The week that all of Kevin’s friends leave to go to college, he turns off the phone and plays eight different games of Monopoly with Nick. He’s already said goodbye to them, anyway. He’s still got bruises from where Brendon had force-hugged him for a half hour in the back of Selena’s car last weekend. Everyone else was out on the beach, enjoying the last of the time they all had together, and Brendon had refused to get out of his lap until they talked about their feelings.
“You’re the best of us, you know,” Brendon had said, and Kevin hadn’t known what to do with that. He just frowned into Brendon’s neck until he continued, “I mean, fuck, I’m a music major. What am I ever going to accomplish?”
“Music, I would hope.”
Brendon had huffed and slid away from him, into the other seat.
“You’re really helping someone,” he’d said. “You’re making a difference.”
Now, Kevin half-smiles at the look on Nick’s face when he starts counting his fake money, knowing that he’s already won because Nick is a tiny, scary genius.
He hopes he’s making a difference.
Kevin has been working the same check-out lane as Gerard at the Winn-Dixie since he was sixteen, a few months after his dad lost his job and couldn’t find another one. It’s not so bad, once you get past the buzzing fluorescent lights and all the times they’ve been robbed because people think they’re actually making money. If he’s being honest with himself, he never really had any plans for what he would grow up to be, anyway, after he figured out the astronaut plan wasn’t going to work out. For now, he’s okay with coming into the store every morning and letting Gerard break out the sharpies halfway into the day, just to see him smile while he draws on Kevin’s arms.
He just has to remember to wash them before he gets home, because he’s pretty sure that his parents would think that fanged pink unicorns are a gateway drug to actual drugs or tattoos that don’t involve Jesus.
Kevin’s still kind of pissed that Joe, at all of thirteen years old, got away with his Jesus tattoo.
When his shift’s over, the ladies in the bakery always give him the cookies that are about to go stale to bring home, because they know it makes his mother happy. He takes the bus and reads paperback romance novels that he picks up for two bucks with his employee discount, and he’s never late for dinner. He wakes up early enough in the morning to see Nick and Joe before they get on the school bus and make sure they eat an actual breakfast, because their mom and dad both work the night shift and he wants them to have the same kind of care that he got.
He watches Golden Girls reruns at night and goes to bed early.
It’s not so bad.
He’s counting down the minutes until the end of his shift one night, listening to Gerard singing softly under his breath because there’s nobody around to hear him. At this point, he’s not expecting to see anyone else, which is why he starts a little when he hear the doors slide open. It’s a guy in a grey flannel shirt, dark hair falling in his eyes, and Kevin doesn’t recognize him until he walks closer and he can get a good look at his face.
He went to high school with him, Mike Carden, but they hardly know each other because Mike’s a couple of years older. He hung out with the kind of kids who hardly made it to class or spent the whole time they were actually there composing rock operas or holding arm wrestling tournaments in the back of the room. Kevin had nothing against those kids; none of them ever caused him physical harm, which is more than he could say for most of the organized sports teams, unless you count that time Gabe Saporta pressed him up against a locker when he was a freshman and told him that he had lovely hips and should consider using them for evil. And Kevin didn’t even mind that, so much, if he’s being honest with himself.
Mike doesn’t say anything while Gerard rings up his purchases, a bag of Doritos and a pack of cheap Bic lighters. He asks for cigarettes, and Kevin fumbles for the key to get them. He manages not to embarrass himself until he’s passing them over to Mike and says, automatically, “Those things’ll kill you, you know.”
Mike stares at him for a split-second before he smiles, one side of his lips twisting up. He’s gotten a haircut since graduation. It looks nice, especially when he smiles like that.
“Yeah, I know,” Mike says.
Their hands brush when Kevin hands back his change, and Kevin actually honest-to-goodness blushes. When he walks towards the door, Mike looks back over his shoulder, like he’s trying to catch Kevin staring or like maybe he wanted to stare back. When Kevin turns around again, Gerard is blinking at him.
“Did you two just have a moment?” he asks.
Kevin says, “I don’t know, I hope not,” even though that’s probably not true at all.
