fists against his eyes until he saw bursts of light behind his eyelids and told himself to stop fucking crying, stop crying. What if I’m like this forever?

“Jared is not the only person who likes you.”

“Bullshit.”

“I like you. I love you sweetheart -”

She’s lying she’s lying she’s lying she’s lying. “You don’t have to lie,” he said, his voice wet and gross and he wiped his eyes again, angrier now. “I know you have to say that because you’re my mom but you don’t have to lie.”

“Evan,” his mom tried, rubbing his back in slow circles, her voice gentle and calm. “Maybe we should be talking to Dr. Sherman about this? Maybe… maybe there’s something else we could be trying? Meeting more often, other drugs -?”

“I don’t want other drugs!” Evan sobbed childishly. “I don’t want more therapy!”

“I’m just… Evan I just want to help!” His mom insisted. 

 “No you don’t, you’re trying to fix me!” He wiped his face, angrier now. “You want me to go to therapy, to-to take drugs, to be different because I’m all broken and fucked up and you! You’re trying to pawn me off on someone else, make me someone else’s problem! You said you liked me but you don’t even want to help me yourself.”

“That is not what I’m doing,” His mom insisted, her eyes big. “I just… Dr. Sherman is a professional, he’s trained, he’s… I’m trying to take care of you! My job is to take care of you!”

“How are you doing that when you’re never even here?” Evan shouted.

“Baby -” His mom started. 

“Don’t call me that,” Evan snapped. “I’m almost fucking eighteen, I am not your baby.”

His mom’s mouth fell slightly open and she looked unfathomably, terribly sad and young. 

Evan felt like shit for shouting at her, but he couldn’t stop, he couldn’t make himself stop. “I know that I’m a-a burden or whatever, that I’m the biggest mistake in your life, the worst thing that ever happened to you. You don’t have to lie to me, I. I know I ruined your life.”

His mom looked stunned. Hurt. “You are the only… You are the one good thing that has ever happened to me, Evan.” She crossed her arms, her shoulders pulling in, and her voice sounded sort of shaky and wet. For a second he saw himself reflected in her posture, the pulled in shoulders, the set of her jaw and the pinch between her eyebrows. She had started to get worry lines, only pretty recently, and he had put them there. They looked alike, for a moment, which Evan didn’t normally see. “I love you.”

He didn’t believe her. He just didn’t believe that could possibly be the truth. That was just something you said to your kid, that was a lie you both agreed to because it was easier. But Evan knew he’d ruined her life. She was a kid, she was nineteen, when he came along. He landed her with his dad and he landed her divorced and a single mom at twenty six. Evan had landed her here, working two jobs and going back to school to try to make things less shitty.

Evan’s mom looked at him with these big sad eyes. “I’m trying my best. I know, I know it’s not enough, I know I’m missing things and there’s stuff I can’t do, and I am so so sorry, sweetheart, but I’m trying to make things better, for both of us.”

“Why couldn’t you have held off on your big life improvement campaign until after I moved out?” Evan asked bitterly. “Some way to send me off into the world, I guess.”

“Evan,” His mom said helplessly. “You know that’s not -” 

“I have no idea what I’m doing. I can’t figure out all of this stuff on my own. Housing and financial aid and majors and-and-and moving! How am I supposed to sort any of this stuff out if I’m always all by myself? Parents are supposed to help with this stuff.”

His mom bit her lip. She ran a hand through her hair. “Maybe… maybe you and I need to have a serious conversation about college, honey, maybe. If you’re worried about it this much, maybe next year is too soon, maybe-”

Evan blinked a few times. “Too soon?” He repeated, dully. “You’re the one forcing to write all of these scholarship essays! You’re the one who’s basically pushing me out the door, gotta go to a good school, Evan, gotta get a good job and you need a degree, Evan, don’t be like me, Evan, and now you think I shouldn’t go? Are you fucking kidding me?”

“Don’t talk to me like that!” His mom returned fiercely. “I’m just worried about you.”

“Funny way of showing it,” He muttered. “You’re so worried you’re only home one night a week.”

His mom’s lower lip started to wobble, and she covered her face and left his room. 

Fuck. 

He made her cry. 

Until he was about seven, he genuinely didn’t think his mom could cry. She was always so light, so happy, so smiley. He thought she was the happiest person on the planet. The first time he saw her cry was after his dad left.

Shit. 

He made his mom cry. 

Things were not much better. 

February was the shortest month, but it seemed unending that year. The days blurred together, repeating and repeating and repeating, the same shit all of the time, the same the same the same. Jared cracked some joke about checking to make sure that they weren’t stuck in some kind of Groundhog Day situation and that actually made Evan a little bit paranoid. He was a logical, realistic person who knew that there was no way that he was actually stuck reliving the same day over and over again, but he started doing stuff to make totally sure, just in case. He chewed his cuticles so he could check if they were still chewed come morning. He drew on his arms, his hands, just to see if the ink faded. He picked scabs and chewed his nails and put ink on his body to check, to be sure, and then tried to scrub away the evidence in the shower in the morning because he was acting crazy, he was being fucking crazy checking if he was real but he kept checking and erasing, checking and erasing, until it started to feel like that was all he did. 

Sometimes he worried that maybe he wasn’t a real person. Like… that he was in the matrix or he was already dead or he was invisible to other people. It got worse sometimes, when he did things like eat lunch in hidden bites in the library and have nobody, not a single person, look at him or psych himself up to raise his hand in class only for the teacher to ignore him or call on someone else. Sometimes, Evan kind of felt like he was watching himself from above. He hated that most of all, because he could see from that angle just how twitchy and hunched he was, he could count how often he bit his nails or cuticles or yanked on the hem of his shirt or chewed his pens. He could see the desperation in his own eyes as he practiced trying to smile at people in the hallways who never smiled back, the way his eyes creased in the corners. He could see the way he was seventeen and on his way to worry lines. Sometimes, it all felt like a dream, a really horrible shitty dream and he would just try his best to will himself to wake up. But he couldn’t. He wasn’t dreaming. His life was really like this. He was really the sort of person who was so stuck, so broken, that they imagined themselves into fantastical scenarios rather than confront their own bullshit. 

February was long because winter dragged, because the weather sucked, because people were all announcing where they’d be going to college and Evan was still stuck. 

So Evan tried not to worry about silly fictional things like time loops. He tried not to focus on the fact that his mom wasn’t really talking to him, picking up extra shifts to avoid being home when he was home, which just… made it worse. Evan needed her around, but she pulled away. She was punishing him, probably. She hated him, probably. 

But she’d only hate him more if he told her what really scared him, if he told her the truth. Lies and half-truths were easier, so he kept them up. 

He tried not to think about it, he tried to keep moving forward forward forward. 

He tried not to focus on other stuff too. Like the fact that sometime right before Valentine’s Day, Connor Murphy returned to school with very little fanfare. He had been gone since before winter break. 

Evan tried not to focus on the fact that nobody seemed especially happy to see Connor Murphy return (least of all Jared, who was back to practicing these shitty little bits he did about what Connor had been up to while he was gone. Recent inclusions had been: Connor had briefly joined a cult. He’d been abducted by aliens who subsequently returned him for being too weird. Connor had joined the circus as a scary clown. Jared was full of these fucking ideas and Evan hated them all but said nothing). He tried not to worry about whether missing that much school meant Connor wouldn’t graduate, that they’d revoked his acceptance to Columbia. 

Evan tried not to worry about Connor Murphy because Connor wasn’t his problem. He had his own issues to deal with, like whether or not he and Jared were dating officially and what he needed to do to get his mom to talk to him again and if he had properly submitted his FAFSA forms because he’d done it on his own and still needed to file his tax returns from the park this summer to determine the financial aid he was eligible for next year. He had bigger fish to fry. 

But sometimes Evan got distracted and he worried. Connor Murphy looked a lot paler these days, which was saying something. He sat with his head on his desk a lot. He never made eye contact with anyone, which was odd because Connor Murphy had mastered the stare down. The new seating chart meant he sat beside Evan in English but, barring the rare times when they were paired up to discuss something, he mostly just ignored Evan. 

Which was probably fine. 

Everyone else was already doing it. 

Sometimes, Evan imagined saying something to Connor. 

Because after he pushed Evan and before he found the letter, he had been nice to Evan. A brief, shining moment that stood out in Evan’s mind. Connor had actually, really been nice. He asked about Evan’s arm. He asked. Nobody asked, only Connor. Connor asked Evan about his arm, he signed Evan’s cast, he was the only person who signed his cast and Evan had, weirdly, liked being able to look down and not see a blank, sad, lonely cast staring back. It had been pretend but pretend was better than nothing. Connor had been nice and Evan wanted so badly to deserve it. He wanted to badly to get to keep it, to hold onto that. 

He thought about saying something to Connor. Something to return that kindness. He wanted to extend that feeling of not being so alone back to him. 

He thought about saying something, anything to Connor.

“Glad you’re back,” or “Did you finish reading Frankenstein?” or “I have some gum did you want some?” or “I’m sorry about that letter at the beginning of the year I swear it wasn’t to mess with you, it was a stupid therapy assignment, I didn’t even know you were in the computer lab when I printed it.”

But he didn’t.

He got close a few times, when Connor looked up and briefly glanced in Evan’s direction, at the clock in the classroom, at the chalkboard. 

But he chickened out a lot. 

Connor Murphy had been gone from school for two months. He had never said anything to Evan in the months that had piled up since he took that letter. He didn’t want to talk to Evan. If he did, he would have done it by now. Connor Murphy wasn’t his imaginary hospital waiting room friend. He wasn’t some wish fulfillment or toy to play with. He was a person who did not like Evan and Evan had to stop trying to convince himself otherwise, stop trying to convince himself that there was more to his silences and occasional looks. He didn’t like Evan, they weren’t friends, it was just another piece of bullshit in the tapestry of Evan’s weird head that he focused on too much, so much that Dr. Sherman told him in his last session that his homework was to say hello to Connor Murphy in English. 

And Evan couldn’t do it. 

He lied to his therapist, said that he had said hello and Connor had said hello and it didn’t really go anywhere. 

Evan lied and moved on. There was no way he could talk to Connor Murphy. He’d pushed Evan at the beginning of the year. He’d seen his fucking letter. He could not talk to him. 

So he tried not to think about it too much. 

School was getting harder to handle. 

People stared sometimes. Or they didn’t. Evan couldn’t tell anymore. He just kept his head down, focused on his studies, tried not to stare at Connor Murphy and worry that he might hurt someone or shoot up the school, tried not to stare at Jared and wonder if he liked Evan if he wanted to be together or if he was just jerking him around, he tried tried he tried tried tried. 

But all of his trying wasn’t really getting him anywhere. 

Evan was stuck stuck stuck stuck. 

When he was nine, two years after Evan’s dad left for Colorado, his dad made a big fucking deal about having Evan come and visit. His grandma on his dad’s side was already planning to visit some other Colorado-based people, so she picked Evan up the week before the Fourth of July and they flew to Colorado together. 

He had never been on a plane before. 

He spent the whole time with his hands over his ears, his head between his knees, nauseated and scared and unable to wrap his mind around the fact that he was several miles in the air, several thousands of feet from the ground, and his grandmother kept telling him to get ahold of himself, that he was being ridiculous and he was too old for this kind of behavior and he just kept wheezing and gasping the whole flight. A flight attendant brought him some water, a packet of cookies, and talked to him gently about how he didn’t need to worry, she did this a couple of times a day, they were safer up here than they were in a car, while his grandma rolled her eyes and said that Evan was too old to be babied like this. 

When they got to Colorado, his dad didn’t have a special room set up for Evan like he had dreamed. He didn’t have like, games or clothes or space for Evan. Instead, his dad had a roommate named Steve and a “new friend” named Tracy and the whole apartment stunk like a skunk and Evan had to sleep on the lumpy sofa. 

He didn’t really have a lot of fun stuff planned for the week that Evan was there. Mostly, Evan went with him to his office job and read on the floor. His promises of baseball games and hiking trails in the mountains all fell through for one reason or another, and Evan couldn’t mask his disappointment when he talked to his mom on the phone each night. 

“We’re… we’re not even doing anything,” He’d told her, his voice quiet, his eyes watchful. “I. He said we were going to do stuff together, he said we’d have fun but I’m just… Here.”

“Sweetheart, I am so sorry. I didn’t know.” His mom sounded so upset. “Do you want to come home?” She asked. “I can see about… I can try to find a way to pick you up, I… I don’t know where we’d get the money, but I’ll make it work.”

“No-no don’t,” Evan said. “I’m… It’s only a few more days.”

“Can you put your dad on the phone?” His mom asked. 

“Don’t… I don’t want him to know -”

“Just let me talk to him, alright?”

“Okay. Love you.”

“Love you.”

Evan, nine years old and feeling very sorry he had said a word, put the phone down on the table and went and tugged on his dad’s sleeve. His dad ignored him at first, probably because he and Tracy were kissing. Evan tugged again. Notice me notice me notice me.

“Dad,” Evan insisted. “Mom wants to talk to you.”

His dad looked massively annoyed, but he detached his face from Tracy and went to talk on the phone. Evan sat awkwardly beside Tracy, his feet kind of hanging off of the lumpy sofa, listening to the familiar sound of his parents arguing from afar. His dad saying, “Shit Heidi, I have to work, what do you want from me?”

“You having a good time here?” Tracy asked Evan, a little too loud. 

He nodded because he figured it was okay to lie sometimes. 

His dad lumbered back into the room, having hung up the phone. “Hey bud,” His dad said, sinking down on Evan’s side on the lumpy sofa. “So uh. What’s say we go check out this uh… carnival tomorrow night, huh? Just me and you?”

Tracy opened and closed her mouth a couple of times. Evan realized his dad was blowing her off, to her face, and that was a crappy feeling. “I don’t mind if Tracy comes with us,” Evan mumbled. “She can come too.”

The next day they all piled in his dad’s old wheezy car and went to this big carnival. The whole place smelled like fried food and there were lights flashing everywhere and Evan felt excited but also very distracted, very unsure where to put his eyes and also a little like he thought one of the grown ups ought to be holding his hand even though he was nine and a little too old for that. 

His dad and Tracy bought him way too much food. A corndog (which Evan was pretty sure wasn’t kosher, but he was young and his dad said it was okay so he ate the whole thing and really liked it). Deep fried Oreos. A huge ear of corn. They walked through all of the games and his dad let him play almost all of them, even though he wasn’t super good. His dad won a big stuffed bird and gave it to Evan. It was like something out of a movie. It was the sort of stuff Evan hadn’t done before. It was cool. Was this was dads did with their kids?

They rode the tilt-a-whirl, spinning and laughing and Evan was actually having a good time. He was having a nice time with Tracy and his dad. They laughed and joked and rode the giant swings and the scrambler and ate too much cotton candy. Maybe this could be a thing they did. The three of them could hang out in the summers? Maybe they could do this.

“Let’s go on the Gravitron!” Evan’s dad said, his voice excited and young, leading the way across the carnival grounds toward the huge UFO in the middle of the field. Evan and Tracy followed behind, joking about a mission to Mars, laughing with blue stained lips and teeth. 

His dad handed over their tickets, and they all trooped inside. The operator in the middle instructed them all to stand against these wall pads. Music began to play, louder and louder until it was the only thing in Evan’s head, the only sound he could hear, blocking out everything and pounding in his skull. He turned to say maybe he didn’t like this ride.. 

The room began to spin and spin, faster and faster and faster and faster faster faster. The world slipped off its axis. Everything went sideways. Suddenly, Evan’s feet lifted off the ground with a loud clang as his wall pad slid up the wall on a track. Suddenly he couldn’t move, he couldn’t breathe, he was stuck stuck stuck to the wall. The operator stood up, stood sideways in the middle of the car, laughing. Everything was pressing on him, pressing hard, and he couldn’t move couldn’t breathe he was trapped and his brain was full of loud rock music and nothing made sense he wasn’t on the ground he wasn’t on the ground and it wasn’t until everything stopped that Evan realized he was screaming he was screaming himself hoarse he couldn’t breathe.

“Evan, stop, it’s okay, you’re okay -”

Evan threw up the moment his dad got him off of the ride. 

“Fucking hell, Evan, come on, it was just a ride, you’re too old for this shit -”

He kept puking and crying and screaming and it felt like he didn’t stop until he was back home, with his mom. 

He didn’t go back to his dad’s the next summer.

Being here, being in this school, being in this life… Felt like that ride. 

Like he was trapped against the wall, his feet weren’t on the ground,  the world had gone sideways and he was screaming screaming screaming and nobody could hear, he wasn’t making a sound over all of the other noise. If you’re falling in a forest and nobody’s around, do you even make a sound? Do you actually crash? Did you fall or did you…?

Evan was stuck. 

Stuck stuck stuck. 

He was falling and screaming and he didn’t make a sound. 

He was here and nobody saw, he was outside of all of it, his nose pressed to the pane of glass separating him from the rest of the world, knocking and tapping and pounding on the glass, shouting and screaming and nobody could hear. 

Evan was trapped and screaming and nobody even turned to look. He was stuck, he couldn’t move, so he did nothing. He said nothing to Connor Murphy, he extended no kindness. He asked nothing of Jared, who maybe liked him or maybe hated him but kept coming back for more of whatever it was. He didn’t apologize to his mom and she didn’t apologize to him and Evan just stayed there, trapped, stuck, and screaming. 

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain. 

Treading, treading…

Beating, beating…

Down and down…

Evan felt a funeral in his brain. He felt it he felt it he felt it.

Only nobody noticed.

Because from the outside he looked like he was better. He was doing better. 

So he decided to be better.

Chapter Text

March

EVAN

“You seem… weird bro.”

I’d like, “normal things to say after a handjob” for 500, Alex.

“I’m fine,” Evan said, shrugging, because he was he was fine. Evan was remarkably fine. Sure, his mom was pissed at him because he had skipped his last two sessions with Dr. Sherman, and sure, he was having a hard time sitting still or sleeping since he had dropped down to a half of a pill every other day, but mostly he was okay. He was fine. He just…

He spent so long assuming that without the meds, without the meetings with a shrink, without the letters to himself he would just totally unravel, that he’d come apart. Evan had been sitting around waiting to realize his mom was right about how he had to do these things to be normal. She was wrong, turned out. He felt different, sure, but it wasn’t… worse. It was better, actually, in a lot of ways. Sure he got headaches sometimes and other times he got so tired he just had to nap, but he was a teenager and he was already doing that so it wasn’t that unusual. 

Maybe he was fine. 

Maybe he was actually, honestly, fine. And all he needed was a push to be fine. 

“I know that’s…. That’s what I meant,” Jared went on, squinting at him. “You talked in like. Both classes we have together today. You dragged me out here…” They were in Jared’s car, in the parking lot, after school on a Friday, the place deserted by now. When they got there, Evan had pushed Jared into the back and climbed on top of him, kissing him and touching him and jerking him off and Jared’s face had gone all dopey and soft and Evan knew that he liked that. And Evan liked it too. A lot, in fact. It felt nice to know exactly what he was doing. “Is something going on?”

Evan shook his head. “Nope. Nothing I can think of. I’m just… trying something.”

“You’re trying something?” Jared repeated. 

“Yep.”

“What are you trying?” Jared said, suspicious. “Because if it’s drugs…”

Evan laughed. Jared was funny, he was a funny guy, how come Evan never usually thought he was funny? “No, ohmygod, no, I’m not on drugs. I’m just. I’m testing a theory.”

“A theory?” Jared wrinkled his nose. 

“Yeah. Fake it until you make it,” Evan said with a laugh. 

“And… how’s that going?” Jared asked him, still not sounding convinced. 

“You tell me,” Evan smiled at him. 

Jared sort of grinned at him. “Want me to drive you home?”

“Yeah. I mean. Unless… did you want to come over?” Evan asked. “My mom’s not gonna be home.”

“Oh.” Jared sort of frowned. “Did you… you mean…?”

“Come over,” Evan said, nodding, his eyebrows up, trying to explain without having to spell it out. “We’d have the whole place to ourselves.” 

Jared kind of smiled, almost. “Last time I brought this up, you freaked out?” Jared said, sounding uncertain. “It is kind of a big deal. You’re not wrong.”

“I’m not gonna freak out,” Evan said with a shrug. Like it was that simple. He wasn’t going to freak out. He could just decide that. Evan was the master of his own destiny or whatever. He could just… fake it until he made it. He could just. Decide he wouldn’t freak out. 

In the end, Jared was the one who backed out. He drove Evan to his house, came up to his bedroom, kissed him on his bed, but then when he was laying there, Jared just started talking.

Talking and talking and talking. 

And Evan realized that… Jared was nervous. He was nervous and he wasn’t ready and Evan got it because that was normally him. 

“Jared,” he said, sitting up. “We don’t have to do anything you don’t want.”

“Okay,” Jared said with a grateful smile. He sat up too. “Sorry I… It’s. It’s just that it is a big deal, you know?”

“No, I know.”

“I guess I hadn’t… Like I thought maybe-”

“You don’t have to explain. It’s cool.”

“We could just like… hang out?”

Evan smiled. 

It was nice, actually. He and Jared watched some action movie that was playing on TV. Evan ordered them food. They kissed a bit more, and Jared held his hand for a minute, and it was okay. Evan could just… be normal, if he tried. It wasn’t even that hard. 

None of it was really all that hard. 

Jared hung around, even after Evan’s mom got home. The three of them discussed the weather, watched the ten o’clock news. 

Then Jared went home. 

Evan walked him out to his car. Kissed him quickly, briefly, before he could think too much about it. Before he could overthink and ruin it. 

“Is that… is that still going okay?” Evan’s mom asked when he came back inside. She and Evan still weren’t exactly, like, good. They weren’t really okay, after that last big fight they had. They weren’t really even, like, talking, so this was a start. “You and Jared?”

“I guess,” Evan said, smiling a little, awkward and unsure. “I guess… I mean. Yeah.”

“That’s good,” his mom said with a fragile looking smile. “I’m glad that you have… that you have someone. Uh…” She gave him another, more uncomfortable smile. “Is Jared your… Is he your boyfriend?”

“I guess,” Evan didn’t know. He returned her uncomfortable smile. “I don’t really know. We haven’t… I dunno. If that’s the word I would use.”

“Maybe… I’m just old,” She said, smiling at him, still uncomfortable. She was thirty six. She wasn’t all that old. Her smile was made of glass. It looked like it hurt her to keep it in her mouth. Like it was cutting her gums. “Do kids even have boyfriends or girlfriends anymore?”

“I think,” Evan said, shrugging. “I dunno.”

“Well. I’m happy for you, sweetheart. I’m… I’m glad you have someone.”

“Yeah. Me too.”

“If…” She stopped, frowning. “I know things haven’t been so great. With me and you.”

“I’m okay.”

“If you need to talk…”

“I don’t,” he said, short and simple and to the point. She flinched. 

“I know. But if you did.”

“I don’t.”

His mom looked like she was trying to put the glass smile back in place. It had to be painful. “I don’t want to, like. Lecture. Or whatever. I know you’re getting older…”

Evan didn’t love where this was going.

“Just. I don’t know if I want you and Jared here in the house alone.”

Evan frowned. “What does that mean?”

“I remember being your age,” His mom pressed on. “I know there’s a lot of… of pressure ...”

“Are you seriously trying to give me the sex talk right now?” Evan sputtered, enraged, suddenly because this was not happening, this was not the time for this, this was a fucking joke. She showed up out of nowhere to try to tell him to keep it in his pants? What the hell kind of bullshit parenting was that? “Seriously?”

“I just. I don’t want you to make the same mistakes that I did -”

“So I was a mistake?” Evan said flatly. “That’s what you’re saying.”

“No!” His mom rushed to say, her eyes so big and so wide and her face looked young and hurt. “You were not a mistake. But… but you weren’t. You dad and I weren’t… We weren’t careful. And I want better, for you. I don’t want you to have to… to have to deal with the stuff I had to deal with at your age.”

“I can’t get pregnant,” Evan said, a little disgusted. “So no need to worry there.”

“That’s not the only thing I’m worried about,” She tried, her voice cracking. “There’s… there’s diseases, there’s -”

“Oh my god mom, please don’t try to tell me some homophobic crap like how I’m going to get AIDS if I sleep with Jared .”

“So you’re not… you’re not sleeping with him?” She sounded relieved. 

“I don’t see how that’s your business.”

“I want you to be safe,” His mom said. “Evan, sweetheart… You’re sensitive. You’re young. You could get hurt.”

“I know what I’m doing.”

“Oh really?” She said, her eyes flashing with frustration. “So you know how to use a condom?”

“Seriously mom?” Evan felt his face getting hot, and he wanted to be anywhere but there. He didn’t want to have this conversation he didn’t want to be in this room.

“You know what to do if one breaks? You’ve talked to Jared about STIs then? Has Jared had sex before? Has he been tested? You’ve talked to him about taking precautions? Things like appropriate lubricants and-and-and safe preparation and-”

“Stop it, mom, oh my god -”

“You’re young, and I know you like him, but I don’t… I don’t think you’re ready for this. It’s all moving very fast, I mean, one minute you’re telling me he won’t even tell people about you and then I come home and he’s here, with you, alone, unsupervised, and I’m not stupid Evan -”

“Oh do not start telling about how dangerous being unsupervised is, mom, when you’re not even here to supervise at all.”

“Shit, Evan, that’s not - That’s not . I’m not saying that.”

“You don’t know anything about me, about my life! You didn’t even know about Jared until I told you -”

“Evan -”

“And how am I supposed to know this isn’t some big, veiled freak out about him being a guy?”

“It’s not, Evan, don’t -”

“I don’t think you get to say a word to me about what I’m allowed to do on my own time -”

“Evan!”

“When you’re not here, you don’t know. You don’t know anything about my life, you don’t know anything, so why do you get to boss me around and tell me what I’m allowed to do -”

“Because I am your mother! I am your mother !”

“Does dad get to tell me what to do?”

“What?” She said, caught off guard, her anger shattering into something sadder, frailer.

“You’re doing exactly what he does. You’re never here, he’s never here.” Evan squared his shoulders, looked her right in the eye. “You don’t get to pick and choose when you’re my mom. You don’t get to decide when you’re here, you’re going to lay down the law, and just expect me to follow your rules because you said so even though you’re never around. You’re no better than he is.”

“I am trying, Evan, you know I-”

“You might as well have taken off when he did for all the good you’ve done since.”

“Baby -”

Evan didn’t let her finish. He went up to his bedroom, and slammed the door. 

Evan went to school. He practiced talking in class. He talked more. He once made a point to disagree with Alana Beck, in front of everyone in their history class, regarding the impact of McCarthyism in the 1950s. He looked up from his shoes, sometimes, and met people’s eyes. He smiled at Zoe Murphy in the halls and sometimes she smiled back. 

He went to English and he read Wuthering Heights. He wrote a paper. He got the highest mark in class; his paper was so good that their teacher read it out loud to everyone and commended his “clarity of style” and “excellent close reading.”

He caught Connor Murphy looking at him, just for a moment, taking in a breath, his mouth slightly open, like he wanted to say something. But Connor closed his mouth. Evan looked back down at his paper on his desk, A+ in red letters, and smiled to himself. 

He applied for a job at Pottery Barn, since Evan didn’t want to return to Ellison State Park that summer. He interviewed and got hired and took the bus there and back all by himself and he threw up, sure, before and after and again when he got home, but he didn’t take a Xanax and he didn’t call his mommy to cry about it and he started his first shift a week after he applied. He thought the job was boring, but it was on the bus line and it paid more than minimum wage and sometimes Jared would stroll through the mall, eating a giant pretzel or drinking out of a Starbucks cup or holding a bag from Hot Topic and he would say hi and Evan would said hi and Mike, one of the other high school kids who worked with Evan, asked him sarcastically if Jared was his boyfriend and Evan, feeling bold, said yes. 

Evan called his dad sometimes, just to say hi. He ordered food for himself when his mom worked. He did his homework. He went over to Jared’s place, when his parents weren’t home, and they fooled around. Jared came over to his place more.

He went to therapy, sometimes. Not always. Sometimes, he cancelled. Sometimes, he forgot. Sometimes, he just didn’t show. His mom would get pissed about that. She’d accuse him of wasting her time, her money, and he’d shout back that he never wanted to be in therapy in the first place. 

He argued with his mom. 

He said he didn’t want to be on drugs anymore. She said that wasn’t his choice to make. 

“I’ll be eighteen!” Evan shouted after her after a particularly bad fight, his stomach jumping, his eyes burning. “In less than a month, I’ll be eighteen-”

“And what? What?!” She shouted. “What will that change, Evan? You still live here. In my house. Under my roof -”

“And what, if I don’t take meds and go to therapy, you’re going to throw me out?” He challenged her, squaring his shoulders, drawing himself up so he wasn’t hunched inward, so he was taller, taller than she was. 

“No, I -”

“I’m going to be eighteen. I’m going to legally be an adult,” he went on, “And it’s my body, it’s my brain. I shouldn’t have to take drugs if I don’t want them.”

“But you need them!”

“Says you!” Evan said. “You don’t know! You’re not around enough to know. I’ve been on drugs, off and on, since I was fourteen and you’ve barely been around since then so maybe I dunno. Maybe I know better than you do what I need.”

She slammed the front door when she left. 

Evan skipped therapy and did his homework. 

Evan worked hard. He raised his hand in classes. He argued with Alana Beck again, this time over the Sino-Soviet Split and how it impacted American foreign policy during the Cold War. He didn’t get rattled when her voice took on a slight shrill edge, he didn’t get rattled when she came up to him at lunch and primly suggested he take another look at their textbook. 

“I already did,” He said, barely looking up, voice cooler and more collected that he expected. “Or did you not read the footnotes?”

The next day he researched the debate team at Ohio again. He read a little about what it took to consider yourself pre-law. He read up on the LSAT and prerequisites and specialisation.

He studied for his AP tests. AP Literature and AP US History and AP Biology and AP German. He made flashcards. Made Jared study with him sometimes, going over the process of mitosis, conjugating German verbs, defining historical moments… 

He hung out with Jared, after school, at his house, even though his mom didn’t want him to have Jared over when he was home alone. He kissed Jared, and touched Jared, and he liked spending time with him. Evan didn’t sleep with Jared, but he wanted to. He chewed his cuticles and bit his nails and felt his pulse beating, ticking beneath his skin and he kept on living. He kept going. He kept going and going because it turned out he could always do this. He always had it in him, he was just too scared to try. He was too scared and he too easily bought the lies, that he was broken, that he needed fixing. 

He kept going.


 

 

ALANA

Mrs. Byers’s office desperately needed reorganizing, if you asked Alana. She could tell from peering at the bookshelf that Mrs. Byers had merely alphabetized them by author. And yet she held Alana’s future in her hands. 

It was unbelievable, really. That her whole life could be decided by a woman who didn’t bother to organize her books in a coherent manner. Even the Dewey Decimal System had more merit.

“Alana,” Mrs. Byers said in this voice Alana had grown used to. Resigned. Irritated. The voice of adults who didn’t quite realize that they things they said had huge future ramifications. “You’re still the number one ranked student in the senior class-”

“You’re sure?” She insisted, trying to peer over her glasses, glance at the guidance counselor’s screen. “You’re positive?”

Mrs. Byers sighed and turned her monitor for Alana to see. “I really shouldn’t even let you look at this list. You can’t -”

“Share it with anyone, I understand,” Alana said, nodding. She considered that rule more of a suggestion, really. It seemed unfair to hold that information and not share it with anyone else. It was unfair that she was the only person outside of the faculty who was aware of the standing of everyone in the senior class. She had shared the list before for the sake of equity.

Alana’s eyes hungrily scanned the list of the top ten students in the senior class. 

Number 1: Alana Beck

That was a huge relief. She breathed a little bit easier after that. She was still on top, still the best, still objectively impressive. 

Number 2. Stephanie Wheeler

Number 3: Nicholas Schultz

That… that wasn’t right. Connor Murphy was ranked third. 

Number 4: Evan Hansen

No, that… that was wrong. How had he moved three whole spots? She knew from asking around that he had an Incomplete grade from driver’s ed, there was no way he should have been able to overcome that. Frankly, he shouldn’t have even cracked the top ten with that on his record, everyone else was able to complete all of their classes but apparently they made an exception because driver’s ed was optional and it was something to do with his anxiety. 

Number 5: Donna Matthews

Number 6: Connor Murphy

What was going on? What on earth was going on? 

Number 7: Jenna Miller

Number 8: Tyler Solar

Number 9: Tanner Quinn

Number 10: Ana Flores

“The list changed!” Alana accused, pointing a finger at the screen. Her heart thumped too loudly in her chest. The list was different. The list was different. That changed everything, that changed the standing, what had happened, the list was different. How had this happened, and when? She had just checked it two weeks ago and that was after semester grades were posted how could she have missed this?

