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Rushing Rivers

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Having to wake up every day, knowing he’d be facing some ultimate shit, wasn’t easy. Taking a shower wasn’t easy; getting dressed wasn’t easy, even having breakfast wasn’t easy, because everything reminded him that those things he was about to face weren’t just going to go away.

To begin with, things with Nini were not okay. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t good, either. Waking up to his lock screen still being him with Nini wasn’t easy, because it reminded him that they weren’t together; that he’d been an idiot, and that things were not okay yet; and it was difficult.

Ricky wanted to own up to what he had done, and he wanted to make things better; but it wasn’t easy. Nini had made sure he understood that she had been hurt, and that is wouldn’t be simple to regain her heart. Ricky understood her; and he believed in himself that he’d get her back. Therefore, if it meant he’d have to jump through some hoops to do it, he would.

Which brings him to the next thing that made it hard to wake up every day; the fact that maybe, he’d have to, quite literally, jump through some hoops. He had joined that musical for Nini, and he was not going to back away, but that didn’t erase the fact that he was not a theatre person and most of it just felt- ridiculous; the dancing, the acting, the rehearsing… it was weird. Especially when most of his scenes he had to do involved a certain person.

And that certain person is the third thing he’d think about every morning when he showered; EJ. Than damn fuck. Man, if he could put into words how he felt about that boy; he’d be surprised by his own vocabulary bank.

When he thought about EJ, he realized there was no positive thought of him. Every obstacle Ricky could think of, EJ was there. Every room he felt uncomfortable in, EJ was there, too. Every conversation he’d feel irritated at, EJ was there as well. Sometimes Ricky wished he could just delete EJ with the push of a button. He wished he could snap his fingers and it would make that boy turn to dust; because things would be easier if he weren’t there. If Nini hadn’t met him, maybe he’d have it easier trying to get her to forgive him. How frustrating.

Regardless, Ricky still had to wake up every day, shower, get dressed, and have breakfast; doing it with Nini and- EJ- in his mind.

 

Magic circles felt like the therapy he didn’t want to be at. It was a shame most of the readings and group meetings happened like that; everyone forming a circle. However, he’d have to admit, there were some scenes he quite enjoyed; like the scenes he wasn’t a part of and he’d get to see his friends act, or the ones where Troy and Gabriella interacted; or the ones where Chad didn’t exist; although those were scarce.

“What spell-” EJ half read, half remembered by heart, with fake anger exploding from his words. “-has this elevated-IQ temptress girl cast that suddenly makes you wanna be in a musical?”

“I just did it” Ricky tried to mimic EJ’s level of anger. “Who cares?”

“Who cares?” EJ answered with irony. “How about your most loyal best friend?”

Ricky watched EJ as he said that last line, and even him, an unexperienced theatre person, as he liked to called himself, noticed the struggle that came with that sentence.

“Quiet in here, Mr. Danforth”

“It’s him, Miss Falstaff, not me”

Ricky had to agree his scenes with EJ were the hardest of all. His own irritation caused by the guy being in the same room as him showed through his acting, and he was sure that people could not only see it, but smell it.

“Look, you’re a hoops dude, not a musical singer person” EJ said his line without looking at his script, and half-smiling at Ricky. And he knew, that smile was meant for Ricky, not for Troy.

Ricky was glad Troy had to throw the basketball at EJ with an irritated sigh, as the script read. That part he could do perfectly.

 

There were the times, when Nini had to rehearse her scenes with Ricky; both of them by themselves, and the rest of the cast stayed to observe, he ensured he was giving Nini a top-level acting. Her passion was adorable and inspiring, even contagious, and it made the whole thing seem less atrocious; almost to the point he believed being in a musical wasn’t that bad. Also, these were the moments he didn’t mind EJ being in the same room as him; as he could feel his boiling rage and jealousy exhaling from his skin.

Some days were good.

 

There had been a day, when classes were done for the day, and Ricky and Big Red were walking home, Ricky was stopped by Carlos before he could step foot outside of the school.

“Hey, Ricky”

Ricky could tell he had been running, or at least jogging, by the way his breath was agitated. “Hey, Carlos” And honestly, he felt weird, because Carlos and he barely spoke to each other if it weren’t for musical reasons.

“I wanted to talk to you, about your role” Carlos adjusted his glasses. “Can you? Do you have time?”

Ricky turned to look at Big Red, but he simply shrugged; he contemplated it for a second, because that didn’t really seem like an inspiring conversation about to happen. But, well. Sure.

“Sure”

And so, Big Red, Ricky, and Carlos walked back into the school and headed to their usual rehearsing space.

“I’m thinking-” Carlos sat on a stool, put his director cap on, not really, and stared at Ricky with a thoughtful expression. “Troy’s straight hair was an iconic piece in High School Musical”

“Do you want me to straighten my hair?”

“Have you ever?” Carlos looked invested.

“No” Ricky’s eyes widened. “Never”.

“How long do you think your hair would look if you did?”

Before Ricky could answer “I don’t know”, Carlos had already stood up, grabbed a lock from Ricky’s front hair, and pulled it down his forehead. Carlos tilted his head hesitantly, looking doubtful. “I don’t think so”

“But well,” Carlos sat back down. “You could always wear a wig” He smiled at the idea. Ricky, however, raised his eyebrows and smiled in confusion.

“Yeah” Big Red contributed. “That seems like a better idea”

Ricky nervously laughed once more. “I don’t know about that”

“Don’t worry, we haven’t really discussed wardrobe, hair and makeup yet, we’re focusing on the story right now, and of course, the choreography” Carlos announced proudly. “Which is why, I wanted to talk to you about Troy”

“What about Troy?”

“The biggest attribute to his storyline is his desire and attraction to Gabriella, and you’ve captured that perfectly, it almost looks like you’re not acting at all”

Ricky knew damn well he sometimes wasn’t.

“But another big part is how he feels he’s betraying his love for basketball, and his team, and his best friend, Chad”

Dear God.

“And I know you have your- things with him, and you two aren’t the best friends Troy and Chad are, but-”

“EJ and I are not friends at all, and I don’t think we ever will be” Ricky interrupted Carlos before he could say anything else.

“I know that” Carlos nodded. “But, I’m afraid that kind of shows on stage?” He stated with a questioning tone. “And that’s not good”

“Well, I’m sorry, but that guy makes it nearly impossible for me to concentrate”

“Yeah, me too, he’s great, handsome, tall, a great actor-”

“No-” Ricky shut his eyes closed. “That’s not what I mean” He sighed, and he covered his face with his hands for a second. “I mean, you know he’s dating Nini, and I’m trying to mend things with her, but I can’t with him around”

“I get it”

For a second, Ricky had rested in hopes Carlos would give him the great news that in their rendition of the movie Chad and Troy wouldn’t be friends, because nobody needed to see that. Or, even better, Chad didn’t exist at all in this version of the story, because his role in the movie and his presence in the musical, especially with this new actor, had no relevance whatsoever. But that was way too good to be true. In fact, he hated what came out of Carlos’ mouth next.

“We were thinking It would be good for us if you and EJ spent some time together, you know? Get to know each other, like- friends”

“Nope” Ricky didn’t even process it. “Not happening, nope”

“Come on, why don’t you- challenge him to a basketball game?”

“I don’t even play basketball!”

“Well, then force him to speak to you, somewhere he has no escape, like a classroom, or the bathroom”

“I’m not following EJ to the bathroom- again”

“Okay, why don’t you ask him to go on a healing road trip or something?”

“Carlos, nobody does that!”

“I’m running out of options here!” Carlos yelled back.

Ricky couldn’t believe he was having that sort of conversation.

“Look, I’ll do my best to hide my hatred for EJ when we’re doing the musical, but I’m not doing that. Even if we agreed to spend time together, we’d end up beating each other, or worse- talking to each other”

Carlos’ expression perfectly showed he didn’t love the idea; but it also showed a sign of settlement and defeat. “Are you sure?” He pleaded one last time.

“Yep” Ricky replied instantly. He felt like saying something else, or continuing the argument, but he was too disturbed to do so.

Ricky asked Big Red if he would walk him home, and he was surprised to see the look on his friend’s face; like a kid who had witnessed a friend’s parent scold them in front of him; full of awkwardness. Ricky was sorry he had made his friend see that, but he was also embarrassed. Either way, both boys left the room and took off for the day.

 

If Ricky dared being honest, the days passed almost routinely, and he barely noticed. To be clearer, his determination for regaining Nini’s trust felt like a daily goal; one that if he couldn’t achieve one day, he’d try again the next one; and if then, he couldn’t do it either, he’d try one more time; and he’d continue to try, doing his best in the musical, texting her, encouraging her and telling her she was doing great, buying her lunch some days, bringing her presents some other times; but, if anything, Nini just seemed more irritated by him with the passing days, and EJ looked like he hated him more and more every day.

And like most routines and habits, it came to an end.

Ricky finally stopped trying to impress Nini when she asked him to, one last time. He didn’t think he’d ever forget her words.

“I get it, I get that you’re sorry, and that you’ve accepted that you were an idiot, but you don’t get to come back to me now, not now that I’ve found someone else, someone who cares about me and who isn’t afraid of saying he loves me. Ricky, you don’t get to ruin it for me now, because I was hurt, and you were gone, and you don’t get to come back, and you being all over me these days only makes things worse, so please, just back off and leave me alone”

Ricky had been speechless after that. He wanted to talk back. Maybe there was something else- something he could say to make her change her mind, but he didn’t. After remaining silent after Nini’s words, we turned to look at the people around them; some people passing by and looking at him, wanting to know what was going on; and he didn’t appreciate those looks on their faces; the looks on Big Red and Ashlyn’s faces, the look on Carlos’ face. And he hated the look on his face. EJ. He was wearing a smile; he had won.

The feeling inside Ricky’s stomach was like a punch; an arrow; a gunshot; everything at once. He felt terrible, devastated, embarrassed…

So, he turned around and walked away.

That day he went home and he went to bed. He didn’t do homework; he didn’t run his lines; he didn’t rehearse his dance numbers nor his songs; he didn’t eat, and he didn’t cry. Well, at least he tried not to.

The day after, Ricky told Miss Jenn he was quitting the show.

 

Going to school without having to work on the musical was weird; liberating, but he had to be honest and say he kind of missed it. He missed it all, actually, the singing, the dancing, the banter he had going on with the theatre kids, the competition with EJ, everything. He missed it all. He also missed Nini, of course, but he was not going to chase her anymore, at least until things calmed down.

He’d go to school to- study, to talk to his friends, skateboard in his free hours, and… that was it. If he crossed paths with Nini, she would act like she hadn’t seen him at all. If he crossed paths with EJ, he’d throw him a deadly stare and occasionally brush his arm firmly against Ricky’s as they walked. And if he was caught staring at the couple, the guy would purposely wrap his arm around Nini; hold her hand, or even kiss her. And Ricky pretended it didn’t hurt.

Nevertheless, the only reassuring thing he had, was that it hurt less every day; although, it’d feel like he was losing his senses, because he no longer pinned for the girl he had once cared for so much.

But well, he was moving on, allegedly.

 

“Do you want to go skateboarding after school?” Big Red asked when he finished chewing his sandwich.

Ricky was caught staring at the distance. “No” He answered nonchalantly as he let a piece of food fall from his hand and onto his tray, refusing to eat it.

He could feel his friend staring at him, but he wouldn’t look back.

“Play videogames?”

Ricky frowned and shook his head.

“What do you want to do, then?”

Ricky released a heavy sigh, and let his back fall completely, until he rested in a lazy position. “Nothing”

He continued to feel Big Red’s stare. He felt it, progressively becoming more intense, and he was forced to return it when he wouldn’t stop. He waited for his friend to say something, but he just stared.

Ricky didn’t want to say anything, so he raised his eyebrows, questioning his friend.

Big Red answered with a head tilt, and a pair of furrowed eyebrows, returning the question.

Ricky didn’t know what that meant, so he lifted his shoulders in a shrug, and he looked around with his eyes, trying to get Big Red to say anything.

Comically enough, Big Red lifted his arms, and shook some jazz hands.

“What are we doing?” Ricky finally broke.

“You don’t want to talk, so,” Big Red continued to do jazz hands. Ricky stared at him for a moment, waiting for it to stop, but when it didn’t, he took his wrists and pushed them down to the table. “Stop it”

“Come on, man, what’s up? Why are you still mopping around? It’s been two weeks” Big Red took a sip from his milk carton.

Ricky shrugged again.

“Did you fail your exams?” Big Red asked Ricky.

“We haven’t had any exams”

“Are you getting sick?”

“I don’t think so”

“Do you have a stomach ache?” He pointed at his tray full of food.

“No, my stomach if fine” Ricky smiled.

“Does your heart hurt?” Big Red rested his head on his fist.

“Not that much…”

Big Red stared at his friend for a second, analysing him, and out of curiosity, Ricky didn’t stop his train of thought; he actually wanted to know what he’d ask next. Eventually, Big Red began moving his head up and down, apparently having figured it out.

“I know what you have”

“Oh yeah?” Ricky teased him. “And what is that?” He prepared himself for another ridiculous theory. In fact, he had already told his brain to start laughing right away. Ha – ha – ha –

“You miss the musical”

Ha – ha – ha – Oh

“You liked it, the singing, the acting, the dancing, even if you were terrible at that”

Ricky’s instinct was to tell his friend off; to tell him he was wrong and stupid. But the guy was actually pretty smart. He hadn’t considered it until that moment, but the guess had been pretty right on. Maybe he did miss it.

“I think I would miss it, too” Big Red continued eating. “I had never acted or done anything like that before, but since you dragged me into it with you, I’ve discovered, I do like it” He received a playful punch on the shoulder. “And I guess that if I stopped, I would miss it”

Sometimes Ricky couldn’t believe his friend was real.

“So, what would you do if you did stop and you started missing it?” Ricky asked, because he really wanted to know.

Big Red wiped his mouth with his napkin, and gave it a few seconds. His eyes almost popped out of his head and he opened his mouth in excitement. “I know!”

“I would go to the auditorium when there’s no one there, I would take a recorder, play a song, and sing out loud like there’s a giant crowd who loves my singing” Big Reed agreed with himself. “Nobody would actually hear me, and it’d be pretty cool”

Ricky was left thinking as his friend finished his food.

Maybe he was right. Maybe he missed being on the spotlight. Maybe he had been too concentrated on making Nini notice him and making sure EJ knew he was doing it, that he never paid attention to the joy he felt when he was on stage, rehearsing a dance, learning lyrics and playing guitar. Maybe he had been pretending he didn’t like it, because his mind was somewhere else; maybe the joy he used to feel wasn’t only competitive joy.

But now, his mind was nowhere. So, maybe, he could now give it a chance: a real chance, this time.

 

On a normal school day, when there was no rehearsal, and there were no conferences, no activities; when there was barely any motion in school, Ricky took a speaker, an auxiliary chord, and his phone, all because he couldn’t find an actual recorder, and he walked to the auditorium. The performer inside of him didn’t walk in through the general door to access the rows, he did it from the backdoor.

He didn’t want to act like he was an extra confident, never-had-stage-fright kind of guy, but something about an empty stage felt oddly satisfying.

He took out his phone, and he began going through his playlist, trying to find his song.

However, as he began walking to the stage, and to his surprise, he found out the auditorium wasn’t, in fact, empty. In the darkness, he could see whoever was occupying the room, dancing around the stage with no music on. He didn’t want to stare like a weirdo spying on said person, but it was actually somewhat captivating.

The dancing figure would occasionally stop and begin again, from step one. After a while of staring, he found the choreography to be oddly familiar; and in a split second, when Ricky put together the dance steps and the tall figure moving around, with the slim, yet strong frame, he realized it was EJ; and he would’ve sneaked out and tiptoed his way out the auditorium, if his stupid uncoordinated self hadn’t dropped his phone.

The small, sudden disturbance had made EJ turn around instantly, and Ricky hadn’t had time to run away. He panicked for a second, thinking the guy would possibly run to him and, literally, kick him out; with his legs. But that didn’t happen.

When EJ turned around, Ricky could see a few drops of sweat coming down from his temples, and he looked a little- worn out?

It was a new sight for Ricky, being honest. EJ always looked at the top of his game; always, flawless, completely put together; even when they rehearsed, he always looked perfect.

“What are you doing here?” EJ was breathing heavily, he took a towel from the floor, and used it to wipe away his sweat.

Ricky was still panicking. “I’m sorry, I thought there was no one here”

EJ bent down as he started picking up his stuff and putting it inside his bag. Ricky noticed a faint laugh.

“What’s so funny?”

“Why do you want to use the auditorium? It’s not like you need to rehearse for anything”

Ricky held back a little.

“Do you always rehearse extra hours? Do you need it because you have two left feet and the regular schedule isn’t enough?”

EJ laughed again. “Actually, yeah, I do,” He stared at Ricky. “Since someone decided to quit the show two months before the opening day, and his understudy had to step in and save the day”

“Wait, are you mad? I thought you’d be dancing with joy when you realized I had quit”

“Yeah, I love that you quit, but I don’t love this part”

Ricky wouldn’t have felt at home if he wasn’t having an ironic and aggressive conversation with EJ.

“Well, I’m sorry I stepped in, you may proceed” Ricky bowed down and turned around.

“You can stay,” EJ stopped him. “I’m done”

For the first time, Ricky left his semi-hiding spot next to the curtain and joined EJ on stage. He wasn’t trying to start a fight, but this was the only way he knew how to speak to him.

“Are you sure? Your dancing needs a little work”

Ricky waited for a response.

But there was no response.

“Are you okay? Why are not punching me right now?”

“When have I ever punched you?”

“I know, I just- never mind”

 “I’m just not in the mood of fighting, I’m beat”

“Can’t keep up?” Ricky walked to the edge of the stage to sit down, and he proceeded to turn on his phone and scroll down his song list.

“Woah” EJ walked behind Ricky, and sat next to him. “You really love to push my buttons”

Ricky looked at him, and he stared at the way he put on his shoes and tied them up. Then, he looked away. “I’m sorry-”

Ricky had hated EJ for so long, that it was now the only thing he remembered about him; that he hated him, even if they hadn’t spoken in a while; even if they hadn’t even looked at each other in a while.

“It’s my default” Ricky smiled, and for once, it wasn’t sarcastic nor ironic, it was a simple gesture.

“You’re not sorry, you’re just saying that because you never have anything interesting to day”

Ricky stared. “Now, who’s the one pushing buttons”

“Whatever,” EJ finished tying his shoelaces, and Ricky watched him grab some papers from the side and go through the pages; the stared long enough to see that was the script for the musical.

“Who’s playing Chad?” Ricky couldn’t keep his curiosity to himself.

“Still me,” EJ answered without lifting his gaze from the papers.

“What? You’re doing two parts?”

“Yep”

“What about the scenes when we’re together- I mean, your scenes with Chad?”

EJ looked at Ricky as soon as he said the word “together”, and Ricky was glad he had rectified himself.

“Miss Jenn is using Hugo to play Chad in those parts, which are practically most of them, and that means I won’t be using any of the lines I had already learnt,”

Ricky put on a half-apologetic smirk. “Why don’t you recast the role?”

“That’s what I said, but Carlos doesn’t want to; he doesn’t think a newbie is going to learn everything by the opening date”

“Isn’t that what you’re doing, though? You’re learning a new role”

“Yes, I am, and honestly, it sucks, it sucks a lot, thank you very much”

Ricky was taken aback, and he made some distance between them, acting offended. “Why are you mad at me?  You wanted me gone, you wanted to be Troy, you won”

“Yes, I wanted, e-d, past tense, I wantED to be Troy, but I didn’t want to have to learn a whole new role in the middle of rehearsals”

“Ultimately, you got what you wanted, I’m not on the musical, not anymore”

“So, what? You’re a hero because of it? The only reason you entered the musical was because of Nini, and the only reason you quit the musical was because of Nini, you never cared for the real thing, or Nini, for the matter”

And just like that, the old anger he was getting used to not feeling, was back.

“You can’t say that, you don’t know what happened, you don’t know me, you don’t know anything” Ricky heard his own voice growing louder.

“All I know is that I was very happy with my girlfriend until some idiot came in and ruined everything” EJ replied.

“Am I the idiot?”

“Of course, you idiot”

“You do know she was my girlfriend first, right? I think you were the one who ruined things for me”

“I didn’t know you existed before this year- okay, I knew you existed, but I had no idea you and Nini were a thing, and you know what? Even if I had known, it wouldn’t have mattered, because I didn’t do anything wrong” EJ stared angrily at Ricky. “When I met Nini, you weren’t there, you weren’t together, so I didn’t ruin anything, you did!”

“I didn’t ruin anything, and besides, you were there; you were there when Nini told me she didn’t want me around anymore, she’s with you, you win” Ricky was trying not to get up. “If anything, you’re the one who ruined it for me”

That last sentence earned him an eyeroll from EJ.

“What?” Was all Ricky had to say. He waited patiently until EJ dared to speak again.

“How do you think it felt?” He asked calmly. “To have you here?”

Ricky wasn’t used to having these sorts of conversations with EJ; all they’d done in the past was aggressively stare at each other, biker, constantly showing off in front of the other. He was used to the unspoken competition they had going on; but they never talked about feelings. They never really talked at all; at least not like they were at the moment.

It felt strange, and Ricky somewhat felt like he didn’t want to be there, but he also wanted to know where it was going. He didn’t know if it was the sudden rush of anger he had collected, or the crippling numbness he had been in during  the last weeks, or if he was feeling some sort of empathy for EJ, but he realized it wouldn’t be too bad if he got to listen to EJ’s side of the story for once, so he let him. “What do you mean?”

He watched as EJ contemplated him back, probably debating between opening up to Ricky or not. “Okay,” He adjusted himself so he was sitting face to face with Ricky, and he did the same in response. “Every summer, for as long as I can remember, I’ve been in music camp, but last summer, I wasn’t going, because I wanted to stay here and do nothing for once, but my parents weren’t having it, and they said I should go, so, I did”

Ricky didn’t know where this was going.

“So, I’m there, at camp, and one day, when I’m carrying out a keyboard to the music room, some weirdo runs in front of me, so, I drop the keyboard, they drop a ukulele, and I’m just there- being mad, but the moment I looked up, and this girl starts rambling about a bunch of things I didn’t really hear, saying she was sorry over and over again, showing me her perfect smile and her shiny eyes; I couldn’t believe my own eyes”

Ricky knew what he meant; and the thought made him smile.

“And then we started talking, and hanging out, and- she loves music; like, she loves it, and I do too, but now I think that maybe I’m not as passionate as she is, because when she sings, she looks so inspired, and it feels like she’s radiating magic; she looks untouchable”

And Ricky agreed.

“Nini once told me that she didn’t know why we hadn’t spoken before camp, and honestly I think, and it’s hard to admit, but I’m an idiot some times,”

Ricky agreed with that, too.

“And I was always so caught up in my own stuff I had never fully noticed her before, but when I did- I was so glad I had gone to that camp” EJ took a moment before he continued. “So, I thought, that it was probably meant to be, finding Nini, asking her to be my girlfriend, spending time together, it was almost too good to be true; because everything was perfect, and nothing was going wrong”

Ricky had to look down for a second, because he knew what the next part was; and he was beginning to understand.

“Look, nobody wants to share their girlfriend, okay? When I found out that you and Nini had some unfinished business going on, I felt- threatened, like- suddenly I wasn’t so sure if things were okay anymore; I hate to admit this, but I did feel like I was in a competition the moment you stepped in,”

Ricky nodded in agreement.

“And I hadn’t signed up for a competition” EJ finished.

Ricky had to admit, he saw EJ’s point; it wasn’t fair to him. He felt sorry, and somewhat responsible for it, and he understood.