That night, Kevin helps Nick with his homework, making a diorama of a scene from The Giver with an old shoebox and bits and pieces out of their mom’s sewing kit. He’s going to heat up dinner for them, later, because his dad has to leave for work early, so both of his parents have to leave because they share the car.
On their way out, his dad says, “Kev, I forgot, there’s a message for you on the answering machine,” and Kevin makes sure that Nick’s settled before he goes to see who it is. He gave up paying his cell phone bill awhile ago, so he gets post-it notes stuck to his door back or static-filled messages on their landline.
When he presses the button, Brendon and Selena’s voices fill up the room, battling for attention. They ramble about missing him and Brendon says, “And, by the way, Selena is totally not failing her statistics course,” and there’s the sound of scuffling and a yelp in the background, kind of like Selena might be beating him up, and then she adds, breathlessly, “Well, Brendon totally didn’t get trashed at a party and start singing Journey on top of a table.” There’s more noise that Kevin thinks might be Brendon tackling Selena to the ground, and then the message cuts off.
He’s smiling when he goes back to the dining room, where Nick is carefully making clouds out of cotton balls.
Nick asks, “Don’t you miss them?” without looking up.
Kevin does, but Nick’s gotten kind of hyper-sensitive about Kevin since the series of very loud fights that he got in with his parents about college before he gave in to the fact that it made more sense not to go.
“Not as much as I’d miss you,” he says, and Nick smiles at the table, getting Elmer’s glue all over his fingers.
“Besides,” Kevin adds, “someone has to keep Joe from getting suspended.”
“I can hear you!” Joe yells, from the living room.
“Stop lighting things on fire!” Kevin yells back, then goes to preheat the oven and check which vegetables in the refrigerator are still fresh enough to eat.
Mike comes back the next day and buys bottled water, a tabloid, gum. He smiles before Kevin says anything, and he’s got his hair brushed away from his eyes like he did it on purpose.
He says, “I didn’t know you worked here.”
Kevin says, “I didn’t know you knew me at all.”
Mike hands over his money when the price shows up, and Kevin’s grateful for the distraction of getting his change. He doesn’t normally have to small talk much with customers, just listen to women with white hair talk about their grandchildren and deal with people who try to shoplift. When he looks up, Mike is watching him, shifting on his feet. It’s not creepy or anything; it’s mostly awkward, really, which makes Kevin feel good. He knows awkward. He can handle that.
“Your change is $1.35,” he says, quietly. “Can I help you with anything else?”
“When does your shift end?” Mike asks.
“Are you planning to kill me, after, because I’m not sure I want to tell you,” Kevin says, and he’s not really sure why. Mike doesn’t really look like he could kill anyone. Or, well, he looks like he totally could, because wow biceps, but he doesn’t look like he would.
“I was going to ask if you wanted to get coffee,” Mike says. “With me, specifically.”
“I,” Kevin says, and that’s not even a sentence. He swallows hard, trying to figure out if he actually does want to get coffee. It’s one of those brain-says-sweet-lord-no and everything-else-says-yesyesyes situations, because he can’t really comprehend why this is happening, but part of him is really, really drawn to Mike’s voice and his smile and generally everything to do with his mouth.
Gerard coughs, significantly.
“You can say no,” Mike says, quickly. “I won’t care.”
“No, no.” Kevin says, “I mean, yes. I’d like that.”
“He gets off at 8:00,” Gerard adds, a tiny, ecstatic smile on his face that he generally reserves for things like the tiny puppies that people shop with in the front of their carts, “but he could probably sneak out at 7:00.”
“Uhm, 7:30, then? The closest Starbucks?” Mike takes his purchases, then looks up at Kevin, hopeful. When Kevin nods, his face lights up, and he toasts him with his water bottle.
Kevin watches him leave, then turns back around to find that Gerard is beaming at him.
“That,” he says, “was adorable.”
“Shut up,” Kevin says, “it was not.”
“Adorable,” Gerard repeats.
It’s not like Kevin didn’t know that sometimes guys date each other, even if his parents tried their best to shield him from it. For one thing, Gerard’s possibly-boyfriend sneaks in occasionally when the manager is out, and it’s not like Kevin makes a point to watch, but it’s hard not to notice when there are two people making out in the break room while you’re trying to eat your lunch. It never looks bad, though. Wet, maybe, but not bad.