“Yes, some things have shifted,” Mrs. Byers said in this put-upon voice. “But you’re still number one -”

“How close is Stephanie Wheeler? To passing me?”

Mrs. Byers rubbed her eyes. “She’s not. You’ll be the valedictorian, Alana. You don’t need to worry.”

“But -” She began to protest. “Last time you said it was because of AP Government, last time-”

“You’ve still got more AP classes than Stephanie.” Mrs. Byers cut her off, “And, you’ve already gotten into all of your top choices for college. You’ve won a full ride scholarship for academic excellence at Dartmouth. You’re going to graduate as valedictorian. You can relax, Alana.”

Relax ?

“But they could revoke my scholarship -”

“I doubt that very much.”

“Or if my GPA doesn’t stand out significantly from the rest of my classmates’ -”

“It does Alana. Trust me. Stephanie Wheeler is not going to overtake you.”

“But the list shifted. Evan Hansen was number seven before. Connor Murphy was number three!”

“Alana… all of the people on this list have above a 4.0 GPA. The rankings? They end up being determined by smaller, lessor factors, like ACT scores and the number of AP classes taken and…  attendance.”

“Attendance?” Alana repeated, her mind whirring as she realized. She hadn’t missed a single day of school since the second grade when she had her tonsils out. “Oh. That’s why Connor dropped three places. He was out of school for over two months.”

“Alana. I can’t discuss another student’s ranking with you, you know this -”

“Why was he out of school?” Alana asked then. “Does he need help catching up on what he missed?”
“I’m sure if you wanted to offer… I obviously can’t tell you why Connor wasn’t in school, you know this. We’ve talked about this.” Mrs. Byers sighed. “It’s important to me that you understand that a private matter of another student is not an appropriate conversation topic for you and I.”

“Is he… I could offer to help him. Studying for the AP tests after missing two months of school can’t be easy,” Alana said thoughtfully. “Maybe he’d want to pair up and study together.”
“That’s very kind of you,” Mrs. Byers said, though Alana got the feeling she didn’t especially mean it. “But you might also consider trying to… enjoy your last few months of high school? Have some fun?”

Alana didn’t follow. “But tutoring is fun?”

“I… Yes, I realize you enjoy tutoring. Maybe you could try to focus on enjoying the social elements of the end of the year. Spend time with your friends, maybe think about asking someone to the prom?”

“I’m on the prom committee,” Alana said. “So I will already be attending. I’ve picked out a dress.”

“Yes, but… you could bring a date?”

Alana frowned slightly. “I think the focus on hetero-patricharchal dating practices in high schools is detrimental to my ability to learn and thrive.”

Mrs. Byers almost smiled. Almost. “I’m not requiring you to get a date. I just thought you could afford to… cut a little loose. It’s the end of high school. You should be celebrating your accomplishments, not stressing to find ways to accomplish more.”

Alana sat there with her mouth open, unsure what she could even say to that.

The idea of trying not to accomplish anything was… concerning to her. Upsetting, even. She squinted her eyes, trying to understand. What was the point of doing anything unless you could get something useful out of it?

“Now, when I met with you and your parents a few weeks back -”

Alana frowned slightly. “Yes, I am aware that you are concerned about the pressure I put on myself and yes, my dads have taken a look into this Dr. Sherman you suggested, but I don’t believe that will be necessary.” She zipped her backup up in one fluid motion. “No offense, Mrs. Byers, but if I’m going to become the first black female president, I cannot have someone finding records of me seeing a psychologist in my teens. I know we shouldn’t stigmatize mental health, of course, but that stigma hasn’t changed yet and I simply can’t risk it. You saw how they treated Obama over marijuana. Thank you for your time.”

“Of course, Alana, if you ever needed to talk -”

“No, thank you,” She said, smiling diplomatically. 

She left Mrs. Byer’s office so that she could speed walk to AP History. On her way, she made a plan of action to insure she graduated top of her class but also with the most impeccable resume. The action plan had two prongs: 1. She would start a study group for the AP US History class. 2. She would convince Connor Murphy to join it, thereby shepherding him into at least a passing score on the test. He would be grateful, she would help, and she could add another tutoring initiative to her already extensive academic resume. 

She tried to set this brilliant plan into motion first by asking Jenna and Stephanie if they wanted to join a little study group. “I was thinking we could get together on Wednesdays?” She said. “We could all pitch in for pizza or something. Go over the big topics. Cover areas Mrs. Jacobs hasn’t gone over too extensively in class?”

Stephanie rolled her eyes. Alana got the feeling Stephanie wasn’t her biggest fan. Probably because Alana outranked her. Alana wasn’t offended. People often became insecure when confronted with their own shortcomings. Alana Beck had once met Michelle Obama at a fundraiser and felt similar. Then she began to incorporate more arm muscle focus during her thirty minutes of physical activity a day and felt better. “Sure. Whatever.”

Jenna was more enthusiastic. “I’ll ask Sabrina? She’s in the other period of APUSH? See if she knows anyone else who’d want to join?”
“Sounds great,” Alana said with a nod. “I’m thinking I’ll ask around as well.”

“Great,” Stephanie said. 

At the end of the day, having now formed an Official Study Group, Alana went and waited by Connor Murphy’s locker. She tried to imagine missing school for two months. She figured it must be seriously disorienting. Likely, Columbia would revoke his acceptance, which had to be an awful feeling. She gripped onto the straps of her backpack and waited…

She hadn’t missed any school in almost a decade. She’d missed a couple of periods once, for a minor dental procedure, and even that had made her feel like she spent the entire day struggling to catch up. Think of all of the important social aspects that were missed in two months. It’s possible that Connor Murphy didn’t even know that the senior class vice president had been not so politely asked to step down after getting caught with weed and now Nick Schultz was Alana’s VP. He probably didn’t even know that for a period of three weeks, Alana had been her own Vice President because she didn’t trust anyone else with the job. 

Two months was a very long time in high school. 

And waited. 

Connor appeared in the hall, wearing headphones. He looked up at her, scowled, and then turned back the way he came. 

He must have forgotten something, she reasoned. 

Until five minutes passed and he didn’t return. 

Undeterred, the next morning Alana tied her hair up in a high ponytail and arrived at school thirty-seven minutes before first period to stake out Connor’s locker. 

This time he had no choice but to interact with her, she reasoned. She was directly in front of his locker and he would need to fetch his books. Connor was wearing a hoodie with the hood up over his head. He looked tired and a little paler than usual. “Good morning Connor!” She said to him, smiling. 

He didn’t even look up. Connor just mumbled “excuse me” and waited for her to step out of the way of his locker. She sighed and let him by, thinking perhaps they could converse while he prepared for the day. He put some books in his locker, grabbed a few others. 

“So I wanted to see if you were interested in joining my study group for AP History?”

Connor didn’t respond. He closed his locker. 

“We’re meeting on Wednesdays after school -”

“Sorry, what?” He pulled an earbud out of his ear. Alana could hear the tinny sound of My Chemical Romance playing. She didn’t care very much for that band. They were much too loud and relied heavily on men who believed they were owed things from women. 

“I said, I’m starting an AP -”

The bell rang. 

“Sorry,” Connor said, putting the earbud back in and hurrying down the hall. She didn’t think she’d ever seen him walk so fast. 

She tried to catch him every day. She noticed he had taken to avoiding his locker in the morning and before lunch, so she varied her attempts. Showed up between third and fourth period. Tried the next day between sixth and seventh. When he saw her, Connor just walked past his locker like she wasn’t even there. Like she didn’t exist or he didn’t see her. 

She also sent him a few facebook messages. They weren’t friends, but she had sent him a friend request, after all, and social media was the new way to network if you paid attention. 

He hadn’t responded. 

Alana found that upsetting. She was only trying to help. 

Wednesday study sessions actually went very well, although Alana definitely did more instructing that actual studying. Sabrina kept gently explaining things Alana said to Jenna and Stephanie and Brittany Minks and Clarke Kelly from jazz band, going over the information like it was brand new. 

Alana found that highly annoying. Especially since she had formed this study group to help Connor Murphy and he was avoiding her invitation. She had even written up a paper invite and slipped it into his locker. And now she was trapped explaining the principles of trickle down economics to Clarke and Brittany while Sabrina tried to interject and Stephanie filed her nails, which Alana thought was unhygienic and frankly a little rude. 

She expressed her frustration to her dads on Thursday night at dinner, which was always family dinner for them because they were busy people and it was the one night where she wasn’t turing or interning or volunteering so they could eat before seven. 

“Sweetheart, maybe he just isn’t interested in studying with you,” her Dad said to her. 

“Some people study best on their own,” Her Papa added, spooning more potatoes onto her plate. “You’re not eating much.”

Alana did not find that answer to be acceptable. She didn’t find any of this to be acceptable. She was extending a helping hand to someone who needed it and he was treating her like she was a leper. It was unconscionable. All he had to do was tell her no thank you. She had gone out of her way to help him and yet somehow, Alana was the one who felt badly about it. Who felt put out and hurt. She only wanted to help. 

She ate her potatoes with less enthusiasm than she otherwise might have and tried to brainstorm other ways to convince Connor to join her study group. She supposed she could ask Zoe Murphy. She seemed to be the only one who ever knew what was going on with her brother.

But Zoe seemed to be a master of avoidance as well. Alana kept trying to catch her in AP Calculus but Zoe started to show up only seconds before the bell and was out of her seat the second it rang again.

Alana felt stuck. She wanted so badly to help that it was eating her up inside. She felt feverish at the prospect of just… not helping Connor. Of just… failing to do this. It made her stomach squirm, her heart beat oddly. She needed to help him. Not just for her, but for him too. 

Alana wished she knew why he had been gone from school for so long. 

She heard he was out of school for health reasons. From gossip she had heard during the hours she worked as an office assistant in the Vice Principal’s office. Something about how Connor had been hospitalized. She heard that Zoe Murphy had taken to crying in the girls’ bathroom by the band room sometimes. She knew Sabrina had befriended Zoe, sort of out of the blue. 

“Why was Connor off school for all of that time?” Alana asked Sabrina when Sabrina drove her home one afternoon after a yearbook meeting. She had a feeling Sabrina knew more than she let on. 

“I don’t know,” Sabrina said, turning her turn signal on about twenty feet too early. 

“You’re friends with Zoe Murphy. She seemed… upset recently.”

“It’s not my business, Alana, alright? It was a health thing, that’s all I know. Why don’t you just leave him alone? You’re kind of intense about trying to get him to join our study group. Like, no offense, but he doesn’t want to hang out with us so let him be. Let’s invite other people to the group. I heard Evan Hansen wrote a great in-class essay about the Adams administration that might be helpful? We could invite him? Or Nick, he’s a whiz with dates.”

Alana crossed her arms, not saying anything. She did not want Evan Hansen in her study group, he was already number four in their class. She didn’t need him inching closer. And Nick Schultz was out of the question. Number three and the class vice president? No thank you. 

“I know you’re trying to help,” Sabrina said, not unkindly. “But have you considered that you’re making him uncomfortable following him around like you are?”

“I…”

She hadn’t considered that. 

That sat strangely with her. 

“I was only trying to help.”

“I know. Maybe we could help someone else then, huh?”

“Okay.”

 




CONNOR

 

Connor doesn’t use his Facebook. Not really. 

But at the beginning of March when his dad finally relents and lets him have his computer back, he logs on, and is surprised to find he’s got messages. 

Lots of messages. 

All from Dennis. 

Dennis has never been the world’s best speller and he uses almost exclusively text-speak in his messages, so it takes a while for Connor to actually decipher what’s being said at first, but he gets used to it after a while. 

 

December 10

yo, hvnt hrd from u in a whl, where u@?

 

December 16

srsly dude where ru

 

December 25

merry xmas

dunno if u do xmas but

If so, merry xmas

 

January 1

Happy nu year man
u ok?

can u just

lmn

plz

 

January 15

ok so its been lyk a month now

this is weird 4u

r u ok?

can u plz lmn

 

January 25

ur sister can throw a punch

kinda impressed

went 2da school to ask if u were ok

she sed ur not

ur not ok

she wuldnt say y

or what happnd

plz talk 2me?

 

February 9

can u just tell me if ur ok

i dont wanna sell u nething

This isnt lyk bizness or whateva

i just

wanna know if ur ok

as ur friend

nothin 2do with product or whateva

ok?

connor?

R U OK??

 

February 26

ur birthdays not on FB 

so this mite be creepy but

u mentioned it 1 time 

and im good w birthdays so

happy birthday

i hope ur ok

i hope its an ok day

if u need 2talk i am always here

ok?

happy birthday

 

March 3

K so its been like 2 months & i shuld probly get a hint or whateva but im rly worried about u? Maybe ur just not checkn this or whatev or maybe u just dont wanna talk 2me becoz u think i just want ur $$ but thats not tru? ur a cool guy n ur real smart and funny n i like hangin out w u n even if u dont want product anymore could u just lmn ur alive? 

 

March 10

i hope ur alive

ur sister seemed upset

she punched me

but 

like

someone would have sed?

if u were dead

dead teenagers make the news n shit

so

pretty sure ur not dead but 

not totally sure

i checked papers and shit

like

death notices 

n shit

been checking 4 a while

can u just lmn ur alive connor

even if u dont wanna talk 2me

 

Connor can feel his heart beating too fast in his chest as he reads the messages from the beginning. He feels cold, he feels shaky, he feels like the entire world has tilted on his axis because…

Fuck. 

He didn’t expect this, fuck. 

He didn’t expect someone to notice he was gone. 

Someone to care. 

It takes him a while to work up the courage to send Dennis a message of his own. His hands are shaking as he types, and he has to backspace a few times to make sure it’s legible. 

He takes a long time figuring out what to say. 

 

March 14

Hey Dennis. I’m okay. Sorry, I wasn’t checking my Facebook. I didn’t mean to freak you out. 

 

There’s a response almost immediately. 

 

Oh thank fuck

Ru ok????????

 

Connor closes his eyes. Tries to calm the tremors in his hands. 

 

I will be. I’m better than I was. 

I really didn’t mean to freak you out

I’m sorry

I didn’t mean to freak you out

 

Dude im just glad ur alive

I was realy worried

Wanna talk about it?

 

Not on FB

We could get pancakes sometime maybe

When you’re free

 

I can pick u up in ten?



Five minutes later, Connor’s climbing out the window and heading around the block to the spot that Dennis usually picks him up and drops him off. When he gets there, Dennis’s car is already parked. Connor watches, slightly alarmed, as the driver’s side door opens and Dennis gets out of the car and strides toward him. 

For a moment, Connor’s convinced Dennis is going to deck him. 

Instead, he pulls Connor into a tight tight tight hug. 

“Fuck,” Dennis mutters against his shoulder. “Fuck, don’t scare me like that again, asshole.” 

The hug is over almost before it begins. Dennis climbs back into the driver’s seat, Connor takes shotgun, just like usual. By the time they pull into the IHOP parking lot, Connor’s almost convinced he hallucinated it. 

When the car stops, Dennis doesn’t get out of the car. He turns to Connor, his eyebrows furrowed in concern. 

“Where were you?”

Connor’s quiet for a long moment, trying to figure out what to tell him. 

In the end, he settles on the truth. 

“In the hospital.”

Dennis’s expression doesn’t change. Almost as if he’d expected that answer. 

“Are you okay now?”

Connor shrugs. 

Dennis’s frown deepens. “What can I do to help, dude?”

Connor shrugs again. “We could eat some fucking pancakes.”

It’s Dennis’s turn to be quiet. Finally, he nods. 

IHOP is packed and it takes a while for them to get a table. They don’t have a big long conversation or anything, no real heart to heart, but they do both eat a reasonably sized stack of pancakes and Dennis catches Connor up on what he’s been up to - namely video games and an on again, off again relationship with a girl named Selena who Connor’s met twice and makes a pretty good hash brownie. 

By the time Connor climbs back through his bedroom window, it’s nearly 3am, and he’s exhausted, but at the same time he kind of feels… lighter. 

It’s a weird feeling. 

He manages to get in a couple of hours of sleep before his alarm goes off. When he heads down to the kitchen for breakfast, his dad is actually at the kitchen table, which is unusual because he’s been going to work super early recently. 

Connor’s pretty sure his dad is trying to avoid him. 

“Where did you go last night?” Larry asks, looking at Connor over his cup of coffee with a glare. 

Connor braces himself. “I caught up with a friend,” he says. “We got pancakes.”

Larry laughs humorlessly. “At eleven at night?”

“IHOP was open,” says Connor, picking up the coffee plunger off the counter and pouring himself a cup. Zoe comes down the stairs and takes the plunger from him, glaring at him when she realizes there’s only maybe half a cup left. 

“And who’s this friend?” Larry asks, putting down his coffee cup now and properly looking at Connor. 

“Dennis,” Connor replies, trying to tamp down the frustration rising up in his chest. 

Zoe puts down the plunger and turns to face him. “I told him to stay away from you.” 

It takes a moment, but Connor remembers Dennis’s message about his sister punching him, and… 

Fuck. 

“You know this person?” asks Larry. 

Zoe crosses her arms. “Dennis is Connor’s dealer, Dad.”

Larry nods, like it’s what he expected. “Of course he is. Why should we expect anything different?”

“He’s my friend,” Connor shoots back. “I didn’t… we just got pancakes and talked, I didn’t buy any drugs off him, oh my god.”

Zoe rolls her eyes. “Sure. Pancakes.”

“Cynthia, you need to search his room while he’s at school,” Larry says. “I’m putting a deadlock on your window this weekend. You’re not sneaking out again.” He picks up his cup of coffee. “Should have done it months ago. Should have done it when you were…” 

“When I was in the psych ward?” Connor says challengingly. “You should have done it then, huh?”

“This isn’t a joke, Connor,” Larry snaps. “You’re eighteen years old. I’m not having a drug addict live under my roof.”

“I’m not a drug addict,” Connor shoots back. “I’m not… I ate some pancakes with a friend, I’m not on anything.”

“I’m not an idiot, Connor-”

“Do you want me to pee in a cup for you? Because I’ll do it if it’ll shut you the hell up.”

“Deadlock on your window,” Larry says firmly. “This weekend.” He looks at Connor’s mom, whose eyes are wide and startled. “And you’re checking his room today. Getting rid of his stash.”

“I don’t have a stash-”

“Your mother is getting rid of it, so yeah, you don’t have a stash.” 

Connor absolutely hates the idea of his mom going through his room, going through his stuff. It makes his skin crawl, it’s an invasion of privacy that makes him feel shaky and angry and untethered, even though he knows that there’s nothing to find. 

Not anymore. 

At least it’s his mom, though, not Larry. 

That’s something. 

 

School drags on. Connor keeps his headphones in every moment he’s not actually in class, listening to the same MCR album over and over again so often that it starts to become its own form of white noise. 

He sees Alana Beck hanging around near his locker a few times but ignores her before she can rope him into a conversation. She’s been hanging around a lot, he’s noticed, but he’s determined not to engage. Connor just can’t deal with her right now. 

It’s just… too much. 

Even though it’s cold, Connor walks home. Zoe’s got band practice after school and Connor has no interest in hanging around. When he gets home, he’s chilled to the core and seriously regretting not wearing a thicker coat. 

He takes off his boots. Puts them beside the shoe rack, the way his mom likes them. 

Heads into the kitchen to find his mom sitting at the kitchen island with a glass of wine, lost in thought. 

“Hey.”

She looks up and smiles, this sad smile that doesn’t reach her eyes. “Hi sweetheart.”

Connor can’t help himself. “My room pass the inspection?”

His mom nods. She sighs, her shoulders slumping. “We just want to be sure that you’re safe, Connor.”

“Smoking a little pot isn’t going to hurt me,” Connor says bluntly. “And I’m not… I’m not doing that. I didn’t buy anything from Dennis last night, we just got pancakes.”

His mom still looks sad. “You went out and got pancakes with your weed guy,” she says, frowning. “That’s… sweetheart, you can understand why your dad reacted the way he did, right?”

“He’s my friend,” Connor says, and the more he says it the more he realizes it’s true. “He’s… okay, so he’s kind of a dumbass but he doesn’t act like I’m going to shoot up the fucking school like everyone else, so… I’ll take it.” 

His mom’s face falls and Connor regrets saying anything. 

“Honey.”

“I don’t have other friends,” Connor admits, his voice quiet. “I don’t… I just don’t, okay? And sure, that’s probably my fault because I’m such a fucking freak-”

“You’re not a freak,” says his mom, her voice sharp. “Connor, I don’t want to hear you calling yourself that ever again.”

He knows his mom is lying. Knows she has to be lying, because this isn’t normal, everything he’s put her through isn’t fucking normal, he isn’t normal, but… 

Fuck, it’s nice to hear. 

His mom gestures to the counter and Connor notices for the first time that there’s a pile of envelopes. “These are for you,” she says quietly. “Looks like more college acceptance letters.”

Connor picks up the pile of envelopes carefully and starts working through it quietly. 

It feels like so long ago that he did his college applications and he doesn’t remember applying to some of these schools, but sure enough, there they are, all congratulating him. 

He got into all of them. All of these schools. Oberlin, U Penn, Wesleyan, Ohio State, University of Michigan, a few state schools that he must have applied to for safety - all of them. 

“It’s good you’ve got options,” his mom says when he tells her. “That’s great, honey.”

Connor shrugs. “I’ve made up my mind already,” he says. “This doesn’t change anything. I’m going to Columbia.”

His mom’s shoulders tense. “New York City is a long way away, honey.”

“That’s the fucking point.”

She frowns. “Connor. Honey. I just… I don’t know about you leaving home that soon,” she says, her voice soft. “With everything that’s happened…”

Connor shakes his head. “No. Mom, I have to. This school, this town. They’re… I can’t stay here, Mom, I have to get the fuck out of here.” He swallows hard. “I have to go to Columbia next year.”

His mom presses her lips together for a moment. “Connor, I don’t know if that’s the best plan for you, given the circumstances.” She tries to smile. “Your father and I have been discussing it. We thought that you could stay at home for your freshman year, then transfer the year after if things go well with your health.”

Connor shakes his head. “I can’t stay here,” he repeats, feeling his heart starting to race, panic starting to rise up in him at the idea of another year in this town. “I can’t… I won’t survive it. I won’t… fuck, I... I have to go, Mom, I have to. I have to get out of here.” 

“Connor-”

“It’s the only thing that’s keeping me going,” he admits, his voice raw. “It’s… all my hope is pinned on Columbia.”

He doesn’t consciously realize he’s chosen to use that turn of phrase, words from a letter he was never supposed to see, a letter that’s still burned into his mind, carved into his heart. 

His mom’s face is pale. She pours herself another glass of wine. 

“Your father and I will talk about it,” she says after a long pause. Once again, she offers him a weak facsimile of a smile. “Columbia’s a good school. You should… you should be proud of yourself for getting in.”

“I am,” he says immediately. “I know Dad thinks I’m a fucking idiot, but I’m near the top of the class. I get good grades. Great grades. I got early acceptance, that doesn’t just happen to anyone.” 

When he looks at his mother, dead in the eye, something kind of clicks in his head and in his heart. 

“I deserve to go to Columbia, and you know it. Sending me to a state school would be a waste.” 

His mom finishes her glass of wine in one gulp. She still looks so, so sad. 

“I’ll talk to your father,” she says, and there’s something in her eyes that makes Connor feel like maybe, just maybe, his mom is on his side here.

Chapter Text

April

CONNOR

 

It all starts when Connor stands up too quickly going to get more coffee at breakfast and faints like a fucking Victorian noblewoman with a too-tight corset. When he comes to, his mom has put a sweater under his head and Zoe is visibly shaking. 

“What the fuck,” he mumbles as his vision comes back into focus. 

“What the fuck?” Zoe demands. “What are you on now?

“Nothing,” he slurs, trying to sit up but feeling his head spinning. “Just… dizzy.”

“We’re taking you to the doctor,” his mom says immediately, her face pale. “I’ll call them now.”

Zoe’s eyes are wide and terrified but she nods, mumbles something about an early jazz band practice and immediately leaves. 

Barely an hour later, Connor’s with his mom at the doctor’s office, still dizzy as fuck and more than a little annoyed that he’s missing school. 

Which is, honestly, kind of new for him. 

There are AP tests coming up, and he’s got to get good grades if he wants to keep his place at Columbia. He’s caught up on everything easily, and he still has fantastic grades, but thanks to his absence, he’s dropped down about three places in the class rankings. 

He’s had meetings with both Mr. Stevens and Mrs. Byers, who are both determined to do everything they can to get him to New York this fall, but they’d both been pretty clear that to do that, he needs to be careful about attendance from now on. 

This is not good. 

It’s not good at all.

There’s a barrage of tests and it takes pretty much all day, but by the end of it the doctors have determined that Connor’s anemic and has low iron levels. 

He’s prescribed an iron supplement and told to be careful when standing up. 

He’s also told he needs to be careful in gym class, which Connor decides to translate as being allowed to skip it all together. 

His mom agrees with him. 

 

On the way home, his mom buys steak. Lots of steak. 

Connor’s not really feeling much better by that evening, but he dutifully eats the steak his mom has cooked and notes that it’s probably the first time in a very long time there has been this much meat in the house. 

His dad doesn’t even seem to notice they’re eating something different. He does, however, grill his mom the entire meal about Connor missing school to go to the doctor. 

“He’s faking it.”

“Larry, they did a blood test. He’s not faking it.”

“If he misses any more school-”

“I’m going back tomorrow,” Connor interrupts firmly. 

Everyone looks at him. Zoe, in particular, looks gobsmacked. 

“We’ll see you how you’re feeling in the morning,” says his mom. 

Connor shakes his head. “I’m going back tomorrow,” he repeats. “Dad’s right. If I want to go to Columbia, I need to make sure I don’t miss any more school.”

There’s a silence at the table for a long moment. 

His dad turns to his mom. “Cynthia, we’ve talked about this.”

His mom’s shoulders tense. “We have not finished talking about this.”

“I’ve made my decision and that’s final-”

“You don’t get to make a final decision on this without me, Larry-”

“It’s my money that’s paying for college. I get the final say.” Larry looks at Connor. “You’re not going to Columbia. I’m not letting you run off to New York City unsupervised, Connor. I’m not an idiot.”

“It’s an Ivy League school, Larry!” says Connor’s mom, her eyes flashing with something like… anger. It’s not something he’s used to seeing on his mom’s face. 

Disappointment, sure, but anger… 

That’s new. That’s usually his dad. 

“And what’s to say they’re not going to revoke his acceptance after what happened before Christmas?” Larry challenges. 

“They didn’t,” Connor says firmly. “I… the guidance counsellor helped me get in touch and find out. I still have my spot. I can still go.”

“What happens if it happens again?” Larry demands, and Connor notices with a jolt that his dad’s face is pale, that there is real fear in his eyes. “If you’re away at college and nobody finds you? It was just luck that your sister was home that day-”

“I can’t be here for this,” says Zoe suddenly. She pushes away her plate, stands up and runs up the stairs. 

It’s quiet for a moment. 

“We made a plan,” Connor says finally, feeling his voice shake. “We… Bianca gave me a list of therapists in New York she thinks might work for me and once I’ve picked one, we’ll do some phone sessions before I go, so I’ve got a support network in place when I arrive.”

“Dr. Pencarrow talked to me about it,” his mom chimes in. “She’s put together a really comprehensive list for us. She’s also recommended GPs in New York that understand Connor’s condition. We wouldn’t just be letting him run off to New York unsupervised, Larry. There’s a plan. We’ve been working on a plan.”

Larry’s eyes flash with anger. “This is the first I’m hearing of it.”

“No,” says Connor’s mom, her voice rising. “It’s not. I’ve been trying to talk to you about this for weeks, Larry, you just keep brushing me off.” She takes in a sharp breath. “This is our son’s future we’re talking about, and you’re trying to stand in the way of him succeeding.”

“He can go to a state school and stay at home where we can keep an eye on him-”

“That’s a waste of his talents and you know it,” his mom shoots back. “He worked hard to get into Columbia.”

Larry snorts. “He hasn’t done a day of hard work in his life.”

“He’s in the top ten of his class!”

“He used to be in the top five, before this little stunt in December-”

Connor watches as his mother stands up. “This town is toxic for him, Larry! Can’t you see that? He doesn’t have friends, people judge him before they even know him, there are all these bad memories. If he stays here, it might kill him.”

His dad rolls his eyes. “You’re being melodramatic. I see where he gets it from.”

“I’m not kidding around, Larry!”

Connor can feel his heart start to pound uncomfortably. Slowly, carefully, he stands up and makes his way upstairs. As he does, he sees his sister leaving her room, a backpack on her back. 

“Where are you going?” he asks, feeling stupid for asking the moment the question leaves his lips. 

“Sabrina’s,” she says, her voice short and sharp. “She says I can crash in their guest room. I can’t be here while they scream at each other over you again.” Zoe lets out this harsh laugh. “They probably won’t even notice I’m gone.”

Connor has no idea who Sabrina is, but it’s been years since he had any real insight into Zoe’s social life, so he’s hardly surprised. 

When it comes to being a brother, he’s kind of garbage. 

Zoe heads down the stairs and Connor goes into his room and shuts the door. He puts in his headphones and listens to ‘Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge’ loud enough to drown out the sound of his parents arguing as he goes over his APUSH notes. He’s been sitting in on a class he doesn’t usually attend during what used to be a study period to get back on track, which is horrifying uncomfortable because people look at him all the time, look at him like he’s not supposed to be there, like he’s not supposed to be anywhere. 

He’s halfway through the album when he sees his door open. 

His mom is carrying a duffel bag and she puts it on Connor’s bed.

Connor takes his headphones out and looks at her. 

“Pack what you need for tomorrow and the weekend,” she instructs, her voice thin and tired. Connor can see that her eyes are red. 

“What?”

“I’ve booked a hotel room,” she says, her voice breaking on the last word. “Pack as quickly as you can, sweetheart, I’ll go talk to your sister.”

“She’s not here.”

Connor’s mom looks close to tears. “What do you mean she’s not here?

“She’s at… Sabrina’s?” 

Connor’s mom blinks a few times. She nods. “Right. Right, okay, I… is she staying overnight?”

“Yeah.” 

“I’ll call her,” says his mom, her voice wavering. “I’m going to go get my things, I’ll be back soon.”

With that, she leaves the room. 

Connor just sits there for a second and processes what the fuck just happened. 

Then gets up and starts throwing things into the duffel bag, packing up his study materials and making sure he’s got clothes and pajamas and the slippers his mom bought him for the hospital because they’re comfy and socks and underwear and all that shit. 

And books. Lots of books. 

His mom’s back not long after, and he follows her downstairs and puts on his boots as she puts on a pair of shoes. She’s got a small suitcase with her, and something tells him that she’s had this packed for a while. 

His stomach churns uncomfortably. 

This is his fault. 

This is absolutely, one hundred percent his fault, Jesus fuck. 

It doesn’t take long for them to get to the hotel. It’s a nice hotel, but not too fancy. They’re in a suite, and there are two beds in the room Connor’s in and a double bed in the other room. 

Connor guesses she’d intended for he and Zoe to share a room, which is honestly a fucking terrible idea. 

It’s probably just as well Zoe’s at Sabrina’s. 

Even though he still has no idea who Sabrina actually is. Sabrina Patel is the only Sabrina he knows and he didn’t think she and Zoe knew each other. 

Connor’s not sure what’s supposed to happen now. He sits on one of the beds and goes back to his APUSH notes. Puts his headphones back in. 

His mom pokes her head in a while after and tells him she’s going to grab some snacks. Connor nods and goes back to studying. 

Maybe half an hour later, she comes back in, armed with cheesecake, and invites him into the living area of the hotel suite to watch TV with her. She’s changed into her pajamas and her hair is in a ponytail and she looks younger than usual, but at the same time she’s tired and drawn and that’s Connor’s fault. 

This is all Connor’s fault. 

Connor changes into his pajamas, too, and they sit on the surprisingly comfortable sofa and watch reruns of Friends and polish off the entire cheesecake. 

“Is this… is this you leaving Dad?” Connor asks quietly as the episode credits roll. “Are you…”

“I don’t know,” his mom admits, her voice small.

They’re both quiet for a moment. 

“This is my fault, isn’t it.”

His mom shakes her head firmly. “No,” she says, voice a little stronger. “This isn’t your fault. None of this is your fault, Connor, you…” She sighs. Takes in a ragged breath. “You’re sick. And we’re your parents and we’re supposed to do what’s best for you.” She puts her hand on his shoulder tentatively. “I just want you happy and healthy, sweetheart. No matter what.”

“Dad’s not going to let me go to Columbia, is he.”