“Yep” EJ added when Ricky remained silent. Ricky didn’t know if he should say something, or if he should pat his back, showing some empathy, but he knew it would’ve been way too awkward, so, he didn’t. So, instead, he opened his mouth, and he was going to say sorry

…but EJ’s energy came back to life, and whatever Ricky was going to make worse by speaking, was lost in the continuation of EJ’s monologue.

“And it sucked, it sucked, Ricky-”

Had EJ ever said his name out loud before?

“Because you are like a little mosquito trying to bite me, and I just keep clapping the air trying to capture you, but you get away, and return with a comeback; you don’t give up, and I’m trying to protect what I have with Nini, and you don’t seem to care-”

“I care about her”

“I didn’t say you don’t, I said you don’t care if you hurt anyone else”

“Like you? Are you talking about you?”

EJ nodded vigorously.

“But I’m not trying to hurt you, or anyone else, I’m- I was, trying to make Nini like me again”

“But you’re hurting me on the way, and you’re hurting her too”

“Well,” Ricky knew it was true. “That was never what I intended; I made a stupid mistake, okay? I ruined what Nini and I had, but when I tried to make up for it, she had already found someone else; I was not giving up that easy”

“Okay, I get it” EJ answered.

And then- there was silence. Both boys simply stared at each other, not knowing what to say next.

“So, what do we do?” Ricky asked; because there was nothing else he could say.

 

EJ and Ricky had never reached an agreement, they hadn’t made peace, nor settled on anything. They screamed at each other, and then they opened up to each other, because that was the next logical thing to do; but nothing had happened. Still, Ricky had walked home that day feeling better. He could feel his numbness fading away, his strength was coming back; he felt refreshed.

Days at school felt different. Nini was still not speaking to him, and he was still not participating in the musical; he stared from the outside of the rehearsals sometimes until someone caught him and he had to flee. The thing that had changed, was EJ. Suddenly, he wasn’t staring at him from the distance with deathly looks; he wasn’t brushing his arm aggressively against Ricky’s to make him stumble as they crossed paths; he wasn’t trying to ruin his day.

Some days, EJ would turn his face so he didn’t have to look at Ricky, but he noticed that it wasn’t just him; he didn’t speak to a lot of people, and Ricky thought that maybe, he didn’t want people to notice how tired he looked. Sometimes, he saw him hanging out with Nini and his friends, but he wasn’t trying to show off like he always did. And on certain days, when Ricky and EJ exchanged glances, EJ would smile; not big, with no teeth; but it was still a smile; and Ricky didn’t think of it as strange.

Maybe the talk they’d had had changed some things after all.

 

One morning, Ricky’s alarm went off before the usual hour; and he noticed because the day wasn’t as dark when he usually woke up. Out of habit, he still got out of bed. However, when he looked at his phone, he saw that it hadn’t been his alarm; it was a reminder; a reminder he hadn’t remembered to erase. From that day, it was exactly two weeks until the theatre crew put out their rendition of High School Musical. He couldn’t ignore the part of him that wished he could still be a part of it.

That day, he got to school early, because waiting in front of the clock for it to hit the hour seemed pointless; so he grabbed his stuff and left his house.

He had never seen the school at such an early hour. Being a kid that mostly arrived late, he had no idea who the early birds were; and now he got to meet them. Before class started, the most noise and movement he could hear came from the one and only, auditorium. Naturally, he let his feet lead him there. After all, some of his friends were in the musical and he wanted to see how they were doing.

As soon as he entered the room, he felt a rush of happiness and excitement run through his entire body. The room sure looked like chaos, but he loved every sight. It was like everything was happening at once; there were some people dancing; some of them were singing; there was a section of the stage designated to wardrobe; and he could see some cheerleader uniforms, some glitter clothes, which were possibly aimed for Seb and Chuck. In another corner he could see some hair and makeup action going on; the lighting was coming and going; different colours exploding in different places; and he loved everything he saw.

It didn’t take long for people to notice his presence; some were greeting him; some were even hugging him; but mostly everyone just said hello and went back to their activities. When Big Read approached him, Ricky noticed how his outfit was definitely not his his, and he felt very proud for his friend, at how seriously he had taken being part of the musical. “What are you doing here? It’s 7:15”

Ricky shrugged in surprise. “I wanted to show my support, I guess”

Big Red gave him a great smile and punched his shoulder. Ricky returned the gesture.

“Hey”

Ricky heard a voice calling him, and it only took his eyes to redirect to someone else in order for him to know who it was. “Ricky”

Ricky wasn’t used to talking to EJ, regardless of them not being on each other’s grills anymore. Therefore, it felt strange.

“Hi”

“Can I talk to you?”

EJ didn’t look mad; he didn’t look happy, either. In fact, he seemed somewhat nervous. And if he was being honest, he felt nervous, too. Luckily, as soon as he agreed and both boys walked further into the stage, Carlos came running, joining them for the conversation.

Ricky waited for any of them to speak, but neither of them said anything. Carlos and EJ kept looking at each other, trying to signal each other for releasing the first word.

Carlos sighed, clearly defeated. “Okay,” He opened up. “EJ and I want you to take Troy back”

Ricky wasn’t expecting that at all. He wasn’t expecting Carlos to say that, and he wasn’t expecting EJ to nod and agree with him.

“What? You want me back in the show?”

EJ nodded. “Look, you saw me, the other day, when I was rehearsing; I can’t keep up; and, you rehearsed for Troy, you know his lines, the dance moves, all the songs, you know it all” EJ explained without breaking eye contact.

“I know you’re the one who quit, but now we are begging you, please come back, at least just this time, and if you want, after the show, you’ll never have to come back, but please, please, please” Carlos joined his own hands together, begging and pouting.

Ricky was definitely taken by surprise, but thinking about it, coming back to the musical didn’t seem like such a bad thing.

“Uhm” Ricky smiled. “Is Nini going to be okay with this?”

“Yes, totally” Carlos reassured him. “I talked to her, and she agreed”

Ricky smiled again at the response. “Are you gonna be okay?” He turned to look at EJ.

“Yeah” He answered. “Chad is actually pretty cool, too” He gave Ricky a smile; with teeth this time.

Ricky couldn’t afford to lie to himself at such early hour in the morning, so he couldn’t hide his excitement and the pride from showing. “Yeah, okay”

Carlos jumped, letting out a loud “Yes!”, he wrapped his arms around Ricky and hugged him tightly for a few seconds as he repeated “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”. Then, he proceeded to leave for the rest of the activities he had to do, leaving Ricky alone with EJ.

“Thanks- for, helping me, and- coming back” EJ thanked Ricky; a little nervous, and with a little difficulty.

“Thank you- for taking me back” Ricky replied, and showed him a smile, which EJ brightly returned nervously before he placed his hand on Ricky’s shoulder, gave him a light squeeze, and left.

Ricky turned around as well, trying to figure out where to go; because now, this messy room was his business as well; but before he could walk anywhere, he saw one last person approaching him; Nini.

He nervously stepped forward, making the distance between them come to an end. He hadn’t spoken to her since she had cut him off completely, and he was now back in the musical, about to play the lead with her. So, who knew what she was going to say to him?

Nini and Ricky exchanged some quick glances and a couple of awkward smiles.

“So, you’re back” Nini commented with her weird smile still there.

“Yep” Ricky replied, with his weird smile still there.

“Look, I’m sorry about-”

“No, it’s okay” Ricky cut her off. “I deserved it”

Nini stared for a while, probably agreeing, because maybe Ricky had deserved it, indeed. “I feel bad about it, I shouldn’t have yelled at you- in front of everyone”

“Don’t worry about it” Ricky tried to stop her giving him a pity look. “It’s all forgotten”

And no, it wasn’t all forgotten, but it was okay; Ricky guessed. Honestly, it had been a long time since they had broken up, and it had been a while since they had talked, and the time he had without Nini had been, terrible, in the beginning, but he soon realized he could very well live without the girl; and if she didn’t want him that way, well, he’d have to accept it, because he had had his chance, and he let it go; and he had tried to make it better, but there was nothing he could’ve done, so he had to let go. And, actually, after speaking to EJ about the whole thing, he kind of felt bad from having brought such discomfort into their relationship. So, yeah, maybe it was okay.

After that day, Ricky thought about how he had accepted coming back to the musical, and only for the sake of coming back into the show; for getting back into his character, and getting back into the thing he actually did really like. He had missed it; and he couldn’t deny that coming back felt pretty damn good.

Maybe he was a theatre kid, after all.

 

After Nini ending things with Ricky, EJ stopped being mean to him. In fact, he continued acting kind and supportive around him, and he appreciated not having him as a mortal enemy anymore. Mainly because fighting and competing with EJ all the time had become exhausting; although he couldn’t stop provoking him for the pure joy of seeing him crumble.

But it was different now. EJ and Ricky were not fighting anymore, and he kind of liked it. It turned out that spending time with a person without bickering all the time, actually allows you to meet them and get to know what they’re really like; and EJ was- an asshole, sometimes. He was an extremely conceited person, a bit selfish and completely narcissistic; which came to no surprise to Ricky. However, he was astonished when he found EJ was also really sweet, and sometimes he acted like a foolish child; so it was inevitable if he sometimes came across as a total dumbass.

 

One week before they presented the musical, Carlos invited every single person who participated in the play to a super-pre-opening party at his place; because he was so proud of everyone, and things couldn’t have turned out better.

“I love you all”

And Ricky never, for one second, thought about a theatre kids party being lame; because he gladly accepted that title for himself now. Ricky loved being a theatre kid. There was no use denying such thing.

Although some people wouldn’t believe him, Ricky hadn’t been to a whole lot of parties; modern-day, teenager kind of parties that is. Ricky had a lot of experience with piñatas, candy and cake, not with random dancing and drinking.

As soon as he stepped into Carlos’ house and saw him taking some bottles out of his cabinets and placing them on the counters; he felt a little nervous.

Furthermore, very out of brand for him; he was early to the party, which is why Carlos had asked Ricky if he could help by setting up the sound system and the karaoke. He hadn’t imagined there’d be karaoke, but when he was untangling and plugging the cables in, he felt foolish; because of course there’d be karaoke.

When the rest of the drama department began showing up, his mood started lighting up due to the brightness and excitement these people carried around. Being honest, he felt very much at home with everyone in the room. It’s not like Ricky felt uncomfortable with his other friends; it’s just that he was aware of the difference between the relationships; with some of his friends he could- skate, and- skate; and with his new friends he could sing, dance, talk about anything he wanted, open up to them, and apparently, sing karaoke, now. Ricky was glad Big Red had also joined the drama department, because if he hadn’t, maybe he wouldn’t have found such peace in the group, and he would’ve never stopped feeling like an outsider.

However, there was still one person he didn’t feel completely confident and at ease around; EJ. And no, he didn’t really hate EJ anymore, and he actually kind of liked him now, but it was still weird sometimes. They had fought for a long time, and it was hard to switch off the snarky default.

There was a moment during the party where Ricky turned to the kitchen, and he saw Carlos talking to Seb. The guy was resting his arm on the counter, trying to look natural and casual; but Ricky had been friends with him for a while, and he knew him enough to know there was nothing natural and casual about his face.

Ricky turned to the other side and lightly bumped his elbow against Gina’s arm, who was sitting on the couch next to him.

“What’s that?” Ricky asked quietly.

Gina stared at Ricky, and she probably caught up on the whispering, as she turned to see where Ricky was pointing at in a discrete way. As soon as she saw the two boys in the kitchen, she smiled widely. “They’ve been flirting a lot these days; it’s so cute, but they’re being so awkward about it”

Ricky turned back to look at them. Almost immediately, Gina left her spot on the couch and walked straight to the boys in the kitchen. Ricky didn’t know what it was about; and he had no idea what she was saying to them. He was secretly hoping she wasn’t mentioning anything about Ricky picking up on their awkward flirting, though. But no, that didn’t happen. Instead, he saw how, after both guys stared at Gina as she spoke, Carlos got suddenly very excited, and Seb nodded at her; all three of them sharing some looks.

Carlos got out of the kitchen, stepping in front of the counters. “Hey, everybody” He called everyone’s attention. “Who’s up for a- little game…” Carlos slowly slid his hand on the counter; he grabbed one of the bottles he had previously put on display, and dragged it back, close to himself. “…singing edition!”

“Oh, yes!” Kourtney yelled. Ashlyn came to the living room, where everyone was sitting down, as she had been answering a text on the other side of the room.

“Everybody has a cup” Carlos went around, giving everyone a red cup. “We put this in the middle,” Carlos placed the bottle on the table. “You’ll be in charge of that” He pointed at Chuck, and then down at the bottle.

“Are we playing bottle?” Kourtney asked with the widest eyes in the room, interrupting Carlos.

“No, there’s no singing in bottle” Carlos stopped her with his hand in the air. “Let me explain,” He continued. “In honour of our musical coming out in one week,”

There was cheer in the middle of that explanation.

“We’ll be playing some high school musical songs, from all three movies, and if one of us doesn’t know the lyrics, your cup gets filled a little bit…”

And Ricky knew from that moment how things might go like for him. He had never drunk, at least not as much to have any sort of repercussion but he knew he was probably about to.

And that’s exactly what ended up happening.

By the end of the game, Carlos asked everyone to chug down what they had in their cups, and Ricky knew it was way too much, because he had never been bothered to learn the lyrics from High School Musical 2 and 3, and he knew it was probably not a good idea; but he saw how everyone else was drinking from their own cups until there was nothing in them, even Nini, and he didn’t want to be the only one who wasn’t.

After a few more rounds, the rest of the party passed quickly, and everything became rather easy. Talking was easy; dancing and singing was easy; thinking wasn’t easy, but that’s not something he needed to do at the moment.

If Ricky wasn’t in that state, he wouldn’t have felt completely comfortable when Gina pushed EJ to sing a duet with him when it was his turn. Throughout the song, Ricky kept singing the words he knew, and watching EJ singing along with him, staring at him and laughing the moment both boys realized they didn’t really know the lyrics to their song.

There hadn’t been a moment where Ricky thought about how much he once despised EJ. It had just been them, the song, and their new- friendship; with EJ’s nice voice, perfect smile and beautiful eyes. But Ricky was too drunk to notice those last few things.

When Ricky went home, he realized he was possibly receiving some lecture for arriving home like that; but when he opened the door and tried to sneak into his own house, he noticed there was no one there.

 

Late nights in his basement were usual; considering his basement was also his bedroom. Having Big Red inside his bedroom wasn’t unusual; especially having him talk about whatever popped into his head.

“…so, anyway, now that we’re drama kids,” Big Red began. Such statement made Ricky roll his eyes, but not because it bothered him, because it didn’t, not anymore. “I was thinking I should try to do something like, learn to play the guitar, or the piano, although I want to try something bold like the violin, or the sax…”

“Sounds great” Ricky encouraged him. “Do you know how to read music?”

“Not at all, but it can’t be that hard, can it?” Big Red shrugged. “I had never heard you sing or play the guitar before you auditioned for Troy; your musical talents appeared out of nowhere, like when you wake up with a pimple on your face”

“It didn’t appear like a pimple; it was always there”

“Oh, how humble”

Ricky laughed, and he threw a pillow at him. “It’s the truth,”

“Okay, so, how about writing? I’ve been trying to write something, but I just don’t have what it takes, I guess” Big Red continued. “It always looks easy, but it’s definitely not! How can you think of a song that doesn’t already exist? Making up lyrics is hard, and, when I think I’m finally doing it, I realize I’m just doing a parody of When There Was Me and You all over again,”

Ricky burst out laughing when Big Red closed his eyes and began singing.

“Now I know that I’m not hungry yet, ‘cause I just had some tacos, and then the smell of rice, keeps coming through…”

“I don’t think coming up with an original melody is your biggest problem here” Ricky pointed out.

“Okay, Ed Sheeran, show me how it’s done, then”

“All I’m saying is that it’s not that hard to write a song, if you have the right motive; all you need is some inspiration and the rest is easy,”

Big Red stared at his friend for a couple seconds, and he leaned back. “Sounds like you’ve done it before”

“I mean, yeah, a couple times, but that’s-”

Before he could say whatever he was going to, Big Red moved forward and cut his friend off. “You do!” He exclaimed, sounding very excited. “Where are they, and why haven’t I heard them before?”

Ricky stood up and walked to his closet. “It’s not a lot, and usually I don’t finish them,” He opened a drawer, and began looking through his stuff. He grabbed something from there, and when he turned around, Big Red could see a small notebook with a hard, brown cover. Ricky didn’t always have nice notebooks; his school materials were not very well taken care of, and he almost never personalized his stuff; his books never had protective plastic on them, and his supplies never had his name on them, like some people like to have them. However, this notebook looked nice; like it wasn’t even his. Better yet, it was so his; it just was very personal. Big Red was his best friend, he didn’t hesitate showing it to him.

Ricky handed his friend the notebook, allowing Big Red to open it and go through it all freely.

“It’s all new, kind of” Ricky explained as he watched his friend read his notebook. Something about that sight made him feel nervous; since half the stuff in there was very raw; almost secretive. “I never really tried writing anything before this year”

“So, what was your inspiration?” Big Red asked, still going through the pages.

“Well-”

“Oh” His friend cut him off as soon as Ricky began speaking, not giving him the chance to answer, which he was sort of relieved by. “This is an entire song,” Big red turned the notebook around and showed the pages.

Ricky recognized those pages. Indeed, it was one of the only songs he had written and actually finished. He remembered giving it a melody and recording it on his phone as well, but he didn’t mention that part to his friend, because the idea of being asked to sing it was too much at the moment.

“Can I read it?”

Ricky stopped for a second. “Sure” He accepted truthfully.

Big Red looked down and stared at the page. Ricky could see his eyes moving from one side to the other, and he waited for him to have a reaction; a smile, a frown, a tear, something.

There was a moment when Big Red started reading some lines out loud, and Ricky began to feel the same way he felt when he wrote that song; sad, and hopeless.

“…you stopped calling me sweet, you stopped calling at all, and I got tired of fighting for you to stay…”

Ricky was glad Big Red didn’t know the melody to those lyrics.

“…and some nights, I’ll cry so hard, and wonder if you can feel it all the way across town, I hope you can…”

Ricky looked down.

“Is this about-”

“Nini, yeah” Ricky bit his lower lip.

“When did you write this?”

“Right after she ended it, when she asked me to stop trying to get her back”

“I thought you weren’t doing music” Big Red furrowed his eyes. “You were miserable, remember?”

“I remember” Ricky mocked his friend. “I wrote this a few days after it happened, it took me less than an hour, it was just my way of talking to her after she didn’t want to talk to me”

Big Red closed the notebook and put it on Ricky’s bed. “Did you show this to her?”

“No, of course not; I never wanted her to listen to it”

“I mean, it’s a pretty cool song,”

Ricky laughed. “Yeah but I didn’t write it for Nini, it’s just about her” He took the notebook and stood up, walked to the closet and kept it back where he had taken it from.

“Okay, so,” Big Red spoke, slowly dragging his words. “How are you doing in that drama department?”

Ricky turned around, and he looked at his friend for a second. “Okay, I guess” Ricky walked to his chair to sit down. “I mean, she asked me to stay away, and I did, and we talk sometimes, and it’s awkward, and it’s nothing like it was before, but it’s okay”

Big Red raised his eyebrow.

“If you ask me what I feel about it, well, it’s not ideal, and I wouldn’t have chosen this, but we agreed on something, and honestly, I, think she looks happy with EJ, and I need to accept that it’s over” Ricky continued to explain. “Of course, I think I still l-, I care- about her, so-”

Big Red stared at Ricky, even when Ricky was trying to avoid eye contact. Eventually, Ricky lifted his gaze and he was forced to look at his friend. “What?”

“So, what?”

“So, nothing”

“Nothing what?”

“What do you mean?”

“You said ‘so’”

“So?”

“What?”

“So what?”

“What did you mean?”

“With what?”

“With ‘so’”?

“Nothing”

“Nothing?”

“Nothing”

Big Red didn’t add to it. He allowed the silence to fill their conversation. “Okay”

Ricky threw a smile at his friend, followed by him standing up and joining Big Red on his bed. He laid on it, staring at the wall. “Nini and I are done, and I’m not one hundred percent okay with it, but I have to be, and I’m getting there”

“Okay, good”

The rest of the night, Big Red continued to talk, never touching that topic again, Ricky being glad about it. Ricky knew that sometimes he was not the best at expressing his ideas, but he also knew that his friend knew him too well, and he could read him better than anyone.

Before Big Red picked his stuff up to walk home, Ricky felt his phone buzz inside his pocket. When he took his phone out and saw the hour, he got surprised at how late it was, so he invited his friend to stay over instead of going home. Big Red accepted, and almost instantly fell on the couch to make himself a bed.

Ricky then unlocked his phone to see what the buzzing was about. He was surprised to see the name of a person he didn’t really text with that much.

EJ.

He tapped the notification and opened the text.

This made me think of you. That’s what the text read; followed by a photo of a Troy Bolton meme.

“Who are you flirt-texting with?” Big Red asked from the couch.

“Shut up”

 

The next day, when Ricky and Big Red arrived to school, they were surprised to see the entire school filled with posters about their show. Some of them had their photos of them, and some had the photos of the original cast members; some others simply said “High School Musical: The Musical” in them. He wasn’t sure who had been in charge of the posters, but whoever it was had done a pretty good job.

Ricky was grabbing his books from his locker when he heard someone calling his name. He turned around, and he saw Ashlyn jogging her way to him. Her expression didn’t look like her usual self; she looked distressed and worried.

“Hey, Ash” Ricky greeted her, still gathering some things out of his locker. “Are you okay?” He commented on her visible uncommon expression

“Have you seen EJ?” Ashlyn didn’t say anything else before that; she went straight to her point.

“No, why?” Ricky answered, concerned. He closed his locker door and turned to face Ashlyn completely. “He’s not here?”

“Not yet,” Ashlyn took her phone out. “My aunt says he didn’t come home last night; I’ve been calling him but he never answers,”

Ricky thought about it for a while, and he was going to say something, but decided not to. If he hadn’t dreamt it, he was pretty sure EJ and him had texted the other night; nothing major and nothing important, but they had talked, so the going-missing story didn’t really match up.

“Anyway,” Ashlyn kept looking at her phone, probably trying to call someone. “Can you tell me if you see him?” She turned to look at both Ricky and Big Red, and both of them nodded. “And, also, if you see him, tell him I say he’s an idiot”

“Sure,” Ricky smiled.

“Thanks” Ashlyn smiled back, and proceeded to leave.

Ricky saw how she stopped with a group of people, and he wondered if she was asking for EJ again. Ricky thought that maybe he should’ve said something about the texts EJ and him sent each other; because she really did look worried. Nevertheless, when he talked to EJ the other night, he never mentioned anything outstanding, it had barely been a conversation; he never gave him any reason to think that anything was out of the ordinary, let alone wrong.

In addition, Ashlyn was calling him an idiot, so maybe something had happened between them, and EJ didn’t want to be found by her.

So, Ricky decided not to say anything until he saw EJ in person.

The rest of the day went by very dramatically, if Ricky had to define it. Everyone was excited about the musical; even the people who were not in it. People were asking him about the show, they asked him a lot of things he had no idea how to answer, like if they could bring a plus one, if they’d give a speech before or after the play, or if they’d go to an after party and if they were invited.

However, that wasn’t the weirdest part. During the whole day, Miss Jenn had asked Ricky and the rest of the crew to get out of their classes and get together for trying their costumes on, for fixing them, for doing tests with the lighting and the spotlights, doing soundchecks and other things Ricky was glad he was not in charge of and he simply had to obey.

By third period, none of the teachers were surprised nor impressed by the constant ‘being excused from class’, and they just let the kids out; some of them even acted excited about the musical and let them out with no questions asked. Ricky was sure Carlos hadn’t even bothered showing up to first period.