He also spent three years dating the same girl, and he only ever loved her like he loves his brothers or, like, Brendon. It wasn’t the easiest thing for him to admit to himself, but he’s pretty sure that Dani got the message without him telling her. They broke up a few weeks before graduation, and she kissed his cheek and said, “I won’t tell anyone,” even though he never told her anything she needed to keep a secret.
After his shift, he decides to walk to the Starbucks because it’s only two blocks away, near the hardware store where his dad used to work. There are still puddles from the rain the night before, and he’s not all that surprised when it starts raining again and he doesn’t have an umbrella. The reflection of the streetlights bounce up around his ankles while he pulls the collar of his coat up around his face and sets off at a run.
Underneath the awning in front of Starbucks, he stops because he can see Mike through the window, sitting alone at a corner table. It looks warm inside, and he’s freezing and his hair is dripping, but he still kind of wants to run in the opposite direction. He would probably do it, too, but then Mike looks up and notices him.
He’s standing when Kevin comes inside, shrugging out of his coat.
“You actually came,” Mike says.
“I said I would, didn’t I?” Kevin sits down just so Mike will. He looks at the cup in front of him. “Is this for me?”
“Yeah,” Mike says. He’s fidgeting like he’s embarrassed about it, and Kevin can’t help but think it’s cute. “It’s one of those seasonal flavors? Like, peppermint mocha something something. You seemed like the type.”
“The type to like seasonal coffee beverages?”
Kevin takes a long drink of it. It tastes like candy canes and his mom’s hot chocolate, and it warms him up instantly. He can feel his face heating up; he really is that type of person.
“Your scarf has reindeer on it,” Mike points out. “Also, I did know who you were in high school. You were in Pep Club. And that group that used to, like, pray around the flag pole every morning.”
“Well, what are you drinking, black coffee with vodka?” Kevin asks, and Mike starts laughing. It’s a nice, honest laugh, especially considering Kevin keeps accidentally insulting him.
“Soy latte, actually,” Mike says.
“I knew who you were in high school, too,” Kevin says. “I know you almost burned down the chemistry lab, and that you almost got suspended for the fourteen expletives in the song you played for the talent show.”
“That last one’s true, but we didn’t burn down the chemistry lab on purpose. We were just trying to distill alcohol, and. . .” Mike stops, smiling slowly. “Okay, point taken.”
Kevin watches him for a few moments, over his cup.
“We’re not in high school anymore, though,” he says.
“No,” Mike says, “we’re not.”
Underneath the table, a shoe brushes up against his ankle, kicking gently, and Kevin doesn’t think it’s an accident. Something warm is growing in the pit of his stomach, anxious and happy, and he can’t blame it on the coffee.
They stay at Starbucks until the baristas start cleaning off the tables and giving them mean looks. Mike tells him about his band, about how he doesn’t have a steady job but they get enough from shows and the fourteen-year-olds who buy their album because the lead singer is dreamy that they all get by. He says that they’re going to make it big, and that Kevin should come to one of their shows sometime.
Kevin tells him about staying home, after Mike asks him how he got stuck here, about Nick and Joe and how they’re going to go places if he has anything to say about it. He probably talked too much, but when he drew off, Mike’s face had gone kind of soft and sad. He touched Kevin’s hand on the tabletop and then he never moved his hand away.
He wants to walk Kevin home, but it’s too far, so they take the bus together because Mike actually only lives a few blocks from him. They sit so their knees touch, and this is probably maybe the third time he’s ever spoken to Mike, so it shouldn’t feel so familiar. When they get to his stop, Kevin starts to get up, and Mike says, “We should do this again, sometime.”
He kisses Mike. He slides a hand across his shoulder and leans in and kisses him. He’s spoken to him three times, and he doesn’t even know if this was a date, and it took him two months to get up the urge to kiss Dani, but Kevin kisses him.
And then he stands up and makes a run for the door.