“You’re going to Columbia,” his mom says immediately, her shoulders straightening in what looks like resolve. “If I have to dip into my savings to pay for it, I will. You deserve this. You…” She takes in another ragged breath. “You deserve a fresh start, honey. And I’ll fight for you to get it.” 

Connor wants to pull his mom toward him in a tight tight hug. He wants to tell her how much he loves her, tell her how much it means that she believes in him, that she’s taking his side over his dad, tell her how sorry he is for everything he’s put her through. 

But the words won’t make it past his throat. They sit in his chest and buzz uncomfortably, pressing up against this invisible barrier that won’t budge, won’t let what he desperately needs to say escape. 

That barrier feels an awful lot like guilt - cold, thick and paralyzing. 

Connor is ruining his parents’ marriage. 

He’s ruining their lives. 

Maybe it would have been a kindness if he’d died when he was supposed to. 

Fuck.


 

ZOE

 

“Your brother’s not at school today.”

Zoe closes her locker and comes face to face with Alana Beck. 

Again. 

Alana, like everyone else at this damn school, is obsessed with Connor and his mysterious disappearance. 

However, unlike everyone else at this damn school, Alana doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo to stop fucking asking Zoe. 

“I’ll alert the media,” Zoe replies flatly, turning on her heel to go. 

Alana, however, is quick, and power walks to keep up with her. 

“I’m concerned,” Alana says, her voice businesslike. “About his attendance. He really can’t afford to be missing any more school, given how much he already missed. And with the AP exams coming up-”

“Alana,” Zoe interrupts. “No offense, but that is none of your fucking business. Connor’s not your friend, and he sure as hell doesn’t want to be your charity project, so could you just leave us the fuck alone?”

Alana’s eyes open wide and she recoils a little. “I’m simply looking out for the well-being of a fellow classmate-”

“Connor messed up the senior class rankings,” Zoe says irritably. “I know. Trust me, I know, people are talking about it.”

People are talking about it a lot. 

Everywhere Zoe turns, someone’s asking her about Connor. How he is, where he was, why he was away, if he’s still going to Columbia. 

Zoe has no idea how the hell everyone knows he was accepted to Columbia in the first place, but she feels like that’s Alana Beck’s doing. 

“Can you at least tell him to come along to my study group?” Alana asks, almost pleads. “For AP US History. It’s Wednesdays after school.”

“Yeah, I doubt he’s going to be able to fit it into his busy schedule,” Zoe replies dryly. “Ask him yourself. I’m not a carrier pigeon.”

Alana’s shoulders tense. “Our paths don’t seem to cross much,” she says stiffly. “Must be a scheduling conflict.”

Zoe knows her brother is avoiding Alana. Avoiding everyone. Walking around with headphones in, keeping his head down and trying to stay out of everyone’s way. 

And okay, sure, that’s probably a good thing. He hasn’t gotten into a fight all year, which is some kind of record. He doesn’t yell at people, he doesn’t fly off the handle - he doesn’t even seem to get that angry anymore. 

Whatever it is the doctors put him on seems to be making a difference on that front, at least. Even if it feels like it’s just temporary. 

Zoe’s spent her teen years terrified of her brother in a myriad of different ways. They’ve had fight after fight after fight, they’ve screamed at each other and swore at each other and worse, and that was terrifying but she’d gotten used to it. 

Now it’s like all the fight has drained right out of him and he’s just going through the motions, trying to make it through the rest of the year with as little fuss as possible. 

So he can go to college. 

So he can fuck off to New York City and leave them all behind. 

Zoe’s heard her parents “discussing” Connor’s college choices for weeks now - long, loud arguments that shake the house and make Zoe wish she were anywhere but here. 

She’s started taking a leaf out of Connor’s book and wearing headphones around the house so she doesn’t have to listen to her parents. 

Maybe she should start wearing them at school, too. 

Zoe turns a corner, Alana still following her, and almost runs into Sabrina Patel, who stops just in time. Her hair is pinned back off her face today and she’s wearing this cute red dress with these awesome boots and looks adorable as always, all soft, feminine curves. 

Sabrina smells like vanilla and she gives Zoe this big smile, perfect white teeth against dark skin. “Hey Zoe,” she says, her voice soft. “How are you?”

Alana smiles at Sabrina, and there’s a stark contrast between their smiles, despite the fact that on paper, a lot of the same elements are there. Alana’s is… rehearsed, Zoe decides, but Sabrina looks like she’s smiling from the heart. 

Kind of a weird thing to think, Zoe knows. 

Sabrina has a really nice smile. 

It’s really, really beautiful. 

“I was just asking Zoe about Connor’s absence today,” Alana says, her tone businesslike. “You know I’ve been trying to get him to come to our study group for APUSH.”

“Not everyone studies well in a group,” Sabrina says lightly. “Different people have their own ways of working.” She looks at Zoe. “You okay?”

“It’s important that Connor catches up,” Alana presses. “We have a responsibility as his peers to-”

“Oh Alana, I almost forgot,” Sabrina interrupts. “Ms Dalton said she had copies of last year’s AP Chemistry test available in her office today. I ran into her on the way here.”

Alana’s eyes widen. “I thought she wouldn’t have them until tomorrow.”

“I guess she got them early,” Sabrina says. “I thought I’d pick one up this afternoon but she said she was heading to her office now.”

Alana smiles that rehearsed smile. “I’ll go see her now,” she says hurriedly. “Zoe, don’t forget to talk to your brother.”

With that, Alana Beck power walks down the hallway and disappears into the crowd quicker than Zoe thinks should be possible. 

Sabrina smiles at her, her smile a little subdued. “Sorry about Alana,” she says softly. “She’s a little intense.” 

“That’s an understatement,” says Zoe, feeling a little jittery now that Alana’s gone. She tries to smile at Sabrina but it doesn’t come out right, she can tell, and she’s breathing funny, and Sabrina’s smile drops and before Zoe knows it, she’s being gently led into the girls’ bathroom.

“Rough day?” Sabrina asks once she checks they’re alone. 

“Connor, like, full on blacked out,” Zoe confesses. “At breakfast. He stood up from the breakfast table and then just… collapsed.” She takes in a shuddery breath. “Seeing him in a pile on the floor like that, it… it was a lot.”

Sabrina’s eyes are big. “I’m so sorry,” she says. She takes Zoe’s hand and squeezes it gently. “Is there anything I can do?”

Zoe shrugs, and sniffs. To her horror, she’s tearing up. “It’s just… he’s back home and he’s… I don’t know, my parents argue about him all the time, and everyone keeps asking me about him and it’s just always… it’s like I’m invisible, like I stopped being a person, and…” She blinks a few times, takes in a deep breath and wipes her face. “I’m being a selfish bitch. I totally know that, I just… it’s hard.”

“You’re not selfish,” Sabrina says insistently. “This is a lot. I’m really sorry, Zoe, none of this is fair.” She squeezes Zoe’s hand again. Sabrina has nice hands, Zoe thinks. Warm and soft. “If you need to get out of the house, you can always come stay in our guest room for a while. Just for a break.”

Zoe blinks. “That’s… your parents won’t mind?”

Sabrina just smiles. “They’ll be fine. My older sister Sam had a friend when she was in middle school who was over all the time. I don’t think it’ll be a problem.”

The bell rings, and Zoe thanks Sabrina and heads to AP Calculus. She still feels jittery and unsettled and weird, but Sabrina made it all a little better, and Zoe’s grateful. So fucking grateful. 

She’s still not sure how she managed to become friends with Sabrina Patel, but she’s incredibly, incredibly glad she has. Sabrina is just… awesome. She’s warm and she’s friendly and she’s kind and she always smells good and dresses well and has nice hair and is just really fucking beautiful, inside and out. 

When Zoe gets home, her mom is in the kitchen, looking at recipes on her laptop. Zoe opens the fridge to get some water and sees that the fridge is full of steak. 

“Why is there steak in the fridge?” she asks. “I thought we were vegan now.”

“Your brother has an iron deficiency,” her mom says wearily. “We’re having steak.”

Zoe looks at her mom, frowning a little. “So… that was why he passed out this morning? Because he doesn’t have enough iron?”

Her mom nods. “He’s anemic. They did a blood test.” Her mom takes in a shuddering breath. “They think… well, he lost a lot of blood when he…”

“When he slit his wrists,” Zoe says dully. 

She can see the bathtub in her mind. 

She can feel the warmth of the water as she pulled him out. 

She can feel her brother trembling as she tries to stop the bleeding, as the life pours out of him. 

“Excuse me,” she mumbles, and heads upstairs to her room and puts in her headphones. 

When she comes down for dinner, Connor’s sitting at the kitchen table. He’s pale, paler than he was this morning, and he has big dark circles under his eyes. 

Their mom puts a big plate of steak in front of him and he starts in on it robotically, like he’s not really paying attention to anything. 

Zoe’s not surprised when their dad starts bitching about Connor having missed school. It seems like all he does is pick on Connor these days. 

“He’s faking it,” says their dad, slicing a piece of steak like it’s the most normal thing in the world, like it’s not super weird that after five years of weird as fuck diet fads, they’re actually eating full on meat. 

Their mom sighs. “Larry, they did a blood test. He’s not faking it.”

“If he misses any more school-”

“I’m going back tomorrow,” Connor interrupts, and his voice is stronger than Zoe’s heard it in months. 

Zoe knows she’s staring at him, but she can’t help it. This is just fucking weird. 

“We’ll see you how you’re feeling in the morning,” says their mom, her face tight with concern. 

Connor shakes his head. “I’m going back tomorrow,” he repeats. “Dad’s right. If I want to go to Columbia, I need to make sure I don’t miss any more school.”

And there it is, Zoe thinks. The hot button topic of the hour. 

Columbia. 

She’s still kind of… shocked that Connor got into Columbia. At least, she was until Alana Beck started freaking out about class rankings in the hallway and Zoe realized that her brother used to be in third place in the senior class. 

Third fucking place, despite very rarely being in class when he’s supposed to and being almost constantly high. 

It fucking figures, Zoe thinks. Connor’s always been able to do nothing and excel, and it pisses her off because she works hard for her A- average and Connor can just sail through. 

Still…

Getting away for college might be good for him, Zoe thinks. 

She just doesn’t know if her willingness to see Connor go to New York in the fall is because of wanting him to have the chance to start over or just wanting him gone. 

Their dad looks irritated. “Cynthia, we’ve talked about this.”

Zoe can see her mom’s face shift, her shoulders tense, like she’s preparing for a fight. “We have not finished talking about this.”

“I’ve made my decision and that’s final-”

“You don’t get to make a final decision on this without me, Larry-”

“It’s my money that’s paying for college. I get the final say.” Larry looks at Connor. “You’re not going to Columbia. I’m not letting you run off to New York City unsupervised, Connor. I’m not an idiot.”

“It’s an Ivy League school, Larry!” 

“And what’s to say they’re not going to revoke his acceptance after what happened before Christmas?” Larry challenges. 

“They didn’t,” Connor says firmly. “I… the guidance counsellor helped me get in touch and find out. I still have my spot. I can still go.”

“What happens if it happens again?” says their dad, and there’s an edge to his voice that’s a little too frightened to be anger. 

Zoe feels her blood run cold, her stomach start to churn uncomfortably. 

She can see the bathtub in her mind. 

She can feel the warmth of the water as she pulled him out, the wetness. 

She can feel her brother’s body shaking as she tries to stop the bleeding, as the life pours out of him, as she desperately begs him to hold on, hold on, you have to hold on - 

“If you’re away at college and nobody finds you?” their dad continues. “It was just luck that your sister was home that day-”

“I can’t be here for this,” Zoe says, pushing her plate away. 

Her hands are dry but they still feel wet and slick and stained brown, with oxidized blood, oh god oh god oh god there was so much blood there was just so much fucking blood. 

She rushes upstairs to her room. Closes the door. Locks it firmly. 

Zoe sits on the end of her bed and takes in a deep, shaking breath. 

He nearly died. 

Connor nearly died. 

Her brother nearly died, oh god oh god oh god. 

She can’t be here. She can’t be in this house right now, she can’t she can’t she can’t-

Zoe pulls her phone out of her pocket and scrolls down to find Sabrina’s contact. With shaking hands, she connects the call. 

Sabrina answers almost immediately. “Zoe? Hey, how are you?”

“Were you serious?” Zoe demands. “About staying at your place?”

There’s a short pause before Sabrina answers. “Absolutely serious,” she says softly. “Do you want me to pick you up?”

Zoe feels too sick to drive, too shaky. Her hands are too slick with blood to hold the steering wheel properly, she’s soaked to the bone with bloody bath-water and her brother could have died and all her parents can do is argue. 

“Yes,” Zoe says, nodding. “I… yes, if you could, that’d…. Yeah.”

“I’ll be there in fifteen minutes,” Sabrina says, her voice calm. “Is that okay? Will you be okay until then?”

“Yeah,” Zoe says again, even though she doesn’t know, she doesn’t know at all. “I… yeah.”

She ends the call and starts packing up her things in a backpack. Enough for the night, and maybe another if she needs to. It takes longer than it should, because her hands are shaking.

She can hear her parents arguing as she opens the door to her room, and Connor is making his way up the stairs, his face pale. 

“Where are you going?” Connor asks, his voice quiet, quieter than Zoe expects. 

“Sabrina’s,” she says, and it comes out harsher than she realizes. “She says I can crash in their guest room. I can’t be here while they scream at each other over you again.” 

Connor looks young and scared and guilty and...

Zoe laughs.

She just fucking laughs. 

She might be losing her mind.

“They probably won’t even notice I’m gone.”

 


 

SABRINA

Sabrina pulled into the Murphys’ driveway and Zoe was already sitting outside on the front step with a backpack between her knees, her guitar case next to her. Zoe was all hunched over and frowning, wearing earbuds. Her toes were pointed inwards, and Sabrina was reminded a little of Tabby, who walked with pigeon toes until the second grade. 

Zoe looked up and saw Sabrina’s car. She glanced over her shoulder, then hitched up her backpack and headed to the passenger seat. “Thank you for picking me up,” She said, her voice quiet as she buckled herself in. 

“Of course,” Sabrina said. “Have you eaten dinner?”

“Tried to before Mount St. Larry exploded,” Zoe muttered, rolling her eyes. 

“My mom’s making curry. I don’t know if you like spicy food? If not, don’t worry, she always makes something else to go with it because my little sister Tabitha is, like, the world’s pickiest eater? Dad likes to tease her that she’s bad at being Indian because her favorite food is literally buttered noodles. So I’m sure mom’s made something else, like, mac and cheese or something.”

“Spicy food is okay. You don’t have to feed me.”

Sabrina smiled at her as she pulled into her driveway. “Well I wasn’t going to make you open up for the airplane or the choo-choo, no, but you should join us for dinner. My folks are nice. Tabby will love you. I told her about my friend who played guitar? She lost her little mind.”

“How old is she?” Zoe asked.

“Ten. She was a surprise, as my parents like to say.” Sabrina turned her car off. “You need a minute?”

Zoe shook her head. “No, I’m okay. Thanks though.”

Predictably, Tabby fucking loved Zoe. She begged to sit next to her at dinner and asked her to please (please pretty please) play her a song on her guitar after they finished eating. 

“Don’t harass our guest, Tabby,” Sabrina’s dad said. Then he offered Zoe some zucchini and proudly told her he’d grown them himself. 

“Thank you.”

Zoe seemed a little… shocked at the fact that Sabrina’s parents had lots of questions for her. But like, about her. How long had she played the guitar and did she want to continue playing in college? Why was she interested in possibly studying psychology? Had she liked being in the pit for Guys and Dolls

Zoe loosened up after a couple of minutes, smiling brightly and answering all of their questions with this weirdly grateful tone. Sabrina wondered how often people asked Zoe about herself. She wondered how often she was allowed to talk herself up, brag a little. She thought whatever it was probably wasn’t nearly enough.

“You’re taking calculus as a junior?” Sabrina’s mom said, impressed. “Impressive.”

“I guess I’m good at math,” Zoe said. “It’s not a big deal.”

“Our oldest daughter Samantha never made it past Geometry,” Her dad said, smiling slightly. “And honestly I’m not much for math myself. We’re impressed by math.”

“Very impressed.”

Zoe positively beamed at that. 

She didn’t seem to mind Tabby hanging around either, and she did play a couple of songs for her, which made Tabby absolutely melt. Sabrina thought it was cute. By the time Tabby had to go to bed she was telling Zoe she was going to “totally learn the guitar.”

“Your family is really nice,” Zoe said. 

“We have our moments,” Sabrina said with a shrug. She didn’t think now was a good time to tell Zoe it was the first time in weeks that Sabrina had been allowed to eat dinner with the family without comments from her mom. She set Zoe up in the guest room, let her know where to find the towels and toothpaste and to help herself to anything in the kitchen. “My room’s next door, so you can totally grab me if you need anything, yeah? I’m a light sleeper.”

“Thank you again for letting me stay here,” Zoe said. 

“Of course. Good night.”

“Night.”

The next morning, Sabrina drove Zoe with her to school. They stopped at Starbucks on their way in, and Zoe insisted on paying to thank her for the night before. 

Zoe really was so sweet. It was such a shame she was having such a hard time. 

The day went on. Around second period, Sabrina started having some pretty horrible period cramps. She took some Midol but they stuck around, stubbornly painful and leaving her slightly nauseated. She felt gross and too big to be allowed and everything hurt, her back, her uterus, her hair pretty much. Periods were the worst. 

By the time she dragged herself to gym class, she knew there was no way in hell she was going to be running today. She walked up to her teacher and said, “I have menstrual cramps. I need to sit out today.”

“Physical activity can help with the pain,” He said, sounding bored. 

“I will barf on the basketball court,” She returned. 

“Fine, go park it on the bleachers by Murphy.” 

Sabrina’s eyes traveled to the bleachers where Connor Murphy was sitting, his too long legs resting on the seat in front of him, a book in hand. She was surprised he was back at school after apparently passing out at home yesterday morning, but maybe they’d figured out what was the matter. He did look awfully pale. Sabrina walked over toward him and had a seat, thinking she’d get started on the AP History homework. “Hey,” She said in greeting. 

“Hi?” Connor said back, looking at her strangely over his book. 

Sabrina tried to smile at him, despite her cramps. “I’m sitting out too.”

“Okay?”

Okay, so it wasn’t the time for conversation, apparently. She tried to focus on her textbook, but mostly she just sat there trying to breathe through her nose and hating the existence of her uterus. They ought to be optional, like, you know, something you could install should you decide you wanted one. The pain was making her more nauseated, sweaty and pissed off. She flinched every time a dodgeball hit the floor. 

Beside her, Connor shook his head, scowling. 

“Okay?”

“Fine,” he said, frowning deeper. He looked very pale and definitely not fine. 

“You don’t look so good,” Sabrina said. “Do you need to go to the nurse?”

“No,” He said with a weirdly high pitched laugh. “I need someone to take me out back and shoot me, Jesus Christ.”

Sabrina felt her eyes go big, her heart start hammering, should she tell Zoe? What if he tried to hurt himself again? Did she have to call his parents, talk to the school counselors?

“Oh, calm down I was just being dramatic…” Connor said, rolling his eyes. “I’m fucking dizzy. I guess I’m anemic, which apparently means I’m prone to swooning like some kind of Victorian heroine.”

“Oh,” Sabrina said. “I have some raisins?”

Connor stared at her blankly.

“They’re high in iron. They give them out after the blood drive?”

“Raisins are deceptive.”

“What?” Was he high ? What the fuck did that mean? 

“Never mind.”

“Do you want a granola bar?” Sabrina tried again. “It’s dark chocolate almond.”

“Why the fuck are you trying to feed me?”

“Because I don’t want you to swoon like a Victorian heroine,” Sabrina said, holding the granola bar out to him. “And I bet you don’t want to pass out here, where undoubtedly Coach Carter will try to pick you up and carry you to the nurse personally. Bridal style.”

He took the granola bar.  “Thanks,” he mumbled, not really looking at her. 

“You’re welcome.” She paused, opening the raisin box and eating a few because she could probably use some iron with all the havoc her uterus was reeking. “Sorry you’re dizzy.”

“Sorry you’re… why are you sitting out?”

“Period cramps.”

“Sucks. Sorry.”

“Tell me about it.”


 

 

EVAN

The AP tests were coming up soon. Early May. Evan had to turn in his permission slips to say he was, in fact, taking his AP tests as scheduled. That was another fight with his mom, getting her to sign off on them without ever actually talking to her. A lot of passive aggressive moving of the slip around on the fridge with a magnet. Evan half wondered if he could just wait until he was eighteen and sign the slips himself. It might be easier. 

The thing was that he and his mom were sort of broke. Evan qualified for the government funded free lunch program because his mom made so little. They scraped by, of course, they made it work because they had to but paying the AP testing fee was a bit of a challenge. 

But as Evan had learned last year, being poor had one small perk. Because he was eligible for free lunches, it meant the school had a fund to pay his testing fees. He was taking four AP tests for free. All together it would have cost him like four hundred dollars to pay for it, which was basically his entire pay from Pottery Barn in a month, which was half of the mortgage on his tiny house with his mom, so it was good that he didn’t have to pay it himself. 

But… Evan was a bit of an idiot. 

He forgot that just because he and the school administration knew he would not be turning in a check for his AP tests, it didn’t mean that the teachers knew that. 

And that was his big fucking mistake. 

When his AP History teacher asked everyone to pass forward their permission slips and checks, Evan, unthinking, merely passed his permission slip forward. Went back to writing on his study guide for class, because he realized he had trailed off in the middle of an answer about the Trail of Tears and needed to finish filling it out. He bounced his leg. Today he felt a little too keyed up, a little to aware that he existed, that he was flesh and blood and bone and beating heart and the reality of that was too much, was frustrating him, so he bounced bounced bounced his leg under his desk, thinking about the Trail of Tears and how America was really fucking terrible, in the abstract, in the aggregate, and he wasn’t paying attention to the front of the class, instead he chewed on his cuticles and thought about Andrew Jackson.

“Evan?” Mrs. Jacobs said. 

“Wh- yeah?” He said, looking up from his study guide, distracted, thinking about the Trail of Tears and how he needed to stop bouncing his leg because he kept hitting the underside of his desk with his knee and how he needed to stop biting his cuticles because his left ring finger had started to bleed. “Sorry?”

“Your check isn’t here,” She said, her voice carrying in that way that teachers’ voices did, projecting, not yelling, loud enough for everyone to hear, loud enough that every single head in the classroom turned to look at him. 

“My - my check?” Evan repeated stupidly. 

“For the AP test.”

“I don’t… I don’t have one. I don’thaveacheck.”

Mrs. Jacobs looked very annoyed. “You need to turn in a check to pay the fee or I can’t accept this.”

Evan tried to breathe but instead he chewed on his cuticle, he bounced his leg, he stared at his study guide question about the Trail of Tears. “I don’t… When. My mom and I? The school, they, I mean. I don’t have one. The administration knows.”

Mrs. Jacobs rolled her eyes. A few kids tittered. “You need to pay the fee or you can’t take the test,” She said again, like Evan was a severe variety of stupid. “I can’t accept just the permission slip.”

Everyone was looking at him. His face got hotter and hotter, until his face was the sun, it could power electricity and let plants photosynthesize. Everyone was looking, waiting, and Evan was frozen, he was frozen and he was on the ground, he needed to get up because nobody was going to come and throw him a rope, a life preserver he needed to get up he needed to move he needed to respond. “I… I.”

“Why don’t you have your check?”

Sabrina Patel was looking at him, frowning, probably imagining he was going to throw up, like it was driver’s ed all over again. Jared was in the back of class, looking at Evan like he was a mildly interesting museum exhibition on something like soil erosion, something he didn’t find terribly interesting but was something to at least look at in his boredom. Connor Murphy sat in the back of the class, he wasn’t normally in this class, in this hour, Evan heard he had make up work from missing two months of school and Connor Murphy wasn’t looking, he was the only one who wasn’t looking at Evan, everyone was looking at Evan everyone. 

“My family. I get… I get free lunches?”

Mrs. Jacobs didn’t look impressed with this answer. 

“I get free lunch so I don’t- My family doesn’t. We don’t really have, uh, a lot of money? So I get free lunch and-and-and I don’t have to pay for the test.” She kept looking at him, unconvinced, frowning, and he said more because he didn’t know what else to do to. “I can’t afford the test so the school, the school is paying for me. The school is paying for my testing fees. Okay? I don’t have a check.”

“Oh,” Mrs. Jacobs said, frowning slightly. “Alright then.” She piled the rest of the checks and permission slips up and put them into a manila envelope. “Everyone trade study guides with the person next to you. We’re going to go over the answers.”

Evan numbly traded papers with Sabrina Patel, sitting beside him. 

Everybody in this class knew he was broke now. Everybody knew. He strained his ears for the whispers, the muttering, the mockery and didn’t know if it was better or worse that he didn’t hear it. Was he so insignificant that people just generally didn’t care that he was a broke disaster who couldn’t scrape together four hundred dollars? Or were they all just stunned into silence over just how tragically embarrassing that information was?

Evan wasn’t sure he was really even there. He might have been watching this from another room. He might have died in August and only just now noticed, the world’s worst ghost. He felt like he was shriveling up in place, like he was disintegrating, like he was television static or a radio not tuned right. Evan wasn’t right, he was slightly wrong, he was like his broken arm, ever so slightly misaligned but in terrible pain. 

“Here.”

Evan stared. 

Sabrina was giving his paper back to him. “Good job. You aced it.”

“Even… even the Trail of Tears question?”

“Yeah,” Sabrina said, big open smile on her lovely, round face and Evan hadn’t ever really looked at her straight on before, and he was surprised to discover she was nice and kind and smiley. “You kick ass. You should, seriously, like. Tutor. You want to join our little study group? Me and Alana and Clarke and Jenna and Stephanie and some of the jazz band kids. We’re getting together for pizza the next couple of Wednesdays to study. Everyone chips in like, two bucks or…” She stopped, looking embarrassed. 

“I usually work Wednesdays,” Evan said distantly. “So - so uh. Sorry. Guess not.”

“I didn’t mean -”

“No, no, I know,” Evan rushed to say. “I just. I just, I work? So. Thanks but.”

“She shouldn’t have done that in front of everyone,” Sabrina said suddenly, her voice gentle. “That wasn’t right. She should have waited, pulled you aside after class or whatever.”

“I don’t care,” Evan said, very obviously caring. 

“I’m sorry.”

“I don’t… It’s fine.”

Evan felt like his face was on fire for the rest of the day. Like he had a bad sunburn, like everyone was some simultaneously talking about him and unaware that he existed. He sat beside Jared at lunch, eating a slightly squashed peanut butter sandwich because even though he got free school lunches there were days when he just couldn’t face the humiliation of the lunch line, of the cafeteria, and the lunch ladies scooping soggy vegetables onto trays and the moment when you came out of the line at the mouth of the cafeteria and everyone could look up at you and wait to see where you thought you slotted into the social structure of the school and it was easier, sometimes, just to pack a sandwich. Evan sat down next to Jared and waited for him to say something about it. 

He didn’t.

Evan ate his sandwich sullenly and watched as some kids bossed around a haggard looking maintenance worker hanging up a sign announcing the prom theme. Starry night. What a bullshit theme. 

“Prom is such bullshit,” Jared huffed. 

Evan raised his eyebrows. 

“I mean. I guess. Unless… why did you want to go or something?”

Evan felt a sudden electrical current shoot up his spine. “W-what?”

“Unless, what, are you too broke to go?”

“I didn’t - That’s not what….”

But Jared was laughing. And Evan relaxed, ever so slightly, and tried to laugh along. 

The day left him exhausted, worn out. He went home and spent hours and hours diligently working on his notes for AP Calculus, reviewing limits and putting tabs and post it notes on relevant examples. Evan caught himself mumbling to himself a few times while he worked then immediately stopped himself. “Knock it off,” Evan said, shaking his head. He’d been doing it again. Imagining he had someone to talk to, imagining he had a person here to beat back the loneliness, to talk through calculus, to mumble through his confusion about what was going on with Jared. 

“I just don’t know… if we’re like together, together you know?” 

His imaginary friend would nod wisely, say something like, “Maybe you and Jared need to have a conversation.”

“I don’t know what I’d even say?”

“Just come right out and say it,” His imaginary friend would say back, long legs hanging over the back of a chair. “Just be like, ‘Jared. Are we a thing or what?’” 

“You know I can’t do that,” Evan mumbled, embarrassed. 

“Sure you can. You can be badass, I’ve seen it,” Evan’s imaginary friend who looked a lot like Connor Murphy said to him, smiling lopsidedly. 

Shit.

Evan was doing it again.

Talking to people he made up in his head again. Fucking hell, he was losing his shit. 

Fuck. 

He was too old for imaginary friends. Too old for this shit. Fuck. 

 

His eighteenth birthday was a Tuesday. 

He stayed up until after midnight, watching the clock count down the time. At 12:01, Evan stood up. Grabbed the bottles of pills he kept in a small wooden box on his nightstand. Walked to the bathroom, where he uncapped the two bottles and emptied them into the toilet. He flushed. Smiled at himself in the mirror. 

Last week he had told Dr. Sherman that he wouldn’t be coming back. 

His mom tried to fight him, tried to persuade him to at least stay in therapy, at least until graduation, but Evan had to do this on his own. 

He was eighteen. An adult, legally. 

“Sure you wanted to do that?” Evan pictured his imaginary friend saying to him, his arms crossed over his chest, leaning against the doorframe. 

“Yeah. I am. You’re not real anyway.”

His birthday was a Tuesday. 

His mom woke him up with a smile and a candle in a store bought blueberry muffin. He hadn’t heard her come home the night before. He had gone over to Jared’s after school; Jared  had dropped him home after eleven, which was technically Evan’s curfew, which had never been enforced because he had no friends. She wasn’t home yet when he flushed his pills. She wasn’t home yet when he dropped off to sleep after one. 

“Happy birthday, sweetheart,” She said to him, and Evan sheepishly blew out the candle. 

“Thanks,” He said, quiet. They weren’t really talking. The last few weeks had been terrible. Like choking down a stale blueberry muffin, all of the crumbs catching in his throat and the mealy taste lingering. They weren’t really talking, but his mom plucked the candle out of the muffin and they broke it in half and ate it. It was a little bit stale, like the air in this room, like the situation with his mom, but Evan didn’t say anything, he just chewed and swallowed. 

He got up. Showered. 

His mom met him downstairs in the kitchen. She had assembled a small pile of carefully wrapped presents at the table, and she sat across from him, her face eager as he opened the boxes. Some new clothes - a new black hoodie he liked, a couple of t-shirts, new jeans. A book he had been looking at but decided not to buy last time he and his mom had gone shopping together. 

His mom sucked in a deep breath. The air felt shivery and strange, like everyone in the room had been crying but they were the only two people and neither of them were crying. Like she was going to say something practiced, rehearsed. “Evan…”

He looked up at her. 

“I’m not going to class tonight. We… I thought we could do dinner? For your birthday?”

“Okay.” 

“I’m going to make sure I’m home by five o’clock. No later. Promise.”

Evan doubted that very much. “Okay,” He said anyway. He let her have that one. 

“If… you can invite Jared too. If you wanted.”

He thought about it, for a brief second. He imagined that scenario, almost normal, he and his mom and his boyfriend all out to celebrate his birthday. 

But then he looked at his mom, with her slumped posture and her lopsided but earnest smile. They were fighting but… she was trying. Maybe he could cut her some slack. She worked hard, it wasn’t like she didn’t care. He had been sort of a jerk to her, a bit. And he’d be leaving for school soon and she was probably sad about that, about how he was growing up and moving on and…  “Maybe just the two of us,” He said softly. “If that’s alright?”

“Okay,” She said, giving him a smile that was just a little bit warmer, just a little more solid. 

“Thank you. For the presents. They’re… really nice. I really like the clothes.” He imagined her, going to the store, holding up shirts and deciding if they would fit, if he would like them. She seemed to have noticed that he liked things with stripes lately. He imagined her, making a note to herself when they went to the bookstore and he picked up and put down that book a bunch of times. She paid attention, even though she wasn’t around much. He was kind of a jerk to her. 

“I’m glad you like them.”

“I really do,” Evan said quietly. He stood up, and pulled his mom into a tight hug. “I love you.” He meant it. He hadn’t said it in a while; the words felt rusty and strange. 

“I love you too.” She hugged him back, just a little too tight. “I. I’ve got some time, before I go to work? I could drive you to school, if you wanted? We could go through Starbucks?”

Evan smiled at her. “Yeah, alright.”

She went through the drive thru at Starbucks, ordered them both grande mochas and pursed her lips slightly but didn’t comment about Evan ordering something with so much milk. He was eighteen today. Basically indestructible. He could take a lactaid and drink some milk. 