Throughout the day, Ricky had still not seen EJ, which was weird, and had begun to feel worried. He had imagined EJ would be a sucker for these days; the costume, the hair, the rehearsal, final details… but he wasn’t there. He didn’t want to say it, especially not to Ashlyn, but maybe he was, too, a tad worried about the guy’s whereabouts.

In his final class, which he did not attend to, Ricky took his phone out, and did the least awkward thing he could do. He googled some “Chad Danforth memes”, picked one, and sent it to EJ, typing “This made me think of you”.

Ricky didn’t wait for him to answer before he sent another text. “Are you coming for our final rehearsal later?

Any other time, Ricky would’ve kept his phone inside his pocket and waited until he got a response, but given the circumstances, he stared at the screen, and he continued staring until he saw a response come through.

Ricky didn’t see any answer appearing on his chat with EJ, and before he could feel embarrassed by sending a stupid meme and not receiving a reply, he began to panic. Maybe something had happened to EJ, and he had acted like a total dumbass during the day. Maybe he should have said something to Ashlyn-

But then, there it was; the reply.

That’s not even funny

Which was ironic, because Ricky had himself laughing at the screen.

Yes, I’ll be there

 

Miss Jenn had scheduled a final rehearsal for Ricky and EJ that day after class while the rest of the cast continued setting things into place and fixing up last details. Miss Jenn had asked for them to go through every scene with Troy and Chad with no script, which was fine, because Ricky had it all memorised, and he knew that EJ did, too. He also knew that Miss Jane had been worried about the boys’ dynamic in the beginning, but things were progressing in a better direction, just as their friendship was coming to better terms.

Ricky and Miss Jenn sat at the rehearsing room, waiting for EJ. That man was never late, and it was making Ricky feel like maybe he was becoming the man who always got there early. Eventually, although not very late, the door opened, and EJ walked right through.

Ricky was curious to see what condition EJ found himself in; would he be wearing pyjamas, have bed hair and smell bad? Or would he be dirty, ripped clothes, homeless-looking? However, to his surprise, he looked just right; his normal self; perfect hair, perfect face, perfect clothes; and that time, Ricky wasn’t too drunk to notice it.

“Hey, I know I’m late,” EJ entered the room quickly. The guy had nothing on him; no backpack, no supplies, no script.

“Well, you’re here” Miss Jenn smiled. “Why don’t you get started with the first scenes and I’ll go check on the girls?”

Both EJ and Ricky agreed, and when Miss Jenn left the room, Ricky asked EJ if he was okay; because he wanted to ask other things, like where he had been, or what had happened, but he didn’t want to intrude too much. EJ said he was fine, but he didn’t say a lot more.

They did what they were supposed to do; they did their scenes together, they recited their lines by heart, and everything went well. Miss Jenn had asked them to repeat some scenes because she hadn’t been in the room to watch and she wanted to see how they were doing. EJ and Ricky received nothing but compliments from her; and Ricky had to admit it felt pretty good to know that he was doing a good job; especially with the date so close.

When Miss Jenn told them they could go, neither of them did. Miss Jenn left the boys in the rehearsing room and finished for the day.

Ricky kept a close eye on EJ as the guy kept pacing around with his phone in his hand; he walked over to the piano, put his phone on top of it, and he started playing random notes, which, to Ricky, didn’t really sound like anything.

Ricky walked over to the other side of the piano and rested his arms on it; looking directly at EJ. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

EJ looked up from the keys to Ricky, but he didn’t stop playing. “I’m okay, but I’ve been better”

“Where were you all day? You know Ashlyn was really worried about you,”

This time EJ didn’t bother looking up at Ricky to answer. From his part, it looked like a wrong move from EJ; he had a ‘don’t touch me, don’t look at me, don’t be here’ vibe, but if Ricky had learnt anything about this boy in the last weeks, was that EJ didn’t really know how to act any other way sometimes. He wasn’t trying to be a douche, and Ricky knew not to take it personal, because it wasn’t.

Instead, Ricky left the piano and walked closer to EJ, sitting down on the bench next to him. The bench was small, but so were the boys, so they fit pretty well. Still, EJ scooted over to make room for Ricky. EJ stopped playing, but he still didn’t say a word.

“What are you playing?” Ricky asked.

However, EJ did not respond.

“Are you mad at me?” He knew EJ wasn’t mad; at least not at him, but he wanted to ask something that would make the guy speak.

EJ quickly turned his head to look at him. “What? No,” He exclaimed.

“Then why are you not speaking to me?”

EJ looked back down at the piano. It took him a second to get something out of his mouth, but eventually, he did speak.

“I’m sorry” EJ closed his eyes. “I’m being an ass again, aren’t I?”

Ricky widened his eyes and stared. “Well-”

EJ laughed a little; but Ricky could see a hint of discomfort behind it.

“Did something happen?” Ricky asked. He knew he was probably acting a little obnoxious, but seeing EJ so secretive and distant was rare. He couldn’t remember the last time he had seen EJ being quiet, except for those times when he had actually been mad at him for whatever reason in the past. If he thought about it, he didn’t like to see EJ being quiet and reserved. It didn’t feel like himself.

“Ashlyn asked me to tell you that you’re an idiot when I saw you”

EJ let out a muffled laugh.

“I’m just passing on the message”

“I know,”

“Okay, so, why did she say that?” Ricky continued to try.

“Because I am an idiot,” EJ looked at Ricky in the eyes. Ricky couldn’t believe his gorgeous eyes could look so sad and tired; but there they were, and Ricky didn’t like it.

EJ sighed. “It’s nothing- yesterday my parents were arguing with her parents, and I just kept thinking it was so stupid, how my dad was trying to speak over everyone, and my mom would keep talking and she wouldn’t listen to anyone, and my uncle and my aunt were doing the same thing, and I wanted to do something, but Ashlyn asked me not too, because I could only make things worse, but I didn’t think clearly and I-”

EJ stopped, he tried to focus his sight on a certain spot, but it looked like he couldn’t even think.

“I know it sounds dumb, but, my parents never do that; they never fight, I mean; sometimes they argue with my aunt and my uncle, but when they leave, they talk to each other about it, and we all laugh about it, together, but they never fight with each other, and seeing it made me feel terrible,”

Ricky didn’t think it was dumb at all.

“I stepped in, I was trying to defend my mom, but then they asked me to stay out of it, and then, Ashlyn stepped in, and they told her to stay out of it, so, I defended Ashlyn, and they asked me to stop, and Ashlyn asked me to leave it, and I got mad, she got mad, my parents got mad, and I felt terrible, so I just left-”

Ricky looked at him, waiting to see if EJ would add anything else to his ramble; however, he didn’t. “Where were you all morning?”

EJ stared back and smiled. “I was here, in the library”

“What?” Ricky asked surprised. “Everyone was looking for you, how is it that no one saw you?”

“Maybe nobody thought I could be in the library,” They laughed. “Anyway, I don’t even know what I’m saying. My family never fights, I didn’t know how to react”

Ricky felt the nonsense and the unbalance in EJ’s story, but he understood, because he had been there before; and not just once.

“Don’t worry about it” Ricky reassured him. “Look, I may know a thing or two about that” He began. “Sometimes my parents fight too, I mean, when my mom’s home, sometimes they fight”

“What do you do?”

“Well, I- don’t do anything” Ricky knew that EJ was unimpressed and that he had been waiting for a more helpful advice. “But sometimes I wish I did; I wish I could step into my parents’ relationship and do whatever it takes to fix it, but I never do, because I don’t think I can do anything”

Both of them were silent, and Ricky hated that he couldn’t say anything to make EJ feel better. He stared at him; thinking about what his friend might be feeling at the moment. He had been so taken aback he felt like leaving his house for the night and not taking any of his morning classes; so, he thought of something he could say. “But you know, my parents fight all the time, that’s why I never say anything, but you could,”

EJ turned to face Ricky again. “And what do I say?”

“Well, if I were you, I’d say exactly what I’m thinking, so they know what I mean”

“That’s my biggest problem, I can never say what I mean” EJ’s voice jumped. “I’m not very good with words; I’d probably end up saying exactly what I said to you, or something even dumber”

“But you can try,” Ricky suggested, although he knew it wasn’t very helpful. “Oh, I know”

“What?”

“You can do one of those improvising exercises we used to do in the beginning; just say whatever”

“You mean,” EJ started to explain. “Like when you threw a basketball at my face and busted my lip open?” He recalled.

“Yeah,” Ricky responded apologetically, which earned him a genuine smile from EJ. “But that’s not going to happen, I don’t think you’re punching your parents in the face, and besides, that’s the whole point of the activity, isn’t it? Just say whatever pops into your head, and if it sounds weird, you can tweak it”

EJ considered it for a second. “So, I should pretend you’re my dad”

Ricky widened his eyes, a little shocked about what that sounded like. “Mhm”

EJ laughed for a second, but he did it as he let go of the piano’s bench and stood up, only to sit back down with his legs open so he could be in front of Ricky and he could face him when he spoke. Ricky was surprised that he was actually going to do it, but he was also hoping to see where it would go.

“Okay-” EJ sighed and prepared himself. “dad”

Ricky was trying not to laugh.

“I don’t think that you should fight my mom- and my uncle- and my aunt, because I don’t like it-” EJ stopped, but Ricky encouraged him to continue. “I think you should all treat each other with respect, and keep yourself from saying stuff that can hurt me or mom, or Ash”

EJ stopped completely, and he stared at Ricky.

“Yeah- I think- that’s good, but- is that all you have to say?”

EJ sighed again and he rolled his eyes. “I guess- I don’t know, this is hard”

“Just do it,” Ricky tried to help him. “Just tell me everything you would want to say to your dad if you knew things were going to turn out okay in the end; no repercussions, no fighting, no beating, nothing”

EJ nodded to himself, and prepared himself once more.

“Dad” Ricky was still trying not to laugh. “Dad,” EJ said one more time, and Ricky could tell he was trying to feel looser and more relaxed. “I love you”

Ricky knew those words weren’t meant for him, but hearing them still made him feel uneasy.

“I love our family, and- honestly, when I saw you fighting last night, I felt like you were ruining what we have-”

Ricky nodded, encouraging EJ, and asking him to go on.

“When you fight, it makes me feel like I’m a child- a child who is powerless, and stupid, and too young to have an opinion. You’re supposed to be the adult here, and I don’t wanna feel like I’m the only one who wants this family to thrive; I don’t want to wake up one day knowing that I’m doing all the work that you should be doing. I don’t ever want to feel the same way I did yesterday. I’m- sorry-” EJ said that bit with difficulty. “-that I left last night without saying anything, and that I acted like a drama queen, although, you know I kind of am, but I don’t want us to start splitting up. I want you to be the bigger person and to promise me you’ll never make me feel like that again”

Ricky heard those words, and he knew they weren’t perfectly poetic, but he felt them going through his gut; and staying. He could understand some of the things EJ was feeling, and he thought it was very brave of EJ to open up about this now, instead of letting the situation grow and become more difficult until there was no way out.

Somehow, he didn’t want EJ to go through some of the things that he had.

“So?” EJ broke him off his thoughts.

“That was great” Ricky cleared his throat. “You should tell him that”

“Okay, great” EJ smiled widely. “Now, did you record that? Because I can’t remember half the things I just said”

 

Knowing he was heading into a very busy and crazy week, he decided to shower at night so he could have more time in the morning to arrive early and help with the preparation for the musical. As he was drying his hair with his towel, he picked up his phone from the bed, which had just buzzed.

He unlocked his phone and saw he had a text from EJ.

It’s all good now. Thank you for today, you really are great. I’ll fill you in tomorrow

And then, Ricky went to bed with one big smile on his face. It was good to know he had helped EJ manage his family drama once in for all. Even if he hadn’t been able to do the same with his own family; and he didn’t know if he ever would.

 

Carlos had given everyone clear instructions for the night; go to bed early, drink a lot of water, eat well and enough, do a facemask, listen to the whole High School Musical soundtrack, do voice warm ups, and have good dreams. Ricky didn’t know if he had completed the full list, but he felt fresher than ever when he woke up, so he guessed it had been good enough.

The musical was scheduled to begin at seven in the evening, but Miss Jenn had asked everyone to be there hours earlier. Everyone who was involved had permission to miss the classes of the day for the opening night; which ended up being a lot more people than he had imagined. When Ricky arrived at the auditorium for the final rehearsal, he realized he hadn’t met the electricity crew, nor the orchestra. Ricky had had no idea their budget covered such areas, considering the actors and dancers had done most of the stage designing and the props. He remembered all those times he stayed extra hours with his friends painting trees and hanging pieces of the scenery with ropes into the air.

As soon as he arrived, he began to prepare. They had already done their final complete rehearsal a day before, with everyone involved, costume changes, lighting, music, sound effects, everything. Ricky knew what to do. The first thing he did was get changed into his first Troy costume; which was a nice white shirt, a pair of jeans and a black jacket; although they looked nothing like the original Troy Bolton clothes since they were “too outdated”, and Ricky couldn’t agree more. It’s not like he cared that much about clothes, but he really did not enjoy those 2000’s loose jeans. And, the best part was; Carlos had come to the decision that keeping Ricky’s natural curly hair was better than giving him a wig. Ricky was so thankful.

When he got to see everyone else’s costumes, he was surprised with the work the people in charge of the clothes had done. For starters, EJ looked ridiculous, but in a cute, nice way. They had managed to give him four shirts with witty phrases, like the ones Chad was famous for. And, Nini- she looked- beautiful. She was really going to be the star of the show.

Before the show started, Miss Jenn gathered all her actors together. She gave a small speech about how proud and excited she was. She also said something that Ricky had believed was very inspiring and uplifting; that she believed in every single one of them, and that she knew they could make their dreams come true, whatever they were, because they had helped her make hers come true.

“…know that today you are part of something very special, and whether you decide to stay in the drama department or leave after tonight, I will forever be thankful to you for pouring your hearts, your souls and your talent into this production. I want everyone to get out there, and make this the best musical anyone has ever seen!”

Miss Jenn asked them to hold hands, just like they had done during their first reading. This time, Ricky and EJ grabbed each other’s hands without any hesitation; Ricky could even feel the strength in EJ’s hold, and he wasn’t sure if he had ever felt something as reassuring and comforting.

Minutes before the opening, Miss Jenn had one last announcement to make. She said she’d probably get some backlash for exceeding their budget, but she had everything under control. She had been looking forward to the dinner they had planned for after the opening, but she had also planned something else. Ricky thought she had been kidding when she mentioned she had organized a weekend trip to a theme park as a wild celebration for their effort.

For a split second, Ricky considered all the things he would’ve missed out on if he had definitely quit the show. Now he was glad he hadn’t done such a thing.

The presentation of their show happened as great as he and anyone else could’ve expected. Ricky never forgot one of his lines, or anyone, for that matter. He didn’t forget any lyrics, and he was very pleased with himself for having remembered every single detail.

Ricky found it hilarious how he’d sometimes bump into EJ in the middle of a wardrobe change and he’d get to read how he went from the outrageous “I come with my own background music” to the matchless “Worship Waffles”. Ricky wouldn’t stop himself from laughing every time he saw EJ; and EJ would never not laugh back with him.

The moment Nini and he sang Breaking Free, he felt the rush of the full experience he had lived in the past months reflected in the cheering of the crowd. Ricky had just accepted he could totally get used to that sound.

When they reached the end of the show and they went backstage, Ricky was so filled with adrenaline and excitement he didn’t even hesitate wrapping himself in a dramatically tight hug around EJ; who didn’t seem to mind either. Ricky hugged the rest of the crew as well, except for a few people.

“Dude, I feel like I can go to the moon now” Big Red has commented, mirroring Ricky’s excitement.

“I know,” Ricky answered, just as excited. “Me too”

When it came to cleaning up the stage and dismantling the scenery, Ricky had hoped he could’ve found his way out of it, but he knew it was only fair; like washing the dishes after eating.

At one moment, he saw from the other side of the stage, far away, Nini approaching EJ, who was also helping carrying the instruments back into the music room. Ricky couldn’t see what they were saying to each other, nor he was good at reading lips, so the only thing he saw was Nini taking EJ’s hand and asking him a question; which lead to the both of them walking backstage, out of everyone’s sight. Ricky had to take a moment to ask himself if he was okay with that; and the answer wasn’t very clear, but it was closer to a yes than it had ever been. It was time to move on. It was time to let her go. It was time to accept the things as they were.

The only thing left was waiting for Nini to get out of his head; and, how was he going to do that? He didn’t know. But he knew it was going to happen sooner or later.

He didn’t like to think about it as settling for not getting who he wanted; it was about realizing he deserved something better than chasing someone who doesn’t want to be caught.

 

Before Ricky could decide if he wanted to stay in the drama department or not, he still had to go through one more thing; one more thing before his High School Musical experience was over: Miss Jenn’s promised trip.

Ricky had never been had experience like that; traveling without his parents to another city, even if the trip in the bus was no longer than an hour and his dad kept texting him. He assumed some of the other kids had never had an experience like that either.

They met at the school early in the morning, and they waited for a bus to come pick them up.

Ricky and Big Red walked side by side to the bus so they could sit together on the way there. However, nobody could spend the whole ride sitting down; people were standing up, switching places, and of course, singing; which Ricky had gladly been a part of. He had never heard the singing in a bus sound so good.

In the middle of the ride, Ricky looked back to see EJ sitting by himself. He wondered if Nini had gone to the bathroom, or she was momentarily speaking to someone else; but as he scanned the room, he realized that they had never sat together at all. He was very curious as to know what was going on, but he also didn’t want to sound like a gossip, so he let it go.

When they arrived at their Airbnb, they had already selected how they were going to share the rooms. Bid Reg had made a joke about how no one was going to sleep any way, but before anyone could take it the wrong way, he corrected himself by explaining how they were going to spend all day and night in the theme park.

“The park closes at 9” Someone mentioned.

Before they left, the group took a few minutes to settle, rest and get ready. They had planned to spend the complete day at the park, so they wanted to make sure they wouldn’t forget anything, or, the opposite; take too much stuff they’d have to carry around.

EJ, Big Red, Chuck and Ricky were sharing a room together. Their room was in the roof part of the house, which was way cooler than the rest of the rooms because it had access to the terrace, and it also had its own bathroom, which meant they wouldn’t have to run across the living room to hit the loo or take a shower whenever they wanted to. Ricky felt comfortable and confident around the group, but he didn’t love the idea of showing himself off dripping wet with a towel being the only thing covering him.

The room, however, only had two beds, but Ricky was glad to see a couple of sofas as well and a big hammock on the outside of the room; that way, they wouldn’t find themselves in awkward bed-sharing situations. Nevertheless, Ricky could see Big Red and Chuck fighting over said hammock from the window of their room. Eventually, he saw how Big Red won their little fight, which still meant nothing because Chuck laid on top of Big Red either way, and they continued to argue.

Ricky himself decided to rest for a second on one of the beds. Actually, as soon as he fell on the bed, he wondered if he’d have enough time to close his eyes for a couple seconds. Scratch that, he was going to take a nap and trust someone would wake him up instead of leaving without him.

He didn’t know if he was actually falling in and out of sleep, or if time was moving way too slow, or way too fast, but a voice directed at his name dragged him out of his dreamless sleep. He opened his right eye, and he could see EJ also laying down on the bed next to Ricky’s. EJ had said something to him, but he wasn’t sure what it was because he hadn’t heard him correctly; so, he replied with an inspiring “hmm?”

EJ laughed. “I asked if you were tired”

“Oh” Ricky laughed as well. “No, I’m just waiting here”

EJ sighed, and Ricky saw how he shifted around the bed; adjusting the pillows under him. “Can I ask you a question?” EJ asked, looking at the ceiling, but he turned to look at Ricky when he said, “Although I don’t know how out of line it might be”

“What is it?”

“You can totally not answer and tell me I’m not allowed to ask that”

“Just ask me”

EJ breathed heavily. “Okay” He waited a couple seconds before he let it out.

“Why did you and Nini break up?”

Ricky had heard the question loud and clear, but he wasn’t sure he had. Had EJ really asked that? It didn’t really bother him- but, did he really want to know that?

“Am I stepping out of line?” EJ asked cautiously.

Yes? No?

“Uhm” Ricky wondered. “I don’t know, but if you wanna know-”

EJ had an apologetic look on his face; but there was something else going on in there as well. The guy nodded, and Ricky didn’t know why he’d want to know why Nini and he had broken up, but he had never asked him, and maybe there wasn’t a good reason for it; he just felt curious.

“Well, I guess there’s two sides of that story” Ricky looked at the ceiling and he told it. “Nini’s side is that I was a jerk and she wouldn’t put up with me”

“And your side?” EJ asked.

“Uhm, that I was a jerk and she wouldn’t put up with me?”

“Okay, what’s the long version of that story? Because I already knew that”

Ricky had realized that it would take a lot of vulnerability from his part to tell the complete thing to EJ, and even though they had shared some vulnerable moments with each other already, this was nothing like anything they’d talked about yet.

However, maybe it’d be good if he told him; so he could understand a little better the way he acted in the beginning of the year.

“She wrote a song- for me,” Ricky was already feeling awkward. Talking to EJ about how his girlfriend used to be his girlfriend wasn’t just weird- it was freaky, in a way. “Where she said that she loved me; it was the first time either of us had said it, and that’s basically the whole problem, I didn’t say it back, I freaked out, and then I said I wanted to take a break during the summer, but when we came back, you know…”

EJ was looking at Ricky the whole time; Ricky knew, even when he wasn’t looking back.

“But, I already knew that” EJ added.

“So, why do you ask?” Ricky got up and sat on the edge of his bed.

The truth is, Ricky knew what EJ wanted to hear. He wanted to know why he hadn’t said I love you back, and why he had asked for a break. He just hoped he wouldn’t ask for it out loud, so he wouldn’t have to explain it out loud.

But it didn’t matter what he was hoping for, because that was the first thing that came out of EJ’s mouth.

Ricky was debating between answering and not doing it, but he came up with a third option. “Why are you asking me?” Which was probably the first thing he should’ve said.

EJ looked surprised by Ricky turning the tables around; but maybe he understood that it was fair to ask. The guy sighed and sat down in the same position Ricky had just done.

“Yesterday, at the end of the show,” EJ prepared himself to say it. “Nini took me backstage,”

Ricky was really hoping EJ wouldn’t describe a hot make out session or anything of that sort.

“And she broke up with me”

Ricky’s eyes widened. He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t what to think. He did know that if EJ had come to him with this news a while back, he would’ve wasted no time in running out of the room and go to Nini; but it didn’t really feel appealing anymore. Suddenly, he realized he cared more about what EJ was going through, than what Nini’s reasons had been. So, he didn’t run out, and he stayed with EJ.

“Why? What happened?”

“I did something really stupid, a while ago, and I actually thought I could get away with it, so I never came clean, but all this time, she knew”

“What did you do?”

“I- took her phone, and I went through it”

“Woah-”

“I know, man, I know it was wrong and completely idiotic, however, the point is- she told me she was waiting until the show ended, because she didn’t want to make things weird” EJ stared at Ricky for a second before he continued. “Anyway, she said I didn’t know how to own up to the things that I do, and that I am more concerned about protecting my ass than admitting that I’m wrong and say I’m- sorry”

Ricky, of course, knew about the phone situation, but he had assumed EJ had apologized, and that Nini had accepted it and they had moved on. But now he knew that he never did it? What was the point of that stupid song EJ wrote and posted in his SoundCloud account? Which, by the way, he didn’t follow, he just checked occasionally.

“I’m asking you what happened between you two, because she said I was just like you” EJ stated.

Ricky felt that like a bomb; and not because it was painful, but because it was unexpected. “She said that?”

“Yeah, she said ‘You’re just like Ricky’

“Oh” Ricky managed to say. Then, Ricky started to go around a few ideas that were connecting themselves into his brain. His thought process felt a little heavy at the moment. EJ simply nodded slowly.