He spends the next three days working and quietly freaking out. He’s pretty sure that Gerard can tell that’s something’s wrong, because as soon as Kevin came in the morning after the kiss, he started to talk more to take the pressure away from him. He doesn’t even ask him how it went, which Kevin appreciates.
On the third day, before Kevin can leave at the end of his shift, Gerard grabs his arm and says, seriously, “Did this guy do something to you? Because I know people that can, you know. Get rid of him.”
Kevin stares at him.
“Well, not kill him,” Gerard amends. “But, like, seriously threaten him.”
“No, it’s cool,” Kevin says, smiling weakly. Gerard lets go of him, and he goes to the break room to change out of his uniform and grab his coat. The wind’s picking up as he walks through the empty parking lot, towards the bus stop, and he hardly hears it when someone starts calling his name. He finally turns around when he hears footsteps, tensing up because it’s dark out, and there isn’t anyone else around.
Then he sees it’s Mike, and he tenses up for a completely different reason.
“Hi,” Mike says.
“Hey, hi,” Kevin says.
“I thought you might be freaking out,” Mike says.
Kevin covers his mouth with a gloved hand, laughs into it. Mike steps closer and reaches up to touch pull at a lock of his hair, gingerly. It probably looks ridiculous, from the wind and because it always looks sort of ridiculous.
“I don’t do things like this,” Kevin murmurs, so Mike has to lean forward to hear him.
“Neither do I,” Mike says, and he moves his hand to wrap fingers around Kevin’s wrist. They’re so cold that Kevin can feel it through his coat, and he moves to slide their fingers together without thinking about it, so he’s holding both of Mike’s hands.
Mike leans in to say, in Kevin’s ear, “Maybe we should get to know each other better?”
Kevin replies, slowly, “Maybe we could do this at the same time?” because something about being around Mike makes him a lot braver than he’s ever felt before.
Mike grins at him, and Kevin leans up to meet the kiss halfway. If it wasn’t so cold, he wouldn’t want to stop, but eventually he pulls away and says, “Come on, if we have to wait for the next bus, we’re going to die out here.”
Mike doesn’t let go of his hand until they get to Kevin’s stop.
“I guess I have to go,” Kevin says, quietly.
“Or you could not,” Mike says. “You could come back to my place, for awhile.”
Kevin should go home. He knows that he should, that his parents are going to have to leave in a few hours, and he should be there for dinner or they might be worried.
He looks at Mike, and he says, “I could do that.”
From Mike’s apartment, a tiny place on the fifth floor of a less than reputable building, Kevin calls his house. His mom picks up, and she asks him where he’s been.
“Gerard’s sick,” Kevin says, “so I’m going to stay a couple of more hours, just until the next shift.”
“Oh, of course,” she says. “Joe and Nick will be fine alone for awhile. Don’t work too hard, honey.”
When he hangs up, Mike’s lingering in the doorway.
“Lying to your parents?” he asks. “I think that’s something I’m supposed to do.”
“I just don’t want to deal with explaining it to them,” Kevin says, standing up and wandering over to him. There are two glasses of soda sweating in Mike’s hands, and he sits them on the counter when Kevin gets close enough for him to touch. “They’re not really big on the whole dating boys thing, from what I’ve gathered.”
“A lot of people aren’t,” Mike says, “which I don’t understand, because it’s kind of fun.”
Kevin leans up to kiss his cheek.
“You said something about day old pizza?” he asks.
“Yeah, it’s my specialty,” Mike says, taking his hand and leading him into the kitchen.
Kevin gets home late enough that night that Nick and Joe have already gone to bed. He washes the dishes that they left in the sink, and then he boosts himself up on the kitchen counter and stares at the phone until he works up the nerve to call Brendon.
As soon as Brendon picks up, Kevin says, “I’m dating Mike Carden,” in one short breath. There’s no sound for a good thirty seconds.
“Mike Carden?” Brendon asks, finally. “Smoked pot behind the high school with Gabe? Never washes his hair?”
“I thought you would be more interested in the fact that he’s, you know, a boy,” Kevin says, slowly. There’s another long pause, so all he can hear is Brendon breathing and a radio somewhere further off.