School was normal. Sort of boring. At lunch, Jared found him by his locker and said “Come on.”

“What?”

“Let’s go off campus for lunch.”

“Why?” They had never done that before. 

“Because it’s - it’s your fucking birthday, moron, come on before I change my mind.”

Evan didn’t need to be told twice. He followed Jared out to the senior parking lot and into his car and they sped off of campus. Evan felt weirdly, strangely buoyant. 

“Do anything cool now that you’re eighteen?” Jared asked him. 

“Like what? I’ve been in school all day.”

“I dunno. Buy a lottery ticket or cigarettes or something.”

“I don’t smoke,” Evan said, dubious. “Smoking is, like. Is really gross?”

“Well you don’t have to smoke them, it’s just… it’s just doing it. To do it. Like, you know, driving up to Canada to get drunk or whatever.”

“We can’t go to Canada,” Evan said, “I’m having dinner with my mom.”

“God, I’m not serious it’s like, almost a thousand miles away what the fuck. We’d have to drive for like, days.”

“Oh. Right. I mean. I know.”

They got Taco Bell for lunch. Evan broke kosher and tried not to feel guilty about it. After they ate, Jared drove them to 7 Eleven and gave Evan some cash to buy a scratch off lottery ticket. 

Evan scratched off the ticket still standing in the store with a quarter Jared handed him. He’d never played a scratch off lottery ticket before. He was also pretty sure that his mom might be annoyed to hear he had spent his lunch break gambling, but he supposed he hadn’t bought cigarettes so it wasn’t so bad. 

To Evan’s surprise, he won one hundred dollars. 

“Ho-ly shit, dude, we won a hundred bucks!”

Evan blinked at him, bewildered. “ We ?”

“I mean. Come on. I bought the ticket.”

“As a birthday gift,” Evan protested, annoyed. 

“Yeah well I didn’t think you’d win, ” Jared said, rolling his eyes. Evan split the money with him rather than try to fight him on it. It wasn’t worth the fight. Evan handed half of the cash over after the cashier paid his ticket out, and then Jared sort of clumsily kissed him in the parking lot. 

Evan went back to school, riding shotgun in Jared’s car, fifty dollars richer. He went to all of his classes. In AP German his classmates sang an off key birthday song, and Evan tried to assume good intentions, assume none of them were making fun of him. 

Jared drove him home after school. They went up to Evan’s bedroom, since it was only three and they had two hours alone, and they didn’t have sex but Jared did jerk Evan off and that was sort of nice. Afterward, he flopped onto his back on Evan’s bed, all spread out and sighed. Like he was content. Maybe he was?

Maybe Jared… liked him. Maybe that’s why they kept doing this. 

“Did you hear Alana Beck shrieking about the class rankings in the hall earlier?” He asked with his eyes closed. 

“No,” Evan said honestly. 

“I guess something shifted in the top ten and it might have fucked up someone’s scholarship or something,” Jared said nonchalantly. 

“Oh.”

“Yeah, I dunno. I heard that Connor Murphy was at number three, but since he went all psycho and dropped out for two months that’s probably why some people got moved around.”

“Could you not, like, talk about Connor Murphy right now?” Evan said, his voice coming out weirdly high and strange. 

“Why does it matter?”

“Because you talk about him all the time?” Evan said, feeling stupid foolish idiotic for bringing it up. “

“I don’t.”

“You do. You’re, like, obsessed with him. And it’s my birthday and I’d-I’d rather not have to hear it.”

Jared rolled his eyes. “I don’t talk about him that much.”

“You really do,” Evan said, annoyed now. 

“I don’t.”

“Whatever,” Evan said, rolling his eyes. “Forgive me for not loving that you come over here and hook up with me but then talk about other guys.”

“I should go before your mom gets back,” Jared said, ignoring Evan. 

“Yeah. Alright.”

Evan walked him out. Then he sat on the sofa, feeling irritated, and watched the clock. His mom said she would be home by five, but he wasn’t holding his breath. He wasn’t dumb enough to believe she’d actually be on time. 

Five came and went. 

“She’s probably just stuck at work,” Evan’s imaginary friend would say, would volunteer, trying to be reassuring. 

“Shut up,” Evan muttered, shaking his head until his imagination stopped playing up. 

Around five fifteen, Evan’s phone started to ring. He expected it to be his mom, explaining why she was running late, why she wasn’t home yet, but he was surprised to see it was his dad. The last few years he had just sent a card, and Evan would call and thank him for it. 

“Hello?”

“Evan, buddy! Happy birthday! Eighteen, huh?”

“Uh, yeah. Thanks?”

“How have you been celebrating?”

“Oh,” Evan said, sheepish. “Well my friend Jared bought me a lottery ticket and I won fifty bucks?”

“Hey, that’s awesome. Congrats!”

“Thank you,” Evan said. 

“I’ve been thinking about you all day,” His dad went on. “It’s sort of wild that you’re so old, you know?”

“Yeah. Uh. I mean. Yeah, I know.”

His dad let out this sort of half contented sigh. “Oh man, I was such a wreck when your mom went into labor. Did she tell you she ended up having to be the one to drive us to the hospital?”

“No,” Evan said, annoyed. “Why didn’t you drive?”

“My hands were shaking way too bad. She was always the more together one anyway, you know? She was super calm about the whole thing. She had this birth plan and she insisted on following it to the letter.”

“Huh,” Evan said distantly. Maybe it was because he was an only child or because his parents had split up when he was young, but he didn’t think he’d ever heard his dad’s version of the day he was born. In his mom’s, she was so scared, so nervous, but then about twenty minutes before he was born, his mom said she just felt calm. Like this was what she was supposed to be doing. Evan had sort of bitterly thought for years that maybe she had sucked up all of the calm he was supposed to have grown to inhabit and that was why he was such a nervous wreck, but he never said that. His Grandma Norah had been there in the room when his mom announced that she was giving Evan her name. 

“What?” His dad had sputtered, according to his mom’s story. At the time he had a shrimpy little mustache and an affinity for ripped jeans. 

“I kept my name when I got married, and I’m giving it to my little guy,” his mom’s storybook voice said. When he was little, Evan always imagined her all Hollywood pretty, her hair curled and wearing perfect make up. Like the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio. He realized when he got older than people who just gave birth were rarely so glamorous. She was probably sweaty and tired and young looking. She was probably a little too thin for a pregnant person, her smile a little too fragile, too made of glass, too cheery to be real. When his Grandma Norah had asked her why she wanted to give Evan her name instead of his dad’s, his mom’s answer had been, “So he always knows he’s mine.”

Evan was pretty fucking grateful for that. Balls was a stupid last name. 

Carl was still talking. “Yeah, I mean, your mom was pretty pissed at me right after you were born. A couple of my buddies took me out for a few drinks that night, and I didn’t make it back to see you until the next night. Can you believe I had a kid, but I needed a fake ID to get a beer that night?”

“You didn’t stay with her?” Evan asked. 

“I mean, no, like… there wasn’t a lot else to do. You were in the nursery, she was recovering.”

“Oh.” Evan thought that seemed pretty… shitty. 

“I feel bad about it now, but I was a dumb kid. I was only nineteen.”

Evan would be nineteen in a year. His dad’s excuse was paper thin.

“Your mom kicked me out for a few days after that. I ended up staying at my mom and dad’s place. I had to beg to even be allowed to come to your bris.”

“I didn’t know that.” It was true. Evan hadn’t known that. There were photos of the event… many embarrassing photos, far too many pictures of him without a diaper, and they didn’t give away that his parents were fighting. It didn’t give away much of anything, just two smiley young parents and a baby who looked very upset about the proceedings. 

“Yeah, and frankly I still don’t think we should have had one for you. Loss of sensation and all.”

“Uh,” Evan said, because he super didn’t want to discuss his foreskin with his father. 

“Not that I was really there,” Carl went on, thoughtfully. “I totally passed out once they got your diaper off. Your mom ended up having to say the blessing without me.”

“Seriously?” Evan said with half of a laugh. “There’s all these pictures…”

“Yeah, we took them after your Grandma Norah splashed cold water on my face and cursed me out in front of everyone. It was sort of a disaster.”

“Oh.”

“I know, I know, I’m telling you that I was a huge wuss.”

“Yeah, you kind of were,” Evan said, and it came out a bit colder than he meant it to. 

His dad cleared his throat. “Well anyway, bud, I should let you go. I’m sure your mom’s doing something nice for you today.”

“We’re going out for dinner,” Evan said. 

“Good, good. Have a good time. Say hi to her for me?”

“Sure,” Evan said. 

“Happy birthday.”

“Thanks.” 

“Love y-”

Evan hung up before he could finish. He didn’t want to hear it. He felt… angry. Pissed. He felt like he might cry. Or be sick. He felt stupid and small and selfish and childish for being annoyed with his mom for not being around when his fucking dad wasn’t even concious at his bris like. 

His mom drove him nuts but at least she was there to drive him crazy. Not enough, but she was around. She cared enough to like… put him in therapy and try to fix his crazy. Even if he hated it and it didn’t work, it was still a sign that she gave a fuck. 

Why was he such a piece of shit kid? 

He could be annoyed with her and frustrated but fuck he had been such an asshole and she really was just… trying. 

Fuck. 

He was so pissed and he was crying again and he wiped his face, ashamed, even though he was alone and tried to get it together. He crossed his arms over his chest and took a few breaths and tried not to be like this. He pulled at the hem of his shirt, picked at his cuticles, tried to be less frazzled and freaked out and so fucking angry. 

Maybe thirty minutes later, Evan heard a key in the door and turned to find his mom walking in, her eyes a little too shiny. “I’m late,” She said, frowning. “Shit, I know. I know I said I’d be home by five at the latest and I’m late. Shit. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Evan said, looking down. 

“I’m… I’m really sorry sweetheart, Erica was late again and -”

“It’s okay,” He repeated, picking at his cuticle a little more. “I. I don’t care. It’s fine. Five is… is too early for dinner anyway.”

“Is everything… was today… Was it okay?”

Evan nodded. “Uh. After school Jared bought me a lottery ticket? Like… because I can buy one now, so he gave me cash and I. I won fifty bucks?” He edited the truth, a little, and also sort of regretted that he had blown his big talking point for dinner already but… she just looked so sad. And he felt so fucking guilty. “So. That was sort of cool.”
His mom smiled. “Really? And… You and Jared, he took you?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s… oh honey that’s wonderful.” She smiled at him, a real smile, not one of the ones that made her look like she had a toothache. “Is it… Let me just change out of my scrubs? Then we’ll get something to eat?”
“Take your time,” Evan said, trying to smile at her, knowing it wasn’t enough. 

She came downstairs with her hair in a ponytail, wearing jeans and a t-shirt and threw on a leather jacket. “Ready?”

Evan looked down at his dorky sneakers, his new hoodie. “Yeah.”

“You… is everything okay, Evan?”

He tried to straighten out his face. He fixed his shoulders, tilted up his chin. “Fine. I’m good. Let’s go.”

They went out for Italian at this small place once town over. His mom had waited tables there as a job for a while when he was little and now the owner’s mom was a resident at the nursing home where she worked. His mom used to bring him to work with her sometimes, set him up in an unused booth with some crayons while she waited for his dad to come get him. She was still friendly with the owners. They always commented on how grown up Evan was when he saw them now. They also always insisted on giving his mom free dessert. 9

Evan sometimes felt very grown up, but mostly he felt like he was ten years old and trying to make an appropriate Harry Potter costume out of abandoned clothes from his mom’s closet, terrified the gift they had picked out would be laughed at because it wasn’t expensive. Stupid. Little. Insignificant. 

“Did uh…” His mom said after they had sat down, after their server brought them water and bread for the table,  “Your dad told me he was going to call you?”

“He did.” Evan looked down at the menu, his eyes scanning the options, trying to find something he’d enjoy and that his mom could afford. “You had to remind him, didn’t you? That it was my birthday today?”

His mom took a swallow of water and didn’t answer. 

So, yes then. 

“He told me today he went out drinking with his friends the night I was born,” Evan said, the anger back in his voice. His poor fucking mom. “He left you alone. In the hospital.” He had been alone in a hospital. He had been left there by himself too.

“Your grandma Norah stayed,” She said, her voice a little shaky. “I…I’m sorry he told you that.”

“Why didn’t you?” Evan asked. “Why didn’t you ever tell me?”

She sighed. “Because… I never wanted to be one of those single moms who demonized your dad, you know? I thought you deserved to form your own opinions.”

“I’m the reason, right? I’m why he left? Why the two of you split up? He didn’t want to be a parent and… I’m the reason, right?”

His mom gave him this sad, limp imitation of a smile. “No. I don’t…. I don’t even know if there was a reason, you know? Things just. They just didn’t work out.”

“He’s an asshole.”

She gave him a painful looking smile. “Sometimes. He does love you, sweetheart, he just… He’s just… He’s not very good at it.” 

Their server took their orders. Came back a couple of minutes later with soup for them. They slurped, quiet, until it burst out of Evan. 

“I shouldn’t have said you were like him. I shouldn’t have -”

“It’s alright,” His mom said, her voice too bright, too cheerful. “It’s… I understand. I’ve said things that I… Regretted. Too.”

They ate minestrone soup and Evan methodically shredded his paper napkin into a hundred little pieces and there was bread and they tried bites of each other’s food and made light conversation about School and Graduation and the Future, and then suddenly Evan was just sort of overwhelmed, overcome by how much of a fucking asshole he was to his mom. So much so that he couldn't swallow his food, that his eyes suddenly filled and his mouth tugged down involuntarily. 

“Baby? Are you… you’re not choking right?”

Evan shook his head. Swallowed, painfully. Wiped his face, fast and embarrassed. “No. I’m fine.”

His mom didn’t look impressed. 

“I’m… I’m sorry. That we haven’t been getting along. Me and you.”

“Oh,” his mom said, her voice hollow and surprised. She took another bite of her food, her eyes down. “I. Me too. You’re… You’re right, though. I have been pushing you to do things my way, and I’m… I’m not around a lot.”

“I shouldn’t have said that.”

“It’s true though,” She said mournfully, looking down at her pasta so she didn’t have to look at him. “I’m never around. And you’re old enough now to… to make decisions for yourself. I’ve been hanging on a little too tightly lately.”

“I’m sorry,” Evan mumbled again. 

“I am too.”

They went back to eating, quieter now. 

Then, suddenly, “I… Thank you for apologizing Evan.”

“Oh, yeah I mean. Yeah.” He tried to smile at her and tried not to worry about garlic breath or having parsley in his teeth. 

“Do you… do you remember when your dad left?” His mom said suddenly. 

Evan blinked. “Not… not really.”

“It was… it was a February day,” She said. “Your dad had moved out. Temporarily, we said but. Then he came by with a Uhaul truck to grab the last of his things?” She cleared her throat. “I didn’t want you to see it, so I told you not to come outside. But you were in your truck phase and. Well. There was a real life truck in your driveway so. We let you sit behind the wheel and… and beep the horn and everything. You thought it was a game.”

Evan nodded, uncomfortable. Vague memories floated to the surface. His sneakers dangling feet from the pedals. His mom’s face, young and heartbreakingly sad. The horn echoing around their neighborhood. 

“I took you back inside and I… I didn’t let you spoil your dinner, even though maybe that would have been easier. I sent you up to your room and I… The house felt just. So big? And I… felt so small. So damn small… like I had failed in all of these ways, like I had screwed up so much with you and your dad and...” 

Evan swallowed hard. 

“I cried for… hours. Hours and hours, while you played in your room. And then,  I went upstairs to tuck you in, and you sat up, and you were just… so worried? Baby you were just. So scared. And you asked if there was another truck coming to our driveway… A truck that would take mama away.”

He didn’t remember that. He truly didn’t. He remembered the worry and the fear climbing up his throat, he remembered being horrified by the sight of Uhauls for ages, he remembered being scared she was going to go, going to leave him too. But he didn’t remember telling her. 

Maybe it was the last time he was honest with her. 

“I… God, baby, I. I knew there would be moments that I’d miss and space I couldn’t fill and… I knew I wasn’t enough, just me. I’d come up short a million different ways.” She blinked rapidly, wiping her face. “And I did. And I do… And I will.”

“Mom,” Evan said, unable to look at her. 

She took his hand. “But I… I’m not going anywhere, alright? Your mom isn’t going anywhere. I’m staying right here, no matter what. Okay? So… You can count on me, Evan, okay? I’m not… I won’t leave like that. I promise.”

Evan nodded, his eyes stinging. “Okay.”

“So even… Even if we don’t always get along, even when we hate each other… I’m here for you. I’m in your corner even if nobody else is, alright?” She squeezed his hand. “You know that, right?”

“I do,” he said, voice raspy and breaking. 

Maybe… maybe he should tell her. 

About this summer. About the park and the tree. About climbing up and falling…

“I love you so much,” His mom said. 

“I love you too.”

She gave his hand one last tight squeeze and let go. 

His throat closed up. He didn’t say anything. 

He couldn’t tell her. If he told her, he’d break her. He’d break her heart and she didn’t deserve it. She’d hate him for what he had done. Besides, he was going to be a lot better now. He promised himself that. Evan was going to be a lot better now. Because he had to be. 

 

Chapter Text

May

***

JARED

There’s a heatwave at the beginning of May, just in time for the AP tests. 

Connor Murphy has his hair in a bun. 

A goddamn fucking bun. 

Jared can’t keep his eyes off him all through AP Calculus. He sits in the seat behind Connor and it’s intensely distracting, seeing Connor’s hair in a bun. 

Putting his hair up seems to be the only thing he’s doing to combat the heat. Connor’s still in that beat-up old jacket, still in those skinny jeans and big old combat boots, looking kind of like a homeless veteran. 

If Jared looks closely, he’s pretty sure that Connor’s wearing something sleeveless under the jacket, though. Maybe he is feeling the heat after all. 

Scratch that, he definitely is. Jared can see beads of sweat at the base of Connor’s neck, turning the loose bits of hair that have fallen out of the messy bun into curls, which are… 

Intensely distracting. 

Connor fucking Murphy is intensely distracting, which is not helping things at all. 

Everyone seems to have gotten over their curiosity about Connor’s disappearance and subsequent return from school. There are fewer conversations in the hallways, fewer theories and gossip in the cafeteria. 

And Connor’s stopped terrorizing the student body and giving everyone that creepy fucking stare. Instead, he just has his headphones in all the fucking time and keeps his head down. As in, literally, he’s always looking at his boots like they’re the most damn interesting thing on the planet. 

He’s still a fucking freak but people aren’t talking about it anymore. 

Which pisses Jared off. Because they should be. 

Even if he’s a total freak, Connor Murphy is probably the most interesting person in this whole hellhole. 

Connor, with his painted nails and clothes that look like he’s ripped them off a dead body when everyone fucking knows that his parents are loaded. 

Connor, who skips class all the fucking time but still someone ended up in the top ten in the senior class rankings. 

Connor and his fucking distracting manbun, with sweaty curls at the base of his neck that Jared can’t stop fucking looking at. 

He’s interesting. So what? 

It doesn’t mean Jared’s obsessed with him or whatever. 

He still remembers Evan’s birthday when Jared just casually mentioned that Connor had dropped three places in the class rankings and Evan had honest to fuck asked Jared to stop talking about Connor. 

You talk about him all the time. You’re, like, obsessed with him. 

Forgive me for not loving that you come over here and hook up with me but then talk about other guys.

Evan’s completely full of shit. 

Jared doesn’t talk about Connor that much. 

Think about Connor that much. 

He doesn’t even really notice him. Not really. 

Connor’s a total freak. A complete loser. 

It’s not Jared’s fault that the asshole is wearing his hair in a goddamn bun and the curls at the base of his neck are intensely distracting. 

It’s just a huge pain in the ass, because the AP Calculus exam is going to kick Jared’s ass. He knows he’s going to completely bomb it and it’s pissing him off, so his brain is trying to find something else to focus on. 

Ergo, the sweaty curls at the base of Connor Murphy’s neck. 

Fuck. 

Jared’s absolutely going to fail AP Calculus. Maybe he should ask Evan if he can borrow his notes again. Evan doesn’t have AP Calculus at the same time as Jared, but he is taking it, and he’s getting straight As, because Evan doesn’t have a social life so he’s got plenty of time to focus on school or whatever. 

Evan’s notes are incredibly detailed and really well organized. Jared should definitely borrow them again. 

Maybe he’ll go over to Evan’s after school. He knows Evan’s not working this afternoon. They could study, and order pizza, and maybe Jared could convince Evan to blow him again. 

Even though the last time Jared had suggested it, they’d had some dumb argument about how Evan blew Jared way more often than Jared blew Evan, which had resulted in Evan getting all pissy and Jared distracting him with a handjob, because…

Jared doesn’t like it when Evan’s pissed off at him. It’s annoying, and it feels weird and makes the universe feel like it’s off balance, because…

Well, Evan’s always been there. 

Always. 

He’s steady, he’s constant - something Jared can rely on. 

Like… gravity, he supposes. 

The earth will always orbit the sun. 

Evan Hansen will always be around when Jared needs him. 

Well, it’s not exactly a need, exactly. Jared doesn’t need Evan, it’s just…

Easy. 

Convenient. 

And it turns out that when you get the dorky polo shirt off, Evan’s actually way hotter than Jared expected. 

He’s kinda built. Good shoulders. Actual abs, holy shit. And really nice arms. 

Nice hands, too. 

Evan’s getting really fucking good at getting Jared off, it’s kind of mind-blowing. He does this thing where he twists his wrist a little and Jared almost always gets off first before he manages to get Evan off, which makes Evan smile this self-satisfied smile that’s actually really fucking hot. 

The last time they fooled around, Jared told himself he was going to get Evan off first before he came, just to try and even the score a little, but the moment Evan had his hands on him, he just… 

He didn’t stand a chance. 

Who’d have thought that Evan fucking Hansen would be that good at giving handjobs? 

Probably because he’d had to jerk himself off with the other hand when he had the cast over the summer. It made him, like, ambidextrous or whatever. 

Fuck. 

Jared’s staring at the sweaty curls at the base of Connor Murphy’s neck, thinking about how good Evan Hansen is at jerking him off, and not paying any fucking attention to AP Calculus at all. 

He’s definitely going to bomb this test. Fuck. 

Connor’s leaning down to grab something from his bag and it gives Jared a good look at his profile, a good look at that sharp jawline and long neck and those kind of goofy ears. Connor’s a little less pale than he was last month, Jared notices. He’d been, like, so fucking pale that Jared had joked that the reason he’d been missing was because he’d been turned into a vampire. 

Jared’s got a good look at Connor’s neck now. No bite marks, vampire or otherwise. 

Jared likes it when Evan kisses his neck. Likes it a lot, actually. He’s definitely let out some embarrassingly loud moans because of how fucking good it feels. 

He wonders what Connor Murphy would sound like if Jared… 

If someone kissed his neck. 

Fuck. 

Jared is absolutely going to fail AP Calculus. 

 

At lunch, Jared sits with Evan and talks about how he’s finishing up Mass Effect 2 because video games seem like a safe subject and he’s definitely not about to mention how Connor Murphy is wearing his hair in a bun because Evan will definitely be all weird about it and that’s the last thing Jared wants. 

Evan kind of nods and makes affirmative noises at appropriate times, but Jared knows he’s not really listening. Instead, he’s going over his notes for AP English as he eats a sandwich, highlighting sections neatly, putting post-its on things and generally just being totally intense about the whole thing. 

Which is really fucking annoying but also makes sense, because Evan’s taking these AP tests really seriously. Like, Alana Beck-level of serious, except without the whole ‘desperately needing everyone to know how great she is’ aspect. And whatever it is that Evan’s doing, it seems to be working, because Evan’s number 4 in the class now. 

Connor Murphy has somehow worked his way back up to number 5. 

Jared knows this because Donna Matthews, who used to be number 5, is really fucking pissed off about it. 

And he knows that Donna is pissed because she’s bitching about Connor with her friends at their lunch table, which is just behind where Jared and Evan are currently sitting. 

“It’s not even a little bit fair. He’s never at school! He’s always high! It’s bullshit that he’s ranked higher than me!”

“You should totally get Ms Dalton to regrade that chem paper,” one of Donna’s friends chimes in. Jared thinks her name is Tracy. “That grade was bullshit.”

“Totally,” says another girl whose name Jared doesn’t know. 

Donna lets out this bitter laugh. “He was away for two whole months,” she says, sounding more and more annoyed. “Like, what the fuck? I’m supposed to just accept that some freak who probably just like, ran off to do some Jack Kerouac road trip bullshit gets ranked higher than me?”

“Is that where he was?” says another voice, which Jared thinks belongs to Jenna Miller. “I heard he was in rehab.”

“I heard he was in juvie.”

“Maybe he’ll drop dead before graduation,” Donna says bitterly. “Even things out.” 

“Donna, come on,” says maybe-Tracy. “You don’t mean that.”

“He took my spot. He’s a total freak and he took my spot in the top five.”

“Sure,” says the girl whose name Jared doesn’t know but he thinks might be in his history class. “He’s a freak. But, like… real talk, he’s kinda hot, right?”

There’s a moment of quiet before the group starts talking again. 

“Oh my god, someone finally said it.”

“Definitely. He is definitely hot.”

“If he actually washed his hair I guess I could see it?”

“Seriously? Who the fuck cares? He still took my goddamn spot.”

Jared can feel his heart pounding in his chest weirdly, feel his ears heating up. He looks at Evan, who is totally absorbed in his English notes and doesn’t seem to have overheard the conversation. 

He kind of wishes Evan was listening. 

Then it wouldn’t be so weird if Jared asked Evan if he thought Connor was hot. 

Not that he’s going to ask, because Evan’s all weird about Connor. There was that stupid letter at the beginning of the year and then the whole thing where Evan was like, using Connor’s sister as a beard…

Maybe Evan does like Connor. 

Maybe the reason he’d, like, pretended he had a crush on Zoe was because he actually had a crush on Connor. 

Zoe did have those streaks in her hair last year. Evan’s clearly into the whole emo thing. 

Connor’s kinda… not put together enough for the whole emo aesthetic, but he definitely listens to a ton of My Chemical Romance. He’s walked past Jared with his music up loud enough that he could hear what he was listening to a couple of times. 

Jared wonders what Connor would look like with eyeliner. 

Jared wonders what Evan would look like with eyeliner on. 

“I’m going to the bathroom,” Jared manages to say, grabbing his bag. “See you later.”

Evan barely notices him go. 

 

Jared does end up going to Evan’s after school. Evan’s mom’s not home, so they do most of their hanging out at Evan’s, which suits Jared fine because, well, he’s not exactly advertising the fact that sometimes he and Evan Hansen jerk each other off. 

Evan’s become a bit more noticeable these past few months, what with his sudden entry into the top five in the senior class rankings, but only with the people who actually care about academics. Jared, who’s nowhere near the top ten, has had a couple of people he vaguely knows from AP History ask if he thinks Evan might be willing to share his notes, as it’s somehow become common knowledge that his notes are, like, OCD levels of well organized. 

Jared had planned to ask Evan for his notes, make a copy, then make copies of that copy and sell them to his classmates. He’d figured he’d make a decent profit. The only problem is though that Evan’s being weird about Jared copying his notes. He’ll let him look at them, but he won’t let him photocopy them for some reason. 

“I worked hard on these,” Evan says when Jared brings it up, a frown on his face. “And you-you spend all your time playing video games instead of studying. If you actually studied-”

“I have a life,” Jared interrupts, rolling his eyes. He moves closer to Evan on the bed. “Come on, Evan. I’ll make it worth your while.” 

Evan raises his eyebrows. “How?”

Jared grabs Evan’s face in his hands and kisses him, then presses him against the mattress and starts working off his pants. 

One admittedly clumsy blowjob from Jared and a frankly mindblowing handjob from Evan later, and they’re lying on Evan’s bed, trying to catch their breath. 

“I’m still not letting you copy my notes,” Evan says. 

Jared’s a little annoyed, but he’s still pretty blissed out from Evan’s hand expertly jerking him off, so he doesn’t mind so much. 

Part of him suspects that the reason Evan won’t let him have his notes is because Jared’s kind of… not that great at blowjobs. He hasn’t had much practice. 

It’s not like you can suck your own dick. 

And another part might be that Evan’s… well…

Jared doesn’t really exactly advertise that he and Evan are doing whatever it is they’re doing. He thinks Akiva from camp kind of suspects because he said something about them holding hands at the movies one time. This guy Mike who works with Evan at Pottery Barn has gym with Jared and said something about Evan being his boyfriend and Jared kind of laughed and said Evan was just fucking with him, then told Mike all about this girl he met at camp who let him feel her up and neglects to mention that he nearly puked on her shoes when he touched her boob because, apparently, he’s a whole ass gay. 

And okay, yeah, maybe he’s okay with the whole gay thing now, but it doesn’t mean he wants people at school knowing that. People are narrow-minded assholes and he doesn’t want to deal with that shit. He’ll be out and proud at college, whatever, but he doesn’t think it’s anyone’s fucking business here. 

But Evan doesn’t seem to care about that. He doesn’t seem to care if people think he’s gay. 

And let’s be real here - no one really notices Evan Hansen enough to care about who he’s feeling up. 

Maybe the reason why Evan won’t let Jared copy his AP notes is because they’re not, like, an established, public couple. Jared remembers exactly what he said to Evan back when they started hooking up. 

“You’re not bad looking or whatever. I couldn’t exactly, like, take you places or introduce you to my camp friends or anything. Like, no offense, but you dress like a dork and you’re kind of a spaz a lot of the time.”

Which was an objectively assholeish thing to say, but… whatever. Evan’s kind of been less… less of a spaz recently. Fake it til you make it or whatever. 

And high school is nearly fucking over, so…

“Did you, like, want to go to prom?” Jared asks. 

Evan sits up immediately. Turns and looks at Jared, an expression of alarm. “Like, in general, or…”

“With me,” Jared says, the words feeling weird and heavy in his mouth. “It could be like… I don’t fucking know, dude. I’m not saying we show up in matching rainbow tuxes and wave around a fucking flag or anything, but, like… high school is nearly over. We’ll probably never see anyone from this shithole ever again.” He feels a little shaky, but… weirdly confident, somehow. “If you wanted, we could go to prom.”

Evan looks at him, expression suspicious. “Are you fucking with me?”

“No,” Jared says, blinking. “I’m asking you to prom. Don’t make a big deal of it or whatever.”

This slow smile spreads across Evan’s face. 

Jared’s struck with the realization that it’s actually really nice. That Evan has a really, really nice smile. 

“Yeah,” Evan says, still smiling. “Yeah, okay. I’ll go to prom with you.”

On Monday morning, Connor Murphy smells like weed and something fake and vanilla-like.

No one else seems to notice, or think it’s that unusual, but Jared does. It’s been a while since Connor’s shown up to school high. Like, a long while. 

Not since he disappeared. 

The vanilla is new, though. It’s like he’s gotten high then, like, sprayed room freshener all over himself to get rid of the smell, except it hasn’t really worked completely. The vanilla is overpowering, sure, but Jared can still smell weed. 

Also, his eyes are bloodshot and his hair down and messy and he’s, like, clearly kind of out of it. 

At lunch, Evan’s actually paying attention to what Jared’s saying, asking questions about Jared’s weekend and the video game he’s just finished and for once, doesn’t have his damn notes in front of him. Jared asks him why and Evan shrugs and smiles and tells him that he’s studied all weekend and it’s time to give his brain a break. 

He’s smiling a lot today, Jared notices. That same nice smile from the other day when Jared…

When Jared asked him to prom. 

Right. Because Jared asked him to prom. 

Because Jared is going to take a boy to prom. As his date. 

It’s not like they’d be the first same-sex couple to go to prom at this school, but they’re few and far between. Alana Beck tried to set up a GSA, but it completely fizzled, and people just don’t really talk about it. There are a couple of people who are openly gay, but they’re not exactly high up on the school social ladder. They kind of have their own cliques, usually connected to the theatre kids. 

Pretty much all the gays do theatre, Jared’s noticed, but he’s not a theatre gay, and neither is Evan, so…

Right. Okay. Sure. 

Take a boy to prom. Real smart idea, Jared. 

Evan’s asking him more questions about his weekend, and there’s that smile again, and his eyes are kind of bright. A little too bright, maybe, but that’s not really Jared’s problem, he’s probably just doing weird shit with his meds again or whatever. 

He’s really fucking weird. 

Evan is really fucking weird, and he’s been weirder since his birthday, for whatever reason. 

Not Jared’s problem. 

Evan smiles at him at the end of lunch and offers to walk him to his next class, but Jared lies and says he needs to get something from his locker and doesn’t want Evan to be late on his account and heads off in the other direction and disappears into the boys’ bathroom and takes a few deep breaths. 

Fuck. 