“What do you think that means?” Ricky asked, even though he was starting to get the picture.

“Well, I know she’s talking about how I couldn’t say I was sorry, and I guess she didn’t want to deal with a person who can’t say it, like she doesn’t wanna deal with a person who can’t say I Love You

Ricky stared. EJ stared back, realizing he had sounded a bit harsh. “That sounded bad, that’s not what I-”

“I know, but it’s kind of true” Ricky knew what EJ was trying to say, and he knew what Nini meant. It all seemed a little ironic, too. “I would’ve done the same thing if I were her; Nini is a great girl, and she deserves a nice guy”

“I know you’re insulting me by saying I’m not a nice guy, but somehow it’s okay, because I get it, and because you’re also telling yourself you’re not a nice guy”

EJ threw Ricky one of those smiles that took the context out of every conversation. Suddenly, he felt uplifted by seeing the combination of such a bright smile with those unbelievable eyes. Ricky felt it pull his own lips upward as well.

EJ didn’t ask anything else again, and Ricky didn’t push anything else either into their talk.

Big Red and Chuck entered the room to grab their stuff. As Chuck put his phone inside his pocket and Big Red tied a bum bag around his pants, they told their friends they’d be heading downstairs to say they were ready and to see if the rest of the group was ready to leave. EJ and Ricky decided to go with them as they both secretly wanted a change in their sad confessionary.

The four of them left their room and went to join everyone else.

Ricky had only been in a theme park a few other times in his life, but he had never had as much fun as he had that day. He wasn’t a precise lover of the wild rides that twist people around in seven different ways, but he had agreed to go on every single one of them, because as long as the day had light, they could be up in a rollercoaster defying basic rules of gravity. Nonetheless, that wasn’t a real excuse, since they were still up in the sky when the sun came down. Ricky had never gone on a ride during the night; and he had to say it was a whole other thing. There’s not a lot one can see when it’s dark, which makes the sensations a lot more prominent; the air gets colder, and the wind picks up, so when they were up there in a box that brought them up and down with an extreme speed, sometimes it really did feel like they were dying; but then the ride would stop and they’d remember they were fine.

There was a time when the rollercoaster seats moved slowly, heading to the top of the rail as it prepared for a quick, cold fall. Every second built on the pressure and the tension, so it felt very natural when EJ grabbed his hand and squeezed it hard. Ricky’s instinct was to squeeze back, as if the act secured him better from falling down to the ground.

Certainly, when the ride ended, they let go of each other and they never spoke of it.

At one point during their walk, Ricky had a wild thought of walking to Nini and asking her to hang out with EJ and him, in hopes of fixing their peculiar situation, as friends, but he imagined that was not something she needed at the moment. What she probably needed was time to get away from the boys and be with her friends and with herself at the moment. Maybe later, he could try to ease things between the three of them.

 

The ride to the theme park had been pretty lively and animated; everyone was talking, laughing, singing, even dancing, which was the source of a lot of falls from time to time, which led to more laughing. On the other hand, the ride back was completely opposite. Not everyone was awake; and the people who were, were either staring at their phones with the screen light at the lowest they could be, or sharing a whispery, weary chat.

Ricky turned to the seat next to him, where Big Red was fast asleep with his headphones on and his jacket used as a pillow; then, he looked back at EJ’s seat, and when he saw that he was still sitting alone, and he was not asleep, Ricky stood up, carefully trying not to wake his friend up, and proceeded to sit next to EJ.

 

When they were packing to return home, Ricky couldn’t shake off an odd feeling of nostalgia taking over him. This trip meant his experience as a drama kid was over; at least until another production came to town, but still, he wasn’t sure if he’d audition for that one. Things were very uncertain at the moment.

Ricky hadn’t noticed his friend Chuck wasn’t in the room, until he entered the room.

“Guys, Carlos asked me to tell you to go to his room”

“What for?” Big Red asked, taking a bite from his breakfast that he was not eating on a table.

“Oh, no” Chuck closed his backpack. “Just them” He pointed at EJ and Ricky his two fingers of the same hand.

The two boys shared a look, but they didn’t waste any time and instantly left the room. They walked downstairs, bumping into everyone trying to get their stuff ready. When Carlos caught sight of them through the hall, he quickly waved at them and sked them to get inside his room. Shortly after they entered, Carlos moved quickly to close the door behind them. Ricky stared as he even locked the door with the push of a button, and he was afraid for a second.

“Okay, sit”

Carlos sat down on the bed, and was followed by the other two boys, who sat on the edge on the bed in front of him.

“I want to ask for your help,” Carlos sighed. “But let me explain before you say yes, because you can say no if you want to”

Ricky wanted to be concerned, but the expression in Carlos’ face didn’t show any signs of worry or fear; it showed eagerness and a little bit of… hope?

“Okay” EJ answered, obviously very confused, but intrigued at the same time.

“I want to do something special for Seb,”

Ricky knew there was something going on between those two, but he wasn’t updated in their relationship status, so whatever Carlos was about to say was definitely going to be news for them.

“I’ve been-” Carlos began to explain something. He twisted his torso to look back to his bed, where he had a few papers gathered. He grabbed them and he started organizing them in place. “-thinking of a few things to do to show him how much I care about him, and everything he’s going through with his family and- the school, and everything”

Ricky knew what Carlos meant with ‘everything he’s going through’ since he knew, personally, a few dumbasses who liked to make fun of Carlos and Seb for being gay, which Ricky thought was terribly stupid and ancient, but still he knew it was real and sometimes it happened. It was nice to know that Carlos cared so much about him and that he was always willing to help.

“Anyway, I want to direct a new production, as a gift for him” Carlos explained. “It’s a story I wrote myself, and it’s centred around a guy who has a hard time accepting himself, but has an even harder time accepting he’ll never have the guy he wants if he doesn’t get over himself and step up; it’s mainly a romance story”

Ricky had a disturbing thought for a second. Carlos was willing to go through the trouble of producing and entire new show, deal with the writing, the dancing, the singing, the acting, the lighting, the effects, and everything else that was involved, all over again, only to show the guy he liked that he cared? What did that say about him as a boyfriend? No wonder why Nini had broken up with him and EJ. They looked like a couple of smartasses compared to this man.

Ricky knew EJ had had the same thought when he turned to look at him quickly, before he brought his attention back to Carlos.

“I already talked about this with Miss Jenn, and she already approved the whole thing”

“That’s amazing” EJ smiled, and Ricky agreed.

“Yeah, I know” Carlos exclaimed very excitedly. “It’s going to be amazing,” His smile got bigger.

“Miss Jenn wanted to open auditions right away so we could get started, but I told her I didn’t want anyone auditioning for the lead roles, because I-” Carlos began to slow down. “I want to ask you if you would like to take the lead in my play”

Ricky was completely taken by surprise. He hadn’t imagined Carlos was going to ask them that; he was actually starting to believe Carlos wanted to act in it himself or something, but this changed things.

“Hear me out, I saw you guys during our show and I think you are unbelievably talented actors and singers, and I actually love the chemistry the two of you had during the show, and I know that you’d be perfect for it, besides, you are my friends, and there’s honestly no one else I’d trust with this; there’s no one else I’d want for my characters”

Ricky hadn’t felt so flattered in a while.

“So, I’m asking you, if you would like to help me with this” Carlos gave each of the boys a set of papers; which Ricky discovered were copies of the script of Carlos’ play. “Or at least think about it”

Ricky read the front page, which had the title of the of the play, and Ricky actually thought it was pretty cool. A little cheesy, but it was cool. “Rushing Rivers”. He opened the script, read a few of the lines and the directions, but he closed it quickly as he heard EJ speak first.

“Are you sure you want us to do it?” EJ pointed at Ricky, and back at him, a few times.

“Absolutely” Carlos nodded with a bright smile on his face.

“Well,” EJ began. “I’m honoured”

Ricky knew EJ would be honoured; of course he would. When in the world would that narcissistic child deny the opportunity of having the lead in a show?

“I’m on board, if Ricky is too” He turned to look at Ricky.

Ricky caught on the staring, and he quickly felt Carlos’ eyes on him as well. For a second, Ricky had been so distracted with the beautiful gesture Carlos had planned for Seb, that he hadn’t stopped to consider what it involved. If Ricky accepted, he would have his cherished drama club back; and the idea really excited him; his time in the show had barely any point of comparison with any other thing he did in his life. Additionally, the story sounded good, and really inspiring, from what he had heard, and it wasn’t only the act of being part of something progressive and meaningful; it was also the contribution to a really good cause. Carlos had always been more than nice to him; and Seb was one of the best people he knew; it’d be pretty great to help them out.

But there was that one thing, which Ricky wasn’t sure if EJ had considered at all, because it seemed like he had already accepted when he heard the word “lead”, which in EJ’s mind probably sounded like “spotlight, fame, gold, attention”…

…he’d be EJ’s boyfriend.

Well, EJ’s character’s boyfriend. And not only that, he’d have to act as his boyfriend. And it’s not like the idea completely grossed him out, or anything like that. He simply believed it was part of strange and unknown territory for the both of them.

But, then again, it was just a play, and it was for a really good cause, and EJ really wanted to be in the spotlight, and Carlos was really excited about it, and he really wanted to get back into acting, and he really liked spending time with EJ, and… it didn’t sound like a bad idea after giving it some thought.

“Sure, we’ll do it”

Carlos jumped off his seat and hugged both boys, screaming in their ears and thanking them a million times.

Chapter Text

When Ricky sat down for a really long time, he’d start feeling sleepy and lazy; less and less inspired by the minute. Staring at his computer screen for so long made his sight somewhat blurry; especially in the dark, late at night.

He would’ve been shaming himself for having waited until the last minute to answer his character essay questions, but he knew that EJ had done so as well, since they had both put off thinking about the assignment Carlos had given them a few days ago as much as they could.

“What did you answer in question three?” EJ’s voice came out from the speaker of Ricky’s phone; similar as when working on a school project.

“Uhm” Ricky paused. “I’m still on question one”

The questionnaire Carlos had given them included questions like “What does the character and you have in common?” or “How would you define your character in three words?” because it was going to, supposedly, help them make their performance more realistic.

If Ricky thought Carlos had been a complete perfectionist when they were doing High School Musical, he didn’t know what word to use to describe him now.

“I wrote passionate, easy-going and straightforward” EJ’s voice came through.

“Wow” Ricky elongated his response. “How did you come up with that?”

“I just googled ‘positive adjectives to describe personality’ and wrote the ones sounded less basic” EJ let out a tiny laugh at the end, and Ricky thought it was so ridiculous that he couldn’t hide his own laughter either.

“That’s cheating” Ricky replied; although, he didn’t mention he was opening his browser himself to do the same thing.

“Mhm, I don’t think so” EJ replied once again.

Ricky went through the list of adjectives he had found, but he wasn’t exactly paying attention, so he kept scrolling down, without really reading any of them, until he reached the bottom and gave up. He went back to the list of questions he had to answer, and even though he read them again, and again, and again; and all over again, he couldn’t understand any of them. His eyes were shutting down and he could feel his brain turning off by passing of the seconds.

“What are you doing?” EJ spoke again after a minute of silence.

Ricky cleared his throat. “Nothing, I’m falling asleep” He yawned quietly.

EJ laughed from the other side of the line. “Yeah, same”

Ricky wasn’t paying complete attention, but he could hear noises coming from his phone; and he didn’t know what it was, but EJ was doing something; probably closing books and putting things in place.

“Let’s finish tomorrow morning” He called.

Ricky shut down his computer screen, he grabbed his phone, put the speaker off and went straight to bed with the phone in his ear. “Tomorrow, when? We have class”

“Earlier than that, I’ll text Ashlyn and tell her to wake up earlier so I can pick her up and then I’ll pick you up so we can get early to school and we’ll finish up there, before class”

Ricky had never, ever, in his life time; not one single time, liked the idea of waking up earlier than he was supposed to; but he had been doing it quite often lately. He still didn’t like it, but it felt like something he could do. “Okay,”

“Okay” EJ laughed again; a bit sleepy this time. “See you tomorrow, be ready”

 

The next morning happened like so. Ricky woke up at five in the morning, and he was surprised at how tired he didn’t feel when he had time to freshen up and get ready. Ricky took a hot washer, he picked out some of his cool clothes, because he felt like wearing something nicer than usual that day, packed his scattered books and his laptop inside his backpack, and just like that, he was ready.

Ricky was going to fix some breakfast for himself, even when he never cooked, and he was willing to take the risk of eating a horrible meal, but EJ had texted him before he had even opened the cabinet door. EJ asked if he was ready, because Ashlyn and he had stopped on the way to his house to get a combo of Subways with juices, and they were five minutes away. Ricky was glad they had thought about getting breakfast, because there was no way he was functioning without food, and there was no way he’d be pleased with his own cooking.

Ricky went outside of his house and waited for his friends to arrive. Not long after, he saw EJ’s gigantic vehicle approaching him. Ashlyn was sitting on the passenger’s seat changing the radio station from one to the other, so Ricky had to climb up the backseat.

“Are you up or are you sleepwalking?” EJ greeted him with a laugh.

“Uh, I don’t know” Ricky laughed back, and he put his hands inside the pockets of his jacket.

“I put the subs on the seat, it’s your job to keep the juices from spilling” Ashlyn turned his head to look at Ricky in the back. “You look very nice, what are you doing today?” She continued, and she added a bit of a flirty tone to her comment.

Ricky smiled widely at her. “I’m filling up some paperwork, attending some classes, you know, a usual day in the office”

His friends laughed, and soon after, EJ was already driving.

As planned, they arrived at school earlier than ever; at least for Ricky, and he couldn’t see anyone in the building who didn’t work there. The three of them went directly to the cafeteria, since they had food with them and they couldn’t take it to the library; they sat down on one of the tables, and the first thing they did was pull out their food.

While EJ and Ricky worked on their characters, Ashlyn sat there, occasionally helping the boys when they seemed stuck, although, pleasantly enough for Ricky, he was quite fast when it came to words, especially now that he was well fed and happy, and he was able to help EJ and himself a whole lot; and, if he was being honest, he kind of liked how EJ looked amazed every time Ricky said something clever.

 

One day of that same week, Carlos had EJ and Ricky over so he could explain what his vision was. He told them that Seb knew Carlos was doing a new production, and he knew what it was about, but he had the wrong idea that Carlos had based the play on his own life story, when, in reality, it was based off Seb’s; and he wanted that part to remain silent so it’d be a surprise on the opening night. He also wanted to include, of course, a few dance numbers and a whole bunch of songs; some of which he wrote himself, but he also had something to ask the boys.

“You know, writing is not my thing, not really,” Carlos explained himself. “It’s not like dancing, it’s not as easy”

Ricky and EJ looked at each other; they begged to differ.

“So, I talked to Miss Jenn, and she’s kind of busy with some new ideas she has for the drama department, so I was thinking,” A familiar look began to form on Carlos’ face; the sort of expression that’s easy to miss, but convinces anyone of anything without thinking about it. “I think it’d be really special if we had a song written by the protagonists’ actors” Carlos smile was hard to say not to. “Will you do it?”

EJ turned to face Ricky with a sort of blank expression; and the only thing Ricky could read from it was “I don’t you, you decide”

For a moment, Ricky thought it was too much from Carlos to ask for them to, not only act as boyfriends, sing and dance like it wasn’t a skill they didn’t possess, but to also write a song. However, almost immediately, he felt bad about thinking that way. Carlos had helped him through a lot of things and had encouraged him so much, and now that he had the guts to ask for help, he go picky?

Ricky didn’t want to disappoint him.

“Of course,” Ricky replied, and he was proud of himself when he couldn’t hear the hesitation in his voice at all.

“Oh, you’re such life savers” Carlos gave each of them a quick hug. “Well, uhm, that was everything I wanted to ask you,” He started to pick up his stuff. “I’ll tell you when we’ll have the first reading and start rehearsals”

Carlos waved the boys goodbye and left the room. EJ kept an eye on him with half a smile on his face, and when he could see that he was too far away to listen to anything they said, he quickly turned to face Ricky.

“We’re doomed” EJ’s eyes widened, and Ricky felt concerned, but in a comical way, because EJ’s face was just too funny to ignore.

“Why?”

“My writing skills are just as bad as my dancing skills”

Ricky stared for a second, he sighed and shrugged. “Yeah, we’re doomed”

He received a punch on the shoulder from EJ, but he quickly laughed it off. “Don’t worry about it, we have plenty of time,” Ricky was feeling very confident, apparently. “We’ll be fine”

Ricky managed to convince EJ to trust Ricky, and he didn’t bring it up again during the rest of the day. Ricky knew from experience that writing songs was a complex art, but it was one he had somewhat gotten the hang of, and he could write a song if he wanted to.

Nevertheless, it had been easier said than done; because when he arrived home later that day, and he tried to compose something, he couldn’t think of a single thing that would help him. It was bad. It wasn’t like all his lyrics where trash and all his melodies sounded like shit; it was that he didn’t have the slightest minimum idea of where to start. But, well, they did have plenty of time, and they could figure it out later.

 

Ricky had forgotten what it felt like to go to school and not have any musical activities involved. His routine had majorly been the same for a while; go to school, get through the day, silently expecting the end of the school day to go to the auditorium or the rehearse room. Nonetheless, for the past week, there hadn’t been any of those cherished musical activities he had grown to love; and things didn’t only feel boring, but also terribly sad sometimes. Carlos’ play wasn’t taking off in a few more weeks, so there was barely anything they could get to do in the meantime. One of his only comforts was that he was now friends with EJ, and the guy was always singing and being dramatic, so it felt similar to being on stage.

That’s why, when Miss Jenn pulled Ricky and Big Red out from their chemistry class for a second to give them an announcement, Ricky was suddenly very excited again.

“If you can, and of course, if you want, we’ll be meeting today in the rehearsing room after classes; there’s something I want to talk to you about”

Ricky quickly texted EJ under the table, asking him if Miss Jenn had already talked to him and if he knew what it was about.

When the guy answered rather quickly, Ricky wondered if EJ was even paying attention in his class or if he was playing games on his phone in the back of the class. Anyway, he didn’t know anything either, and they’d just have to wait and see.

Therefore, that’s what they did. Ricky waited until his last class ended; he went right to the classroom next door, where he knew Big Red had his last class, and he waited for him to get out so they could go to the rehearsing room. On the way over there, EJ joined them, who began rambling about how his math teacher wouldn’t let them go and thought he was going to miss- whatever this thing was.

Ricky and EJ also saw Nini walking to the rehearsing room; she was walking between Kourtney and Gina as if they were her shield. Nini was still not speaking to either of them, and the only thing that EJ and Ricky could do was look at each other and don’t say what they were thinking, because they knew anyway. Sometimes Ricky thought it was weird, and kind of funny, how not long ago, he would look at this guy and he would pretty much feel his insides burn, but now it was all gone, and he could barely remember what it was like to hate him.

When they entered the room, Miss Jenn asked them to sit wherever they wanted; she, herself, was also sitting down with her laptop on her lap. Ricky assumed she was waiting for the rest to arrive.

While they waited, EJ bumped Ricky with his elbow, signalling him to look at his phone. Unbelievable. The guy was showing him another meme. Ricky couldn’t pretend he was mad, though. EJ’s taste in memes was pretty funny.

After a few more people came into the room, Miss Jenn closed the door and began to speak.

“Well, hello, everyone, thank you for coming. It’s been a while since I got to see all of your pretty faces together in the same place, it’s exciting!”

Ricky heard a few echoes of excitement across the room and a few cheers as well. He felt his own smile appearing on his face.

“I have amazing news for you, but I want to say that this wasn’t only me, a group of ladies and gentlemen here-” Miss Jenn waved at some people in the room to pass to the front with her. Ricky could see a few faces he recognized from the show, but he hadn’t spoken to them that much; nonetheless, he also saw a few of his friends as well; Chuck and Gina included. “-they had a beautiful, brilliant idea in mind, and they made it come true, so, I’m going to leave them tell you all about it” Miss Jenn left the spotlight excitedly, and gladly handing it over to the group.

The first one of them to speak was, of course-

“Thank you, Miss Jenn,” Gina. “We didn’t want to say anything to anyone until we knew for sure we could have our project approved, and it happened, so-” She stopped herself. “Okay, let’s get to the point” Gina shook her head and let herself start again.

“You know how the football team is always, every single day of the year, a team? Even when they aren’t in the field or in a major competition, they are still a full-on, strong, team; but the drama kids, they are only the drama kids when they are working on a big production or a school play, but when that’s done, people forget- and even us, we forget about it-”

Ricky could sense the direction where Gina was heading. He looked around the room, and he found, not one, nor two, three or ten, but a lot, a lot, of people smiling widely; possibly sensing the goal of the conversation as well. He turned around to look at EJ, and Ricky was not surprised at all to see that same smile on his face. His eyes gleamed with passion and Ricky really liked how his face was so affected by the meaning behind his eyes.

“-we come and go, but we don’t consider ourselves a part of something- whole. So, that’s what we suggested and that’s what we’re starting; a drama club, or a team, or a body, gang, troop, squad, party, extracurricular activity, whatever you want to call it, but we want this department to feel like a unit, not only an object people can touch and leave behind…”

“Dude” Ricky heard EJ whisper next to him. “This is my ultimate dream”

Ricky turned to look at him. “I know”

“So, if you’re interested, I’m passing the clipboard, write your name and you’ll be part of the official group” Gina gave everyone one more big, bright smile and watched as the clipboard moved around the seats.

“This is great, Gina” Ashlyn commented as soon as she received the clipboard. She signed her name without stopping to think about it, and passed the clipboard to the next person.

“Thank you” Gina accepted the compliment.

Ricky noticed how a few people were hesitant to write their names, and some were even passing the clipboard to the next person, although, not a lot. Gina possibly caught up on it, too, since she quickly added one last thing; she told everyone that they didn’t need to sign up right away if they didn’t want to, they could think about it if they needed time.

“However, we also decided that if anyone else, who isn’t in this room right now, wants to join, they’ll have to audition first, just like anyone would do for any other club”

“Technically, you don’t audition for the clubs, you try out-” Big Red added his powerful contribution, which Gina didn’t seem impressed by.

“Same thing,” She managed to say with her smile still there. “We’ll hang a list of decrees here in the classroom, and we’ll also send it to everyone whose names are in there” Gina pointed at the clipboard.

Ricky wasn’t surprised by how natural Gina looked like in a leader, authoritarian position.

“We’ll also select leaders, but we’ll do that some other time. In the meantime, because we are so excited, we’re getting started with the first activity of the drama club,”

Gina stepped out of the level, and granted the spot to another member of the group; which was someone Ricky didn’t know personally; he recognized the guy as part of the crew, of course, but he didn’t really know him at all. When the guy stepped on the level, he started talking about how he had never felt so much like himself with any other group of people, but he had found a place where he didn’t feel the pressure to be anybody else but himself. Ricky really liked that concept; he could relate to it in a way, and seeing that other people did, too, as he saw some people nodding in the room, made him feel even more confident.

At the same time, he noticed the clipboard had reached EJ, and the guy wasted no time in writing his name on it, and Ricky watched as he signed up. As soon as he finished, he passed the sign-up sheet to Ricky, but he simply stared at it.

“Oh, I’m not joining” Ricky confessed with a nonchalant look.

EJ stared at him with the strength of a mad bull. “Richard”

The sound of that and the seriousness in his face made him lose it completely. “I’m joking, EJ” He tried to take the clipboard from his hands, but EJ pulled it away from him with an offended look on his face. “Well, now you’re not joining”

EJ stepped forward so he could move past Ricky, and he tried to give the clipboard to Big Red, who was on Ricky’s other side. “Red, take it, don’t let him write his name”

Ricky was laughing, also wearing an offended expression; he tried to hold EJ down so he couldn’t pass the clipboard past him, but the guy continued to resist.