“Dude, I’m in college,” Brendon says. “I was making out with a boy, like, ten minutes ago. Say hello, Ryan,” and Kevin hears a deep voice in the background, sounding about as uncomfortable as Kevin feels right now, and then Brendon is continuing, “I actually just want to ask you if kissing a boy who smokes tastes like licking an ashtray.”
“I don’t think licking an ashtray could be nearly as awesome,” Kevin says, faintly.
“Do you make him take a shower before you touch him?”
“He’s really not that gross,” Kevin says.
“Then he makes you happy?”
Kevin thinks about it. He’s had to redefine how he thinks about his own happiness, but the way he feels when he looks at Mike makes him feel kind of like his heart is going to beat straight through his chest, in a really nice way. It doesn’t really feel like anything he’s ever felt before, and maybe that’s a good thing, maybe that means he’s growing.
He says, “Yes,” and doesn’t feel like he’s lying.
“I’m so proud of you,” Brendon says, really earnestly, but then he makes a funny, high noise and adds, “but I totally have to go do explicit things that you don’t want to hear about,” and all Kevin can hear is a dial tone. He stares at the phone for a full minute before he finally hangs up.
That went better than he thought it would.
Mike finds out his schedule from what he calls an unknown source, but, from the way Gerard keeps giggling whenever he sees them, it’s kind of obvious. He shows up with food at Kevin’s lunch breaks every day he can.
“Isn’t it nice to have a boyfriend with so little going on in his life?” Mike asks, and Kevin throws a french fry at him.
“I work at a Winn-Dixie, it’s not like I’m doing anything important,” he says, and then stops. He looks at his food for a second before he asks, “Wait, did you say boyfriend?”
“It’s been three weeks and a day,” Mike says. “I figured if you get to pull out the kiss on the first date, I get to use the boyfriend card.”
“Dating’s confusing,” Kevin says, but he leans across the table to kiss Mike until Gerard gives the signal that the manager’s back and Mike has to hide under the table. Once the manager is back in his office, Mike wanders up to Kevin’s lane and hands him a bottle of coke and a romance novel with a pirate on the cover.
“The book’s for you,” Mike says. “I found four different metaphors comparing sex to sailing.”
“My favorite,” Kevin says, “thank you.”
“You’ve not been buying cigarettes lately,” Gerard says.
“Yeah, well,” Mike murmurs, smiling at the floor while he backs away from them. “Those things’ll kill you.”
Kevin swallows hard and yells after him, “Are you going to be home tonight?”
Mike steps back around the corner.
“Definitely,” he says, and Gerard only waits ten seconds after he leaves to give Kevin a hug and congratulate him on being in a relationship because relationships are awesome, Kevin Jonas, and so is sex-don’t look at me like that, it’s perfectly natural-and your love, it’s so beautiful!
Kevin can’t really disagree.
Apparently everyone else knows far too much about Kevin’s love life, because, as he’s leaving, one of the ladies from the bakery hands him a discounted cheesecake and tells him to take it to his “young man” because good cheesecake is the way for a man’s heart.
“She was right, you know,” Mike says, into his second piece. “I’m really attracted to you right now.”
“Oh, really?” Kevin asks.
“I’ll prove it,” Mike says, and Kevin bites his lip around a smile until Mike adds, “After I finish this, I mean,” and he breaks out laughing.
Later, they’re sitting on the sofa together with the TV off, and Kevin’s digging fingers into Mike’s thigh while they kiss, trying not to make noise until Mike moans long and low, into his mouth. Kevin bites at his lip, gently, and Mike pulls away to look at him.
“Hey, can I, can I try something?” he asks, voice rough. Kevin nods, not wanting to stop, and Mike moves away from him to kneel on the floor with his hands on his knees.
Mike says, “Tell me to stop if you don’t want to,” and unzips Kevin’s jeans. Kevin catches his breath but pulls himself together enough to push himself up and help Mike pull down his jeans, his underwear. He drops his head to the back of the sofa the moment that Mike’s lips touch his cock, sliding over the head. For a moment, he swallows back the noises in his throat as Mike slowly moves his tongue, going farther, but then Mike slides big, calloused finger around the base of his cock and he can’t bother to be quiet anymore.