The door opens and Jared can smell weed and vanilla. 

Connor Murphy walks in and freezes, looking at Jared and kind of… wrinkling his nose. 

It’s weirdly cute. 

“Shouldn’t be in class?” Jared asks. 

Connor snorts. “Shouldn’t you?”

Jared lets out a harsh laugh. “Hey, I’m not the one who vanished off the face of the earth for months. No one cares about my attendance records.” 

Connor looks at him, blinking a few times, then heads to the sink. Jared watches as Connor pulls his hair off his face and ties it in a bun, then turns on the sink and leans down to wash his face. 

“Sobering up?” Jared can’t help but sneer. “It’s kind of fucking obvious you’re high, dude.”

Connor just keeps splashing water on his face. He’s either ignoring Jared or can’t hear him. 

Jared hates it. 

“So I’m guessing that if you were in rehab like they say it did fuck all,” he continues. “Did you at least learn how to do the downward dog or whatever? Sun salutation? Rehab equals yoga, right?” Jared looks him up and down. “Bet you’re super flexible.”

Connor moves away from the sink, grabs some paper towels and dries his face, not watching Jared at all. 

Jared notices water dripping down Connor’s long neck, pooling at his collarbone that’s peeking out from a too-large t-shirt. Connor’s super thin these days, he’s like a fucking scarecrow. 

He can’t drag his eyes away from the water pooling in Connor’s collarbone. 

Connor seems to notice and looks at Jared, obvious confusion on his face. “What the fuck do you want, Kleinman?”

“Just a casual conversation,” Jared says, trying to sound nonchalant. “Enquiring minds want to know where you’ve been, man.”

“Enquiring minds can go fuck themselves.” Connor’s still kind of staring at him, frowning a little, like he can’t quite figure out what’s going on. 

“Come on, you can tell me,” says Jared, moving a little closer. “What was it? Joined the circus? Started a cult? Shot a man in Reno just to watch him die?”

Connor rolls his eyes. “Think whatever you want,” he says. He moves toward the door. 

Jared has no idea why he does it, but he reaches out and grabs Connor’s wrist. 

Connor freezes, his eyes wide. “What the fuck-”

Before he can finish that sentence, Jared grabs the collar of Connor’s jacket, pulls Connor toward him and leans in to kiss him. 

Connor’s lips are softer than he expected them to be, Jared notices as their lips touch. 

Then Connor is pushing Jared away. 

Connor stares at Jared in bewilderment, something dangerous flashing in his eyes. 

There’s a horrible sinking feeling in Jared’s stomach.

 

“What the fuck was that?” Connor demands. 

Jared tries to laugh it off. “Come on, man, everyone knows you’re gay.”

Better to go on the offensive, Jared decides. He’s expecting denial, anticipating it, and he knows just what to say to that. All the evidence he’s accumulated over the years points to one conclusion.

He’s not expecting Connor’s response. 

“Just because I’m gay doesn’t mean I don’t have fucking standards.” Connor’s voice is razor-sharp, his eyes flashing with anger and what looks like genuine disgust. “Don’t fucking touch me again, Kleinman.”

Connor pushes past him, moving so fast he ends up pushing Jared backward, his hip colliding with the sink painfully. 

The door to the bathroom slams shut and Connor’s gone. There are three thoughts in Jared’s mind, competing for attention. 

Holy shit, Connor admitted he’s gay, I fucking called it. 

What if Connor tells people I tried to kiss him?

Fucking hell, that sink is definitely going to leave a bruise.   


 

EVAN

“Jared asked you to prom?” His mom repeated, her nose wrinkling. “Ugh, weird peanut. Sorry. Prom is exciting!” They were trying a new thing, where they did dinner together and studied together at least once a week. It was actually kind of nice. Evan finally felt like he was doing this right. His notes were well organized, his flashcards neatly labeled, his textbooks filled with post-its and tags to highlight important passages. His mom’s looked about the same, though her handwriting was a little bit more cramped. She’d brought home Thai food from a place near the nursing home, and they were both sitting on the floor by the coffee table eating. 

“Yeah,” Evan said. “I was… I was kind of surprised I guess?”

“That’s awesome honey,” His mom said, smiling even though her mouth was full. “We’ll have to figure out where we could rent a tux for you.”

“I could ask other people where they’re getting them?”

“Good call.” His mom smiled. “I’m excited for you. Prom is exciting.”

“Did you ever go?” Evan asked her, taking another bit of his food. 

“Oh yeah. Your dad took me. It was the early nineties so our hair and outfits were...  something.”

Evan smiled a bit. “Yeah?”

“Very big hair. Both of us.”

Evan laughed. 

“How are you feeling about your AP tests?” She asked. He’d taken a few last year, but this year he had four and honestly it was kind of daunting. 

“Good,” He said, trying to project out confidence. “I’m prepared. I think the one I’m the most nervous about is German? Because part of that exam is oral, so…”

His mom nodded. “I hate talking in front of people too. I get that.”

“So uh. Actually? I want to be… better about that. I was thinking, when I got to Ohio State… Debate is like? A thing there? It could be a-a good way to. Get more comfortable, like? Talking? I’m already a good writer but… it might help me get over my fear?”

His mom’s eyes went a bit round. “Wow. That’s… honey that’s amazing. I think you’d be really great at that. That’s really, really brave.”

Evan felt his face getting warm. “I haven’t done anything yet.”

“I know, but… I’m still proud of you.”

Evan smiled at her. 

“Want to practice some more German for me?” She said. “My high school German is rusty but I’d be happy to try and help.”

“Okay.” Evan passed over his flashcards of vocabulary words and conjugations. 

“Alright, easy one to start with. Conjugate heißen.”

“Okay, so… ich heiße, du heißt, er/sie/es heißt, wir heißen, ihr heißt, sie/Sie heißen.”

“Nice job.”

 

At school the next day, Jared nagged Evan again for his Calc and History notes and Evan, again, told him that he could look at them but not make copies. He wasn’t trying to be a dick who refused to help Jared study, but honestly, Evan had worked hard on these notes and it didn’t seem fair just to give that hard work over to Jared for nothing in return. He had offered to study with Jared a few times, offered to pull up practice problems for Calc or quiz each other on APUSH terms, but Jared normally ended up distracted or distracting Evan, bugging him until they ended up jerking each other off or playing FIFA or turning on The Office. 

Jared seemed to have finally stopped wanting to talk about Connor Murphy. Evan wanted to believe that it was because he had told Jared to shut up about him already, but honestly he thought it had more to do with the huge bruise on Jared’s hip which he had mumbled had come from “that freak Murphy” shoving him in the bathroom. Maybe Connor had finally gotten sick of Jared’s comments. Maybe Jared had finally said something that went too far. 

Whatever it was, Jared had finally shut up about him and Evan appreciated it. 

“I was thinking about getting, like, a blue vest? For prom?” Jared said then. 

Evan’s heart sped up. “Yeah? What-what kind of blue?”

“Eh, maybe like. Dark? I know you like lighter blues. And they look good on you so… we could, like, coordinate without matching?”

“Okay.”

“Please just let me keep these for my study hall next period?” Jared begged, waving Evan’s notes at him.  “Come on. One hour? I won’t make copies, I just want to write some stuff in my notebook. Please?” He gave Evan some comical puppy dog eyes. “Pretty please?”

“Oh my god, fine,” Evan said with a slight laugh. “I’ll need them back by lunch though, okay?”

“You’re the best,” Jared said. “A real star.”

Evan rolled his eyes, but he couldn’t stop himself from smiling. “Whatever.”

Jared walked him to his next class because he was going to the library with Evan’s notes and Evan felt a little like he had swallowed a balloon, like there was this big bubble of happiness inside of him, pushing him upward, making him feel lighter and brighter. He’d finally, like. Gotten it right. He was top five of his class, graduating with honors. He was going to ace his AP tests. A boy liked him and was going to take him to the prom. Considering where the year started, Evan felt amazing. LIke he was on top of the world. Like he was finally, finally doing it. 

He rode that feeling of buoyancy and happiness all through lunch, when Jared returned Evan’s notes as he had promised, and into his afternoon classes. He had a study hall seventh hour, and Evan was thinking about sitting in on one of the other hours of AP Calc just to make sure he had a handle on the lesson from today when Alana Beck cornered him in the hallway by his locker, a thunderous expression on her face. “I expected better from you.”

“I… What?” Evan said, not understanding. 

“Selling your notes? That’s just… You’re profiting off of the insecurities of your fellow AP students!”

Evan shook his head, still not understanding. “I’m not. I’d never sell my notes,” Evan said. “I worked really hard on those, I haven’t even…” His mouth went dry. He’d lent the notes to Jared. He’d given them to Jared for a few periods, because Jared had said the thing about prom and it made him go all weak at the knees and smiley and. 

Evan was an idiot. 

He was such an idiot. 

“Jared… Jared’s the one selling them. Right?”

Alana nodded stiffly. 

“I didn’t know,” Evan said, knowing his eyes had gone all big and his face had gone all red and splotchy. He wiped his sweaty hands on his pants and his heart thumped too loudly in his chest. “I just… I let Jared borrow them. I. Fuck. Am I going to get into trouble?”

Alana looked away, uncomfortable. “I thought it was your idea, I thought…”

“You told somebody?” Evan said, yelped, whatever. 

“I reported it to Mrs. Byers,” She said, her voice only just barely wavering. “Selling notes, that’s academic misconduct.”

“Alana, really?”

“I didn’t think it was fair! I thought- It seemed like you were taking advantage of the other students. I thought you knew, I thought you were part of it.”

“Great,” Evan said. “Fantastic.”

“I thought you knew,” Alana repeated, looking upset. “I’m sorry. I’ll speak with Mrs. Byers for you… I’ll -”

“Don’t bother,” Evan said, slamming his locker shut. “You’re so worried that someone might beat you out for valedictorian that you might have just gotten me into serious trouble, you know that right?”

“I thought you knew,” She said helplessly. 

“I’m not anywhere near passing you up but you just couldn’t stand the idea that I was creeping closer,” Evan shouted at her, getting into her face. “You’re such a paranoid fucking bitch, fuck!”

“I’m - I’m… don’t talk to me that way, I thought you knew!”

“I have to find Jared.” He took off down the hall, looking for Jared at his locker, and when he didn’t find him, Evan headed toward the computer class Jared had that hour. He watched, from the doorway, as Jared pocketed a ten dollar bill and then handed a photocopy of Evan’s detailed and meticulous notes to Brian Harris. 

Evan was going to kill him. 

“Jared,” He said, stepping into the classroom. 

Jared’s eyes went a bit wide, but he tried to cover it with a smile. “Hey man, what’s up?”

“Can I talk to you please?” Evan ground out, his hands gripping too tightly on the straps of his backpack, his knuckles turning white. 

“Uh, I kinda gotta, like, go to class -”

“Now.”

Jared shut up and followed Evan into the hall. Evan tried to take a nice, calming breath but all that did was make him feel like he wasn’t breathing quite right, like he did when he used to have panic attacks and he pushed that thought out of his head. Not now. “You copied my notes.”

Jared smiled, “I wouldn’t. I said I wouldn’t -”

“I just fucking watched you sell them to Brian Harris!” Evan said, his voice quieter. “Alana Beck went to the guidance counselors about that. That’s-that’s academic misconduct, that could fucking tank my chances of graduating in the top ten - they could revoke my acceptance to colleges. I could get suspended .”

“Whoa, okay, back up. It’s not a huge deal. We’ll just play dumb and I’ll cut you in on half of the profit. Alana Beck is paranoid, nobody’s gonna believe her -”

“Seriously?” Evan hissed. “You might have just- just ruined everything for me, and you think I want the money ?”

“I mean, everyone knows you could use it man, like, you’re pretty broke -”

“Shut up!” Evan shouted, attracting looks from other people in the hall and fuck, now everyone was looking at him, everyone had stopped, everyone was staring and his heart was going too fast, his breathing was wrong, fuck fuck fuck. “I can’t believe you Jared, this is… this is beyond uncool.”

“Oh lighten up, it’s not like you got caught cheating or something.”

“Lighten up?” Evan repeated, angrier now. He shoved Jared’s shoulder. “Lighten up? You’re making money off of the people in our classes being scared and using my work to do it! That’s bullshit!”

“Fuck you, Evan,” Jared said. “God I should have known you’d spaz out about this. What did you go off of your meds or something?”

Evan felt like he had been stabbed in the lungs because all of the air seemed to whoosh out of him. He opened and closed his mouth a few times. It hurt hurt hurt hurt. He thought… he’d thought...

“You’re such a fucking freak, Evan, I mean. Jesus. This isn’t that big of a deal and you’re, like, having a fit about it.”

“But... Why would you do that?”

“Because, you’re like genius smart but too dumb to take advantage of it,” Jared said. “Why do you think I’ve been hanging out with you all this time? My grades could have used the boost.”

“I… But. We’re...We’re supposed to go prom,” Evan said in this stupid, small, little kid like voice. It was humiliating, but that’s what he said, that’s what came to mind immediately, that he was supposed to go to prom with Jared...

“You think I’m actually going to go to the prom with you after this?” Jared said, sounding disgusted. “You’re so fucking weird, man. You’re too weird. Too fucked up. How would that make me look? I can’t take a fucking dude to prom.”

“We’re friends?” Evan said desperately, clinging to it stubbornly.  “We’re, I mean, we’re more than -”

Jared rolled his eyes. “We’re not really friends, we’re family friends.”

“You… I…” Evan felt like he was choking, he felt like he couldn’t breathe, like something was sitting on his chest. He felt like he was having a panic attack even though he didn’t have those anymore. He felt stupid, so stupid, so bone breakingly stupid for trusting Jared. Jared didn’t want him. Jared didn’t like him. Jared… Jared didn’t even like him. He didn’t even like Evan. 

“I can’t believe you thought I was serious,” Jared said stubbornly. “I mean, obviously I was fucking with you.”

Evan couldn’t breathe right he was choking on his disappointment, on his hurt, because of course of course of course. “You’re full of shit,” he said, no real power behind his words. His voice was paper thin, pathetic. “You’re so full of shit.”

“I was fucking with you,” Jared repeated, crossing his arms over his chest. 

“I could tell people you know,” Evan threatened, his voice as empty as the threat. 

“Tell them what?” Jared said. “That I felt sorry for you -”

“Nobody but you gives a shit that you’re gay, Jared,” Evan said, his voice low, shaky. “Everyone already knows. Your pathetic crush on Connor Murphy is so obvious! Everybody can tell! You’re always talking about him, staring at him. You’re so fucking obvious -”

“Yeah? Well nobody gives a shit about you, period,” Jared snapped. “If you didn’t show up for the rest of the year, nobody but me would even fucking notice.”

He was right. Jared was absolutely, one hundred percent right. “Fuck you,” Evan said, his eyes stinging.

“Fuck you!” Jared returned. “Asshole!”

Evan turned and started walking, toward the computer lab, toward a place he knew would be empty and quiet where he could freak out in peace. His insides felt totally hollow, scooped clean, like someone had vanished his organs and replaced them with an empty, achy feeling. Jared didn’t like him. Jared didn’t want him. Jared had used him. 

His mom was fucking right. 

Damn it. 

Fuck. 

She was fucking right.

Damn it. Damn it damn it damn it he was going to fucking cry, he hated fucking crying, shit. Fuck. 

Evan sank down into a seat, his hands and arms shaking, his legs barely holding him up and put his head down on the desk, covering his face. He cried. He tried not to but he couldn’t be helped, he was overwhelmed, he was...

He’d been wrong. 

Evan had been so fucking wrong. 

Jared didn’t like him. Jared had used him. For handjobs and studying and Evan was… so stupid. Jared had sold his notes to people, Jared wasn’t going to prom with him, Jared didn’t even like him, Jared thought he was too weird and he was right he was so right Evan was too weird. Evan was stupid he was so fucking stupid he couldn’t believe how stupid he was. 

Jared didn’t like him. Jared had never liked him. Evan was unbelievably stupid. He felt like he couldn’t breathe, like he was being strangled from the inside, like his heart was going to fall out of him, just drop from his ribs and skitter wetly across the linoleum. 

Jared didn’t like him, didn’t want him, because he was too weird, because there was nothing there to even want, just a shell with hands and sellable notes on AP Calculus. 

Evan was so stupid stupid stupid how stupid could he be?

Fuck. 

He tried to slow his breathing, he tried but he couldn’t, he was breaking apart. Fuck fuck fuck, he was so stupid, how could he had been so stupid, why had he given Jared those notes? He had specifically decided not to give him the notes for this exact reason and Jared had fucking manipulated Evan with the prom shit because Evan was just that easy to fuck with, that easily played. He was that obvious that desperate, he wanted to be liked so badly that he believed it. He had believed it, like a chump. Like a sucker. He had wanted it to be true so fucking badly. That he was likable. That he was worth something. 

The door of the computer lab opened. Evan wiped his face, looking up, and feeling his mouth hanging open because Connor Murphy was walking into the computer lab.

He’d fucking been here before. 

The universe was fucking cruel.

“What happened to your arm?”

Evan turned back to his computer, logging in, not looking at Connor, pressing his mouth closed, trying not to sniffle or make any noise or turn his head to reveal his red eyes and wet cheeks. He couldn’t have Connor Murphy seeing him crying in a fucking computer lab, he had other things to deal with, like the fact that Alana Beck had told the guidance counselors he was selling his notes or the fact that he had made an appointment to get measured for a tux that he’d have to cancel like the fact that not a single person in this school would notice if he disappeared tomorrow. 

He heard a chair roll back behind him, in the back of the lab. Evan had the distinct feeling that Connor was watching him, he could feel Connor’s eyes on him, and he did his best to keep his shoulders straight. He did his best not to shake not to cry more, fuck. 

Fuck. 

Fuck. 

He wasn’t getting better. He wasn’t any less… broken. He was faking it, he was totally faking it and everyone knew, everybody could see. 

But nobody cared. They didn’t look at him. He didn’t matter. Nothing he said, nothing he did mattered to anyone. He was pathetic. He was pathetic and he had gotten his stupid hopes up over Jared, pinned them all on this stupid normal thing, this stupid idiotic ritual he never thought he would be included in and he got his hopes up, he started to believe in himself, to like himself just a little, and he thought maybe he would finish high school like a regular kid, not someone who was just fucked up and scared of his own shadow. He let himself believe he was okay and normal and could do regular stuff, he got caught up in his own bullshit, he let himself believe stuff that wasn’t real because it wanted it to be real. Evan convinced himself that Jared liked him because he wanted to be liked. He just wanted to be liked, to be normal, and he made himself such an easy mark, it was a miracle nobody else had fucked with him except. 

Oh. 

Right. 

You have to get noticed to be intentionally hurt. 

Evan was just totally unintentional. 

He started at the blank google page. 

Nobody cared if Evan was alive or dead. 

He really thought things were getting better, but it was all bullshit. It was all garbage he had made up in his head, started to believe. He was fucked up in the head, he was broken and fucked up and nobody wanted anything to do with him because why would they? He was a freak, weird and strange and twitchy and broken. 

Google flickered in front of his face. 

He put his fingers on the keys of the keyboard. Started to type. 

Most lethal suicide methods.

The school firewall kind of freaked out and Google gave him the suicide lifeline number but he got there before long. He started to read. He’d have to plan better this time, he’d have to be absolutely certain he wouldn’t fuck it up this time. 

Fuck. 

No wonder he didn’t die this summer. He’d only been forty, fifty feet up. This website said he should have been at least a hundred and fifty feet up. Fuck, no wonder. Evan was an idiot. He was so stupid.

Was there anywhere he could get to that might be that tall around here?

Fuck, why had he flushed all of those pills? Fuck fuck had he really thought things were going to get better for him? He should have saved them for an exit strategy and now he was going to have to come up with something else. 

He couldn’t shoot himself. No access to a gun. 

He couldn’t cut his wrists because he’d chicken out, he was a wuss when it came to pain, he wouldn’t get deep enough…

Fuck. He was just going to fail again. He was just going to be this way. 

His eyes flooded again. He didn’t know when he had crossed over from angry, from furious to just… finished. Evan wanted to be done. He didn’t want to feel like this anymore. He didn’t want to feel anymore. 

He glanced carefully back at Connor Murphy, making sure he wasn’t looking at him, but he was focused totally on his screen, wearing headphones. He wasn’t going to look at Evan. He didn’t like or know him. He wouldn’t care if Evan was sitting here, researching ways to kill himself, trying not to keep crying. 

Connor Murphy wasn’t going to care if Evan disappeared tomorrow. 

Whatever. 

He spent the entire period deciding how he ought to kill himself when school ended only to get trapped by the enormity of that. If he killed himself, someone would get stuck dealing with his body… If he killed himself, it might hurt. It might not work. Again. He needed something totally lethal but he didn’t have access to the best options. The bell rang and he should get up, should go to his next class or walk to his house or do… something but Evan was frozen. He watched as Connor Murphy stood up and walked out of the computer lab. 

Once the coast was clear, Evan got to his feet. He slowly started to walk toward his locker, thinking maybe he should clear it out, or something -

The PA system crackled to life. “Evan Hansen, please report to Mrs. Byers’s office. Evan Hansen to Mrs. Byers’s office.”

Fuck. 

Fuck fuck fuck, Connor Murphy told the guidance counselor what he was googling or this was about his supposed academic misconduct or because he had shoved Jared a little earlier fuck. No matter what it was bad it was bad he fucked up he fucked up he fucked up he needed a do over, he needed to wake up in his bed this morning, redo this whole fucking day.

Evan was probably going to get locked up or fucking expelled or something -

He walked on shaky legs to the guidance counselor’s office. Jared and Alana were both sitting in the waiting area. Evan averted his eyes, and Mrs. Byers poked her head out of her office and called him in first. 

“Come on back Evan.”

Evan followed her, his arms and legs feeling kind of numb, like he’d broken them all, like he was made of rubber, unreal, he wasn’t real this wasn’t real. He was fading out or blinking in and out of existence or he was dreaming or he was a blip in the matrix or the moment in between awake and asleep he was fake he was faking it. 

“You can sit,” She said and Evan sat robotically, blinking too much, pulling at the hem of his shirt as he did. “Okay,” Mrs. Byers said with a sigh. “So. This whole notes selling thing. I want to hear your side of it, alright?”

Evan took a shaky breath. “I. I didn’t know about it. Jared t-t-took them from me and made copies. I wasn’t a part of it. I wouldn’t do it… I’d have let people borrow them, but I’d never take their money. I would never sell them.”

Mrs. Byers nodded. “I heard from a few other students? That you were concerned about money after the issue with your AP test check…”

“I didn’t do this,” Evan said, feeling as his eyes just welled up again. He’d lose his spot in the top ten. He’d lose his spot at Ohio State. He’d lose everything, fuck.  “I didn’t want this at all. I wouldn’t do that. You have… you have to believe me.”

“Okay,” She said, frowning slightly. Mrs. Byers pushed a box of tissues toward him. “Do you need a moment?”

Evan took a tissue. Wiped his eyes and shook his head.

“Are you alright, Evan?”

He nodded. He said, “I’m fine.” He was going to go home and then kill himself. “Just… I. I didn’t do this, I would never do this.”

“You’re a good kid. I believe you. Why don’t you sit for a minute? I’m sure this has been a lot to deal with -” 

“No, no, really. I’m-I’m fine . I’m okay.”

“Well, thank you for your honesty today. I’m sorry about all of this. You’re free to go.”

“Okay.”

He stood up shakily and walked past Jared and Alana again as he left the office. Evan almost smacked into Nick Schultz as he left the guidance office. Nick tried to say something, he looked like he had just been standing there, but Evan couldn’t stop. He just kept going, not bothering to go to his last two classes, he just walked outside. He fished his cellphone out of his pocket and dialed his mom’s number. “Hi you’ve reached Heidi Hansen. I’m not able to take your call, but please leave me a brief message, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Have a good day.”

Typical. 

Her whole speech about not going anywhere was all well and good but she never answered her fucking phone. 

He should just… walk into traffic or something. 

He shouldn’t be here, he shouldn’t exist, he was a mistake, a blip, a smudge that couldn’t be rubbed out. 

He wanted to die he wanted to die he wanted to die but he had no way of making himself dead. He had no means. Evan was not in any real danger despite the fact that he wanted to be.

Evan walked home from school. It was hot and the walk was nearly three miles and when he got home he was too exhausted to kill himself so instead he went to his bedroom and slept. 

His mom shook him awake at eight o’clock. “The school called me. You skipped your last two periods? Is everything okay?”

“Sorry, I tried to call you,” Evan said, sitting up and not looking at her. “I… bad day.”

“What’s going on?” She asked gently. 

“Jared… Jared asked to borrow my notes for a couple of classes. He-he made copies of them and started selling them to other people at school…” It broke him apart. It reduced him to rubble, it destroyed him and he started to cry. He explained about the notes, about the prom, about Alana Beck and the guidance office and how he had stupidly, idiotically thought Jared liked him, thought Jared was his boyfriend when he was just using him. 

“Oh… sweetheart,” She said, pulling him into a tight tight tight hug. She rubbed his back. He felt so stupid, so small, and he rested his head against her bony shoulder and cried and cried. “I’m so sorry.”

“I’m… I’m so stupid,” Evan said, trying to breathe. “I am such an idiot.”

“You’re not,” She said. “Jared… Jared Kleinman is a spoiled little shit who took advantage of you.”

That just made Evan cry harder. She didn’t even know the half of it. She didn’t even…

It all poured out of him. About how he and Jared had been hooking up, how Evan had nearly slept with him because he thought Jared liked him, how he told Evan today that he wasn’t even his friend, how stupid and small it all made him feel. How Jared used prom to convince Evan to give up his notes, and then turned around and sold them. He couldn’t stop it from spilling out of him, he couldn’t keep it in anymore, he told her everything about Jared.

“I didn’t know,” His mom said softly. 

“Mom, I don’t… I don’t have any friends at school,” He said in this pathetic, breaking voice. “Nobody even notices me. Nobody talks to me... “

“But I thought... “ His mom pressed her lips together. “What about… what about the kid who signed your cast? Connor, right? I thought you said… You said he was your friend? You have English together, I thought?”

“I lied,” Evan cried, tears spilling down his cheeks. “I lied and I… I’m sorry. I didn’t. I didn’t want you to know how-how much of a loser I am.”

“But he signed your cast,” His mom protested, her eyebrows knitted together. “He signed your cast…”

“We’re not friends… He. Connor just. On the first day of school, Jared. Jared called him a school shooter and a-a freak, and then Connor thought I was laughing at him. He. He shoved me in the hallway. He came to-to apologize… and I. I think he only signed my cast later because he kind of… felt bad for me. We don’t talk. We’re not friends. We just have English together. I’m sorry I lied I just… it made you so happy that someone, that someone signed it? I didn’t want you to feel worse because I’m such a shitty kid.”

“Evan…”

“I hate this. I don’t know how to-to talk to people, to make friends, and it’s probably not going to be any better in college, I’ll probably just… screw that up too and end up dropping out because I’m such a fucking loser.”

“Oh honey, I am so sorry.” His mom smoothed back his hair, like he was still small, like he was little and running a fever not like he was eighteen and taller than her now. “I love you so much baby,” She said. “I’m so sorry this happened.” She scratched the back of his neck with her fingernails, a weirdly comforting thing that she hadn't done since he was very very young. “But I promise you, one day? This isn’t going to matter. Some day it won’t even register to you. High school sucks and in ten years you won’t even remember it, okay?”

“But it’s happening now,” Evan said, soggy and sad. “It’s happening right now.”

“I know.” She kissed his forehead. “Okay. Me and you? We’re going to play hooky tomorrow, okay? No work, no school. We’re just… we’re gonna stay home and just. Relax. Yeah? Take time to just breathe.”

“But I can’t miss school. The AP tests are next week…”

“I’m not going to make you skip school,” His mom said gently. “But you’ve worked really hard and I think you’re ready for these tests. You deserve to cut yourself a break. From school, from Jared and all of that.”

Evan swallowed hard and nodded. 

He did as he was told. His mom told him to go to bed, so Evan crawled under the covers and lay there for hours and tried to figure out a way to die. And then he opened his eyes and it was morning, and Evan was still alive. He drank a lot of water the next day, as his mom prompted. They watched Spider-Man and a lot of HGTV and sat around in their pajamas. His mom kept touching his shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze. He eventually stopped crying. He eventually was able to meet his mom’s eyes. 

It just kept hitting him, in waves. 

How much he had been lying to himself. About Jared. About how Jared must like him, must want him, because why would he keep coming back if he didn’t like Evan? But the truth was there, under the surface, and Evan had just been avoiding it the whole time. Jared didn’t like Evan. He had a very obvious crush on Connor Murphy that he tried to cover with snide remarks and outright bullying. He kept coming back to Evan because Evan would never say no to Jared, he would never deny him anything he wanted because Evan was desperate and pathetic and obvious and eager to please. 

And Jared knew what buttons to push. 

But just because Jared knew who he was, it didn’t mean he cared. He very obviously, very clearly did not care about Evan. 

He didn’t want Evan and Evan had just so desperately wanted to be wanted, so desperately needed to be liked…

Oh god. 

He’d almost slept with him. 

He’d wanted to sleep with Jared. 

Evan felt sick. He’d never slept with Jared, thank god. Fuck. He was so transparent. He might as well hang a sign on his back that said “will do anything if you’re even a little nice to me. Literally anything.”

He would have done it. 

He wanted to believe it so badly. He wanted it so badly. This thing other people had, this thing where other people had each other, had other people. He wanted it. He wanted to be like them, to be normal, to be able to do what everyone else could. 

To be normal. Happy. Like real people were. 

He wasn’t a person, he was a shitty attempt at a facsimile, two dimensional and worn down and tired. So damn tired. 

Around three o’clock his mom made a run to the store, “for provisions” she said, and she came back about an hour later with lots of frozen food and ingredients for lemon cookies, which she hadn’t made in years. 

“So…” His mom said as she put the first batch in the oven. “You got a packet on housing. From Ohio State.” She produced a housing catalogue from a pile of mail and handed it to him. 

“Oh,” Evan said, hollowly. He paged through it listlessly. 

“Evan,” His mom said, taking a seat at the table across from him. She took his hands. “I… I know yesterday was hard. I know it was. But we… we need to talk about school. It’s… it’ll be tight, but we can look at all of your financial aid stuff over the weekend? Figure out, like. Loans and grants. See if you can apply for a few more scholarships.” 

Evan nodded. Swallowed hard. 

“Unless.” His mom stopped. 

“Unless what?”

“I… I’m worried that made you’re not. Ready. To go off to school. You said yesterday -”

“I was upset.”

“I know. And it’s your choice, obviously. But if you’re not ready. If you’re not one hundred percent sure… Maybe you could defer, until next year. Go to community college around here. Work and save up.”

“Oh,” Evan said. He had an out. She was giving him an out. An out he might have been looking for but he hadn’t realized. 

“Just… just think about it. We don’t have to decide anything today, alright?”

“Alright.”

“I… Did you want me to call Dr. Sherman?” She asked him then, her voice so careful, so gentle. “I know you said you didn’t want to go anymore but…”

“I’m alright. Thanks.”

 

His mom nearly fell asleep watching Iron Man, and Evan realized she probably wasn’t sleeping well because of him, because of Evan’s stupid garbage, so he shut the movie off and told her she ought to go to bed. 

She kissed the top of his head, told him she loved him, and headed up the stairs. Evan sat there, blankly staring at the television as the light faded from it. His mom was giving him an out. 

Evan realized it wasn’t the only out he could take. 

He went upstairs and into the bathroom. He brushed his teeth. Then he pulled open the medicine cabinet. Inside there was a leftover bottle of hydrocodone that Evan had been prescribed when he broke his arm. 

Evan doubted that a mere seven generic vicodin could kill him. They didn’t even have garage he could pull his mom’s car into. Not that he could drive a car at all. And that just pissed him off. There was nothing in this house that could kill him. Nothing at all. 

Nothing but him. 

Evan picked up the bottle of vicodin.

Evan walked downstairs and put on his dorky sneakers. He quietly let himself out of the house and locked the door behind him. He would walk to the store, buy a bottle of over the counter sleeping pills and some water, and he’d go somewhere and take them… She couldn’t be the one to find him, that’s why he’d picked the park, he couldn’t let his mom be the one...

Evan could just be done. 

He could be done. He was giving himself an out. 

Evan began to walk out of the neighborhood, toward the nearest pharmacy. 

It was really dark. So dark. 

Evan imagined it would be like this, to die. To welcome the darkness. He thought, inexplicably, about that line in Harry Potter about embracing Death like an old friend. Evan felt as if it was so close, so near, so real it might be just like that. 