“No, EJ, come on” Ricky continued laughing and pulling on EJ’s arms.

Eventually, when people started to look back at them, and Ricky realized they were interrupting the meeting, both guys sat back down and settled down, still laughing, but trying to hold it down.

“Settle down, Ricky” EJ joked, and Ricky answered with another offended stare.

EJ still had the clipboard in his hands, but instead of giving it to Ricky, he held the pen and wrote Ricky’s name himself.

“Come on, I was joking,” Ricky reassured.

“Just making sure” EJ replied. Once he finished, he passed the clipboard past Ricky, and Big Red took it to write his own name as well.

“…and that is why,” The guy continued explaining, and EJ and Ricky shared a set of apologetic looks, still filled with silent laughter. “I wanted to make our first activity something that would help us get to know each other, but also something that allows us to be vulnerable and share a piece of our minds”

Ricky didn’t completely love the idea, but he was listening.

“This week, you will be performing an original act that you created; something you want to tell the world, it could be a song you wrote, or a dance you choreographed, whatever you want; the only condition is that it has to mean something to you, and it has to be original; no covers, no stealing someone else’s work”

“Fuck” EJ whispered, making sure only Ricky could hear him.

“Same” Ricky empathized.

“It’s completely optional, and you have whatever day of this week to participate” The guy cleared up.

Another person from the group stood up next to the guy, and whispered something to him; Ricky couldn’t hear what it was, so he assumed he wasn’t intended to.

“Oh, okay” The guy whispered back. Ricky didn’t hear, but he didn’t need professional lip-reading skills to be able to make that up. The guy faced the room completely once again, and he raised his voice. “And I hope you’re ready, because the first jumper is already here, and he will present something for us today”

EJ and Ricky looked at each other. For a second, Ricky had thought that first person to participate might be EJ, because that’s something he would do, but he looked just as curious and confused as he did, so, no, it couldn’t have been him.

However, quickly enough he noticed said person standing up from a wood stool and walked to the level.

“Hey, everyone” Seb greeted his crowd. “This is kind of cheating because I already knew about this, but, uhm, I really love this activity, or, challenge, as I like to call it”

While Ricky stared at Seb carefully, listening to the things he said, he felt how someone came near him from behind. He quickly turned around out of reflex, and he saw Carlos dragging his chair and sitting down behind EJ and Ricky. He leaned in, so the boys could hear him, and he whispered; “Oh my god, Seb is singing. EJ, take notes”

EJ looked nervous, and Ricky couldn’t help but laugh.

“Most people know me as ‘The country boy’, but sometimes people don’t realize what that includes, and how living in the country really affected me; not necessarily in a negative way, but, uhm, yeah…”

As Seb explained, Gina and Chuck dragged the piano to the front of the room, and signalled the guy to sit down. Seb sat down in front of the piano, and he began to play slow, simple notes.

Ricky listened to the lyrics of Seb’s song, and he believed it was beautiful how he managed to deliver such message about himself with the power of his words, and then he realized that was the whole point of the assignment; to let people know who you are, but on his own terms; him being selective about the things he’s ready to share.

He hadn’t thought about participating, but maybe he was now considering it.

He remembered how good it had felt when he opened up about certain pieces of himself, but he also remembered how scary it was; regardless of how ready he thought he had been, he knew he’d still feel open and naked if he decided to do it again.

I’m searching back roads for wishes and dreams, long gone, ripped at the seams…” “Looking back I never thought that I’d leave that town, airplanes and shooting starts were my company all along…

Ricky looked back to look at Carlos, but the guy’s expression was way beyond description.

 

Ricky had been considering it; opening up, but it wasn’t as easy as he wanted it to be. His brown notebook was filled with songs that contained his heart and his tears, but there was a reason why they were in the notebook and not in a lyric sheet. But still, he was considering it.

The next day, Ricky had that same old, yet fresh, feeling in him; that exciting feeling of getting through the day so he could finally get to his drama club. Of course, he liked some of his classes, but nothing compared to the feeling of being in a room full of people who share his passion for the performing arts.

That day, Miss Jenn sent everyone to the auditorium, because he wanted the next of the performances to have the place they deserved. She had offered Seb to repeat his song, but he didn’t think it was necessary.

Everybody was sitting down on the actual rows of the auditorium, instead of the cold floor of the stage, as they sometimes did. Ricky and EJ sat down in the third row, right in the middle, and they talked about their predictions for the next person to perform. What happened in the next minutes wasn’t exactly what they had expected to happen, however; so, none of their predictions were correct.

When Miss Jenn announced the next participant, EJ and Ricky didn’t think too much of it; seeing Nini climb to the stage without using the stairs, but instead, taking a whole steady step into the platform felt powerful. Just like Seb, Nini was going to use the piano, but she also used a pre-recorded track of drums and backup keys.

Nini began playing; slowly. It sounded pretty and sad; both at the same time. Nini began her song with ad-libs, and Ricky wasn’t surprised, since that was a recent trend she had been going for. He had to agree that it was a great option for her music, because it gave it so much power and realism.

However, the magic of the music he was hearing got side tracked when she started singing.

I found a guy, told me I was a star, he held the door; held my hand in the dark; and he’s perfect on paper, but he’s lying to my face; does he think that I’m the kind of girl who needs to be saved?

Ricky heard those lyrics, and he instantly felt remorseful. She was singing about EJ; and it wasn’t exactly nice. Ricky turned his head slowly, and he could see EJ’s furrowed eyebrows, and he gave him a look of sympathy. Ricky understood Nini’s feelings; or maybe he didn’t, but he tried to, and he knew she was mad, and he understood she needed to let out her feelings, but now that he was further from her, and closer to EJ; he also felt bad for the guy. Ricky didn’t deny that the guy was an idiot, but he wasn’t a bad guy, and it wasn’t fun to see his reaction.

Ricky slid his hand down to EJ’s knee and gave it a light squeeze, showing his compassion.

A few more notes, and Nini continued; and, oh boy.

“…and there’s one more boy, he’s from my past…”

Ricky was left speechless for a second. The song was also about him? What was Nini doing?

EJ returned the look. None of them said anything, but they knew, far too well, what they were thinking.

“…we fell in love, but it didn’t last, ‘cause the second I figure it out, he pushes me away, and I won’t fight for love if you won’t meet me halfway…”

Ricky felt like he wanted to hide in a hole. People weren’t stupid; everyone knew what had happened between the three of them; and watching Nini perform such song, they quickly picked up on the clues. Ricky could feel the stares on him and EJ. He felt like an attraction in a crime museum. He also knew that people didn’t mean wrong, but it was still tremendously uncomfortable to be in that position.

As Nini continued to sing, Ricky understood that Nini was probably not trying to shame the guys, nor evidence them, because everyone already knew, anyway. Nini was possibly trying to find some peace within herself, and he respected that.

That didn’t erase the fact that he felt as embarrassed as he hadn’t felt in a long time.

 

After a couple more performances, EJ and Ricky left the room, both trying to avoid eye contact with the rest of the people who were also trying to exit the auditorium; both wishing a hole in the ground opened up and would swallow them.

They managed to get out of the school without anyone mentioning a thing or even looking at anyone in the eye.

“Want a ride home?” EJ offered.

“Sure” Ricky accepted.

 

When Ricky and EJ were finally alone and sitting down, in Ricky’s bedroom, they decided that was the right moment to address what had happened.

Ricky threw himself into his own bed, holding his hands on his face. “I feel so humiliated”

EJ threw his backpack to the floor and sat down on Ricky’s chair. “Me too,” He agreed, a lot more calmly, though.

“But you know what?” Ricky got up. “I don’t think we even get to feel humiliated”

“What? Like, we deserve it?” EJ suggested; and Ricky knew the question in his face was genuine. Yeah, the guy was sometimes a complete dumbass.

“You don’t think so?” Ricky returned the question in hopes EJ would agree with him.

“I don’t know” EJ shook his head. “I mean, yes, but I would’ve preferred it if she had sent us the track instead of singing it publicly, in front of everyone”

“Well, yeah,” Ricky replied. “But still, I don’t think we have the luxury of getting mad” Ricky stared at EJ, waiting for a response, but the guy didn’t say a word. “It sucks, but we have to deal with it”

EJ looked like he was trying to solve a very hard puzzle, but he still agreed with Ricky, anyway.

“How am I going to show my face tomorrow?” EJ still had to ask.

“Like nothing happened” Ricky answered with a headshake; with the calm and composure of the obvious answer. “I mean, I know it’ll be embarrassing,” Ricky added when he saw EJ’s pained look. “But we don’t need to make things bigger, let’s just pretend she didn’t sing that song”

Ricky knew the dramatism inside EJ didn’t like to miss an opportunity of making himself seen; even if it wasn’t for his benefit and only made him look like a douche, which had caused many issues in the past, and it would probably do as well, later in the future. However, EJ stayed quiet for a second, and then he simply answered “yeah, okay”.

The boys fell into silence for a minute.

“So, uhm” Ricky changed the topic. “Do you think you’ll participate in this?” Ricky sat up.

“No,” EJ answered. “Give me a song and I’ll work my butt off to give a great performance, but I cannot write to save my life”

Ricky stared at him with doubt. “Really?” He asked. “I know you don’t write, but, you’ve never tried? Like, just to see what happens?”

EJ lowered his gaze. “You heard my song, it’s on my SoundCloud”

“Yeah, but, that’s not a serious thing, you wrote a crack song”

“But I was trying to write a serious song” EJ excused himself. “I didn’t mean it to sound like a joke” The guy had a tad of hilarious pain plastered on his face. “People assumed A Billion Sorrys was a crack song, and I haven’t corrected that false assumption, because that would be way more embarrassing”

Ricky knew is wasn’t funny to EJ; and that he had actually struggled with his lyrics, but he had to admit the situation was a little comical, and he couldn’t hide his smirk.

EJ sighed. “Anyway, I’ll participate another time,” He shrugged. “What about you?”

Ricky wanted to say that he wasn’t participating as fast as EJ had; but the truth was that he had given it a lot of thought. He knew that if he wanted to sing in front of everyone it’d be about something personal, and it wasn’t easy for him to open up about the stuff that happened in his life. Still, he was not completely against the idea.

“I don’t know,” He answered hesitantly. “I don’t have any songs- I mean, I don’t know which one I’d do- that people would want to hear, anyway,” Ricky added with hints of nerves and uncertainty in his voice; and EJ totally picked up on it.

Now, here’s the thing Ricky wasn’t near to being comfortable with people knowing about.

EJ widened his eyes and raised his lips up in a smile. “But you do have songs” EJ stated; although it sounded more like a question.

Ricky tried to hide the fact that he was feeling shy about the topic.

“I was thinking about doing one song I wrote,” Ricky began, and he studied how EJ looked so invested. “It’s supposed to be a personal story or something about us, right? So, I have one song, but, I don’t know-”

EJ left his spot in the chair, only to join Ricky on his bed, sitting down next to him.

“Is it a good song?” EJ asked with curiosity.

“I think it is” Ricky didn’t want to sound conceited, but he didn’t want to dismiss his work and discredit himself either, anyway. And, more than that, he didn’t want to act like he wasn’t aware of the validity of his music in front of EJ; because the guy was one of the most creative people he knew, and being with him made him feel like he could allow himself to explode his creative skills as well. “But I still don’t know if I wanna sing it for everyone”

“Well, isn’t that the point? Showing them a piece of who we are and what our life is like?”

Ricky nodded. “Still, I don’t know if I want anyone to listen to it”

“Will you show it to me?”

Those words made Ricky feel extra nervous. “Didn’t you hear what I just said?”

“Oh, but that’s different” EJ insisted. “You’re not on stage, no one’s gonna listen”

“Why do you want me to sing it?”

“Because I want to listen to it”

“Why?”

“Come on, I’ve never heard one of your songs, I didn’t even know who wrote songs; If I had known, I would’ve asked a long time ago”

“Are you going to make fun of me if I show it to you?”

“Of course not”

And like that, Ricky did something he had never done before, and something he hadn’t imagined he’d ever do. He got up from bed without wishing he could sit back down, he walked straight to his closet, he opened his drawer, and he took out his brown notebook. Ricky wasn’t going to read his lyrics to EJ, one, because he knew them by heart, and two, he wanted EJ to read them himself. He walked to EJ and he gave him the notebook.

“But I wanna hear it”

Ricky was going to protest, but he was feeling a spark of bravery, and he didn’t feel like letting it go.

“Okay” He walked to the other side of his room and took his guitar from where it laid. Ricky walked back to sit down on the bed where EJ was at.

Ricky cleared his throat, he played a few strings along with some chords, he adjusted a couple of times, and when he felt it was ready, he looked at EJ.

“Ready?”

EJ nodded vigorously.

Ricky played the first chords, and he couldn’t believe he was actually playing this song in front of an actual person. However, once he started, he knew his fingers and his words would do the job for him, as he had sung that song to himself a few times already.

Ricky also knew that EJ would probably not understand the lyrics of his song in the beginning, since he had managed to write something vague, which he liked, but he knew it wasn’t very relatable, at least not for a person who had never felt the way he had.

It wasn’t until Ricky sang a couple of lyrics, which were a bit more explicit, that he dared to look at EJ; because he wanted to know how he’d react.

I never learnt how to love or how to stay when things get rough; how can you know something you’ve never seen?”

Whatever I did, I would take it all back, I’d circle the world to get back what we had, tell me what must I do to deserve your love, is there any way I’ll ever be good enough?”

Ricky had actually expected EJ to think his song was about Nini; but the way his facial expression shifted from curiosity to anguish; although not in a bad way, made Ricky believe he had figured out the real inspiration for the song.

When Ricky finished, he took his guitar off from his lap and he rested it next to him. Then, he turned to EJ, awaiting a response.

“That’s- a really nice song” EJ commented, and Ricky felt really flattered at the sincerity he could see on his face.

Ricky smiled. “Thanks”

“Is it about-”

“My parents, yeah” He cut him off.

EJ bit his lip, and he nodded. “Has no one ever heard this song before?”

Ricky shook his head. “Nope”

“Am I the first one?” EJ asked with a smirk on his face.

Ricky slightly smiled at the question. “Yes” He nodded.

EJ didn’t say anything else, but Ricky liked the way his face radiated some form of delight, and he almost stared too long at his eyes. He was also not used to the soft energy they had going on in the room, and he felt the urge to fill up the silence, even though a little bit of him wished they could’ve just stayed like that for a longer moment.

“You don’t think people would think it’s lame, or childish?”

“Absolutely not” EJ answered immediately. “I get why you don’t want to sing that in front of the drama club, but I think if you did, no one would think it’s lame or childish; it’s a great song” EJ commented, as the great music contest judge he was.

“But, I’m not gonna lie,” EJ stared down. “I would’ve loved it if either one of us could sing tomorrow”

“Why?” Ricky furrowed his eyebrows.

“To show Nini that we can still show up and sing after she humiliated us” EJ explained with a lot of rage.

Ricky laughed for a second, but he quickly stopped it so he could answer. “Okay, that’s vengeful”

“But it’d be such a great comeback, just like when artists shame other artists or spill their tea, and then they basically say fuck it, fuck everyone by releasing a fierce bop”

Ricky stared at EJ, laughing.

“Like Shake it Off by Taylor Swift”

Ricky was amazed at how EJ’s brain seemed to work sometimes. He had to agree that the guy had some weird priorities and some self-centred visualizations, but as he kept on talking, at least in that situation only, he kind of saw the meaning behind his explanation. He did like the idea of appearing the next day and showing Nini and the drama club that he wasn’t affected by her song, and that he could, too, be petty and immature.

And that’s when he got an idea. Maybe two- or, three, could play at this game.

“Wait, maybe we can” Ricky made EJ shut up. “We can write a comeback song, and we sing it together tomorrow”

“As a duet? But this is supposed to be personal and vulnerable, remember?”

“But we can sing about something that we both have in common, and we can say that it’s something we both have in our lives, and it’s also going to be a catchy reply to Nini’s song”

EJ looked surprised. “That’s good”

“I know” Ricky stood up. “Come on, we’re gonna need your crack-song-writing skills”

 

That’s how Ricky ended up writing the most ridiculous song he had ever written. That night, after EJ had left and gone home, Ricky went to bed and started analysing how stupid it all was. He had just told EJ to act like nothing had happened and move on, and then he was acting petty and thoughtless; writing a terribly dramatic song that belonged in a comedy musical. However, he had actually had so much fun writing with EJ, that he was looking forward to singing their song with him; and not necessarily because he wanted to see Nini’s reaction.

 

When both EJ and Ricky stepped on stage, everyone’s expressions were filled with shock; clearly noticing that something was about to go down.

Ricky was clipping his strap on his guitar so he could wrap it around himself and play while standing up; he played the first two chords on repeat a few times to make sure it sounded right, and when he was done, he gave EJ a quick nod to signal him he was ready.

EJ faced his audience, which was the other 20 members of the drama club, and he began to explain what their song was about.

“Ricky and I decided to do a song together because, though we don’t have a lot of things in common, there are a few things we can understand about each other, because we’ve lived similar experiences,”

Ricky wished EJ wasn’t being so serious about their explanation; now everyone was expecting a solid, down to earth song about vulnerable topics, but, then again, he would never ask EJ to not be over the top.

“This is a song that shows some things about us we wish we were better at,”

And if that wasn’t the most misleading explanation they could’ve found…

First line was EJ’s; and Ricky had to give him credit for the way he was able to sing it without bursting out into laughter.

You took me on a date, all I did was wait for you to do your hair; you think it’s kinda cute to never tell the truth, and I’m starting not to care

Ricky was absolutely dying to see what kind of face Nini was making, but he didn’t want to raise his stare and look, so he could make it obvious they were doing a vengeance song.

The rest of the song had the same vibe to it; and EJ and Ricky kept taking on the verses one by one. The chorus of their song was pretty absurd; and Ricky felt a mix of anger and rage when he sang it, but he was also feeling a bit guilty,”

You, you think that everyone wants ya, you’re just a pretty boy, and I think it’s time that I told ya, you’re just a pretty boy; choking on your own cologne, don’t leave a message at the tone, delete my number from your phone…”

And if nobody had caught up on what they were singing about, they were now.

Eventually, the song ended, finally. The rest of the drama club clapped, but Ricky and EJ could see the looks of discomfort and trouble on their faces; and they could feel a solid tension going around. Ricky turned to look at Nini; who was definitely nowhere near impressed; and she simply stared at them with a bitter stare; eyes that didn’t blink and a tight, side smudge of a sullen smile on her lips.

And he hadn’t expected anything else.

When the drama club meeting ended, nobody came to talk to them, and nobody said one word; they simply left, acting like nothing had happened; and that was when Ricky began to feel like a moron.

And EJ was probably feeling the same way. “I feel like I just embarrassed myself more than I would’ve if he hadn’t done anything, like you said in the first place”

“That’s called regret” Ricky added.

“This wasn’t very nice of us, was it?”

“Definitely not,” Ricky looked to the ground, suddenly feeling the weight of his bad decision. “I’m sorry I made you do this with me, somehow it didn’t look like a bad idea yesterday”

“No, it wasn’t just you, it did sound like the perfect thing to do; yesterday”

Ricky and EJ shared a silent moment, staring at each other with their shared remorse coming back and forth. They now had something else in common; too bad they were mostly dense and shameful attributes.

After everyone had left, and Ricky and EJ were fixing up the room, putting the piano back in its place from a previous performance, and picking up all the chairs and stacking them together, they heard the door burst open, and Ricky’s stomach dropped to the ground when he saw Nini and Miss Jenn enter the room.

He could feel his throat already closing up.

Nini had the same look she had been sporting earlier during their song; and Miss Jenn had a similar one, though a lot more relaxed; her muscles weren’t tense and locked like Nini’s were.

“Boys,” Miss Jenn was the first one to speak. “We need to have a little chat”

“We know,” EJ answered, and Ricky was glad he had, because he hadn’t figured out how to speak yet.

“What were you thinking?” Nini took over, and she kept looking from one of the boys to the other.

Ricky realized this was the first time Nini had talked to either of them in a while, but at the moment he wasn’t sure if he had missed it or if he preferred to stay in the ice zone.

“What were you thinking? You completely humiliated me”

Ricky and EJ stared at each other when they heard that last statement.

“You didn’t have to do that”

“Well,” Ricky took a chance. “We kind of felt the same when you sang that song about us yesterday”

“But you totally missed the point of the activity, I wrote a song about something I feel deep about, you wanted to take revenge”

She wasn’t wrong.

“Look, boys, we just don’t want this week’s activity to become a musical war, we can do that another time” Miss Jenn explained calmly. “Nini and I feel like your song doesn’t really fit the theme”

“Okay, we admit our song was- a bit too much” Ricky answered, because he didn’t feel like starting a fight. “It really wasn’t our intention to make you feel bad”

“Then what were you trying to do?”

Ricky shrugged with his hand in the air. “It was stupid, we were trying to make a comeback; we didn’t want to stand with our arms crossed after your song”

“That’s very dumb” Nini answered with an irritated look.

“I know that” Ricky lowered the stress in his voice. “And I’m sorry; it was a dumb thing to do”

“We really are very sorry” Ricky finished.

Nini stared at Ricky for a second, but she didn’t say anything else to him. Instead, she turned to face EJ, and she asked, “Are you? Are you sorry?”

EJ looked at her, and it took him a second, but he finally replied “Yeah”.

Nini looked at him for a while longer, and then she slightly shook her head with a defeated smile. “But you can’t even say it, can you?”

Ricky felt that as a punch to his gut, even if it hadn’t been directed at him. Still, he knew what Nini meant, and he knew how she meant it. Ricky turned to look at EJ, but he didn’t say anything at all.

Nini turned around and left the room, and Ricky was glad she had because he was probably about to say something not so nice, and he didn’t want things to get ugly.

Before Miss Jenn left as well, she grabbed both arms by the arm and gave them a soft squeeze; showing her compassion.

 

Things cooled off quickly; with everyone else but Nini, that is. Ultimately, everyone knew better than to get involved, and they were all aware of the drama between the trio; they had been since day one, so, regardless of the surprising events of that week, nobody had seemed to pick sides or shame anyone for anything, and that was great. However, Nini still continued not to speak to either of them.

 

Carlos had finally asked EJ and Ricky to meet up for their first reading, and Ricky wasn’t going to lie; he was excited. Ricky was definitely looking forward to participate in everything a production involved once again.

They read a few of their scenes together, but Carlos wanted to focus majorly on the protagonist, who was EJ’s character; and EJ had most of the reading to do that day. Ricky didn’t mind at all.

A lot of the times EJ was reading and Carlos helped out with the other characters, Ricky caught himself staring at the way EJ said the words instead of reading them from the script on his hands. He had never doubter EJ was a good actor, not ever since he met him; even when he couldn’t stand the sight of him, he thought he was a great actor.

However, the performance he was giving at the moment wasn’t just great.

Ricky had never noticed the detail in EJ’s face when he read different lines; the way his expressions shifted and he was able to deliver his lines with the perfect emotion; sometimes he would turn to look at Ricky in the middle of a sentence when his character was talking about Ricky’s, and EJ would throw in a smile in his speech, and Ricky would then notice that he had been staring for too long.

Carlos asked EJ to read a monologue he had written for him, because, in Carlos’ words, he wasn’t very sure about it and he wanted to hear how it sounded, with EJ’s words.

EJ even stood up and kept his distance so he could use Carlos and Ricky as his audience.

EJ took the script in his hands and he cleared his throat.