It’s almost embarrassingly quick, and he doesn’t manage to warn Mike before he comes. He feels like that should be more awkward, like this whole thing should be really freaking awkward, but Mike just swallows and coughs a little. He wipes his mouth off with the back of his hand and looks up at Kevin, eyes dark.
“Was the cheesecake that good?” Kevin asks, hoarsely.
“You know, I have a bed,” Mike says. “It’s warm and just a little bit more comfortable than my floor.”
“Right,” Kevin says, standing up and almost falling forward before Mike helps him step out of his jeans. They go to the bedroom, and Kevin decides to make sure that he’s not the only half-naked person.
Eventually, he wakes up with Mike’s arm around him and realizes that it’s morning. He pushes back against him at first, because it’s cold in the room, and he just wants to get back to sleep, and then he realizes that it’s morning.
“Oh, no,” he says. “Oh, oh, shit.”
Mike stirs, turning to look at him.
“What’s wrong?” he murmurs sleepily, but Kevin’s already throwing himself out of bed, grabbing for his clothes. He pulls on his jeans and can’t find his shirt, breathing too fast.
Mike stands up.
“Kevin, what’s happening?” he asks, seriously, putting a hand on Kevin’s shoulder.
“I left them alone,” Kevin says. “I left them alone all night, and I can’t find my shirt, and I need to go.”
“I’m sure they’re fine,” Mike says.
“But what if they’re not, what if Joe tried to use the oven again,” Kevin starts, picking up the shirt that Mike was wearing last night and putting it on. “What if Nick needs his insulin shot, and he can’t find it? I have to go, I have to get home.”
He slides on his shoes at the front door and starts running as soon as he hits the pavement outside, leaving Mike in the open doorway. He’s breathless by the time he makes it home, and, halfway, he realizes that he didn’t get his coat, and it’s still early enough that it feels as cold as nighttime. He fumbles to get his keys out of his back pocket and into the house.
His parents aren’t home yet, but he’s not even worried about that.
“Joe!” he calls. “Nick!”
There isn’t any answer, and he takes the stairs at a run, stumbling at the top and catching himself on the banister. He opens the door to the room that Joe and Nick share, and they’re both in their beds, barely awake.
“Oh, god,” he says.
“What are you doing?” Joe groans. “It’s Saturday.”
“You didn’t burn the house down,” Kevin says.
“What, weren’t you here. . .” Joe gasps, sitting up. “We were home alone all night, and I didn’t even throw a party?”
“I wouldn’t have let you throw a party,” Nick mumbles, turning to face the wall and pull the covers over his head. Joe drops his head back down on the pillow and says, bitterly, “I went to bed at 10:00.”
Kevin tries to figure out how to breathe again, smiling at them. It’s probably creepy, so he leaves and closes the door behind them so they can go back to sleep. If he doesn’t leave soon, he’s going to be late to work, anyway.
When he gets to the store, Mike is standing outside, his hood up and one hand in his pocket. The other hand is holding a Starbucks cup, and he holds it hesitantly towards Kevin when he gets close. When Kevin takes a drink, he realizes it’s the same one that Mike ordered for him before.
“I wanted to make sure everything was okay,” Mike says.
“It was,” Kevin says. “I’m sorry for leaving so quickly.”
“No, I get it.” Mike takes the cup back and drinks a little. “Your family’s important to you. I’d, uh. I’d like to meet them someday.”
Kevin ducks his head.
“I was thinking Christmas,” he says. “There are always enough drunken relatives around that you being my boyfriend might be a welcome relief to the drama.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Mike says, and they meet each other halfway for a hug. Kevin tries not to seem like he’s clinging, but he’s pretty much clinging. Over Mike’s shoulder, he can see Gerard giving him a thumbs-up.
“Hey, tell me again about how you’re in a band?” Kevin murmurs, and Mike laughs, ducking his head to talk in his ear.
“We’re getting pretty famous,” he says. “Some girls are forming a fan club for William’s hair, it’s a whole big thing. You really should come to one of our shows.”
“Wow, I can’t believe I’m dating a rock star.”
“I could get you backstage and everything.”
Kevin buries his face in Mike’s neck. He hopes that he can feel him smiling.