Not that he had friends, old or otherwise, to be sure. But he had imagined Death so much, so often, it felt familiar. Like a memory or a well worn paperback… like an imaginary friend. Maybe that’s who he kept conjuring in his mind when shit went wrong. Death. 

A car horn sounded, headlights flashed. Evan froze. 

“Jesus, kid!” 

Evan blinked. He was in the middle of the street. Inches from the front bumper of a car, a car that nearly hit him. The man inside, gray hair, wearing a tie and looking a bit haggard, tired. The sort of person who probably shouldn’t look as old as they did. Evan thought he looked familiar but he couldn’t place him. He got out of the driver’s seat and Evan had a strange flash that he might hurt him, might kill him. He looked angry, pissed, and Evan didn’t flinch away. He sort of hoped.

“Are you alright?” said the man in the car. His forehead was wrinkled and he was frowning. He had bags under his eyes, a twisted frown where his mouth belonged. “I didn’t - I almost didn’t see you.”

“F-fine.”

“You need to watch where you’re going,” said the man, voice stern and Evan thought of television fathers and their “I’m not mad I’m disappointed” voices. He thought about what his own father would say if he knew Evan had almost gotten hit by a car. “I could have killed you.”

“S-sorry.”

The man frowned, a deep frown. He sighed. Pushed a hand through his short, gray hair. “Do you need a ride home or something?”

“I’m okay.”

“It’s late,” The man said, still frowning. His hair looked almost white in the brightness of the headlights. He looked familiar but Evan didn’t know why. “If you were my kid, I… I wouldn’t want you out here by yourself.”

“I’m alright. Thank you, sir.”

“Get home safely,” The man said. He got back into his car, drove off slowly. “And watch where you’re going, please?”

Evan went home. He didn’t buy pills or kill himself. He crawled into bed and went to sleep.


ALANA

Alana did not have a date to the prom, but she did have someone to attend with, and she thought that certainly meant something. Sabrina insisted that Alana join her group. She couldn’t be one hundred percent certain that it wasn’t a pity invite, but she and Sabrina had been spending more time together this school year.

Alana spent the morning of prom helping to decorate at the hotels where it would be held. She assembled nearly one hundred tissue paper lanterns and flowers, strung up twinkly lights, and steamed chair bows all before noon when she absolutely had to leave for her hair appointment. She had her braids done again the week before, so it was just styling her hair into an updo. Alana collected her purse, preparing to bid the rest of the prom committee goodbye before she left, when she heard Stephanie Wheeler’s laugh. “Careful now, make those streamer straight, straight, straight! Can’t upset Alana! Fucking dictator.”

Alana froze. 

“Can you believe she beat me out for valedictorian?” Stephanie went on, still laughing. “And got that full ride to Dartmouth. I mean… You know why , right?”

The room went quiet. 

“Come on Steph, don’t start that shit again,” Donna Matthews said. 

“I just mean… You don’t see any of the other kids getting scholarships like that.”

“You mean the white kids,” Clarke Kelly said, her voice a little lower than normal. 

“Hey, you said it,” Stephanie interjected. 

“Because you implied it,” Clarke retorted. “You’re just pissed off because you got waitlisted at Dartmouth. I heard you complaining to Jenna about it.” 

Alana hadn’t known that. Stephanie had refused to contribute any data to her statistical analysis. She bit her lip, feeling a huge pit opening up in her stomach. She wanted to disappear into the floor. She knew Stephanie Wheeler wasn’t exactly her friend, but she considered her to be at least a friendly acquaintance… Academic rivals, certainly, but not… 

“Whatever,” Stephanie started. 

“No, not whatever,” Donna said. “You’re being racist and you need to cut that shit out.”

“It’s not racist, just true!” Stephanie went on, “Come on, you guys agree that Alana’s… a bit much, right? After that academic misconduct stunt two weeks ago and all her bitching about making sure the stars hung properly this morning?”

“Reporting Evan Hansen was pretty messed up,” Clarke agreed, “But you’re still being a bitch -”

Alana swallowed hard and left the reception hall without a word. She couldn’t show her face, she couldn’t look at them she couldn’t she couldn’t. Her grandma always used to tell her she needed to work three times as hard as all of the other kids in her classes because she was different, because people would say she didn’t deserve what she had earned, and she was so right and Alana had been naive to think the other smart kids at school were somehow above being racist, bigoted, assholes

She wiped her eyes and climbed into her papa’s car, which he had lent her for the day. She couldn’t… there was no way she could go tonight. She absolutely could not go to prom tonight and sit across from Stephanie and paste on a smile now that she knew what Stephanie really thought of her. 

She had a text from Sabrina. Alana had sent her a sneak preview of the decorations for tonight. “Looks amazing!” Sabrina added a photo of her hair all in curlers, her face devoid of makeup, her bright pink tongue sticking out of her mouth. “I’m still a work in progress.”

Alana swallowed again and called Sabrina, who picked up on the second phone. “Beautification central, Sabrina Patel speaking.”

“Hi Sabrina, it’s Alana Beck.”

“I know it’s you, Alana, that’s why I answered all goofy,” Sabrina said with a laugh. “So the limo is going to come to my house around four? Did your dads want to come to my house or-?”

“I can’t go,” Alana said, her tone clipped. “I realized that I have an important deadline for the United Nations Youth Council -”

“Did something happen?” Sabrina asked, her voice gentle. 

“No, of course not. Like I said, I have a deadline -”

Sabrina sighed. 

And Alana spilled everything. “I overheard Stephanie Wheeler call me a dictator and imply that I only got into Dartmouth because I’m black.”

“Fuck,” Sabrina said. “I’m so sorry that happened.”

“I… I can’t see her tonight. She’s riding in our limo.”

“Like hell she is,” Sabrina said, her voice oozing venom. “I’m the one who booked the limo, and there is no way she’s riding with us after that. I’m going to call her right now -”

“It’s fine. I don’t want to make this a bigger deal… I just won’t go, it’s fine, I’m not exactly the prom type anyway. I just wanted the planning committee on my resume.”

“Alana Beck, you are going to the prom,” Sabrina said, her voice firm. “Otherwise the Stephanie Wheelers of the world win.”

“But-”

“No buts,” Sabrina said. “I’m calling Stephanie and telling her that her racist ass can find her own ride, and you and I are going to have the time of our lives. Got it?”
Alana didn’t think she would be able to argue if she wanted. “Yes ma’am.”

“Alright. Don’t you have a hair appointment?”

“Yes. I do.”

“Girl, go get your hair done while I deal with Stephanie, okay? Don’t worry about her. She’s a bitch.”

“Alright.”

Alana climbed into her papa’s car. She took a few soothing breaths. 

Sabrina was handling Stephanie. Because she was Alana’s friend. And Alana was going to attend the prom with her friends and she was going to have fun. 

Damn it. 

Alana drove herself to her hair appointment, and her normal stylist Keisha twisted her hair into an elegant knot, weaving silver sparkles into her hair to match her powder blue dress. She drove home and her dad made a big show of faking a heart attack because she was “such a knockout” and her papa started taking pictures. It didn’t erase the awful sour taste in her mouth from Stephanie’s words, but Alana could swallow a little more easily. 

She headed up to her bedroom and started to do her makeup. On principle, Alana didn’t really support the cosmetics industry, but she figured a small amount on special occasions was acceptable for her standards. She struggled with her eyeliner, but eventually managed to get it to look right. She wore a soft mauve lipstick and then put on her practical, low silver heels. 

When Alana came down the steps, her papa started to cry and blubbered on about how “grown up” their little girl was already. Alana and her dad privately had a wager regarding how long it would take him to cry on her graduation day (Alana had money on immediately in the morning, but her dad was holding out for when her papa saw her in her cap and gown). She took photos with each of her parents in turn before they drove her over to the Patels’ house. 

Sabrina wore a bright yellow dress that was tight through the bodice and poofed out at the waist; Alana was fairly certain it would be considered a ball gown. Her hair was up, curls falling elegantly over one shoulder. She looked beautiful. 

Alana had never really considered whether or not Sabrina Patel was beautiful before. She didn’t know if that would be inappropriate. They were, after all, very close acquaintances.

No. Friends. Alana and Sabrina were friends. 

Stephanie was noticeably absent from their group photos and limo ride, but nobody said anything about it, other than Siobhan who pulled Alana aside and said, in an extremely stunted voice, that she was “so sorry for Steph being such a moron” before breezing into a totally different topic: the upcoming AP tests. Everyone expressed their nerves, particularly about AP Calc and APUSH.  Clarke Kelly brought Nick Schultz as a date. Alana was a little surprised; she had never seen them together before, but they had matched his vest and tie to the aqua of her dress. She must have looked surprised because Nick spoke up. 

“We’re in IT club together,” Nick said, smiling. 

Clarke nodded. “We’ve got our big end of the semester LAN party coming up! Should be super fun.”

“Yeah,” Nick agreed. His smile drooped a little. “Speaking of APUSH… Glad we dealt with the Kleinman debacle before prom.”

Alana felt as if she had swallowed a stone. A large, heavy stone. 

“Ugh, that whole thing is a shitshow,” Siobhan said, shaking her head. “What was that kid’s name? The one who was selling his notes?”

“Evan Hansen,” Alana said softly. 

Sabrina looked at her sharply. “Alana?”

Clarke frowned deeply, looking at Nick quickly, then at Sabrina. “Alana’s the one who got Evan in trouble. She’s who reported him for academic misconduct.”

Alana blinked a few times rapidly as Sabrina looked at her, her mouth open in shock. “I. I didn’t know. They were Evan’s notes. I… I thought it was inappropriate for him to be making a profit by selling them. I didn’t realize Jared had taken them from him until I had already reported it to Mrs. Byers.”

“Wait, Jared took them from Evan?” Siobhan said, looking shocked. “Like he stole them? He told me that Evan said he could copy them… I almost bought the notes for APUSH.”

“Oh Alana,” Sabrina said, no longer smiling. “Why would you tell Mrs. Byers?”

“I apologized,” Alana said, “To Evan, I apologized, once I knew what actually happened. Obviously I didn’t realize what had actually happened. Then I went right to Mrs. Byers to clear up the confusion.”

Nick frowned slightly, but he nodded to confirm her story. “She did. I saw her in Mrs. Byers office.” 

Sabrina kept frowning, but she looked less stricken. 

“The whole thing is a mess,” Clarke said. “Jared’s sort of an asshole.”

“Yeah,” Sabrina said distantly. 

“Why would he do something like that to Evan Hansen?” Siobhan wondered out loud. “I kind of thought they were friends?”

Alana doubted very much that Siobhan had ever spoke to either Evan or Jared before this situation arose. She doubted that Siobhan could pick Evan out of a lineup. He was quiet, usually he didn’t make waves… He was the sort of person who existed quietly, unnoticed. And Alana had made him a target. She’d made him noticed but for the worst kind of reason, all because she was worried about her stupid class ranking. 

They arrived at the hotel hosting the prom, and they all headed inside. Everyone seemed to forget the conversation about Evan Hansen and Jared Kleinman once they were inside, and Alana was thrilled to be pulled into a lot of photos with other girls in her grade. She smiled brightly in the photos, so pleased to be included. Sabrina grabbed her hand and towed her into the crowd to dance.

“I don’t dance!” Alana shouted over the loud popular music, harsh and unfamiliar to her ears. 

“You do tonight!” Sabrina said, swaying her hips in a way that seemed almost suggestive. “Come on, Alana! You can cut loose just a little! It’ll be fun!”

Alana nodded her head along to the beat of a song that might have been by Taylor Swift (she truly had no idea who sang these songs anymore, she only listened to classical music or NPR when she drove) and Sabrina whooped in victory and swung her hips more aggressively, smiling brightly. Nick and Clarke were doing some sort of exaggerated and imprecise tango, and Alana was surprised into laughter at the absurdity of it all. She thought this sort of thing existed only in films or novels. She had never felt included in this sort of socializing, and therefore had decided she needed to be above it. But Sabrina Patel was grabbing Alana’s arm and twirling her on the dance floor, the skirts of their dresses colliding, and Siobhan shouted at Alana that her hair looked “really cool, like, super elegant” and Alana thought, perhaps, she had judged such frivolities too harshly. 

She had fun at the prom. 

When the limo dropped them all off at Sabrina’s for the evening, Sabrina pulled Alana into a tight hug. “I know it wasn’t easy for you to do the right thing,” She said suddenly. “But I’m glad you told Mrs. Byers what really happened with those notes.” 

“Thank you.”

And come Monday, to help easy the heaviness in her heart, Alana used her big mouth to tell everyone who would listen what Jared Kleinman had done to Evan Hansen. It only seemed fair to attempt to correct the rumors.


 

CONNOR

Connor and his mom spend a week living in a hotel before finally heading back to the house. It’s weird and unsettling and Connor spends the whole time feeling guilty as hell, because he knows this whole fucking mess is his fault. 

All of it is his fault. 

Zoe doesn’t join them. Connor’s mom doesn’t tell Connor whether she stays with her friend the whole time or goes back home with their dad and he figures it’s not something he deserves to know. 

At any rate, Connor knows that he’s the problem here. 

He’s what Larry really wants out of the house. 

Once Connor and his mom are back in the house, they get settled into an eerie, unsettling routine, where instead of arguing constantly, Larry just… isn’t home. He’s gone by the time Connor’s up for school and he’s not home until the early hours of the morning, if he comes home at all. 

Connor’s heard the front door at 5am, heard the downstairs shower going then heard the front door again half an hour later. 

His dad is literally sneaking into the house in the middle of the night to shower and not talking to anyone. 

Everything is muted and weird and Zoe’s not talking and his mom’s not talking and he’s not talking. It’s hot and sticky and his brain won’t stop churning over possibilities, berating himself for his own failures, and he’s not sleeping, he can’t fucking sleep, and in the end he still doesn’t know. 

He doesn’t know if he’s going to be able to go to Columbia. 

And the deadline is fast approaching. 

After a few weeks of this awful routine, Connor finally breaks the promise he made to himself and picks up from Dennis. In the early hours of Monday morning, he leaves his mom a note to say he’s gone to school early to study and gets high with Dennis in the school parking lot. 

Dennis insists on spraying him down with air freshener before letting him go into the school, so now he just kind of smells weird. 

He doubts anyone will notice. People don’t notice him. 

When the high wears off, he heads outside and smokes some more under the bleachers. He just needs to get through the fucking day of school and then he can go home and maybe being super high will actually help him sleep. 

Connor is not expecting Jared fucking Kleinman to kiss him in the boys’ bathroom.

Not even a little. 

As if his life couldn’t get any fucking worse, now he has to deal with this asshole who’s constantly making snarky fucking comments about him trying to kiss him? 

It makes his skin crawl, makes his stomach churn, it’s completely fucked up, because this isn’t some stupid romcom where the couple constantly antagonizing each other are just covering their passion for each other - Jared is a fucking bully. Even if the reason Jared has been an asshole to Connor for years is because he’s been covering up a crush on him, because he’s struggling with his sexuality, it doesn’t make his behaviour anywhere slightly okay, and Connor’s not having that shit at all. 

Sure, society as a whole is fucking homophobic and not being straight isn’t easy, Connor gets that, but it doesn’t mean you can a. be a fucking asshole to people and b. kiss them without consent, Jesus fucking Christ. 

Connor gives up on trying to get through the day after that. He ends up going to the nurse and telling her he feels dizzy because the nurse knows about the anemia thing. His mom picks him up and he goes straight to bed as soon as they get home. 

He sleeps through until the next morning and has a longer shower than usual, telling himself as he does that he’s not going to get high today. He’s going to focus on studying for his AP tests, he’s going to focus on class, and he’s not going to give his dad any more reasons to be an asshole about Columbia. 

The week goes on. Connor keeps his head down. Goes to classes. 

A couple of times he ventures into the library to find that it’s absolutely full of students cramming for the AP tests, and that’s just way too many people for him to deal with. 

The computer lab, though, is pretty much empty because everyone’s at the library, so he makes that his go-to. 

He heads into the computer lab on Thursday to find that he’s not the only one there, as usual. 

Evan Hansen is sitting at a computer, his shoulders hunched. Connor tries not to let Evan catch him looking at him but it’s hard not to notice that he’s clearly upset. 

Connor reaches into his pocket and turns off his iPod, but keeps his headphones in so it doesn’t look like he’s listening. 

Fuck. 

Evan’s  crying. 

Fuck fuck fuck. 

Connor sits down at a computer and looks at the screen and pulls up the document he’s been writing his AP History notes in and tries to figure out if he should say something. 

What he’d say if he did say something. 

Are you okay? 

That’s a fucking stupid question, of course you’re not okay. 

Can I do anything? 

I have gum in my bag, do you want gum? 

I shouldn’t have pushed you at the beginning of the year. I’m an asshole. I’m sorry. 

I was an asshole for yelling at you and taking your letter. I’m sorry. 

I’m sorry you’re sad. God, that sounds so fucking stupid. 

Don’t disappear, okay? If you did, I’d notice. Fuck, that makes me sound like a fucking stalker, that’s not what I mean, I just… 

If I could just talk to you, then maybe…

Maybe nothing would be different at all. 

He reads over his notes half-heartedly, trying to focus completely on his screen, trying not to let on that he’s watching Evan, because that’s creepy, that’s objectively creepy, and Evan’s clearly having a rough time and the last fucking thing he needs is Connor fucking shit up for him. 

Again. 

Fuck, it feels like a million years ago that he was in this very same room, deliberately seeking out Evan and trying to apologize for flying off the handle at him, apologize for shoving him to the floor when he had a broken arm and he hadn’t even laughed, he hadn’t even done anything, Connor was just stupid and paranoid and Jared Kleinman was and continues to be a complete asshole. 

It feels like a million years ago that Connor signed Evan’s cast in too big letters, that he took Evan’s letter, a letter he ripped into pieces and threw out of his window but still remembers. 

Last time Connor tried to talk to Evan, it all went wrong. 

Evan doesn’t deserve Connor’s bullshit today. Connor can’t help him, even if he wanted to. 

Even though he wants to. 

The bell rings. Evan makes no move to leave. He just stares at his screen, his shoulders hunched, typing something Connor can’t see, and there are these waves of grief coming off him, vibrating at a frequency that Connor’s tuned into, has always been tuned into, and Connor wishes he could say something, do something, to make things better for this kid he doesn’t know and who doesn’t know him, whose letter made him feel a little less alone. 

Evan’s not at school the next day, and Connor can’t stop thinking about his letter. 

Would anyone notice if I just disappeared tomorrow? 

Fuck. 

Fuck. 

 

When Connor gets home from school that afternoon, his dad is home, which is unusual. He’s sitting at the kitchen table with his mom, and they both look… exhausted. Drained. Like they’ve just had a boxing match. 

Given the situation, a boxing match is probably a decent way to describe things. An emotional boxing match. 

“Connor,” says his dad. “Take a seat.”

Connor does what he’s told. 

His parents exchange a look. His mom reaches out her hand across the table and squeezes it gently. 

Connor feels this weird tension in the air, like everything is about to change. 

“We’ve decided,” says his dad, “that you will be attending Columbia in the fall.” He looks at Connor, his expression hard to read. “But you will be seeing a therapist weekly. You will stay on your medication. You will visit your doctor regularly. And you will call your mother once a week to check in.” He takes in a breath. “As long as you pass all your AP tests and keep your grades up. We’re talking straight As. Are those terms acceptable?”

Connor feels something in his chest loosen. “Yes,” he says immediately. 

He’s aced all the questions in his study guides. He knows the material inside out. He’s studied more for these tests than he ever has in his life. 

There’s no way he’s not acing these AP tests. 

Connor’s pretty sure his dad doesn’t buy it, is pretty sure his dad has grossly underestimated him, and there’s nothing Connor enjoys more than proving people wrong. 

He’s going to Columbia. 

He’s going to New York. 

Looks like he might make it through high school alive after all. He just hopes he’s not the only one

Chapter Text

June

***

 

JARED

 

The year can’t be over fucking fast enough, as far as Jared’s concerned. He’s completely fucking over it. Completely fucking over this school, over these people, over this bullshit, this stupid bullshit that spiralled wildly out of control and fucked everything up. 

Everyone needs to fucking chill out. 

The fallout from the whole thing with the notes doesn’t seem that bad at first, all things considered. When Mrs. Byers had asked him for his side of the story, he’d obviously lied and said that Evan had been in on it, that he was splitting the money with Evan 50/50, that the whole reason Jared was involved was because Evan was too anxious to talk to people and did he mention it had been Evan’s idea in the first place? 

“Everyone knows he’s broke,” Jared had said, crossing his arms. “Mrs. Jacobs made a big scene about how he didn’t have the check for his AP tests back in April, so everyone knows he could use the money.” 

Jared had… well, he’d kind of figured that Evan would be a stuttering mess and it’d be his word against Evan’s. And he’d get away with it because at least he could fucking talk to people.

After Evan had fucking chewed him out in the hallway, Jared hadn’t been feeling exactly charitable. 

He just hadn’t counted on Alana Beck continuing to stick her nose into the whole mess. She’d been absolutely adamant that Evan hadn’t known, that he’d been horrified when he’d found out, that she’d misinterpreted the situation and that Evan was absolutely, 100% not to blame. 

Even then, Jared might have managed to convince Mrs. Byers that Alana couldn’t know for sure that Evan wasn’t involved if it weren’t for the fact that someone had come forward, saying they’d fucking overheard Jared’s argument with Evan in the hallway. 

“Who said that?” Jared had demanded of Mrs. Byers, knowing he’s gone pale, knowing he must look panicked and guilty. “Who was it?”

Mrs. Byers hadn’t looked impressed. “It doesn’t matter who,” she’d said, raising an eyebrow. “Jared, I’m going to ask you again. Did Evan know you were selling his notes? I want the truth.”

There hadn’t seemed to be any point in lying about it after that. 

All things considered, the consequences from the school weren’t that bad. He had to give the money back and he got detention. And they said they’d call his parents, but honestly, good luck getting them to answer the phone. 

He thought he’d gotten off pretty much scot-free. 

At first. 

Alana Beck has fucking had it in for him ever since. She’d made it her personal mission to make sure every single person in the school knew that he’d sold Evan’s notes without permission. 

And everyone’s pretty fucking high and mighty about it all of a sudden, even the people who were perfectly happy to buy the notes from him. 

“That’s a fucking dick move,” Brian Harris had said when Jared had reluctantly given him back his ten dollars. “I thought you guys were, like, friends. That’s bullshit.”

“We’re not friends,” Jared had replied with a roll of his eyes. “Like I’d be friends with a loser like Hansen.”

Brian Harris hadn’t exactly looked impressed. He’d looked at Jared like something he’d found on the bottom of his shoe. 

Which is possibly exactly what Jared deserves. 

Alana Beck has turned the entire student body against him. People he considered friends have stopped talking to him. Teachers look at him with barely disguised disappointment. 

The week before prom, Nick Schultz corners him at his locker and tells him he’s no longer a member of the school’s IT club and is banned from attending any further events. 

The end of year LAN party for the IT club is one of the few things Jared’s actually looking forward to, so he’s fucking pissed off. 

“What the fuck, Nick?” 

“A little thing called intellectual property,” Nick says, crossing his arms in annoyance. “You sold another classmates notes for profit. That’s complete bullshit. You’re out.”

“They were notes for Calc and APUSH,” Jared argues. “It’s got fucking nothing to do with IT.”

“Maybe,” says Nick irritably. “But an asshole who doesn’t have any respect for someone else’s work isn’t someone we want around. What if one of us comes up with some great idea? How do we know you won’t steal it and pass it off as yours?”

Jared lets out a laugh. “You’re fucking paranoid, Nick. Like I’d want to steal any of your ideas.” He shifts his bag on his shoulder, this horrible sinking feeling in his stomach. “So, what, you’re just abusing your power as president now to kick people out?”

“We voted,” Nick says flatly. “It was unanimous.”

Jared feels almost dizzy and more than a little sick. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. 

“How do you know that Evan wasn’t in on it?” he tries, trying not to sound desperate. “Alana probably just feels sorry for him and is making me take the fall.”

Nick looks unimpressed. “Because I heard you talking in the hallway.” 

Jared’s stomach lurches. 

Fuck. 

Fuck. 

Fuck. 

“You were the one who went to Mrs. Byers.”

Nick nods. “Yeah, I was. Evan doesn’t deserve to get in trouble for you being a fucking shitty friend.” His expression darkens. “A fucking shitty excuse for a human being.” 

“Look, whatever you think you heard-”

“You stole the guy’s work,” Nick interrupts, and he looks genuinely pissed off now. “He thought you were friends. From what I heard, he thought you were more than friends. You told him you were fucking with him, that it was a joke, that you’d only hung out with him to boost your grades. That’s disgusting, man.” Nick lets out this harsh laugh. “You’re disgusting.”

“I’m not gay,” Jared blurts out before he can stop himself. “Whatever you think you heard Evan say-”

“That’s what you’re worried about?” Nick exclaims, still glaring at Jared, looking more and more angry as he continues. “You’re worried that people are going to find out you’re gay, that’s why you completely crushed someone who did nothing but think you were better than you obviously are?”

Jared can’t help it. He can’t help it, he has to stop this. “If you tell anyone-”

“I don’t give a fuck if you’re gay or not,” Nick interrupts. “I’m not going to tell anyone.” 

Jared nods. “Okay. Good.”

Nick glares at him, his whole body tensing. 

“I’m not keeping quiet to do you a favor,” Nick says, and his voice is actually shaking with anger. “I’m keeping quiet about it because no one deserves to be outed, no matter how fucking disgusting they are. And because if I outed you, I’d be outing Evan, and he doesn’t fucking deserve that.”

“Why do you care?” Jared spits out. “Got a boner for him or something?”

For a moment, Jared’s convinced Nick is going to punch him in the face. 

He has no idea why he can’t just stop being an asshole, why he can’t just shut his fucking mouth. 

“He’s been through enough,” Nick shoots back. “You’ve put him through enough.”

“You don’t even know him.”

“I don’t,” Nick agrees. “Not really. All I know is that he’s quiet and smart and nice to people and has been walking around like a zombie since you fucked him over.”

“Fuck you,” Jared says. “I don’t want to be in your stupid little club anyway.”

Nick lets out this humorless laugh. “You’re a fucking disgusting human being, you know that? How do you sleep at night?” 

Before Jared can answer, Nick’s gone. 

 

Nick’s words ring over and over again in Jared’s head for the rest of the week. 

How do you sleep at night?

Pretty fucking badly, to be perfectly honest. He feels like shit. He feels stupid and guilty and he’s pissed off at Alana Beck for sticking her nose in everyone’s business, he’s pissed off at Brian Harris for giving him shit about selling notes when he fucking bought them, and he’s really fucking pissed off at Nick Schultz for being a self-righteous asshole. 

No one in this whole stupid school notices Evan. No one else talks to him, no one else pays attention to him. No one but Jared. And Nick’s going to stand there and talk about what Evan does and doesn’t deserve?

Evan’s not as pure and innocent as everyone seems to think he is. He’s not this soft, shy, adorkable victim that people are painting him as. He’s awkward and weird and sometimes he can be a real asshole, say things that are perfectly designed to hurt, that land with expert precision - like he’s playing fucking bar darts and always gets a bull’s eye on the most sensitive part of you.

He can be every bit as much of an asshole as Jared can, so how dare people sit there and judge Jared and sit around talking about how Evan doesn’t deserve what Jared did when they don’t even know Evan well enough to know what he deserves?

It’s bullshit. 

The whole thing is fucking bullshit. 

No one’s talking to Jared, except to call him an asshole. He’s had three anonymous notes in his locker, all in different handwriting, telling him he should be ashamed of himself. And he doesn’t even get to go to the IT Club end of year LAN party, which he fucking helped plan. 

Even though no one’s talking to him, everyone’s talking about prom. 

Fucking prom. 

Just the word makes Jared’s stomach ache. 

He finds himself at the mall after school on a Wednesday and nearly goes into Pottery Barn to say hi to Evan on autopilot, because that’s what he does at the mall, before he realizes that Evan’s an asshole and he’s not fucking talking to him. 

Then he wanders around the menswear department and tries on the blue vest he’d been looking at last week, the blue vest he’d kind of thought he’d buy to wear to fucking prom with Evan fucking Hansen. 

It looks weird on him anyway. 

Jared can’t sleep that night so he pirates movies and ends up watching some dumb as fuck teen romcom where the guy gives this big romantic speech to the girl who’s sitting alone on prom night about how he’s sorry he hurt her and he hopes she can forgive him and he’s brought her a dress and they go to prom together.

Maybe that’s what he needs to do, he thinks at two in the morning. Rent a tux for Evan and show up at his house on the day of the prom with flowers or some shit.

Or like, one of those tiny trees. 

He spends an hour Googling bonsai trees and suit rental places nearby. 

Jared could show up at Evan’s house all dressed up for prom with a tux and a bonsai tree and tell Evan that he’s sorry, that he never meant to hurt him, that he panicked because he was afraid that people would find out he liked boys but he’s not afraid anymore, he doesn’t care who knows, that he knows he messed up but he really, really wants to take Evan to prom. 

He could. 

Practically, he could… absolutely do that. Maybe. If he knew where to buy a bonsai tree before prom, or had any idea what size tuxedo Evan would wear. 

He doesn’t really know anything about clothing sizes. Evan’s got, like, broader shoulders than Jared. Stronger arms. Muscles, more than you’d expect under those fucking polos. 

Abs. Like, actual abs. 

Jared thinks back to the last time he and Evan fooled around. 

Thinks about it for a long time. 

Jerks himself off thinking about it, in fact. 

It’s not as good as when Evan jerks him off. He guesses he’s gotten used to someone else’s hand. 

That’s all. It’s not that he misses Evan, he just… misses someone else jerking him off, that’s all. 

Once he’s finished, he cleans up, and realizes that his tentative plan is a complete fucking joke. 

He’s still afraid of people knowing he’s gay. Saying he’s not afraid is bullshit. 

Jared’s a liar. He’s a fucking liar. 

Of course he’s afraid. Fuck. 

But even if he weren’t afraid, even if Jared went through with this stupid plan and showed up at Evan’s house with a tux and a tiny tree, it wouldn’t work. 

Evan would shut the door in his face before he’d even said a word. 

Hell, he might even punch him. 

Jared probably deserves it. 

Dawn comes and with it, the absolute certainty that even if Jared did show up at Evan’s house with some bullshit teen romcom romantic gesture, it wouldn’t make any difference. 

That there is no fixing this. 

That even if Jared tried, he’d just get caught up in his own bullshit again. Evan would say something and Jared would go on the defensive, would say something stupid, would say something else he regrets. 

It would just… it would go wrong. 

It would make things worse. 

There is no fixing this. 

 

Jared waits by Evan’s locker before school that morning anyway. 

And at lunch. 

And between classes. 

He only sees Evan once that day. He’s wearing a hoodie, the hood pulled up over his head, and Jared can see he’s wearing headphones and keeping his head down, not talking to anyone. He’s heading east. 

At the same time, Connor Murphy is heading west, with his hoodie and his headphones. Head down, not talking to anyone. 

Jared watches as the two of them walk toward each other. 

For a moment, it looks like they might collide, but they don’t. 

Neither one of them changes course. They just walk right past each other, hoods pulled up over their heads, headphones in their ears, looking at the ground. 

It makes something in Jared’s chest clench weirdly. 

He heads to the library and tries not to think about it. 


ZOE

 

The jazz band is playing at graduation and Zoe gets a solo. Granted, it’s only because Noah Jenkins, who has beaten Zoe for every single solo this whole fucking year, has mono and missed a bunch of rehearsals, but it’s still an accomplishment. And Noah Jenkins is a senior, so Zoe’s in a good position for being the go-to soloist for the jazz band next year. 

It’s good news. The kind of news she wants to tell her parents, wants to tell her family, wants them to care about. 

It’s the kind of thing she could tell her parents if she wasn’t invisible. 

It’s funny, she thinks as she gets out of the car on the morning of her AP Calculus exam and watches Connor put in his headphones before slinking off into the crowd, keeping his head down and his hood up over his head, despite the fact that it’s like eighty degrees. Connor’s the one who wants to be invisible, wants to fade into the background, but Zoe’s the one that nobody seems to see. 

She sits in front of Evan Hansen for the exam. He’s already seated when she arrives in the room, hunched over and looking at his desk. He looks sad, Zoe thinks. Tired and sad. 

Alana Beck has spent a lot of time making sure that everyone knew that Jared Kleinman had made copies of Evan Hansen’s AP Calculus and APUSH notes and sold them without Evan’s knowledge. Zoe had gone out for Starbucks and studying with Sabrina last week and gotten the whole story. 

“Alana reported Evan to the guidance counsellor for academic misconduct,” Sabrina said with a frown, stirring her iced tea. “But he had no idea Jared was selling his notes.”