If I don’t say anything when you offend me, that’s not my way of saying that it’s okay when you step on me; but I’ve learnt to step away and let it happen, because I can’t turn away from my family and my home. You’ve treated me like your son all this time, but when I finally stood up and told you who I am, all of a sudden, I’m different? I don’t want to be different. You said I’d be fine if I never spoke of the real me, that I’d be fine if nobody knew; but, I don’t want to bend over backwards to bend the crowd; doing a million things I don’t want to do, to become someone I never wanted to be, so I can live a life that lacks meaning. I don’t want to hide in this town, and look through the window and wish I was out there; because if you’re taught to hide what makes you different, you end up feeling a lot of shame about who you are, and that’s not okay”

EJ had delivered his lines with such passion, and he had said every word with the right amount of emotion, both Ricky and Carlos’ mouths fell to the ground. Ricky really admired how well the spotlight fit him.

As soon as EJ finished, Ricky clapped for him from his place on Carlos’ couch.

EJ changed his expression immediately; and Ricky thought the blush that came to his cheeks was too cute not to think about.

 

A couple of weeks passed, and Ricky and EJ had been reading and rehearsing almost every day. He wasn’t going to lie, at first, he was a little nervous of their scenes together that involved any hint of romantic interaction or suggestive dialogue, but after one day, those feelings of slim tension had completely gone away. Besides, none of their scenes involved too crazy activities, and Carlos’ writing was too good not to make justice to.

However, there was something going on that Ricky was a bit stressed about; the terror of every student; the dedicated and the uncommitted, the early birds and the night owls, the rich and the poor… the exams season.

Before they had their first exam, which was followed by daily tests, and sometimes two or three in the same day, Ashlyn invited her friends and the drama club to a game night at her house, because they would probably not have enough time to see each other or hang out during the week. And Ricky, because he knew so as well, decided to be a responsible student and he began studying with days of anticipation instead of waiting till the night before, to the point where he couldn’t retain information very well and ended up praying for the answers in the middle of the tests.

That way, one day after classes and drama club meeting, everyone headed straight to Ashlyn’s house. A lot of people had asked EJ to give them a ride, and he wasn’t sure if they’d all fit in the same car, so he got some forced volunteers to also offer their cars as transportation for everyone.

Ricky and EJ never mentioned anything about it, but they both knew it was already implied that Ricky had EJ’s passenger’s seat assigned and that seat wasn’t negotiable for anyone else.

During the whole ride, EJ and Ricky kept taking turns to play music in the car; occasionally making jokes about each other’s taste in music, sometimes pretending they didn’t like the song the other played, but still singing it anyway, and they barely spoke to their friends in the backseat.

There had been a time when the song playing at the moment suddenly stopped, and the line of EJ’s phone started beeping. Ricky pushed the button to take the call.

“Hey, we’re stopping to get snacks, what do you guys want to get?” Ashlyn’s voice resonated inside the car.

 

Later that day, Ashlyn’s house became a crypt with food, music, games, and even more food. They had set up the living room to work for everything.

Were they hungry?- The living room. Up for a board game?- The living room. Acting out popular scenes from famous movies?- Of course, the living room.

Ricky had taught everyone how to play “spicy uno”, a game he had invented himself, but had been so proud of his invention he just said he had found it online, in case someone said the game was dumb, or stupid, he could at least pretend not to feel hurt.

Kourtney had brought a ton of DVDs from old movies they hadn’t watched, but they had agreed to choose one of them and watch it all together when it got dark. Nevertheless, when they began discussing which movie to watch, Ricky couldn’t care less. He had stayed up a few nights in a row, and it felt like it had started to hit him all together. He knew that whatever movie they decided to play was going to make him fall asleep, no matter how entertaining it was.

And he was right. As soon as the group decided to start watching ‘Lord of the Rings’, and they pressed the button to start watching, Ricky felt his eyelids getting heavier.

EJ had left the room for a second, and when he opened the door to come back, Ashlyn quickly called him. “EJ, can you turn off the light, please?”

EJ did as told, and suddenly, the room went completely dark. The guy walked back to sofa, where he had been sitting before, and he sat back down next to Ricky.

“What are we watching?” EJ asked Ricky in a whisper.

“Something about a guy with a ring”

“Lord of the rings?”

“Yeah, that thing”

“And how is it?”

“I don’t know, I’m falling asleep”

EJ laughed at Ricky, and Ricky laughed at himself, too.

Next thing he knew, EJ was holding out his arms, telling Ricky he could lay on his lap. They had never done anything like that before, but Ricky was too tired to think it’d be weird or uncomfortable, so he totally went for it. He slowly let his head rest on EJ’s legs, and he could feel how his eyes were closing and were not opening in a while.

Then, he felt EJ’s hand on his head, and he carefully began to run his fingers through his hair, playing with his curls. Ricky couldn’t remember when was the last time he’d had that done, and he hadn’t remembered how good it felt. Therefore, he allowed himself to get lost in the sensation and forget the things that were stressing him out in the moment; exams, his parents’ divorce, his feud with Nini…

He heard someone say something, but he didn’t know if it was meant for him, or if it hadn’t; either way, he didn’t pay attention to it because he was more asleep than awake, and he was not complaining.

 

When the period of exams was finally over, and everyone was feeling the weight coming off, the group had already started making plans for hanging out. Ricky had most of his energy drained away from himself, but he was up for doing anything with his friends, basically at any time.

In the cafeteria, while they were eating, Carlos stood up to leave his tray of food, and when he came back, instead of sitting down on his original spot, he walked to the other side of the table and squeezed himself between Big Red and Ricky. “Hello, boys”

Carlos had caught Ricky with a huge bite inside his mouth, so it took him a while to greet him back.

“I wanted to ask you very quickly,” He directed his attention to Ricky and EJ. “And I don’t want to put any pressure on you, but, how are you doing with that song?” Carlos gave them a nervous laughter.

Ricky widened his eyes, and he felt paralyzed for a second. He turned to look quickly at EJ, who had the same expression as him.

Ricky couldn’t believe he had forgotten about the song. Carlos had asked them to write it so long ago, and he thought he’d have so much time, he hadn’t worried about it, to the point he completely forgot.

“We- are- a little behind on it,” Ricky lied.

“How behind?” Carlos’ face showed that he was trying not to panic, but he was definitely feeling it.

“Uhm, we just need to tweak the lyrics a little, it doesn’t sound quite right just yet” EJ lied even more. Ricky hated it, but he had to nod.

Carlos could probably see through their lie, but he looked like, even then, he really wanted to believe what they had said.

“Okay, good” Carlos faked being at peace. “Just, uhm- Miss Jenn wants to rehearse that song with the orchestra next week, so- yeah, all good, no pressure” Carlos gave them a weird smirk before he stood up and left the cafeteria.

“Fuck” Ricky whispered. “I totally forgot we had to write that song”

“Now we really are doomed” EJ repeated what he had said time before. “And unless you have an idea I can help you with, I don’t think we’re giving Carlos anything” EJ was on the verge of spiralling. “He’s gonna hate us”

Ricky wanted to tell him not to worry, but he wasn’t sure if he could afford to do so. To be fair, writing a song wasn’t an utterly difficult task for him, but he knew that he only wrote when he felt inspired, and that was usually after something had happened. He had never tried to write for the sake of writing, and he wasn’t sure how good he was at it.

“What class do you have right now?” Ricky asked EJ.

“English, why?”

“Do you want to skip it?”

“To write the song?”

“Yes”

“Okay, yeah, let’s do it”

That was what they did that day, instead of continuing with their classes, like they were supposed to, both boys hid in the rehearsing room for the last two hours of the day.

EJ divided the song in two tasks; the lyrics and the melody, everything else they could figure out after they had those two basic things.

EJ kept playing random melodies he swore didn’t exist yet; but neither of them came to adore them to the point of sticking with them; some had a way too cheerful vibe that didn’t really fit the storyline, and some sounded too sad to be part of a happy-ending love story, and some of them did already exist.

Ricky had liked EJ’s melodies; but not for the show.

The lyrics weren’t any good either. Since he couldn’t come up with anything original, he began to write random romantic quotes he could think of, although they were completely overused, like ‘You had me at hello” and ‘Thinking about you instead of sleeping”, and then he tried to write other random lyrics which rhymed with them. It hadn’t been a great plan, since the only verses he had to show EJ sounded like they had been taken out from a PG-13 magic themed film.

“Thinking about you instead of sleeping, is what keeps me dreaming, and under the stars we’ll be gleaming”

EJ made a disgusted face, and Ricky didn’t blame him; because he knew, as well, that his lyric was terrible, and none of the others were any better either.

“Sounds like every love song written in the 90’s” EJ turned back to play some notes on the piano. “And rhyming every word with ‘-ing’ is not exactly a rhyme, it’s just using the same words, pretty much, and it’s unacceptable when writing an artistic piece”

Ricky raised an eyebrow at him.

“I just saw that in my literature class; that’s what the textbook said”

After a second unsuccessful try, they decided to google non-cliché love songs to look for inspiration.

“Okay, but, they all say stuff like ‘I’m not complete without you’ and ‘I didn’t know how to live before I met you’ and that’s too much” EJ commented after reading a list titled “25 Non-Cliché Song Lyrics To Use As Instagram Captions For Your Cute Couple Pics”

“Rushing Rivers is not an extra sugary romance; it’s not about finding the perfect person because they’re all you ever wanted, and it’s not about feeling numb and perplex all the time until you forget who you are, like some of these songs are like”

Ricky agreed, and he had always known they couldn’t write a conventional song, because it didn’t fit Carlos’ story. However, watching EJ explain it the way he was doing it; inspired and determined; it made Ricky feel something he wasn’t used to feeling.

“My character goes a long way to accept who he is, and even though he meets someone, he cannot think about falling in love until he learns to find hope and appreciation within himself, and when he does, then, yes, everything fits right in place and feels right”

“Right” Ricky did more breathing than speaking.

“We have to write a song about that” EJ explained. “The problem is, I don’t know how to do that,” EJ took his phone out of his pocket and unlocked it to look at the time. “And we don’t have any more time”

“Okay, what about later?” Ricky suggested.

“But we’re going to the movies to watch Venom 2, and we already have the tickets; do you want to write this song instead?”

Ricky knew he had done wrong by waiting so long to write the song, and that now he had a responsibility to finish it before next week, but he was not replacing his much-waited movie with EJ with a song writing session. “No, not really”

“Tomorrow, then” Ricky suggested a second option; but EJ’s face fell back the same way it had before. “I’m going to the “a day in college” thing with all the seniors; we’ll be gone all day”

Ricky pouted as a response. Things were getting a little complicated.

“Well, on Saturday”

EJ nodded. “Yeah, we can do that”

They gave each other reassuring smiles, and right before they could close the piano keys, Ricky heard some faint, slow footsteps approaching him, which made him break eye contact with EJ and turn around; and to their surprise, the person standing there, was Nini; watching them; and EJ and Ricky only watched her in return.

Nini offered them a smile, and continued walking toward them. “Hi”

When Nini was close enough, Ricky could notice that there were some things she wanted to say, but she probably didn’t know how. “Can I sit?” She asked.

Both boys smiled at her. “Sure” Ricky answered. Nini dragged a chair and sat on it next to the boys sitting on the piano bench.

“What are you doing?” Nini asked them nervously.

Ricky’s last interactions with Nini hadn’t been very friendly, so seeing her acting nice without boiling in rage at the sight of the two guys felt refreshing.

“Nothing, really” Ricky didn’t want to explain. “We were about to leave” He turned to look at EJ, and he contributed with a nod and a thin smile.

“Oh, okay” Nini smiled once again. “Uhm, look, I- wanted to talk to you, to both of you, for a second, if that’s okay”

Ricky looked at EJ again, and the guy took over when he realized Ricky didn’t know what to say; “Yeah, sure. What about?”

Nini stared at both of them, she inhaled deeply and she spoke.

“I want to apologise; to the both of you, for everything that’s been going on lately,”

“You don’t have to; it wasn’t just you; we were all there” Ricky cut her off.

“I know, but I want to apologize anyway; I shouldn’t have shown my song to everyone, and I shouldn’t have shamed you for giving me what I deserved”

“Okay” Ricky added. “But we also shouldn’t have reacted like that, it was stupid”

“I just want to forget about it; I don’t want to keep feeling awkward every time we have a drama club meeting or every time we are in the same room, I’m over it” Nini explained.

“Yeah,” Ricky looked at her straight in the eye. “That’d be great”

Nini smiled again; her lips looking a lot more relaxed and truthful.

“And I’m sorry, too” Ricky added his own apology. “For everything”

Ricky soon came to see that EJ hadn’t said much, and he knew that the guy was a little dense when it came to these things, but he also knew that it wasn’t one hundred percent because he was an idiot by nature, he was sometimes rather insecure about himself, and just like Ricky, he had a hard time being vulnerable; it hit them in different areas, yes, but Ricky understood that it wasn’t easy for EJ.

“We both are” Ricky turned to look at him, and he touched his arm to show support. EJ stared at him with a thankful expression, he sent him a smile, and then turned to face Nini.

“Yeah, I’m sorry too”

Ricky was surprised, but he was happy EJ had pushed himself to say it, and he knew Nini was, too, by the way she looked at him with nostalgia.

“Thank you” Nini smiled widely.

EJ smiled too, and before anyone could say anything else, he grabbed his backpack from the top of the piano and stood up. “I’m going to grab some books, for the classes we skipped today,” He directed his full attention to Ricky. “I’ll meet you outside?”

“Yeah, okay” Ricky replied.

“Okay” EJ grabbed his jacket as well. “See you later, Nini” He waved at her before he left the room.

Nini looked at EJ as he walked, and then he turned to Ricky as she stood up herself. “I should probably go, too, I’ve got a lot to do”

“Okay”

“Well, just one more thing,” She spoke again before she moved at all. “I know we lost touch for a long while, but, I want you to know that you can count on me, if you ever need anything,”

“Thank you, Nini” Ricky was genuinely thankful. “Same for you, whatever you need, here I am”

Nini smiled, and without saying another thing, she turned around and began walking to the door.

Ricky saw her taking a few steps, but then, he stopped her. “Actually,” Nini turned around. “Can you do something for me now?”

Nini laughed. “Yeah, of course”

“Do you have any tips for writing a love song?” Ricky asked, standing up as well, getting ready to leave.

Nini’s expression changed to surprise. “Uhm, I haven’t written a lot of those, but maybe-”

“I’ve been trying, but everything I’ve done so far sounds terrible, and not- terrible like it’s a bad song, but like- I cannot get it to say what I want it to”

Nini stared at him for a while, possibly surprised they were having such a conversation already. “Was that what you were doing right now?”

“Yeah,” Ricky answered quickly.

“Oh” Nini added just as quick. “You’re writing a love song with EJ?” She tilted her head and narrowed her eyes.

“Yes”

Nini widened her eyes, and Ricky understood what Nini was probably thinking.

“Oh, no, no” Ricky tried to get her to let go of that concept. “We’re done with that, no more song writing for Nini, we’re not doing that”

Nini’s expression didn’t change at all, however.

“I know that, I didn’t think you were writing a song for me”

Ricky looked confused for a split second; and then, he got a second idea; a much- different idea. “Oh,”

And all Ricky could do was awkwardly laugh it off. “No, that’s not it” He was hoping with all his strength his blood wasn’t rushing to his cheeks. “It’s for Carlos’ show, he asked us for help with it, but I don’t know if he made the right choice there, clearly”

Nini’s face had begun to relax.

“Well, in my experience, it’s really helpful to have a vision of your song first; what do you want it to be like? What do you need it to mean? When you know that, the rest will come naturally, I guess”

Ricky didn’t want to be mean, but Nini’s advice hadn’t been very helpful, mainly because that was his problem in the first place; he hadn’t found a vision for his song yet.

“And, maybe,”

But she wasn’t done.

“It’s difficult to write a love song when you don’t know what you’re talking about, because then you end up with cheesy lines that don’t mean much; but you can try to write about the things you believe are true,”

Maybe that could help. Still, he was in for a long night of thinking, or so he thought….

 

The next day, when he took his skateboard to school because EJ wouldn’t be able to pick him up, Ricky began to have a weird feeling. He went through his classes like he normally did, with the exception that time seemed to pass a lot slower. He was still excited about getting to the last hour so he could go to his drama club meeting; and even though it was still fun and lively, like it always was, he got a little disappointed when he couldn’t turn to EJ and tell him something irrelevant.

Maybe he missed him.

It sounded logical when he thought about; EJ is missing for one day and he somehow feels like mopping around.

However, he didn’t want to focus too much on EJ that day, because a part of him was telling him he was being ridiculous; why was he feeling bummed out when one of his friends wasn’t there, if he had twenty other friends right there with him?

Ricky spent the whole afternoon with Big Red, Carlos, Gina, Ashlyn, Kourtney and Nini. Since it was Friday, they said it’d be nice if they went downtown to spend the day; walk around, get food, visit shops, buy nothing- a casual hangout.

Ricky surely had a great time, even if the day felt a little different than their usual get togethers. For starters, he was with Nini in the group, and this time, they were talking to each other instead of avoiding being close to each other like they had gotten used to; and it felt great, letting go of whatever happened between them, and allowing their friendship to unravel.

Next, Ricky felt a sense of nostalgia and remorse when he noticed he hadn’t spent much time with Big Red in the last few days; maybe even weeks. It wasn’t until he spent a whole afternoon listening to his jokes and rants that he noticed how much they hadn’t talked lately. He felt terrible, and he was honestly going to try to make up for it.

And, lastly, EJ wasn’t there; and Ricky knew he had told himself he wasn’t going to focus on him when he had his other loyal friends with him, but he had to admit to himself that it didn’t feel the same. EJ had become his friend, and not being around him was a bit foreign now.

When Ricky got home that night, he kept thinking about the same one thing; Carlos’ song for his show.

He didn’t know what is was, or what had happened, but he had suddenly felt a spark of inspiration to write something for his and EJ’s characters, and he couldn’t wait to get home to do something about it.

Therefore, when he arrived; after he threw his backpack to the corner of his room and he got changed, he took out his brown notebook from his closet and grabbed his guitar from the chair where it was laying.

It took him a while to get the correct rhythm to match the melody he was thinking of and the lyrics he had written down; but he was utterly surprised at how fast he had managed to make progress in the song, when he had had some failed attempts in the last days which took hours.

Ricky didn’t finish the song that night, but he went to bed confident enough that they’d get it finished on time.

Later that night, as Ricky laid in bed with his phone in his hands, it buzzed, and a pop-up text from EJ showed on the screen. Ricky clicked on it, and his phone sent him to the chat.

We just got back to the bus, we’ll be back at school in an hour” Read his text, followed by a series of the tired emoji.

Ricky knew it’d be better if he shut his mouth and didn’t tell EJ about the song until later, preferably tomorrow, but he was so excited that he couldn’t wait.

After texting EJ he had written a whole lot of their song, EJ had immediately asked for a preview.

Just like that, Ricky got out of bed, ran his hands through his messy hair once, resigning to the idea that he had been in bed for a while, and his hair was probably pointing at different directions already. He placed his phone on his nightstand and he facetimed EJ.

The guy picked up the call immediately, and Ricky could see him sitting in a bus; the dirty, blue cover of the seats behind him. EJ did look tired; his eyes appearing smaller than they usually were, but just as bright and pretty. EJ was wearing his earphones, and Ricky knew no one was going to hear his song but EJ.

“Hey,” Ricky smiled widely.

“Hey, you” EJ answered with his voice also hoarser than usual. “Nice hair” He smiled back, just as widely.

Ricky laughed at EJ comment. “Thanks”

“Okay, I haven’t finished it, and I couldn’t organize the last verses correctly; you’ll help me with that tomorrow”

“Okay”

“But I did write something that I think fits the story perfectly,” Ricky continued with his cheerful voice. “Okay, I’m really excited” He couldn’t stop smiling, which only made EJ smile as well.

“Okay, ready?” Ricky asked.

“Yes”

Ricky began playing a few notes first, as the introduction to the song. “I imagine this would sound better if we played it in a piano, and since we’re getting the orchestra to play it, maybe also a violin,”

And then he started singing.

I think I’ve heard it all, and you know I’ve built my share of walls, and you have your faults, don’t we all? And sometimes I want to run, ‘cause nobody tells you how to love, but out of everyone, it’s still us…

And he continued playing the same set of chords as the beginning. Before he could say anything else or continue singing, EJ had already intervened.

“Woah” EJ cut him off, making Ricky laugh.

“That’s the first two verses, there’s a lot more, but it’s a wild mess at the moment” Ricky explained.

“That’s really great, I love that”

“Do you want to hear the rest of it?”

“Sure” EJ smiled. “Can you actually sing to me the whole ride until I get home?”

 

The next week, Carlos was very nervous and very excited to hear them play the song they had done; which had ended up written by Ricky and arranged by EJ. Perhaps Carlos had been afraid they had written another crack song, after the incident they had with Nini.

Nonetheless, Carlos was very pleased with the song, and he said it was perfect for what they were going for.

Miss Jenn had asked if she could see a few of the scenes so she could evaluate the progress of the show. That time, Carlos had also asked the other actors to be involved as well so they could have a clearer view of how everything was going.

Miss Jenn had given them few notes on their acting, and none on their singing; although Ricky knew that was because she hadn’t seen them doing the dance number yet. She had also asked Carlos why they weren’t doing any of the scenes of the finale of the play, and Carlos explained how he was still working on those last pages.

In fact, Carlos confessed he had been meaning to ask EJ and Ricky, possibly, one last thing.

“The ending is pretty much done, but I’m still missing some minor details and fill-up interactions, I can have them finished by tomorrow without a problem” Carlos explained to make Miss Jenn less anxious. “But there was something I wanted to write, but I knew that I had to ask you first, because that’s like an additional section in the contract”

“We have a contract?” Ricky asked innocently, and EJ shook his head to answer no.

Carlos took a step forward and stood between his two actors. “How would you feel-” Carlos began with caution. “-if your characters happened to share a well-deserved kiss in the ending scene?”

A kiss?

Ricky took an extra second to react, because his own mind had deceived him at some level.

Here’s what was going on in Ricky’s head; he hadn’t been surprised to hear that Carlos wanted to include a single kiss inside the script, since it was a romantic story, after all, and when he agreed to be a part of it and play EJ’s love interest, he kind of knew he’d be in it for a long series of romantic interactions he’d have to go through, and a kiss- wasn’t too farfetched. However, he had somehow expected to be taken aback based on the way Carlos was being mysterious about this new thing he wanted to add.

So, it was like his mind wanted to be surprised, but he wasn’t, so, he was surprised by not feeling surprised, which surprised him.

But, anyway; he honestly had no problem with including the kiss in the show; it was probably going to be a quick, simple smack in the lips and he wouldn’t have to think too much about it.

“I think, if you consider it’s good for the story, sure, why not?” EJ surprised him by speaking up first.

Ricky turned to look at him as he talked, and he nodded at the same time. “Yeah, I agree” Ricky added. “Fine by me”

Ricky hadn’t seen Carlos so relieved before; not even when he had first asked them about doing the show, or when he had asked them about writing the song. Ricky was happy he hadn’t let Carlos down.

“Thank you so freaking much, you guys are amazing, seriously” Carlos almost cried. “And look, you won’t even have to do it until the actual performance, on the opening night; we can skip it during rehearsals. Plus, you know what they say, let’s leave the feeling of the first kiss for the real first kiss, right?” Carlos laughed to himself.

EJ and Ricky laughed back, but it had been more out of compromise than out of an actual need to laugh.

For the rest of the day, and even the week, EJ and Ricky pretended they hadn’t had that conversation, and they never spoke of their future kiss.

 

During that week, right before they began their activities in their drama club meeting, Nini and Kourtney entered the room; both carrying a pair of small boxes adorned with pink and gold ribbons. Kourtney went to one side of the room, and Nini went to the other.

“Hello, everyone” Kourtney started walking across the room; she took out a few objects from that box and started dealing one to each person in the room; and Nini was doing the same thing from the other side. “As you know, my birthday is this Saturday, so I am having all of you over for a pool party and a barbecue; you don’t have to bring anything, just your bathing suit and your presence, and, of course, your gift” Kourtney laughed in her sassy forms.

When Ricky received his invitation, which was what Kourtney and Nini were giving to everyone, he began to read it. It had a very nice-looking thick frame of green, blue and aqua flowers painted in watercolours, and right at the top there was written in big gold words ‘join me as I celebrate’, and underneath it, with a different font in pink, read ‘Kourtney turning 17!” followed by Saturday’s date and Kourtney’s address at the bottom.

Ricky was thankful that she had invited him; after all, she was Nini’s best friend, and if there had been a time when Nini hated him, so did Kourtney. Therefore, it was possible that Kourtney wasn’t exactly fond of Ricky. There was still another thing Ricky was considering; she had invited the whole drama club, and it would’ve been rude not to invite him; only him.

That was one of the main reasons why he attended; to show her that he could be a nice and supporting person as well. That, and the fact that he was always down for hanging out with his new-found gang, plus, a pool and a barbecue sounded pretty dang convincing, as well.

Also, Ricky didn’t know if Kourtney came from a wealthy family, or if they had suddenly won the lottery, but as soon as he entered her house, he felt like he wasn’t allowed there without having an entrance ticket or paying a fee. He had seen that the altitude of the area was actually very high; some of the streets they had to take were very steep, and he was thankful EJ’s car had big wheels, because he was sure the car could stop accelerating and they would fall to their deaths. However, he thought it was very interesting how, as soon as they opened the doors of her house, they were in the third floor of the house, and you had to climb down the stairs to get to the second and the first floor, where the pool was. Whoever made the designing of the house must’ve had a lot of working brain cells.

The day had felt totally relaxing; the weather was amazingly warm, so, them being outside was simple glory.

Kourtney had told everyone that for the music, she was going to plug in her phone, but if anyone wanted to change the music, they could do it by just plugging in their own phones instead. EJ and Ricky seemed to take this too seriously, and they had been changing the music practically all afternoon; EJ would put one of his songs, and then Ricky would take off his phone to give himself a turn; then, EJ would do the same thing and he would change to one of his playlist. At one point, both of them were standing up near the speakers fighting for the auxiliary chord, and sometimes changing each other’s songs when they hadn’t even finished, barely letting anyone else have a turn. No one had seemed to mind, either way, but Kourtney had stared at them with a heavy expression, and the guys decided it was best if they just left the music and plug in Kourtney’s phone back.

When it was time to eat, there wasn’t a precisely assigned spot to do it; of course, there were tables, inside the house and outside of it, as well, but everyone was eating wherever they wanted. EJ had been sitting on one of the pool chairs, and he asked Ricky if he could bring him a plate.

“You have two legs, come on” Ricky answered, trying to make his friend stand up.

“But they’re not working” EJ responded, pointing at his feet and barely stretching out his arms.

“A plate of grass and dirt is what I’m gonna bring you” Ricky stood up from the edge of EJ’s chair and walked straight to the grill where the food was being prepared. Ricky had also tried not to look back after EJ had smiled at him.

Ricky, of course, didn’t serve him grass and dirt; he grabbed three pieces of meat, because the guy surely had a big appetite. He looked to the side table and he stared at all the side servings options he had. For a second he asked himself what EJ would like best; mashed potatoes? Pasta salad? Corn? A fruit cocktail? He didn’t give it too much thought, and decided to take a bit of everything and he put in separate plates; for the both of them.

That was how Ricky ended up with a bunch of plastic plates stacked on top of each other, making his way to EJ.

“Oh, wow” EJ laughed in excitement.

Ricky put down the whole stack, and EJ helping him separate the plates so they could see all the food he had brought. Both of them ended up eating the complete thing; managing to sit in the length of the same chair without accidentally dropping, pushing, or kicking something to the ground.

After eating, the group played a bit of soccer and catch, and not a lot of other things considering not many of them liked sports.

The first one to go into the pool hadn’t been a personal decision; Ricky had pushed Big Red, and Big Red had tried to hold on to Chuck, but he freaked out and ended up bringing Ricky himself with them as well.

That way, the rest of the group began to get into the pool themselves; and it lasted all the way through until the day got dark and the air became too cold.

EJ was standing next to his cousin when Ricky approached him; he got close and in low movements, Ricky wrapped his arms around EJ, and he felt how EJ did the same and gave him a tight squeeze.

“Can you lend me your car keys?” Ricky asked him with his head still resting on him. “My hoody’s there”  

“You can just wear mine, it’s inside”

“Where?” Ricky completely agreed; because it sounded like a better idea than stepping outside into the freezing cold.

“In the living room”

“Okay”

Ricky let go of EJ and made his way inside to get EJ’s hoodie. Ricky had not noticed nor thought about what their hug had looked like, but when he saw Ashlyn’s puppy eyed-face, he wondered.

When he grabbed EJ’s hoodie and he put it on himself, he was glad that EJ was the kind of guy who always liked to look perfect; which included always wearing clean clothes. He remembered the single time he had worn one of Big Red’s shirt and he hadn’t been able to deal with the smell so he had to change to the first thing available. However, wearing EJ’s clothes was very different; he liked it. Perhaps it was something like when food always tastes better when it belongs to someone else? Or maybe it had to do something with the fact that EJ was involved.

Before he got the chance to get back, he took out his ringing phone out of his pocket. He saw the person calling was his dad, but the call had already ended before he could answer. Ricky decided to return the call, but he heard the beeping of the line all the way through and he was sent to voicemail. He was about to call him another time, but he had now received a text from him, and Ricky assumed his dad had just found it easier to.

I’m coming home late, I didn’t leave my keys

Ricky left his phone on the couch to see if he, by any chance, had his keys inside one of his pockets, but he didn’t, so he texted his dad.

I don’t have mine, can’t you leave the door open?”

It took his phone a while to receive the reply, and Ricky didn’t move from his spot until he got it.

I already left

Ricky waited a bit longer to see if his dad was going to text him something else, because if he was thinking about leaving the conversation like that without bringing up any possible solution, or at least an extra comment, Ricky would feel pretty disappointed.

Nevertheless, that was exactly what happened.

Ricky put his phone back inside his pocket, and he went back to the pool site, where everyone was hanging out. He caught glance of EJ and walked straight to the guy.

“Hey” Ricky sat down next to him.

Ricky didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, but he definitely noticed how EJ stared at his own hoodie on Ricky, and he didn’t take his eyes off it for a while.

“Can I stay at your house tonight? My dad isn’t home- and I don’t have my keys” Ricky asked confidently.

“Sure” EJ smiled.

Of course, they didn’t leave Kourtney’s party just yet. They stayed there talking and listening to music with the rest of the group for a while longer.

Kourtney called everyone inside to the living room because she wanted to open her presents in front of everyone, like a young kid. Ricky was glad he had gotten her a present and that he had written his name on it.

Eventually, when the party did end and his friends started to leave, EJ asked him if he wanted to go already. He also told him that he was getting tired, but if Ricky wanted to stay, they could. Ricky thought that gesture had been completely sweet, but he had to turn it down, because he was feeling terribly exhausted himself.

When Ricky and EJ said goodbye to everyone, they left the house climbing all those stairs. EJ opened his car with the button of his keys, and they both climbed up.

When Ricky opened his door, he saw his backpack sitting there, so he had to move it so he could sit down; and then, a thought crossed his mind; maybe his house keys were in his backpack. Therefore, he opened up the pocket where he usually kept his keys in, and to his surprise, there they were. Ricky felt completely stupid for not having remembered to check his bag.

However, the only thing that happened was that he closed his pocket and he didn’t say a thing. EJ drove them back to his own home, and Ricky didn’t see his house nor his dad until the next day.

 

The week to come held a lot of changes in dynamics for Ricky. Carlos had finally given them the last pages of the script and had arranged a fixed schedule for rehearsals with everyone involved in his production; which meant they wouldn’t be called last minute and they wouldn’t have to read scenes out of the blue with little time to prepare. Carlos said that was a good thing, but, honestly, it only made Ricky feel a bit more overwhelmed.

Ricky liked the feeling of rehearsing scenes with the whole cast; solidly seeing what he was building with people he cared about and believed in. Sometimes he imagined what the opening night would look like, how the audience would react to the story and his song, and what Seb would say afterwards.

Still, he also liked rehearsing his lines alone with EJ. He loved the fact that EJ had gotten the lead role, because he knew that EJ was in love with having the spotlight, and Ricky really enjoyed watching him pour his heart and soul into his scenes. And he knew it was selfish, but he didn’t like to share those moments with anyone else.

Therefore, one day, after spending the day together and doing less than nothing, EJ and Ricky decided it’d be a good idea to run lines and read the new scenes together. So, after leaving the store with bags of snacks and walking in the streets at night, EJ and Ricky settled in Ricky’s basement.

It had been a lazy day, so, it still took them a good hour of eating and chatting to get to the actual plan of the day; which was reading the whole script together, including the new scenes that Carlos had written last. Ricky and EJ were the leads of the show, but Ricky didn’t have as many lines as EJ did, so, occasionally, he would also read for the other characters, and he would sometimes fake the voices of them as well, which would make EJ lose his focus and crack up. It was safe to say it was not a very formal and serious reading.

There was a part in the screen, the scene before the last, to be exact, that was the only part of the script that had notes in parentheses at the top. Something inside Ricky jumped when he read the words “The Kiss”.

“Oh, so this is the kiss scene” EJ wrapped his read pages behind the new one and held his script tightly.

“It’s a little short” Ricky made it known.

Caleb and Sam are sitting down in a haystack inside Sam’s family barn. There is some distance between them. The wind is blowing lightly; their hair is moving slowly. The sunlight falls directly on their faces. Neither of them is looking at the other” EJ read.

Was Ricky nervous about reading the scene? Yes, he was.

Was he also excited about reading the scene? Yes, he was.

I’ll come visit you in the summer, I’ll be done working in the office, and I’ll bring you a souvenir from the city” Ricky read his line.

I’ll be waiting” EJ’s character responded. The script detailed a shy smile and a quick glance despite the difficulty of keeping their eyes widely open due to the sun hitting their faces.

They stay in silence for five seconds. They are smiling to the ground” EJ read the next direction.

I love this place” Ricky delivered the next line. “The sky is clear, day and night, you can always see the stars- you can always smell the air, and I can always feel the life of nature

Ricky read the next direction that time, since it was close to his dialogue. “Caleb looks at Sam and hold his stare with his smile growing fonder. Sam is still looking down

But my favourite part is always going to be you

The scene had one more line, and it belonged to EJ, but before he could read it, he faced up from the script and gave Ricky a puppy-eyed look. Ricky agreed; he thought that line had been adorable.

“Okay” EJ cleared his throat before he continued reading. “Sam has a wide smile on his face. He slowly stands up from the haystack and he takes one step forward

The city is pretty fascinating, too” EJ read the last line of the scene; with it concluding the story.

Ricky eyed the next part quickly, he tried to read it in his mind, but he was so nervous that his brain kept jumping from one line to the other in no particular order, and he couldn’t do it.

However, EJ took over; “Sam sits back down, but now it’s right next to Caleb. They look at each other’s eyes with smiles on their faces, and with a moderate speed; not too fast and not too slow, Sam leans in for a sweet kiss from Caleb

EJ read the words that appeared right under that. “The end

Ricky released a loud sigh and dropped his script to his bed. “Okay, that’s it”

“Yep” EJ put his script to the side as well.

Both boys spent the next minutes in silence. Well, Ricky wasn’t sure if it had been actual minutes or if it had felt like that much of an eternity. During that time, Ricky started to think about stuff he had been avoiding, hut had never totally forgotten about.

When Carlos had first told them there’d be a kiss, it didn’t come to him as much of a surprise considering they were doing a love story and it wasn’t their usual school production. However, that didn’t mean that he had it completely in the bag. He hadn’t kissed that many people before, so when it came to experience, there wasn’t much he could bring to the table. Furthermore, he had never kissed a guy before; and he knew that it couldn’t be much different, but it felt like something new, and it was a bit scary. Additionally, EJ was a little older than him, not by much, but he still was, and he could have done a lot in that year and a half he had on Ricky that he himself hadn’t done yet. Maybe EJ had way more experience than he did, and it made him feel a little self-conscious. What if he wouldn’t do it right and EJ would notice?

And to top it all off, Ricky was well aware that sometimes, when he looked at his friend, his mind would start going places he wouldn’t normally travel to with his other friends. EJ was tall, handsome, tan; he had beautiful eyes, a beautiful smile, awesome hair, perfect arms and perfect abs; half of the time he was an idiot, and the other half he was a dramatic child; sometimes he would say things in the wrong moments and he was an expert at killing the mood; EJ couldn’t admit when he was wrong and he spent most of his time spiralling about farfetched events he had no control of; he was a bit selfish, insensitive and rude, he liked to put himself first and he would sometimes step on others when trying to obtain what he wanted.

The truth was, that Ricky didn’t pay much attention to those things anymore, though. He didn’t because Ricky would occasionally find himself lost in the moments when EJ showed his other side; because EJ could also be quite reliable; he was a person he could trust; a person he wouldn’t doubt to ask for help. EJ would go out of his way to be with Ricky and to make sure that he was happy and safe. EJ listened to him when nobody would, and he understood him more that anyone ever had.

And Ricky didn’t know what to do with all of that information other than to think that if he kissed EJ, he’d be doing something he had been thinking about doing for a while.

That is why he felt safe to say what he was thinking about.

“So, uhm, I know that, uhm-” Ricky wasn’t sure if he wanted to continue, but he had already started, and if he had decided to stop speaking, EJ would’ve never let that go, anyway. “You how Carlos said we wouldn’t kiss until the actual show?”

EJ nodded.

“Well, I was thinking- the thing about waiting to make it look more real sound good and all, but-”

“Do you want to practice the kiss?” EJ completed.

“Yeah” Ricky couldn’t lie. He didn’t give EJ time to react at all because he continued to explain himself.

“Hear me out,” Ricky got himself comfortable on the bed. “I honestly don’t want to be on stage in front of the whole school and their invites and perform an awkward kiss”

EJ tilted his head, understanding what Ricky was trying to say.

“What if we both go for the same side? What if I go for your upper lip and you do the same and it looks like we’re eating each other’s faces? I know it sounds stupid, but I am feeling a little paranoid” Ricky confessed.

EJ’s face had been pretty neutral the whole time, but as soon as Ricky stopped talking, he relaxed all the muscles of his face.

“It’s not stupid,” He even looked relieved. “I’ve been stressing about it too, but I didn’t want to say anything because I didn’t want to sound ridiculous”

Ricky laughed at EJ’s confession; definitely feeling better now that he knew the guy shared the sentiment.

“Okay, so what do we do?”

“What do you think the kiss should look like?” Ricky asked. “The script doesn’t give a lot of detail; it just says it’s sweet

“Should we-? EJ asked back. “-just give each other a peck, or should it be more than that; with actual movement and motion?”

“I feel like a peck is far too simple, and a make out session is not exactly sweet, that’s more like- sensual”

“Why don’t we ask Carlos what he has in mind for the kiss?” EJ took his phone, which was lying next to him. “It’s his story”

“No” Ricky took the phone from his hands and placed it back on the bed. “Then he’ll know we’re about to kiss and not respect his wish for waiting until the opening night”

EJ looked surprised that Ricky had taken his phone; but it only lasted a few seconds before he understood. “Right”

“Okay, so,” EJ tried to continue the unusual discussion. “Should we google it? Find some videos?”

Ricky appreciated EJ’s effort, but he really did not want to watch kissing videos at the moment. “No,” He shook his head. “Why don’t we just- go for it and start from there?”

EJ looked surprised, but he smiled at Ricky and agreed. “Okay, sounds good”

“Okay” Ricky barely whispered.

After that, both of them readjusted their sitting position, but Ricky noticed they were too far away from each other, and nothing comfortable could come out of that, so he took a brave step and moved closer to the guy. Both of them were staring at the other; looking at each other’s eyes. Ricky knew he always got lost in EJ’s eyes, but at the moment he wasn’t paying his whole attention to them, as his own eyes kept being drawn to EJ’s lips.

“Where should I put my hands? I feel like it looks weird if they’re just hanging there,” EJ asked quietly; being that close to each other didn’t require their voices to be loud.

“Uhm-” Ricky hadn’t thought about that, and it seemed like a fair question, and he didn’t know what the answer was. “I don’t know, just- grab my face”

EJ pulled his arms up and softly slid his hands across Ricky’s cheeks, all the way to his jaw and the back of his ears, holding him firmly. Ricky felt a bit intimidated, but not in a negative way, and he definitely didn’t want to stop now.

Ricky wasn’t sure if he had to be the one who leaned in first. However, before he could start thinking about it, he saw EJ’s face coming closer, and he knew EJ had leaned in, so he did the same; and they continued to lean in until it was hard for their eyes to focus because of the proximity, forcing the boys to close their eyes and close the distance between their mouths.

It happened quickly. As soon as their mouths touched, Ricky felt a wave of shock, followed by a sensation of cosiness and serenity as his lips simply rested there, along EJ’s. When he let go of the kiss, both of their lips were still there, touching each other; both of them trying to recover for the blankness that had come to their minds.

Ricky pressed his lips together, and slowly, he restored the distance between their faces. EJ slid his hands down Ricky’s shoulders, and then he brought them back to himself.

EJ and Ricky looked at each other without saying a word and without changing their facial expressions.

“What do you think?” Ricky asked; although he wasn’t sure that was the real question he wanted to ask.

“Yeah, it was good” EJ smiled lightly.

After a longer while without saying more words, EJ cleared his throat, he shifted a little to the side so he could be able to take his script. “Do you want to do the scene?”

Ricky was still in a shocked state, to be fair; but he could somehow force his body to respond for him.

The boys ended up reading their lines and doing the scene in a more complete way; moving around and directing each other. When it came to the kiss, they decided to do it again. That time, it had happened a lot more naturally, because they copied what they had done the time before. Still, Ricky felt the same way as he had the first time.

EJ left to his house really late at night, when he received a call from his mom because it was way after the hour, he had said he’d be back.

Ricky went to bed as soon as EJ left his house; and he didn’t realize when he had fallen asleep. However, all he knew was that he had been thinking about the same thing all over again. He was doomed.

Kissing EJ hadn’t changed how he felt about his friend; it just made him realize what he had been feeling for a while now.

Maybe Ricky liked EJ; and not only as a friend.

 

There hadn’t been a day where they didn’t rehearse. They had final readings, full scene rehearsals, costume fittings and lighting setups every single day. Ricky was feeling really confident about his scenes since he had almost memorized most of his lines, and there were only a few of them he still had to reach out for his script to deliver the lines for the scene.

One day, Carlos wanted to do the rehearsal in the auditorium because they were about to do the dance number for one of the songs Carlos wrote for them, which was Ricky’s only dance number, and he was happy about that, because he, and everybody else, knew that dancing was not his thing. However, neither was EJ’s, and he didn’t only have one dance number, he had three of them, so he had it the hardest.

Ricky and EJ were in the middle of the auditorium, and the dancers from the school’s dance team had joined them to support the scene.

“Okay, guys, we’ll do it slow so you’ll see what to do” Gina looked behind her, where the guys were ready to observe. When Gina turned back around, Ricky turned to look at EJ and they silently laughed; because they knew it was going to be difficult.

Gina and Carlos began moving, and both Ricky and EJ tried to copy what they were seeing; if Gina and Carlos moved to the left, they’d move to the left; if they moved to the right, they’d move to the right.

They would repeat the same step for two seconds, and then they’d change to a next one, leaving EJ and Ricky completely confused.

Gina spun around, and Ricky tried to do the same, but it didn’t happen as fast and it didn’t look as pretty. Eventually, when Gina and Carlos moved to the right, Ricky and EJ would move to the left; and when Gina and Carlos moved to the left, Ricky and EJ bumped into each other.

Gina and Carlos finished the choreography with a delicate slide to each other, matching the equally delicate fading of the music.

“Oh, come on” Ricky whispered, only audible enough for EJ.

EJ turned to look at him and laughed.

Both of them knew they weren’t great dancers; they were barely any good, and being there on the auditorium and trying to keep up with two of the best dancers they knew; it was almost ridiculous. Ricky knew he’d had to rehearse for a whole year to be able to do that dance and make it look half as good.

Gina and Carlos turned around. “Okay, let’s see it” Gina signalled.

Ricky knew the dance crew in their High School Musical production could see a new choreography once and they’d be able to replicate it without breaking a sweat; but there was no way Gina was expecting him to do it like that. Not him.

But well, there was nothing to lose, he supposed.

The music started and Ricky and EJ started doing the steps they remembered from the beginning of the choreography; a step to the right, a step to the left, hold hands, some detailed arm movement-

Ricky saw Gina’s head go from bobbing to the rhythm to looking like she was watching a bad participant in a contest TV show.

“Okay,” Gina stopped them with a smile. Carlos stopped the song and walked toward the group. “Let’s try this again, a bit slower this time”

Gina and Carlos stood in front of the boys and started doing the same dance steps as before, but with a slower and more detailed explanation.

They moved to the right, moved to the left- so far so good; Ricky spread out his arm for EJ to grab his hand, and then-

Ricky knew the move he had executed wasn’t the same one Gina had shown him, but he had never imagined his dancing could be dangerous. He heard a loud thud, followed by an instant pain on the back of his head. Gina and Carlos stopped dancing and they turned around to see what had happened; Ricky turned to face EJ as well, and he saw the guy holding his forehead with his hand.

“Oh my God” Gina yelled in surprise, and Carlos gasped.

“Oh, no, no, no, no” Ricky started to feel paranoid. “I’m so sorry, I’m so so sorry”

EJ held out his hand and took a look at it; there wasn’t much blood, but there definitely was a bruise.

“I’ll bring you some ice” Gina sighed, and then she left the room.

Ricky pushed EJ back to a chair of the scenery so he could sit down, and Ricky could see his forehead better. As soon as he took a better look at it, he felt completely stupid; his two left feet had caused EJ to get hurt, and he couldn’t stop feeling bad.

Ricky felt the urge to hug his friend tightly, so he did, careful not to touch his injury and making it worse. “I’m really sorry, I’m sorry-”

EJ hugged Ricky back, and he could feel a smile and a silent laugh on his back. “Don’t worry, it’s not that bad”

Ricky pulled apart and took a look at EJ’s face; the guy was smiling at him regardless of the drop of blood coming down to his eyebrow.

Gina appeared back in sight and gave Ricky a wet towel and a pack of ice. Ricky took the towel first and carefully wiped away the blood. He was really trying not to hurt EJ, but the guy was not even flinching, he just stared at Ricky.

Then, he proceeded to grab the pack of ice and he held it on his forehead; EJ raised his own hand to hold it himself.

“Is it a thing that I should get hurt every time I do a show with you?” EJ continued to look at EJ, and Ricky could only stare back.

“I’m sorry” Ricky apologised for the last time that day.

“It’s okay” EJ replied with a sweet tone to his voice, and threw in another smile. Both of them kept looking at each other without saying another word, and when Ricky took the opportunity to look at every single piece of EJ’s face and think about how handsome his friend was; he knew he didn’t look at his other friends that way. And it wasn’t news to Ricky; he was aware, and he had thought about it a few times already.

 

A few days of rehearsals passed; they had their scenes learnt close to perfection. When it came to the songs, Ricky had it all covered; after all, the music and the singing were his strong suits. However, when It came to the dancing; things were not looking great; and it didn’t help at all that EJ was just as bad a him. Ricky was afraid he was going to cause EJ to get injured again, so he tried to dance as carefully as he could; which only resulted in a very slow, awkward and stiff dancing. In the end, Carlos and Gina decided they would have the dance team perform most of the dance, and Ricky and EJ could have some of the spotlight, but only when it came to the tame dance moves; the ones they could manage.