“I thought they were friends,” Zoe had said, feeling something in her chest clench in sympathy. 

“So did I,” Sabrina confessed with a sigh. “Poor Evan. He didn’t deserve that.” She shrugged. “Alana’s trying to make it right by ‘controlling the narrative’, but… Evan’s been even quieter than usual ever since it happened. What Jared did really hurt him.”

It’s pretty clear to Zoe that Alana feels bad about her role in what happened. As far as Zoe’s concerned, she damn well should. 

Just before the test is about to start, Zoe turns around and smiles at Evan. “Hey Evan. Good luck.”

Evan’s eyes widen in shock. He doesn’t say anything. 

That night, Zoe’s dad is actually home for dinner. He’s barely been home at all recently, but here he is. They’re all sitting at the table, eating steak because that’s apparently what they’re eating these days because Connor’s anemic, and it’s actually pretty good, and no one’s yelling at anyone, and it’s almost… nice. 

“So the jazz band is playing at graduation,” she says, going for a casual tone. This is the first time they’ve all been together, the first time she’s had a chance to mention this.  “I’ve got a solo.”

Her mom looks at her dad. “That reminds me, we need to talk about what we’re doing for graduation,” she says. “We should all go out for dinner after the ceremony.”

“I’m in the middle of a huge case,” says her dad, frowning. “I can get away for the ceremony, sure, but dinner afterwards? I can’t guarantee anything.”

Zoe’s mom bites her lip. “Larry, your son is graduating high school. Surely you can get away from the office for one day.”

“I’m not saying I’m going to miss his graduation,” says her dad, looking more and more irritated. “I’m just saying that I can’t guarantee I’ll be free for dinner.” 

“What are you playing?” Connor asks quietly. 

It takes Zoe a moment to realize that Connor’s talking to her.

“Autumn Leaves,” says Zoe, looking at Connor across the table. 

Connor nods. “Cool,” he says, his voice still quiet. “That’s, uh… it kind of goes like ‘da da da daaaa, da da da daaaaa’, right?” 

Zoe’s beyond surprised that Connor’s actually got the melody right. Not as surprised as their parents, though, who both are staring at Connor like he’s just announced he’s joining a nudist colony. 

“It’s, like, a jazz standard,” Connor mumbles. “It’s cool you got the solo.” He clears his throat. “That ginger kid kept getting the solos. In assembly?” Connor’s ears turn pink. “That’s bullshit, you’re better.”

Zoe can feel her face heating up as well. “Thanks,” she mumbles, looking at her steak. 

It’s quiet at the table for a moment, then their mom clears her throat. “Connor, we need to get you a new dress shirt for graduation.” 

“How did you find the AP Calculus test?” Connor asks Zoe, his voice louder this time. “That third question on differentiation kind of stumped me for a minute.” 

Their dad narrows his eyes.  “Connor, remember what we discussed about your AP tests-“

“I’m talking to Zoe,” Connor interrupts. “About the AP Calculus test she did this morning as a junior . You could at least pretend to be interested in your other kid.”

The room goes deadly quiet. 

Zoe can’t quite believe what she’s hearing. She hadn’t… 

She hadn’t realized Connor had even noticed. Noticed that their parents were so worried about him that they’d barely said a word to her in weeks. 

It’s silent a little longer, then their dad clears his throat. “Zoe,” he asks, his voice an almost parody of patience. “How was the AP Calculus test?” 

“I think it went really well,” she says, looking at Connor. “You’re right. About that question. When I first read it, it didn’t really make sense.”

“It was weirdly worded,” Connor agrees, slicing at his steak. He rolls his eyes. “Alana Beck said something about how she thought it was misleading and if she failed she was going to storm the offices or whatever.” 

“I think I got there in the end,” Zoe says, feeling a small smile making its way across her face. “You?”

Connor shrugs. “I think so too.” He puts a piece of steak in his mouth and chews. 

The table is silent again. 

“Tell me more about your solo,” says their mom, looking at Zoe with a forced smile. 

And. 

Well.

Zoe doesn’t love that her parents apparently need reminding to fake some kind of interest in her life, but… at least they’re trying. Connor’s probably just trying to distract them from… something. 

That has to be it. 

But… still. 

Zoe appreciates it. She hadn’t realized Connor had noticed, hadn’t realized he’d seen, hadn’t realized he’d even been thinking about her. 

Fuck, she didn’t think he knew she was taking AP Calculus. 

And yeah, Connor’s still kind of a jerk, but he’s not freaking out at her for no reason anymore, he’s not flying off the handle at the tiniest perceived slight anymore, he’s…

He’s better. He’s doing better. 

Maybe Zoe needs to start treating him like he is. 

The next morning when they get into the car, Zoe hands Connor the AUX cable. 

Connor looks at it like she’s just handed him a live snake. 

“Put something on,” she instructs. 

Connor just stares at her. “You’re letting me pick the music?”

Zoe rolls her eyes. “Yeah.”

Connor blinks. “What if I, like, put on Crazy Frog on repeat?”

“You’d be torturing yourself more than you’d be torturing me.” 

Connor kind of laughs, a little, then plugs the cable into his iPod. Zoe pulls out of the driveway, expecting My Chemical Romance to start playing, and is surprised when she hears something an upbeat intro she recognizes. 

‘I want to talk to you.’

‘The last time we talked, Mr. Smith, you reduced me to tears. I promise you that won’t happen again.’

Zoe actually laughs. “Is this Mika?”

She looks over at Connor, who’s crossed his arms slightly defensively. “I like this song,” he says, sticking out his chin in defiance. He sighs a little. “Plus, my therapist suggested that I, like, try to listen to music that’s less depressing.” Then he shrugs. “And I heard you playing this song in your room the other day, so I know you like it.”

“I do like it,” Zoe admits, turning onto the main road toward the school and kind of bopping her head to the music. She turns up the song as she keeps driving, shooting Connor the occasional glance to see that he’s mouthing along to the words, which is… 

Well, it feels completely out of character, to be honest. 

Then again, Zoe wonders, how much of what she knows of her brother is his character and how much is just… years of untreated mental illness?

A few months of medication and therapy isn’t enough to completely change a person, she knows, but maybe… 

Maybe she doesn’t really know her brother at all. 

By the time they get to the chorus, they’re both basically sing-screaming along with Mika. Connor’s surprisingly tuneful, and he has this smile that makes his eyes scrunch up a little, this big smile that takes up his whole face, and it makes Zoe think of when they were little, the last time she saw him smile this wide. The last time she saw him smile like this it was accompanied by missing front teeth and too big ears peeking out from a shorter haircut, and that’s…

That’s too long. That’s far too long. 

Maybe Connor’s going to be okay. Maybe he really is doing better. 

Maybe Zoe can finally breathe again. 

 


SABRINA

 

Alana was getting on her last nerve. Sabrina was really trying to be understanding, trying to see things from Alana’s point of view, but honestly if she had to hear the words “academic misconduct” one more time, she might start to tear out her hair in clumps. “Alana,” She said, trying her best to be kind, to be nice, “You’ve done everything you can do. Graduation is next week. It’s… You don’t have to keep this up.”

“I feel horrible,” Alana said, her voice frantic. She rolled one of her braids between two fingers. “My dads said that the only way to alleviate the guilt would be to make it right but I don’t know how else to do it.”

“Have you actually spoken to Evan?”

“Well. No. Not since that day,” Alana admitted with a grimace. “He won’t speak to me. I think he has been avoiding his locker.”

Sabrina couldn’t blame the guy. If nothing else, she had seen Jared Kleinman lurking around it a few times, and Sabrina imagined Evan Hansen didn’t especially want to talk to him. He was keeping his head down, mostly, his eyes averted, his mouth closed in classes which were mostly blow offs now that the AP tests were done. Sabrina thought Evan might be trying to wish himself invisible. If she were him, she might have done her best to disappear too. 

“Should I say something in my speech? At graduation?”

Sabrina shook her head. “Oh my god, no . Alana, don’t call attention to it at graduation.”

“I just really want him to know how deeply sorry I am to have damaged his reputation like this -”

“Is that for you? Or for him?” Sabrina asked sharply, some of her annoyance leaking out. Alana just would not drop it. “Because it feels like it’s to make yourself feel better.”

Alana’s tight posture only got tighter, her shoulders back in such a tense way that Sabrina worried it hurt. She fixed Sabrina with this watery, tremulous smile, and her lower lip quivered ever so slightly. Shit. “I tried to write him a note. Apologizing. I put it in his locker but I’m not sure if he got it. He hasn’t accepted my apology.” 

“He might not,” Sabrina said gently. “He’s allowed to be angry.”

“But I didn’t know it wasn’t him,” Alana protested. “I just wanted - I just thought -

Sabrina didn’t let her finish. “You thought he might beat you out for valedictorian.”

“No,” Alana said swiftly, her chin pointed up, defiant. “It wasn’t that. He has an incomplete grade for driver’s ed. He can’t - You can’t be valedictorian with an incomplete. I was worried about him taking advantage of other people - using them.”

“You mean like how you wanted to use Connor Murphy to add one more thing to your already impressive resume?” Sabrina said, frowning deeper. “How you wanted to get him in trouble over his bong picture of the beginning of the year?”

“No, I - That wasn’t -”

“I meant what I said at prom. I’m proud of you for not just letting Evan take the fall for Jared,” Sabrina went on, “But I know that wasn’t easy for you.”

Alana went quiet and still, staring at the tile on the floor. She kept taking a breath and opening her mouth like she might say something before stopping and closing her lips again.  

“You want to tell me what this is really about?” Sabrina said, eyebrows up, frustrated. “Because it’s pretty clear that you’re, like, freaking out? And this Evan thing has been going on for a while so… I get the feeling it’s not that?”

Alana looked alarmed, and maybe a little bit offended. “I am not freaking out,” She said, her voice slightly higher, slightly more manic. 

“I know a freak out when I see one,” Sabrina said. 

“No, honestly, I’m fine ,” Alana said, though her voice was so tight, so brittle that it cracked on “fine.” Her smile wobbled ever so slightly, and Sabrina found herself rushing Alana to the nearest girls’ bathroom as her breathing started to go uneven and she wrapped her arms tight around herself. Sabrina was starting to feel as if she ought to consider going into social work, rather than teaching. 

Alana rocked slightly as Sabrina sat her down on the floor. Her eyes were glistening but none of the tears had fallen yet. Sabrina dug in her bag for a bottle of water she carried around, pulled it out and sank to the floor beside Alana. “Here.” 

“I’m sorry?” Alana said, looking at the bottle like it was a foreign object. 

“Just. Take a sip of water. It might help.”

It was a trick that worked with Tabby a lot, because she was young and got upset easily and whenever she cried, Sabrina would offer her water so eventually Tabby would calm down a little so she could explain what was wrong. Something told her that trick might work on Alana too. 

Alana drank obediently. 

“It’s okay if you’re feeling upset right now,” Sabrina said. “You can take a few minutes if you need. But then I’d like to know what’s going on, if that’s okay.”

Alana nodded, wiping her face. “I… I’m going to Dartmouth.”

“Alright?” Sabrina knew that. She had helped Alana make a pro and con list for every school she was accepted into. She had stared into the glossy admissions packets and swallowed hard at the amount of money Alana was willing to spend on her undergrad.

“I got my housing assignment and I reached out to my new roommate.” She blew out a breath. “She friended me on facebook. She’s…” Alana swallowed hard. “She seems very. Social. Very… She’s popular? I think. In her profile photo, she was being named prom queen.”

Sabrina nodded. “Alright?”

“I. I am aware that sometimes my social skills are… non-ideal. I can be a bit. Abrasive.”

There was no polite way to respond to that so Sabrina did her best to keep her face neutral.

“And I realized I… The people I considered to be my closest acquaintances… they might not. Actually… Like. Me. Because of how I am. Because of… how I’ve handled things.” She gulped more water. “I’ve been so concerned about... Achieving and outranking everyone. I know I really hurt Evan Hansen because of it, and I don’t know how to make it right. And I like Evan, I think he’s very intelligent and nice. I’ve worried so much about being overtaken in class ranking that I’ve been… Unkind. I feel like I’ve squandered my high school years and forgotten to… figure out how everyone else seems to have friends. I’m going to a school where everyone is going to have been at the top of their class. Where my accomplishments won’t stand out, but my… my severe lack of social intelligence will.”

Sabrina couldn’t help it. She hugged Alana. Alana needed a damn hug. She stiffened in Sabrina’s arms, at first, but then relaxed. “You’re worried nobody is going to like you in college? Alana that’s the… most relatable thing you’ve ever said to me.”

“I hate it,” Alana confessed, breathless. She rested her head against Sabrina’s shoulder. “I have no idea what I’m doing. What if… what if nobody likes me?”

“Everyone worries about that.”

“Not you,” Alana said. “You’re so… confident. You just talk to people. You’re nice to everyone like it doesn’t cost you anything. You befriended Zoe Murphy overnight and I spent all of last year trying to persuade her to join the Honor Society.”

Sabrina blinked, surprised. “I’m not nice to everyone.”

Alana looked at her, her face open with disbelief. “You are. You really are. You’re even nice to me when I know I’ve irritated you.”

Sabrina laughed, startled. “I need to be liked,” Sabrina said then. “It’s… I’m nice to people because I’m scared they’ll hate me otherwise. I… You’re not weird for worrying about that kind of thing? And you’re definitely not weird for not going out of your way to be nice to everyone.”

Alana frowned. “But… Why would anyone hate you?”

Sabrina shrugged. “Too fat. Too brown. Too girly. Too loud. I’m a Republican’s worst nightmare?”

Alana smiled. 

“Well, after you, of course.”

Alana positively beamed. 

“You’re going to be fine in college. You’ll find your people. It’ll be great. Maybe you’ll actually find somebody who is as interested in politics as you.”

“How do you know that?” Alana said, her voice a lot smaller then. “How do you know I won’t mess it up?”

“I don’t,” Sabrina said with a shrug. “I just. I hope? You deserve it.”

“Do you… You worry about going away for college?” Alana asked, her voice tentative, maybe a little hopeful that the answer was yes. 

“Of course I do,” Sabrina said. “I’ve never been away from my family that long. I won’t have any of my friends… I don’t know anyone else going to Ohio State.”

Alana looked miserably down at her hands, folded neatly in her lap. “Evan Hansen is going to Ohio State.” She frowned. “Or. He was.”

“Was?” Sabrina repeated.

“I heard him… He told Mr. Stevens last week that he’s deferring for a year to work and go to community college.”

Sabrina nodded. “Sometimes that’s smart.”

“I… I think it’s my fault,” Alana said tearfully. “I think if I hadn’t accused him -”

“People defer all of the time,” Sabrina said reasonably. “Maybe he just wants to save up while he earns his gen eds. Don’t take this as an insult, Alana, but I am sure this doesn’t have to do with you.” She had no idea what would have prompted Evan Hansen to stick around here for another year, but she needed to get Alana out of this thought pattern. She was freaking out, and Sabrina had seen her freak out like this before and it did not end well. 

Sabrina headed home for the day. Texted a little with Allison, the girl who was going to be her roommate. She felt a little of Alana’s fear building in her… that she wouldn’t make friends, that she and Allison wouldn’t get along. What if Sabrina couldn’t make friends in college? What if Allison was a fitness buff who tried to make her work out, made snide remarks about what Sabrina ate? In her photos she didn’t look like a total gym rat (she actually looked a bit like Sabrina did) but facebook could be deceiving. 

What if Sabrina gained the freshman fifteen and then she was even bigger, even more huge, and none of her clothes fit?

Her phone buzzed. Allison again. “ I don’t really want to be those girls who make everything super cutesy and matchy-matchy in our room, but would it be okay if I sent you pictures of the comforter I was looking at?”

Sabrina grinned. “Oh totally! I’m with you there. Coordination is cool, but there’s a limit.”

“Absolutely.”


 

EVAN

 

His mom bent over backward for his dad and he was pretty fucking over it. 

They were picking him and Tracy up from the airport.

Evan was pissed. 

“You didn’t have to come with me,” his mom said, barely hiding her frustration. “If you don’t want him here, you should have told him not to come.”

“I never said that I didn’t want - I never said -”

“Enough! I’m trying to drive.”

Evan shut his mouth. Stared out the window. 

“I didn’t… I shouldn’t have -”

“It’s fine,” Evan said, crossing his arms over his chest. “I’m fine. Sorry.”

“I know you’re just… I know it’s difficult.”

“I just don’t know why we’re picking him up and-and letting him stay with us.” Evan picked at his cuticles. “He could have gotten a hotel or something.”

“You’re right,” His mom said with a sigh. “I could have… Said no when he asked. You’re right.”

“I’m being a jerk. I’m sorry.”

“No I’m-”

They were doing this thing lately where they fell all over themselves, apologizing. Evan hated it but he didn’t know how to stop it so he just let it happen. He picked at his cuticles, which were raw and bloody already. It hurt but it hurt less than apologizing more. It hurt less than school, where everyone was looking at him lately. 

Looking at him. Staring. 

Alana Beck had done her best to correct the rumor mill. Suddenly, Jared was the asshole who stole his notes, and Evan was cast as this helpless victim who got pulled into the whole academic misconduct debacle without doing anything. Alana had also apologized, profusely. She’d even stuck a handwritten apology card in his locker when Evan started to avoid her in the halls. He appreciated the effort but really… none of it mattered. 

Evan had taken a leaf out of Connor Murphy’s book and started to wear headphones between classes now. He kept playing the same playlist over and over, songs he wasn’t even sure he liked because Evan had no taste in music or clothes or anything that was important to people his age. Mostly the music was just loud. It drown out the parts of him he didn’t want to hear. 

Prom happened the weekend before the AP tests started. Evan heard a rumor there was some big drama involving Stephanie Wheeler saying something racist, Sabrina Patel making a scene, and a limo, but he didn’t talk to anyone so he never got the full story. Better that way. Evan just turned up his music. 

Jared tried to talk to Evan a few times. Not very hard, in Evan’s opinion. It wasn’t like Jared was bending over backwards trying to fix things. But he did wait by Evan’s locker a couple of times. 

Evan avoided him. He was too embarrassed to talk to him. The week after the whole prom blow off, Evan’s mom had called Jared’s mom and shouted at her on the phone for a good half an hour. He wasn’t sure what prompted it. One minute his mom was helping him throw out old papers from his locker and desk, seeing what was worth saving and what he ought to throw away and then the next she said she wanted to give Rebecca Kleinman a piece of her mind. She called Jared “a little shit” and told Jared’s mom she had raised a “pathetic weasel” son and generally cursed her out on the phone. After she hung up, Evan heard his mom crying. He didn’t know why. He just figured it meant they probably weren’t going back to the synagogue for a while.

So he didn’t talk to Jared.

He took all of his AP tests with his head down, his eyes averted. 

He sat behind Zoe Murphy in the AP Calc exam. She turned to him, flipping her hair over her shoulder, and smiled. He could still see the blond spots from where she had bleached her hair to streak it blue last year. She said, “Hey Evan. Good luck.”

She knew his name. He didn’t know her at all.

In September, he would have killed for her to notice him or say something to him. Evan would have given anything for that small smile, sort of subtle and perfect and real. Hell, for a moment, he even though getting shoved by Connor in the hall had been worth it because Zoe had talked to him. He would have killed for this months ago.

Now he was just confused. 

Evan was so shocked he forgot to say thank you. He forgot to say anything. He kept his head down, focused on his test booklet, and was the first person to finish. 

During AP Literature, which was proctored in the library, he looked up during one of the essay questions, trying to think, and briefly locked eyes with Connor Murphy who was shaking out his hand. Connor looked away first. 

Maybe he had seen Evan’s screen that day in the computer lab. 

Maybe he was just thinking. 

Evan didn’t matter to him. He didn’t matter to anybody in school. 

His last proper day of school had been Thursday, where he took his finals for the classes he had that weren’t AP. He supposed it really didn’t matter how he did on them now. Not really. He had nobody to impress anymore. Who cared if he graduated in the top five of his class if he wasn’t going anywhere? He was going to fucking community college. 

After school on Thursday, his mom dragged him shopping because he didn’t have anything to wear for graduation other than his cap and gown. She was done with classes for the next few weeks, before the summer term started up, which usually meant she worked more shifts but she had specifically set this day aside for him. Evan didn’t want to go shopping. The mall was overwhelming, he hated clothes shopping, he’d chewed his cuticles so badly that he was vaguely horrified that he still had a body at all. It was too much and he dragged his feet and begged not to have to go. 

“You’ve gotten too tall for all of your dress pants,” She said as she drove them to the mall. “And the sleeves of your dress shirts are too short too. You’re growing like a weed, kid.”

“Can we afford this?” Evan asked as they walked into the store, freezing cold because the air conditioning was cranked up too high. 

His mom looked sad. “Yes. It’s just a shirt, pants, and a tie. It’s fine, Evan.”

“I’m never going to need to wear a tie again. I don’t even know how to tie one,” Evan said. “Let’s skip it. They’re stupid and expensive. I can just get pants and a shirt.”

“You might need one,” His mom insisted. “A tie. You never know. You might need to dress up… you said something about trying debate next year?”

“I said that,” Evan said, irritated, “I’d think about it. At Ohio . Not here.”

“I don’t see the harm in trying here.”

“The community college doesn’t have a debate team mom, drop it. It was a stupid idea anyway, I can’t talk in front of people and I don’t want to wear a fucking tie.” 

His mom opened her mouth. Closed it. Shifted a few shirts on a sale rack. He was such a fucking asshole. He was breaking her heart just by existing. Evan was such a shitty fucking person, terrible son, awful kid. She examined a price tag intensely, sighing, and then pulled out a powder blue dress shirt. “What about this one?”

“I’m sorry…” Evan mumbled. 

“No, you’re right. You don’t… I’m not even sure how to tie a tie either, and I… I don’t exactly want to call Mr. Kleinman this time.”

Evan tugged at the hem of his shirt, twisted it around his fingers. “We could Youtube it. We could ask dad, since, you know. He’ll actually be here for this.”

“I guess.” She pulled a tie off the rack and then immediately put it back. Even on sale, the thing was twenty dollars. “I’m supposed to be able to buy you a stupid tie for graduation, Evan. It shouldn’t be something you worry about. I’m sorry.”

“No. I’m the - I’m being an ass. Sorry. Let’s… we’ll find a tie, okay? I freaked out and I… We’ll find a tie.”

She nodded. 

He left the mall with new dress pants and a powder blue shirt and a navy tie they found on clearance. He ended up googling how to tie it, rather than leave it up to his dad or something.

On Friday the seniors had a half day. Graduation practice, then the awarding of superlatives, then they picked up their caps and gowns, and then they were fed lunch and released until graduation on Sunday. Alana Beck was voted Most Likely to Succeed. Sabrina Patel won best smile. Evan was voted nothing because he was nothing, he was most likely to remain stagnant, and he went home and his mom announced they were going to the airport to pick up his dad. Everyone else stuck around after the superlatives were awarded to sign yearbooks but Evan hadn’t bothered to buy one because he had no friends and he didn’t want to remember this. 

Evan’s mom slammed the heel of her hand on her horn as somebody nearly cut her off. Evan stared out the window, thinking about how unfairly easy it had been to defer his acceptance to Ohio State. How they should have confirmed with him a few more times before letting him do it. Are you sure you want to tank your entire life? 

Evan had resigned himself to another year here, doing this, riding shotgun in his own life because he was too scared of the driver’s seat. Maybe he’d resigned himself to forever.

He just… He couldn’t justify spending all of that money, gathering up all of that debt if he wasn’t ever really going to get out of here.

His mom pulled into the garage at the airport. Evan wished he had thought to bring his headphones. His mom nervously checked her makeup in the mirror in the car before they headed inside. He wished she would stop. His dad was a deadbeat and she still wanted to look nice for him and that upset his stomach. 

Maybe he had another ulcer. 

They grabbed seats near his dad’s gate and Evan picked his cuticles some more while his mom bounced her knee, keeping time with his anxious thoughts bouncing all over. Maybe his wasn’t going to come. Maybe he wouldn’t show. Maybe this was all a dream and Evan would wake up in the hospital in August because when he broke his arm he smacked his head and imagined almost an entire year. 

“Carl!” His mom said, jumping to her feet and waving. 

Evan slowly climbed to his own feet. His dad looked pretty much the same. A dusting of stubble, sort of curly light hair, the same color as Evan’s, a slight beer belly. He was dressed nicer this time; dark jeans and a t-shirt that didn’t look stained or ripped. Tracy was holding his hand. She had a smudge of lipstick on her teeth. Evan hated her for an irrational second.

“Heidi!” His dad said, his face lighting up all little kid like. He hurried to her, pulling Evan’s mom into a super tight hug and lifting her up off her feet a bit. “So fucking good to see you.” He put her down. “You look great.”

“Thanks,” His mom said, sounding… flattered. Evan wanted to throw up. He got half of his genes from this man. These two people had made him and he was worth nothing. “So do you.” 

Tracy cleared her throat. 

“Oh, hi Tracy,” His mom said, pulling Tracy into a hug as well. It was only slightly an afterthought.

“Hey bud!” His dad said to Evan, hugging him a little too tight. When he was younger, Evan knew hugs from his dad were too few and far in between, so he used to hold on tight, a little too long. Now he kept it brief. Didn’t let himself get too comfortable. No point in growing used to it. 

“Hi,” Evan said stepping back. 

“Look at you,” Tracy said to him, hugging Evan now too. “You’re so big now.”

Evan bit back his urge to snap that it was weird to say how big he was now that he was eighteen years, not eighteen months old. 

“All grown up!” His dad said, beaming at him. “How tall are you now?”

Evan sighed. “Five ten.”

“Really?” Tracy said. 

“Well, he’s always slouching,” His mom said in this too bright voice. 

Mom ,” Evan begged, slouching more. “Please.”

“Sorry,” She said, giving him an apologetic smile. She turned back to his dad and Tracy. “Did you check bags?”

“Nope!” Carl said, obviously proud of himself. He patted the duffle bag at his side. “Got everything I need in here.”

“His nice clothes are in my bag,” Tracy explained to Evan’s mom, as if she was embarrassed for apparently allowing her husband to arrive with only a small duffle. Like it was harming her image as a good wife or something. Evan didn’t feel bad for her, though. She had picked this asshole. 

The four of them trooped back to Evan’s mom’s car, his dad asking him obligatory questions about graduation and if he was excited for college and whatever. 

“Oh. I’m kind of. I’m taking a gap year?” Evan said. “Going to go to community college and work to save up.”

“What happened to, like, Northwestern and Ohio and all those places?”

Evan looked at his mom for help, too embarrassed to answer, and she jumped in and went on about how much he would be saving himself to complete as many of his gen ed requirements at home before he went off to school and all of the reasons they had discussed over the last month. She did not mention that it was because both of them knew he’d never hack it at a big school like that, not now, not after this year. She’d been nagging him to go back and see Dr. Sherman, or maybe try someone else, because she worried, but Evan refused. He was fine, he insisted, he just needed a break.

They drove back to the house, his dad and Tracy in the back, Evan riding shotgun. Evan kept thinking about what would happen if he unbuckled his seatbelt and opened the door on the freeway, if he spilled out on the asphalt, if it would kill him or just break an arm. Evan kept thinking about what it might be like to die, to miss out on graduation, to throw a wrench in this big plan to Do Better and Be Better. He doubted he would ever actually be better. It would be so easy, his hand was itching to pull the door open as his mom crept over seventy miles an hour -

“We’re nearly there,” His mom said to him, her voice low so only Evan could hear. “Just ten more minutes.”

Evan sat on his hands to keep from opening the door and splattering onto the pavement. His dad kept prattled on about whatever boring white people stuff he and Tracy got up to in Colorado these days. Evan bet it was mostly just smoking weed and going on long meandering walks and calling it hiking. It was pretty fucked up that he was so into the outdoors when the fucker who took Evan on his first hike was such a disappointment. 

Once they reached the house, Evan’s anger didn’t subside much. His dad just walked around like he owned the place. He walked straight into the kitchen, went into a cabinet and got a glass of water for Tracy and a beer for himself. He didn’t ask. He knew where the bottle opener was. 

Evan sent a significant look to his mother, who was busy straightening out all of the shoes by the door. She frowned at him, a little, then straightened up and brightly suggested they order in for dinner. 

“Oh well, since you’re hosting us, we thought maybe we could cook for you!” Tracy said, all smiles. 

“Oh,” Evan’s mother said, her smile going tighter. “I’m sorry, I haven’t exactly had a chance to do a lot of shopping -”

“No worries, we’ll just head to the grocery store,” Tracy said, seeming to miss the part where she didn’t have a car to do such a thing. 

His laughed a little. “I wish you would have said something before we got all the way here. I could have stopped on the way back from the airport.”

“Well, maybe Evan can take us?” Tracy suggested innocently. 

“Evan doesn’t drive,” His mom said, her voice higher than normal.

Evan looked at the floor, trying to open his mouth, spew one of his reasons, like his concerns about global warming or how public transportation was more than sufficient or how if he drove a car he would inevitably crash it into oncoming traffic because his hands would twitch him right off the road. But he couldn’t make his jaw unclench. 

Carl finished his beer.

“Ordering in is fine,” His dad said at the same moment his mom said, “You can just take my car.”

They both laughed awkwardly. 

“Take my car,” His mom repeated. “Seriously, it’s fine. Evan, why don’t you go with him? You can navigate.”

“Okay,” Evan said, and his dad threw an arm over his shoulders and basically pushed him out the front door. 

“You sure you don’t wanna drive?” His dad asked. 

“My learner’s permit expired,” Evan said lamely. 

“Alright.” His dad climbed into his mom’s car, like this was normal, and immediately switched the radio station and adjusted her mirrors and her seat and Evan thought, wow, he really fucking hated him. “There a Whole Foods around here?” he asked. 

“No,” Evan lied. 

“No worries.” Carl backed out of the driveway and headed out of their subdivision and onto the main road. “This is kind of nice, right? All of us in the same place for once. Just like the old days,” His dad said. 

“I didn’t think you met Tracy until you moved,” Evan said. 

His dad laughed awkwardly. “Yeah, I didn’t…” He pushed a hand through his hair. It was the same color as Evan’s. If Evan skipped a haircut or two, his hair would start to curl like his dad’s. He looked like Carl, and he didn’t want to look like him. Same hair color, same eyes. Evan hated it. 

“So uh… So, wh-what are you going to make for dinner?” Evan tried, looking down at his feet. 

“Tracy makes an awesome chicken alfredo.”

Evan sighed. “That’s. Not. That’s not kosher?” 

“Oh shit,” His dad said with an awkward laugh. “I guess I forgot you two still did that.”

It wasn’t like they were super strict about it. Evan doubted all of the frozen food they got from Trader Joe’s and stuff was definitely kosher but, like, they didn’t normally blatantly disregard the rules. 

Evan sunk down in the passenger seat, given directions in a dull voice. He followed his dad around the store as he decided to just skip the chicken and texted Tracy about a salad. Evan had been so excited to have his dad in town for graduation just a few months ago and now he couldn’t wait for Monday when he would fly back to Denver and stop asking Evan these embarrassing but earnest questions about what he was thinking about majoring in and if he had ended up going to the prom. 

They turned into the produce section so his dad could get some garlic and Evan nearly dove behind a display of bananas. Connor Murphy was with a redheaded woman, pushing a cart while she looked at a list and said something about how they “should have made the extra trip to Whole Foods” while she weighed some broccoli. “Don’t make that face, Connor, you know you need the iron.”

Evan looked away. Tried to tune back into whatever his dad was saying, something about spring mix or something, Evan didn’t know because he was too busy watching Connor Murphy push a cart behind his mother while she said something about kale. Connor looked up and locked eyes with Evan for a second. His face surprised, almost smiling. Evan tried to disappear into the floor, breaking eye contact immediately. When he looked up again, Connor was looking at his mother, but his arm was hovering awkwardly a few inches above the cart like he might have been deciding to wave. 

Evan shook his head. 

Connor Murphy was not his friend. Evan needed to quit trying to make his sick imaginary friend shit into reality. He didn’t have friends and he needed to get over it. 

“Ready?” His dad said, having apparently decided he’d gotten enough food. 

“No. We don’t have salad dressing at home,” Evan muttered. 

“Really?”

“We don’t eat a lot of salad,” Evan muttered. “We work a lot.”

They grabbed some salad dressing and then headed back to his mom’s house. Dinner was awkward, with Evan’s mom and dad both talking too much to try to cover how much they didn’t want to be having this dinner, and Evan pushing Tracy’s frankly bland alfredo around his plate until his mom said he could be excused. 

Before Evan went to sleep, Evan hugged his mom extra tightly. 

That Saturday, Evan and his dad and Tracy all visited with his dad’s parents for a few hours. It was weird, because they only lived ten minutes from Evan and his mom, but he only saw them if his dad was around. Evan privately thought they were a bit embarrassed by his existence. His grandma kept pestering his dad and Tracy about when they were going to “give her some grandbabies.” Then she would pause and go, “More grandbabies.”

Evan knew he didn’t really count. He was a disappointing grandkid. 

Tracy dodged the question mostly. His dad just awkwardly laughed. They went back to Evan’s mom’s house and ordered pizza, and his mom got home from work and smiled at him. “How was it?”

“Fine,” Evan said. “They’ll be here at one tomorrow.”

“Good.”

They ate dinner around the coffee table in front of the television. 

“Got your cap and gown all ready to go, bud?” His dad asked. 

“Yep,” Evan said shortly. He and his mom had steamed the gown the other day to get out the wrinkles. 

His dad threw an unexpected arm around his shoulder. “Can’t believe our little guy is graduating high school.” He squeezed Evan’s shoulder, almost a hug. “I remember the day you were born. It’s so weird, right Heidi? Did you picture this when he was all tiny?”

“Yes,” She said, her voice strained. “I did.”

“Soon that’ll be us,” Tracy said, her voice almost dreamy. 

“What’s that?” Evan’s mom said, her mouth forming a slight frown. 

“Oh,” Tracy said, smiling. “Well. Carl and I are… We’re trying to start a family.”

Start a family. 

The words echoed in Evan’s head. 

Start a family.  

Like he hadn’t already done that. 

Like his dad didn’t already have a family, one he had abandoned. 

Start. A family. Start. 

His mom’s face went blank. “Oh? That’s… nice.”

“We’re just, you know, we’re not getting any younger,” His dad said awkwardly. “We want to have a kid before we get too old.”

“Of course,” his mom said, her tone so tight and Evan wanted to reach out and grab her hand but he worried she would reject it, he worried so long she was out of reach before he could decide. “Excuse me.” She picked up their dirty plates and took them into the kitchen. 

He watched her go. Tracy gave him this big, stupid smile. “You’d have a little brother or sister,” She said. “Wouldn’t that be exciting?”

“Uh,” Evan said, not sure how to politely say that no, it absolutely would not be exciting to suddenly have a half-sibling almost two decades younger than him and living like a thousand miles away. Evan got up and followed his mom into the kitchen. “Sorry, just…” He grabbed the pizza box and took it into the kitchen. 

As he left, he heard Tracy say, quietly, “Do we know for sure that Evan’s… okay? Like he’s not… Like he doesn’t have issues ?” 

“We got him tested when he was little…” His dad said in this low voice. “He did speech therapy for a while but everything else was normal. He just. I guess he’s just anxious”

Wow. Just.

Wow.

Evan swallowed hard, and ducked into the kitchen. He put the leftover pizza into the fridge. His mom was furiously washing their plates. He could see steam rising from the sink. Her hands shook. His stepmom thought there was something wrong with him because he wasn’t excited she was trying to get pregnant and his mom was washing dishes with the water turned too hot and he wasn’t going to college and…

Evan reached over and turned down the temperature so she didn’t scald her hands. His mom sniffed and didn’t look at him. “He’s an asshole,” Evan said quietly. He picked up one of the cleaned dishes and started to dry it. “He’s -”

She turned to look at Evan, her eyes glassy. She wiped her hands on her jeans and pulled him into a tight hug. He had to stoop for it, had to stoop to fit into her arms now, and she kissed the top of his head. “You’re the best thing that ever happened to me,” She said quietly. “The best thing, Evan.”

Evan couldn’t make himself say anything. He just hugged her back tighter, tried to swallow the lump in his throat that wouldn’t go away. His dad was starting a family, a normal family with normal kids and his newer, younger wife. And Evan and his mom were just the leftovers, just the pieces he had left behind. 

If Evan didn’t exist… 

His mom wouldn’t be hurting like she was now. His dad wouldn’t be awkwardly insisting that Evan had been tested, his grandparents wouldn’t have to make stilted and painful conversations…Not for the first time Evan wished his dad had just fucking known how to use a condom or had pulled out or something. The fact that he was here only hurt. 

His mom said he was the best thing that happened to her and Evan wished she wouldn’t lie. He hugged her back, he hugged her hard, and he wished he was what she actually wanted. Not just what she was stuck with. 

 

Evan woke up the morning of his high school graduation, feeling a little sick to his stomach. He showered and his dad knocked on the bathroom door as he was finishing up shaving. “Yeah, I’ll just - Just gimme a- I’m almost done.”

His dad had this weird twisted look on his face. “Take your time.”

Evan nodded. He closed the door, finished shaving, and took a long look at himself in the bathroom mirror. At the dark circles under his eyes, at his slightly damp hair, and he tried to practice a confident smile. It came across weird. Evan gave up. 

He went into his bedroom. Pulled on the new clothes his mom had bought for him. Dress shirt. Pants. He tied his tie like he had learned from Youtube. It took him a few tries to get it straight in the mirror. Once Evan was satisfied the tie was straight, he grabbed his cap and gown out of his closet. He headed down the hall to his mom’s room. The door was open, and his mom was putting in a pair of dangly earrings. She was wearing a nice dress, black with white flowers. 

“You look nice,” Evan said quietly from the doorway. 

His mom smiled brightly at him. “Look at you,” She said, hurrying toward him and pulling Evan into a tight hug, even though he still had this gown hanging over his arm. “So handsome and grown up,” She said, kissing his cheek three times. “Evan I’m so proud of you.”

Evan swallowed hard. “Thanks mom.”

They broke apart. 

His mom put a hand on his face. “I love you.”

“I love you too.”

“You ready?”

Evan didn’t imagine he would ever be ready for this, for today, for the end of high school. He didn’t expect to live this long. To make it to this day, to his high school graduation. And now that he had… Evan didn’t know what to do with himself. 

And because he didn’t know… He just followed his mom down the stairs, where his dad and Tracy were sitting in the living room. His dad was pulling on a jacket and Tracy was fixing her lipstick. 

“My parents are picking Norah up,” Carl said. “But it sounds like it’ll just be the four of us for dinner. All of them are worried about the rain that might come in tonight.”

Evan nodded. “Great.”

They took photos at the house before they drove to the school. Evan felt kind of shaky and unwell as he headed to the auditorium where the graduating seniors were supposed to line up; their class was too big to fit all of their families so the actual ceremony was being held in the gym. 

“Hello Evan!” He looked to see Alana Beck walking toward him, wearing this huge smile. She made the cap and gown look way less stupid than he did. She had honors cords and her valedictorian medal. 

“Hi.”

“I didn’t see you on Friday after the superlatives.”

Evan shook his head awkwardly. “I went home, sorry.”

“I wanted to… To apologize, again, for going to Mrs. Byers about your AP notes. I am truly very sorry for my actions and how they may have hurt you.”

Evan stared down at his feet, awkwardly, waiting for her to finish. “Th-thanks Alana. It… I know it wasn’t, like, I-I know it wasn’t your fault?” He looked up at her, tried to give her a smile. She beamed back at him, so bright it felt like a photo flash. 

“I understand if you don’t want to,” Alana said suddenly, “But I brought my yearbook along. I didn’t get a chance to get all of the people from National Honor Society’s leadership board to sign it, and… Would you sign it?”

Evan blinked in surprise, his brain echoing as he remembered trying and failing to ask Alana to sign his cast on the first day of the school year. “Oh. Oh, okay, uh. Do you… you have a pen?”

She handed him an engraved silver pen. She explained it was her eighteenth birthday gift from her dads. “They said they wanted to give me a pen for when I’m signing bills into law one day. When I’m the president.” She stopped, looking a little embarrassed. 

“That’s. Your parents are cool,” Evan said gently. “They’re just… really great?”

“Thank you Evan.”

He took her yearbook and sat down in one of the auditorium seats to write in it. He expected the pages to be loaded up with signatures, but really, it looked like mostly teachers had signed Alana’s yearbook. Sabrina Patel had written nearly half a page on the flyleaf. Evan kept his message brief, under it. 

 

Alana, 

It’s been amazing getting to know you over the last few years. You are genuinely the brightest, most dedicated person I know. I can’t wait to someday be able to vote for you for president. Best of luck at Dartmouth next year. I’m sure you’ll be great. You are truly remarkable. 

Sincerely, 

Evan Hansen

 

He stood and returned the yearbook and pen to Alana. She read his note and then hugged Evan, tightly and unexpectedly, before saying she needed to go prepare for her speech and marching off. Evan swallowed hard, realizing that Alana was the only person who asked him to sign their yearbook. It was nice, he thought. Nice to be asked. 

Before long, they all lined up in alphabetical order like they had practiced on Friday. Evan smiled awkwardly at Gwen Grezens, and scanned the crowd as the jazz band played “Pomp and Circumstance” for his parents and grandparents. He spotted his mom’s head of blonde hair, and beside her saw his Grandma Norah, who was frowning deeply and directing a dirty look toward Carl and Tracy and his other grandparents, seated in front of them. 

Everyone sat and the principal addressed the crowd and the graduates. Then the jazz band played a song called “Autumn Leaves,” according to the program,  which Evan thought was sort of funny as it was June and definitely not autumn. 

Alana Beck gave a speech that was impassioned and articulate and bordering on ten minutes long. Evan wondered if she was practicing for future state of the union addresses. In the crowd, Evan spotted her dads, one of whom was openly weeping and dabbing his face with a hankie. As she was finishing up, Evan saw Zoe Murphy roll her eyes and make a face at someone in the crowd.

And then it was time to give everyone their diplomas. Not the real ones, of course, those would be mailed in a few weeks once final grades were tallied and the administration was sure nobody had like, released a dozen beach balls into the crowd at the ceremony. Their class was huge, Evan suddenly realized. There were so many people here. Too many. He felt sort of sweaty and uncomfortable before they even finished the Cs. He wiped his sweaty palms on his gown but it was hardly moisture wicking and mostly just made his hands feel the same as they had before. 

Evan kept thinking about what they’d been told at practice on Friday. Shake with your right, take the diploma with your left. Evan mentally practiced doing exactly that. Right hand out to shake, left hand to take the diploma. Right hand under, left hand over. Right hand to shake, left hand to take. Right shake, left take. 

When it was his group’s turn to get on their feet and head toward the stage, Evan swallowed hard. He had a stomach ache. His hands hand begun to sweat. Why had he agreed to walk at graduation? Why had he agreed to get up in front of at least a thousand people and walk across a stage and shake hands and try not to trip what the hell was the matter with him agreeing to this and nobody would cheer or clap hard at his name, he was an idiot an idiot fuck fuck. 

Right take left shake. No, shit , that was wrong. Right shake, left take. Right shake, left take. Shake with his right hand, take his diploma with the left. A flash went off and Evan’s stomach dropped. Fuck. Shit. He was supposed to smile in there too. There would be a photographer. Fuck. He’d forgotten that. Fuck. They’d take a picture of him crossing the stage. 

“Gwen Grezens.” 

Fucking fuck, Evan felt like his heart was going to fall into his stomach, he felt like he might be sick, he felt trembly and damp and why had he agreed to do this why had he made it here why was he here why was he here at all?

“Evan Hansen.”

Evan squared his shoulders and shakily climbed the steps up to the stage, feeling tense and like he really ought to just sprint off of this stage, run as far away as his shaky legs could carry him, disappear from all of this. 

Shake with your right, take the diploma with your left. 

He took a breath. Wiped his sweaty hand on his gown. Shook hands with the principal, took his diploma. Tried for a smile but knew it fell short, it was a cheap imitation. As he stepped off stage, he could see his mom on her feet, cheering loudly. 

Evan made his way back to his seat, following Gwen Grezens, He opened the empty diploma holder and thought that was a fucking metaphor if he had ever seen one. It was just a fancy, empty sleeve. No substance inside it. Much like this horseshit graduation ceremony. He tried to take a few breaths to calm down, he tried to will himself normal, will himself to just behave like a real person not like a freak who couldn’t breathe normally over something as simple as having walked across a stage. 

Evan got an uncomfortable jolt as Jared’s name was called. Evan hadn’t seen the Kleinmans in the crowd, but they weren’t the type to make a big deal out of stuff like graduation. Evan’s mom heard through the synagogue grapevine that they were pretty pissed about Jared getting trouble last month. Jared crossed the stage quickly, not wearing his normal overconfident smile or displaying any of his usual swagger. Evan wondered how many people had signed Jared’s yearbook. 

Evan’s stomach did a strange somersault as Connor Murphy’s name was called. Evan was surprised to see that Connor looked… different. Nicer. More put together. His hair was tied back, not in a frizzy untidy knot like he’d worn all through the heatwave in May, but a neat bun. He had on a tie under his gown, Evan could see.

He bet Connor Murphy’s dad probably tied that tie for him this morning. Straightened it around Connor’s throat, clapped him on the shoulders. Told Connor he was proud of him. Normal dad stuff. Unlike Evan’s dad who flew all the way from Denver and spent the whole trip taking beer out of his mom’s fridge and talking about “starting a family.”

Eventually the ceremony came to a close. The people around him all cheered loudly, throwing their caps into the air. Evan took his off but didn’t throw it, because he was scared he’d lose it and pick up someone else’s instead and what if they had lice or dandruff?

Evan held onto his cap tightly, pulling in his elbows and shoulders, trying not to bump anyone as he started to look around for his mom and dad and Tracy. He shifted slightly, turning his head, and he realizes someone was watching him. 

Connor Murphy. Standing a few yards away. 

He and Evan locked eyes, and Evan… Held his gaze. He didn’t move away or duck his head. He was never going to see Connor Murphy again. And for whatever reason, despite taking Evan’s letter on the first day of school, Connor hadn’t used it to ruin Evan’s life. 

Connor took a step toward Evan. 

And Evan… It was stupid, probably. It was stupid, but Evan wanted Connor Murphy to come talk to him. Even if he just wanted to chew Evan out for his fucked up letter, even if he just wanted to tell Evan to fuck off, Evan felt like… He’d spent all year paying attention to Connor, watching him and waiting, waiting for something. For Connor to make a move. 

And now he was. He took another step toward Evan. 

But then three people walk between them, and there’s a lot of noise and the swish of robes, and Evan looked away for a second, just a second, and then he heard someone say his name quietly. “Evan?”

He turned and Nick Schultz was beside him, and Evan felt himself tense up, not sure what Nick wanted with him. 

“Hi?”

“I just… I wanted to say how sorry I was about the stuff that happened with Jared?”

“Oh I - I mean it’s f-fine? I didn’t - it’s not like you -”

“We kicked him out of IT club,” Nick said. “What he did was so not cool, dude, and I’m really sorry.”

Evan nodded frantically and said, “Oh yeah. Of course. Tha-thank you? That was. You didn’t have to do that?”

“I know.” Nick shrugged. “It’s uh… Anyway, just. Sorry about all of that. You going somewhere cool next year?”

Evan shook his head. “Staying here to-to finish my gen eds at the community college.”

“Oh hey, same,” Nick said. “I deferred UCLA?”

“Ohio State.”

Nick smiled. “See you around.”

Nick turned and left. 

Evan looked back to the place where Connor Murphy had been standing, but he was gone. Evan looked around, feeling sort of deflated, panicked because he wanted to talk to Connor, he had wanted to - 

It was stupid. 

Connor was probably just looking at someone over his shoulder anyway. 

Why would he want to talk to Evan?

It wasn’t like things like that happened to him. Nothing happened to him. It wasn’t an amazing day or an amazing year because why would it be?

He turned and found his parents not long after. His mom had clearly been crying, but she hugged him hard when she saw him, kissed his cheek, said how proud she was. 

Evan nodded. Thanked her. Hugged her again. 

He took pictures with his parents both. With his dad and Tracy. With his grandparents. He smiled and smiled until his cheeks hurt. Until it didn’t even feel that forced. Evan smiled until it didn’t really hurt that much anymore. 

He had lived to finish high school. 

He had made it to eighteen. He had made it across the stage, and really, nothing was all that different. 

Evan had wished everything was different. 

He still wished everything was different. 

But at least this part was over. At least he was finished with this part. 

He could do better tomorrow.

 



CONNOR

 

The night before Connor’s high school graduation, his dad is actually home for dinner, which is something that is becoming increasingly rare. It seems to settle his mom, calm her down a little. 

She’s been tense these last few weeks. 

Connor has a sneaking suspicion that it’s his fault. 

That he scared her so much this winter that there’s a part of her that’s terrified he won’t make it to graduation. 

And, yeah, okay, Connor really doesn’t want to go to the graduation ceremony. He doesn’t want to walk across a podium or whatever, he doesn’t want to see any of his classmates, he doesn’t want any of the bullshit well-wishes he’s probably going to get from people who’ve hated him for the past decade. 

But he’s going to go. He’s going to wear the shirt and blazer his mom bought for him, he’s going to wash his hair and brush it and put it up, he’s going to wear the one tie he owns, the tie that was supposed to be for bar mitzvahs he was never invited to. 

Connor was invited to one bar mitzvah, but not in person. There’d been an invitation put in his locker, an invitation he hadn’t seen until three weeks after the event, and he’d felt bad, bad for not saying anything, bad for not knowing, but he hadn’t said anything, hadn’t apologized because he hadn’t known how. 

It’s only when he’s actually looking at the tie before dinner that he remembers whose bar mitzvah it was and it stops him in his tracks, hits him in the face. 

Evan Hansen had invited him to his bar mitzvah. 

Evan Hansen was the only person who invited Connor to his bar mitzvah, that year where there were a whole bunch of classmates who were having bar and bat mitzvahs. There’s a relatively strong Jewish community in this town and he remembers being a little surprised at how many kids were having them, surprised enough to have mentioned to his mom in passing. 

She’d gone out and bought him a tie. A fucking tie. 

And he’d only gotten one invite, and it had been too late. 

He’d been so embarrassed, felt so bad about this invitation he hadn’t seen until nearly a month after the fact, that he hadn’t told his mom he’d even got it. 

Connor thinks he would have gone, if he’d found the invitation in time. To make his mom happy, to make her feel like it was worth buying him a tie. 

He doesn’t know if Evan would have cared if he came or not. It was probably a pity invite, anyway.

Evan’s seemed different this past month. He’s quiet, quieter than usual, and wears headphones and hoodies all the time and doesn’t talk to people, doesn’t talk to anyone, not even Jared Kleinman, who Connor thought was his friend. 

People seem to be looking at Evan more often, and there are whispered comments but Connor doesn’t know why, and doesn’t want to know why because he thinks he won’t like it. 

Jared Kleinman probably did something assholeish and Evan finally told him to shove it. 

Jared Kleinman is such a fucking asshole.

Connor’s been avoiding that bathroom ever since, which is a pain in the ass, because it’s one of the less popular bathrooms and he preferred using it because it meant he had to deal with fewer people, but he’s not running the risk of running into Jared again and having to put up with his closeted bullshit. 

Thank fuck high school’s nearly over. 

There’s steak for dinner, again, with a side of broccoli and kale. Connor had gone with his mom to buy groceries just before dinner. She’s been insisting he accompanies her on errands like this since he got out of the hospital, which he thinks has less to do with her wanting his company and more to do with her wanting to keep an eye on him. 

Evan Hansen had been there, with a man who looked like him but with a different haircut. Connor assumes it’s Evan’s dad and remembers vaguely from grade school that Evan’s parents were divorced, that his dad had moved out of state, that it was mostly just him and his mom. 

He must have come for Evan’s graduation. Connor’s supposes that’s nice. 

Connor knows Evan saw him. Their eyes locked and Connor had almost waved at him, almost, but Evan had looked away so quickly and Connor had felt this sting in his chest, this sharp sting in his chest, and he hadn’t waved because it was obvious that Evan wanted nothing to do with him. 

He remembers Evan crying in the computer lab last month. 

He remembers Evan’s letter from the first day of school. 

Would anyone notice if I just disappeared tomorrow? 

I wish that everything was different. 

“Are you looking forward to the jazz band playing at graduation, Zoe?” asks their mom as the four of them sit down to eat dinner. “Excited about your solo?”

“I am, yeah,” says Zoe, looking at little surprised.

“You’ll be great,” Connor says tentatively, before slicing into his steak and taking a bite. Surprisingly, his mom hasn’t been able to completely ruin steak. The kale is soggy and the broccoli is overcooked but she manages to get the steak right, which is definitely... something. 

He’s definitely sick of steak, but it’s better than that fucking vegan lasagna. 

It’s something. 

“Can you make sure to record Zoe’s solo?” says their dad, frowning a little. “I might be running a little late tomorrow.”

Connor can see his mom’s shoulders tense up. “Larry.”

“I will be there,” he says, his voice firm, “but I’m in the middle of a big case, you know that. I’ll be heading back to the office after dinner.”

His mom’s shoulders get even tenser. “You didn’t say you were heading back to the office tonight.”

His dad sighs in annoyance. “Cynthia, we talked about this. If I want to make sure I’m free for the graduation ceremony and dinner tomorrow, I need to work late tonight.”

His mom’s shoulders are still tense, but she nods, then turns to Connor. “Did you get the final class rankings, sweetheart? I know you were third place for a while, but with your… when you weren’t well, you dropped a little. Where did you finish?”

“Number five,” Connor says. 

There’s a part of him that wants to mention that Evan Hansen is number four, but he knows that won’t mean anything to his parents. 

“That’s good,” says Zoe, and she looks at Connor with this expression that makes him think she means it. She looks at their dad. “That’s really impressive.”

Larry doesn’t look impressed. “If you’d worked a little harder, you’d be valedictorian.”

Connor actually laughs at that. “You’ve clearly never met Alana Beck. I genuinely think that she might have had me killed if I’d been anywhere near overtaking her for the valedictorian spot.”

Both of Connor’s parents flinch a little and Connor’s chest twists. 

Probably shouldn’t be joking about being dead, fuck. 

Zoe looks around the table, then speaks up. “Besides, could you imagine his valedictorian speech?” she says, her tone deliberately light. “‘Faculty, friends and family, my fellow graduates. Fuck you. Fuck you all.’”

Connor can’t help but smile. “You’ve got to stay out of my desk, Zo.”

Then something unexpected happens. 

Their mom starts to laugh. 

Actually fucking laugh. 

It’s been way, way too long since Connor’s heard his mom laugh. 

Larry looks like he’s trying to figure out how to react, looking between the three of them with uncertainty, but Connor’s mom is genuinely laughing, and it makes her look younger, so much younger, and it kind of drives home the point that Connor’s the one who’s been stressing her out, making her look older than she is. 

He tries to put that thought aside. Tries to just enjoy this weird, completely unexpected moment, enjoy his mom’s laugh and his dad’s bemusement and Zoe’s shit-eating grin. 

It’s… something. 

Even if he’s not sure what. 

 

The morning of Connor’s high school graduation, his mom makes eggs. They’re pretty much inedible, but he chokes them down anyway. Zoe has to leave before them to get to a last-minute rehearsal and she’s in and out of the kitchen, doing fuck knows what, in various different stages of what seems to be a long process of getting ready. 

When she finally says she’s leaving, Connor looks up to see that she’s got her hair all curled and she’s dressed up and wearing a little bit of makeup and she looks really nice. 

He kind of wants to tell her she looks nice, but he’s not sure what she’d say if he did. 

So he doesn’t. 

After he finishes his eggs, Connor showers in the downstairs bathroom. There’s a bottle of conditioner in there that smells like apples, and normally he doesn’t bother with it but he figures that he owes it to his mom to make an effort with his appearance today, so he works it through his hair and rinses it out. 

He gets changed into the clothes his mom picked out for graduation, including the tie, which he’d spent an hour teaching himself how to tie from YouTube videos last night because he figures that he owes it to his mom to wear this fucking tie she bought for him so many years ago and for it to look halfway decent. 

He brushes his hair, pleasantly surprised to find it’s easier to brush than normal, then pulls it back into a bun as neatly as he can manage. 

Connor looks at his reflection in the mirror as he shrugs on a navy blue blazer. 

He’s too pale, too thin, and his ears stick out weirdly. 

But he looks… different. Put together. The tie is nice, he thinks. 

Probably not something he would have picked for himself. 

Probably not something he’s going to ever wear again if he can help it. 

He thinks he likes the blazer. 

Fuck, it’s just so weird to be standing here, looking at his reflection in the mirror, and he can feel his body vibrating with the realization that he didn’t think he’d be here, he didn’t think he’d make it to his high school graduation. 

He hadn’t wanted to. 

And, okay, he still doesn’t exactly want to go to this stupid graduation ceremony, but…

Connor’s glad he’s alive. 

Well, glad might not be the word. He’s… 

He’s okay with being alive. 

That’s something. 

Even if he’s not sure what. 

 

Connor actually hadn’t realized how many people are in his graduating class until they’re all piled in together. It’s hot and he kind of wishes he weren’t wearing a blazer under a gown, but it’s not like he’s can really do anything about it now. He sits beside Donna Matthews, who seems pissed off about it for some reason. 

He’s got no fucking clue what he ever did to Donna Matthews. It grates on his nerves, makes him feel weird and stressed out and like he doesn’t quite fit in his own skin right. 

Once this stupid graduation ceremony is over, he’ll never have to see Donna Matthews again. He can fucking handle this. 

The jazz band is good. 

Zoe’s solo is better. 

Alana Beck gives a too-long speech and Connor finds himself locking eyes with Zoe about halfway through, and it makes him think about her quip about what his speech would sound like from dinner last night, and he finds himself smiling. 

She smiles back, like she’s thinking the same thing. 

It feels like everyone walking to get their diplomas and do the whole hat thing takes fucking hours. Connor finds himself zoning out before they even get to the Bs. It’s hot and he’s antsy and Donna Matthews hates him for some reason and he’d rather be anywhere else, fucking hell. 

“Evan Hansen.”

Connor snaps back to reality to see Evan walking across the stage, his whole body tense as he moves, like he’s preparing himself to just take off running to get the fuck away from this whole situation. Before he shakes hands with the principal and takes his diploma, Connor sees him wipe his hand on his gown, like it’s an automatic reaction.  

When it’s Connor’s group’s turn to walk, he finds himself looking out into the crowd. It takes a moment, but he spots his mom’s red hair. 

And an empty seat next to her. 

Something twists painfully in his chest. 

His dad isn’t here. 

His dad isn’t…

Connor closes his eyes. Takes a deep breath, trying to steady himself. 

He’s dizzy, all of a sudden. 

When he opens his eyes, Donna Matthews is looking at him with an expression that’s annoyed but concerned. 

“You look like you’re going to pass out,” she says, her voice curt. “Don’t like crowds?”

“No,” Connor replies, knowing his voice is equally curt. “It’s just…” He shakes his head. “Fuck, never mind.”

Donna rolls her eyes. 

And then they’re moving. 

Connor kind of feels like he’s having an out-of-body experience when it’s his turn to walk across the stage and shake the principal’s hand and get his diploma and move the tassel on his graduation cap over to the other side. There’s this sudden, overwhelming feeling that this isn’t real, that this isn’t how it was supposed to go, that he wasn’t supposed to be alive for this, he wasn’t supposed to make it this far, he was supposed to die, he was supposed to die and the fact that he’s alive right now is just dumb luck, some kind of cruel twist of fate. 

He can see his mom smiling and clapping and she looks like she might be crying. 

And there’s an empty seat next to her, where his dad is supposed to be. 

He’s at the side of the podium, only half-watching Sabrina Patel walk across the stage, when out of the corner of his eye he sees his dad slinking into the seat his mom had saved for him. 

Connor tells himself he doesn’t care. He doesn’t care, he doesn’t care. 

It doesn’t matter that his dad didn’t see him walk at graduation, it doesn’t matter. 

He doesn’t care. 

He doesn’t care. 

 

When it’s finally all over, there are swarms of people all over the place, people taking photos and saying tearful goodbyes and and all that cliched shit. Connor can see his parents through the crowd and can tell even from far away that they’re arguing, that his mom is really fucking upset and his dad is trying to defend himself, and he knows he should go over and talk to them but he just…

He needs a moment. 

Connor looks around and sees that Evan Hansen is standing nearby, curling in on himself, pulling himself away from everyone. 

And. 

Well. 

It’s graduation. 

He’s never going to see Evan Hansen ever again. 

He might as well say something. 

He wants to say something. 

Connor looks right at him and they lock eyes for what feels like a long time. He feels himself taking a step toward Evan, heading in his direction, and Evan kind of looks like he’s expecting it, like there’s something inevitable about this, like they’re due a conversation, and maybe they are. 

Maybe they’ve been due a real fucking conversation ever since that first day of senior year. 

Connor takes another step. 

Three people walk between them, deep in conversation, and it’s a swarm of noise and graduation robes, blocking Evan from Connor’s view. 

When they’re gone, there’s someone else standing next to Evan, this guy Connor vaguely recognizes from his APUSH class. He thinks his name is Nick, but he’s not sure. Whoever he is, he’s talking to Evan, and Evan’s looking at him, not at Connor, his shoulders tense and hunched, and…

Connor turns around and heads towards his parents. 

It was a stupid fucking idea, trying to talk to Evan. 

What the fuck would he have even said, anyway?

 

When Connor reaches his parents, his mom insists on photos. Photos of him by himself, photos of him and Zoe. Larry takes a photo of Connor, Zoe and his mom, and then his mom manages to convince a woman with blonde hair to take a picture of all four of them. She’s nice enough to make sure they’ve got a good shot on his mom’s way too fancy digital camera before apologizing and saying she needs to get back to her son who’s also graduated today. 

She looks tired and kind of sad and rushes off before Connor’s mom has the chance to ask about this woman’s son, ask if Connor maybe knows him, which is probably just as well because Connor doesn’t really know anyone.

Chances are whoever this woman’s kid is, he’s heard all sorts of stories about how fucked up Connor Murphy is, so it’s probably for the best. 

“We don’t have a picture of you and Connor,” Connor’s mom says to his dad. 

Connor doesn’t want to upset his mom, so he stands next to his dad and lets her take a photo. 

It’s excruciatingly awkward, and the minute it’s over, Larry announces that there’s an emergency at work and he needs to get back. 

“You just arrived,” says Zoe, clearly irritated. “You missed seeing Connor walk.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Connor mumbles. “It wasn’t like I did anything but walk across a stage.”

“This is a really big case,” Larry says, in a tone of voice that’s just this side of condescending. “It was an emergency-”

“It’s always a fucking emergency,” Zoe interrupts. 

“Zoe, that’s enough.”

Zoe crosses her arms. “Are you coming to dinner?” she asks, point-blank.

Larry doesn’t look at Connor. “We’ll see. I can’t know for sure right now.”

Connor looks at his mom. Her face is tight, her eyes are dangerously glassy and she opens her mouth like she’s going to argue.

Then closes it. 

Deflates. 

Like she’s just… given up. 

And Larry disappears into the crowd of people, leaving Connor and Zoe and their mom standing there, awkwardly. 

“Great,” Zoe mutters. “Fucking stellar parenting, right there.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Connor says, louder this time. “It… it’s not a big deal.”

Zoe looks horribly sad for a moment, then says something about getting her guitar and turns around to head for the space next to the stage where the jazz band had been set up. 

Connor looks at his mom, whose eyes are still shiny with unshed tears. 

Fuck. 

He hates this. 

Fuck. 

“I’ll be doing it all again in four years anyway,” he says, trying to keep his tone light. “When I graduate from Columbia.”

Connor’s mom stares at him for a moment, then wraps her arms around him and pulls him into a tight, tight hug. 

He returns it the best he can, and he can feel his mother shaking and knows she’s crying, and he hates it, he hates it so much, he hates knowing that he’s upset her, that he’s hurt her. 

She doesn’t let go for what feels like a very long time. 

 

Larry doesn’t make it to dinner. 

The three of them go anyway, and eat overpriced steak and really fucking great tiramisu. Connor’s mom buys a bottle of wine, and lets both him and Zoe have a glass with dinner, but finishes the rest of the bottle herself. 

Then another bottle. 

She’s well and truly drunk by the time they leave the restaurant. 

Zoe drives them home. 

Connor heads to his room and immediately takes off his tie. 

Lies down on his bed and looks at the ceiling. 

It’s done. 

High school is done. 

In a few months, he’ll be moving to New York City, and all going well he’ll never have to see anyone from high school ever again. 

He’ll get to start over. Start fresh. 

Be someone better. 

Maybe. 

He stares at the ceiling and finds his thoughts drifting back to Evan Hansen, like they have so many times throughout the year. 

Connor will probably never see Evan again and that’s… probably for the best. Evan deserves to go off and do amazing things and leave high school behind him, leave this town behind him. 

Evan deserves to start over, too. 

Connor thinks about Evan’s letter. 

I wish that everything was different.

Now that high school is over, maybe it can be. 

For both of them.