Carlos had called a massive meeting; everyone who was involved in the show was there. Ricky had a major flashback to when they did the same thing for their High School Musical rendition; and it was one of his favourite parts; knowing he’d doing a great job at something he enjoyed so much, and finally getting to show it with the rest of the people who were taking part.

The meeting was for making sure everyone was okay with what they were doing, that everything was going according to plan and that they weren’t behind schedule. Carlos announced the opening day date, which was close to the end of the school year, so Ricky felt a blow of nostalgia hitting him in the gut.

When the meeting ended and everyone started to leave, EJ walked in front of Ricky, and with an exhausted expression, he let his head fall on Ricky’s shoulder.

“I’m so tired” EJ whined. “I want to go home”

Ricky loved it when he received hugs from EJ; and, although that one wasn’t exactly one, he couldn’t stop his arms from moving upward and wrapping himself around the guy.

 

Ricky’s family had been through a lot of ups and downs that year; mostly downs, and Ricky had started to get tired of it. He remembered how bad it made him feel when his parents fought; and it was even worse when one of them left; the idea of his parents being away from each other made him feel like his heart was being ripped apart. He usually remembered those lyrics he used in his own song.

I feel like I’m drowning, I feel like I’m broken, I am stuck in the middle, ever since I was little, I’ve been ripped down the middle…”

He remembered when he stopped feeling sad when his parents were apart, because one day he understood that maybe sometimes it was better to be away, rather than being present but never being willing to actually be there.

Additionally, because of Ricky’s new schedule now that he was a theatre kid, he could avoid most of the family drama and he didn’t have to see it; so, he didn’t feel too bad. However, that didn’t mean that things were fixed; it wasn’t like everything was suddenly fine. It meant that he was not paying attention to things and doing his best to avoid thinking about the way he felt.

And that’s why he was taken completely off guard when he walked home after a long day of getting things ready for the play, with all the intention of going to bed and falling asleep as soon as he hit the pillow, but instead, the found his mom, who had been gone for a while after their divorce, and his dad; both sitting down in the living room with coffee in their hands. At first, it looked like they were having a normal conversation, alone; but as Ricky walked further into his home, he saw a third person joining them; a person wearing a suit.

When Ricky closed the door behind him, all three of them turned to look at him.

“Hi, son” His dad called from the couch.

“Hello, Ricky” His mom did, too.

Ricky continued to eye them cautiously. “Hey,” He greeted them back. “What’s going on?”

“Oh,” His mom turned to look at the coffee table filled with paperwork. “It’s nothing, sweetie, don’t worry about it”

Ricky still felt a little curious, but he planned on letting it go. He walked into the kitchen after leaving his backpack on the floor. He grabbed a cup from the cupboard and filled it with water; but before he could take a sip, he noticed how silent everything was. He turned to look at his parents, who were oddly quiet and were not doing or saying anything. Ricky thought it looked like they were waiting for him to leave the room so they could continue, which felt strangely personal.

“Why are you acting weird?” Ricky asked them. “Seriously, what’s going on?”

He watched as his parents stared at each other, both sending each other messages through their minds and signalling the third person for help, although that person wasn’t doing anything, because it was not their place.

His dad sighed and rose his arms mid-air in defeat.

“Okay,” His mom began. “We’re working on the- custody”

Ricky stared at them. “Custody of who?” He spoke loudly. “Me?”

Both of his parents went silent after that, like they were meaning to deny it, but unless Ricky had a lot siblings he didn’t know about, there was no point. It was basically confirmed.

“Ricky,” His mom tried to make him listen.

“I’m sixteen” Ricky yelled. “Why are you talking about custody? Besides, I’ve lived with dad all this time, why should it be different now?”

“That was before the divorce was filed, and now we’re trying to reach an arrangement” His dad intervened.

“Are you serious?” Ricky answered him. “I’ve lived here for years, and mom has been away, why do you want to talk about this now?”

Ricky felt his blood boiling, his face heating up, his fists were tightening; anger rising.

“We’re trying to see what’s your best option” His mom added.

Ricky closed his eyes for one long second, trying to calm himself down and don’t let the moment go to his head. Still, he was not staying quiet, because he didn’t want them to continue thinking he didn’t have a voice.

“Do whatever you want,” He left his cup on the counter. “I’m sixteen, I’m entitled to decide regardless of your legal choice”

That had felt like the kind of statement he’d storm out of the room to, because he didn’t want to be there having that sort of conversation. He thought about going to his bedroom in the basement, but he knew there was a high chance of his parents coming back down and they’d try to talk to him about things that squeezed his heart, and he was not in the mood of feeling sad after being so well for a long time.

That’s when he decided to just go outside; because if his parents didn’t know where he was, then they couldn’t get to him.

Of course, he heard his parents call his name a couple of times, but he didn’t stop and he didn’t look back. Before he knew where he was going, he made sure to walk a few blocks to stay out of sight.

Ricky sat down on a bench and took out his phone. He thought about calling Big Red and asking him if he could stay with him for the night; but then he remembered he couldn’t. Big Red was going out with Chuck and a few other people; they had been talking about going to an Escape Room and catching some late dinner, and then going skating; which sounded like a nice plan. However, there was something Ricky had found odd; Big Red had never mentioned anything about Ricky coming along. He didn’t invite him. Ricky felt a little hurt, but he was aware that he had been spending little time with him, and maybe he had gotten used to not being with Ricky, and had now forgotten to be with him.

Ricky begun to think about his friend and the things they were going through, but he had a bigger issue at the moment, and he didn’t want to stay in the freezing night-time air, so he went to the ‘resents’ section in his contact list, and called EJ.

Annoyingly enough, he was sent straight to voicemail. He called one more time, but his call was still rejected.

The way Ricky saw it; he had three options; he could return home, ruining his perfect escape and giving room to a terrible conversation he didn’t want to be having. He didn’t want to do that, but if his other plans failed, he’d have to give in. Secondly, he could simply hold on to his pride and spend the night right there; in a bench, fighting the cold like the hero he knew he wasn’t. Knowing himself, he’d be able to give It a go, but he wasn’t sure how long that would last before he had to go home and fall under the same results. And, finally, there was one other thing he could do; he could risk going to EJ’s house, even if he had no idea where he was, or if he was doing something important, or if he was already asleep.

However, if he thought about it, worst case scenario would be that EJ wasn’t home, and that his parents weren’t either, so he would climb up to EJ’s window, he’d open it, sleep on his bed and wait until he came back.

He didn’t end up giving it too much thought, and he spend the next forty minutes of his night walking to EJ’s house under the illuminated late night.

When Ricky arrived, he saw all the lights were on; he could see it through the windows, which meant that there was at least one person there. He confidently walked to the door and pushed the doorbell’s button. A few seconds later, the door opened.

The person who had opened the door was EJ’s mom, who was shocked to see Ricky standing there at that hour in the night, but welcomed him anyway.

“Ricky, hey, sweetie” Ricky received a big, tight hug from EJ’s mom, and it felt so comforting it made him realize how much he needed it. “Come in”

“Thank you”

“What are you doing here? EJ didn’t tell me you were coming”

“Eh- he doesn’t know, I called him, but he didn’t answer” Ricky scratched the back of his head as he politely talked to her. “Is- is he here?”

EJ’s mom looked a bit confused. “Yeah,” She looked back and pointed at the stairs. “He’s in his room”

Ricky was glad he was home, though he was curious as to know why he hadn’t picked up his call.

“EJ!” His mom yelled, leaning her head toward the stairs.

Ricky heard EJ’s voice answering ‘What’ as a distant sound.

“Come down here, please!” She yelled one more time.

Ricky didn’t hear anything else come from upstairs, but he assumed he’d be coming any second. He knew he wasn’t the kind of kid to be mean to his mom, right?

“Don’t get me wrong, I love you Ricky, but, don’t you think it’s a bit late to hang out?” EJ’s mom asked with a concerned expression.

“Yeah, I know” Ricky answered softly. “I just- uhm, I- actually can’t stay home tonight,” He didn’t give any details.

“Oh, dear” Her expression completely changed to a comprehensive one. “Did your father left you locked out again?”

Rocky knew that wasn’t the case, but he didn’t want to talk about it too much, so he lied. “Yeah” He fake laughed.

“Oh, well, don’t worry” She came close and grabbed Ricky by the arm, giving him a squeeze. “You can stay whenever you like, no explanation needed”

Ricky had already begun to feel a little emotional, and he hoped he wouldn’t start crying that night. Although, he knew that he might if she said something nice again.

“Thank you” Ricky gave her one of his genuine smiles.

At the same time, Ricky heard footsteps on the stairs, and then he turned around and saw EJ walking downstairs, already wearing sweatpants and a white T-shirt. When he saw Ricky, his face changed completely; he smiled widely and his eyes became brighter, and when Ricky saw him, he felt relieved, in some way, he felt like the stress and the worry he had been feeling on the way over had been dropped way low on the ground.

“Hi” Ricky let out, and he was aware of the way his voice sounded; like he was tired, but it wasn’t only that.

EJ heard it well enough. “Hi” He walked over to Ricky, and without saying anything else, he wrapped his arms around Ricky and held him tightly. That hug had felt so overwhelming, in such a nice way, that he couldn’t help wrapping his own arms around EJ’s torso, and his face was buried against EJ’s shoulder, and he held on for a long time, because he didn’t feel like letting go just yet. He had grown so used to feeling comforted by EJ’s touch and his smell, that he wished he could have it there with him forever.

“Are you okay?” EJ asked him, still holding him tightly.

Ricky didn’t want say much just yet; although he knew that EJ would listen and he would understand, because he always did, but he didn’t want to talk about something he knew would make him upset, and he didn’t want to kill the mood.

Besides, ultimately, he was okay. So, without saying actual words, he simply nodded, and he hoped EJ would be able to feel it.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

Ricky, however, did take the time to open his mouth and respond; “not really”. He loved how EJ didn’t say anything and didn’t push him to explain why he was at his house without any explanation or notice. Which reminded him,

“Sorry I come unannounced, but I tried calling you-” Ricky did say.

With that, the two boys finally pulled apart. Ricky thought about how much he loved seeing EJ’s face; like he missed it even though he had last seen it a minute ago.

“Oh, I’m sorry, my phone’s dead” EJ explained. “It’s charging now but I haven’t turned it on”

“It’s okay,”

“Do you want to go upstairs?” EJ offered, pointing at the staircase.

Ricky nodded happily, and he followed his friend after he smiled and led the way to his bedroom. Ricky noticed how he had never mentioned anything about staying over, but EJ kind of assumed that was the case, and Ricky realized this when EJ offered to get him something to wear for the night.

Very quickly, because EJ’s room was really organized, he pulled out another pair of sweatpants from one of his drawers, and after asking him how cold he was, a hoodie. He handed both of them to Ricky, and after thanking him with a puppy face, he went to the bathroom to get changed.

When he got out, he found EJ grabbing a bunch of papers from his desk, one of them still printing, but he took it as soon as it came out, and after fixing them into a perfectly arranged pile, he slid them inside a big, yellow envelope. Then, he sat down, and on his desk, he started writing something on the envelope. Finally, he took the finished product and placed it on top of the others he had already completed.

While this happened, Ricky walked to EJ’s bed, because he wanted to see what all the fuzz was about. There, on top of the bed, he saw a few flyers with the name of different schools, and by seeing a lot of papers with EJ’s name on it, there was one thing he could assume.

“Are these college applications?” Ricky asked with curiosity.

“Yeah” EJ asked as he turned off his computer.

Ricky picked up one of the flyers, and he quickly saw the rest of them. “They’re all dramatic art schools” Ricky smiled.

“Well, yeah” EJ smiled as well. “I’m- uh, applying for a lot of them”

“I don’t think you need to do that, you’ll get accepted in whichever you apply” Ricky commented, and a hint of tiredness was audible.

“Aw,” EJ replied, touched by Ricky’s compliment. “Uhm, I’m applying to a lot because I still don’t really know where I’m headed, exactly”

EJ stood up from his chair and went to clean up the rest of paperwork he had on his bed. “I know I want acting, that’s for sure, but most of the schools want you as a package deal; they want acting, singing, dancing,” He took all the papers to his desk. “And, of course you can select the areas you want, but I’m not sure which ones yet”

“Well, I’d say, dancing, is the obvious choice” Ricky mocked EJ.

“Shut up,” EJ smiled at Ricky, and he laughed a little with him.

EJ put a few other things in place, and when he was ready, he sat down next to Ricky on his bed.

“Do you think-” EJ started, his face obviously filled with question. “-it would be crazy if I- took a gap year?”

Ricky widened his eyes; although not because he was against the idea, but because he had always thought of EJ as the guy who couldn’t wait to graduate from high school so he could get started with university as soon as possible.

“I just don’t want to make a choice and then- hate it, you know? Like, I’m not sure right now, and I don’t know if I’ll be sure in a couple months, so I don’t want to ruin my chances by starting on the wrong path in the first place”

Ricky knew it sounded convincing. “Yeah, okay, makes sense”

“Besides, I can use that year to help out at the school with next year’s productions, or maybe I could get a job somewhere, and that could make my college applications more attractive with the extra credit I haven’t earned yet”

“Yeah, totally”

“So, do you think it’s crazy?” EJ asked one more time.

Ricky stared directly at EJ’s eyes, and he waited for a second before he answered. “No, I think it sounds great, I can’t see why not”

However, EJ didn’t seem to be one hundred percent convinced by Ricky’s answer. “Why did you hesitate?”

“Hmh?” Ricky pretended he had no idea was he was talking about.

“What is it?”

“Well, uhm-” Ricky faked worry. “It’s just that- I thought you were gonna say that you were taking a gap year because you wanted to wait for me” Ricky joked, faking an offended and disappointment response.

EJ laughed at Ricky’s joke, which had helped loosen up the tension from Ricky’s down behaviour. “Come on,”

“No, I meant it” Ricky continued to laugh, but he was trying to stop so he could act serious. “I think a gap year is a good idea, it’ll help you figure yourself out, and I know you’ll choose the best for yourself, and I do think that you’ll be accepted in any school you apply to”

EJ looked touched once again, so he shared a look with Ricky. “Thank you” Ricky smiled again.

After that, EJ stood up and went to turn off the lights of his bedroom; his nightstand lamp was still on, so the room wasn’t in complete darkness.

“I’m going to the bathroom very quick, I’ll be back”

“Okay” Ricky nodded.

EJ left and entered the bathroom of his room, and based on the time it took him in there, there had been a whole beauty regime happening inside, Ricky supposed.

While EJ was inside the bathroom, Ricky looked around and contemplated the things inside EJ’s room. The guy always looked so put together, and his room totally matched his vibe; everything was organized, there was nothing on the floor that wasn’t supposed to be there; there were no clothes laying around or piled up in a chair; the cables and the wires of the electronics were perfectly folded or rolled, and everything looked nice.

He wondered what kind of vibe he himself gave other people, considering his room was definitely not as clean as EJ’s.

Anyway. After the day he had had, and after seeing the time on EJ’s alarm clock, he decided it’d be best if he just called it a day. The first time he had stayed over at EJ’s, the guy had insisted they just shared a bed, since it was pretty big and there was no need for anyone to sleep on the floor, so, that time, he didn’t even think about it, and he pulled the covers off EJ’s bed, and he slid right in. As a bad habit, the first thing he did after finding a comfortable position, which was on his side, was reach out for his phone.

When he heard EJ come out of the bathroom, he didn’t turn around, but he heard his footsteps, and he definitely saw how the room had turned completely dark, which meant EJ had turned off the nightstand lamp. He also felt how he lifted up the covers and got in bed as well.

“Ricky” EJ called after a moment of silence.

“Yes?”

“Do your parents know you’re here?”

Ricky didn’t want to think about it, but he also didn’t want to be rude to EJ. “No,”

“Have they called you?”

“Nope” Ricky answered with simplicity. “I just left my house, and that’s it”

EJ stayed silent, and Ricky knew the guy wanted to ask him about what had happened, but he also didn’t want to step over Ricky’s boundaries, which Ricky admired, but he didn’t think it was fair that EJ being one of the only people he fully trusted, was right there, offering him the support he needed, and he was blowing him off?

Ricky preferred it if he could simply ignore what was going on at his home at the moment, but he knew he couldn’t ignore it forever.

Therefore, Ricky rolled to his back, blocking his phone and putting it on top of the nightstand on his side of the bed. This way he was looking at the ceiling, but he could easily look at EJ if he wanted to.

“My mom and my dad are now fighting for custody- over me”

EJ’s eyes became big as plates, and he could sense slight anger on his expression.

“And now-” Ricky began to feel his own rage coming back. “They think that they can decide where I’m gonna live and what I’m gonna do, when they didn’t care about anything about me when they were too busy filling paperwork because they didn’t want to be in each other’s lives. Ricky spoke a lot for not wanting to give too many details.

He continued, nonetheless. “My mom wants to get custody and take me to Chicago with her,”

“Are you moving to Chicago?” EJ asked with a terrified expression.

“No, definitely not” Ricky answered quickly, making EJ regain his composure. “But it makes me mad that she’s even thinking about it”

Ricky fell silent for a second. He hadn’t realized how good it felt to talk about things, even when he felt completely different about it before he opened his mouth.

“It sucks-” Ricky didn’t want his voice to crack, but it did. “-that I have to be in the middle of this, because I shouldn’t have to, but I have to think about this, and I have to have an opinion-”

Ricky knew he’d start crying if he continued, and he hated crying before bed, so he stopped himself. He wiped the tear that had made its way out and he tried to maintain control over himself.

“I just wish that I could go to my house and feel like ‘finally, I’m home’, you know?”

EJ hadn’t said a single word, but he was surely showing sympathy. He nodded at Ricky’s rhetorical question, and he answered Ricky’s silent cry for help by stopping him from speaking, and instead, EJ took the opportunity to say something.

“Well, but- you know that you can come here whenever you like, right?” EJ tried to comfort Ricky. “I mean, you don’t even have to call me or anything”

Ricky nodded, and he gave EJ a shy smile. None of them could see each other very well since the room was dark and there was not much illumination from outside.

“Thanks”

With that one final word, Ricky turned back on his side, and he didn’t grab his phone this time because he was intending to close his eyes and try to fall asleep as quickly as he could without having to think about the things that were going around in his head. Ironically enough, however, with the lack of motion and conversation around him, the dark room, his body already settled down; there was nothing else he could think about but his parents; and he wanted to stop it, but he didn’t really know how.

And then, after wishing there was a way his mind could focus on something else, something else happened. From Ricky’s spot on EJ’s bed, he could feel the bed beginning to shift a little, and for a second, he had thought EJ was simply finding a better sleeping position before he went to sleep, but he soon realized there was more to it.

He felt how EJ’s body came closer to his, and the space behind him lost its emptiness. EJ put an arm around Ricky’s torso; and Ricky was a bit distracted by the sensation of EJ’s breath on the back of his neck.

They had never done anything like that before; at least not when they were sharing a bed. Ricky was getting used to the feeling of EJ’s hugs and his attention being present every day, and although there was a familiar sensation to EJ’s arm around him, and he recognized how his body was naturally relaxing and leaning into his touch, there was something inside of him that found it new.

He knew his heart was beating faster, and Ricky liked to believe that EJ couldn’t notice. Ricky placed his own arm next to EJ’s arm, holding the back of his hand with his own.

Lately, Ricky had been giving it a lot of thought; if he once hated EJ, and considering they got over it and became friends, and then they got really close, it was natural to feel some sort of affection for the guy; he cared about him, he liked hanging out with him, they shared their minds with each other and Ricky found a lot comfort and security in EJ, but all of that wasn’t equal to begin feeling other sort of things; like- sudden heat and livelihood, and a squeeze in his stomach.

Ricky wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but he wasn’t dense, either, and he was able to recognize what he was feeling. However, before he could think about it any longer, he was surprisingly fast asleep.

 

On Saturday morning, both EJ and Ricky woke up pretty late. Ricky pulled his phone from the nightstand and checked if he had any calls or texts from his parents; there had been a call, but he honestly didn’t feel like calling them back. After receiving some peace and clarity through the night, maybe he could deal with that conversation with them, in person, after all.

Nevertheless, he did notice he had a voice note from Carlos. Ricky pressed play and put in on full volume.

“Hey, Ricky, I know it’s late, but I just talked to Miss Jenn and Mr. Mazzara. I hope you don’t mind, but I was actually considering moving the day of our opening for an earlier date. The junior-senior prom committee just set a date for prom, and it’s only a couple days after the play. I don’t want the show to be overshadowed by the dance, because some of us begin their prom preparations with a week in advance, and I’m worried people won’t show up. However, I was thinking, since everything is going so well, maybe we can speed things up a little and we can have the show before anyone is too excited for prom. What do you think?”

There was another voice note under it, a much shorter one, but he still played it.

“By the way, I also sent this to EJ but he hasn’t received it, I don’t think he had his phone turned on”

And with that, EJ got out of bed. “Fuck, my phone”

 

Carlos’ decision of moving the show had actually made Ricky feel a little nervous and perhaps a tad self-conscious about his performance; he had counted on the time he had left to continue rehearsing and preparing himself for the day, but he had to remind himself that mostly everything was practically finished; that he knew all of his lines, all his songs, and although his dance wasn’t perfect, the dance team had managed to make it look really nice.

Besides, Ricky understood Carlos’ choice of pulling the date so it wouldn’t interfere with prom, because it was true. If people were too excited for prom, maybe they wouldn’t be as excited for the show. He knew this because, although he was not crazy about dances, there was someone who definitely was; EJ.

EJ had been thinking about it all week; he was talking about his hair, about his shoes, about the limousine they could’ve rented if they had enough money; he was more than excited. He had also convinced Ricky to take him shopping for their suits. He himself hadn’t thought about his suit, mostly because he was sure he’d get to wear the same one he wore for homecoming. He hadn’t grown that much to have already outgrown it. But, well; going out with EJ was something he never said no to, lately.

Ricky had to admit, that when said hangout happened, he had enjoyed it more than he thought he would. However, he had realized he didn’t come mentally prepared for seeing EJ in a suit. Ricky’s mind went blank as soon as he saw him stepping out of the dressing room and acted out different poses, and he was sure he would’ve drooled if he had a little bit less self-control. Ultimately, he was glad it happened then, and not the day of the dance, because then he would’ve acted all weird and flustered all night.

 

The show would be on in three days; and it was safe to say that everything was crazy; insane, even. He couldn’t remember if things had been the same with their last musical, but he surely felt the pressure. The thing he remembered was how all of his teachers had allowed him and the rest of the drama club to miss classes so they could prepare and get everything ready, and he was really excited it was happening again.

There was that day; when he was about to leave his home early in the morning, he grabbed breakfast really quickly, taking a few bites of his toast and deciding he would grab something else when he arrived at school. EJ wasn’t picking him up that day, so Ricky was going to skateboard all the way there.

When Ricky decided he was ready to leave, he remembered he didn’t have any shoes on, so he was going to run to his room to get them and he’d be ready to go.

However, before he could set foot on the first step of his stairway, there was a knock on the door. Ricky stopped and considered who it could’ve been, since not a lot of people knocked on their door during early hours in the morning. Either way, he still walked over the door, only wearing socks, and he opened it.

And there, behind the frame of the door, stood one of the issues he had put off thinking about and hadn’t come to just yet.

“Hi, Red” Ricky greeted his friend, who simply smiled with his lips closed together and didn’t say another word. It was weird- that Big Red had knocked on the door when he usually used to just get inside, but- yeah, they hadn’t done that much lately.

“Hey” Big Red replied.

Ricky could tell there was something about to go down; not in a fighting kind of way, though.

“Can I come inside?” Big Red asked, which was also weird.

“Sure” Ricky stepped aside and let his friend walk into his house.

Ricky was pressuring his mind into thinking of something quick to say that would ease things off between them, but he couldn’t bring himself to think of anything that wouldn’t make him sound like a dumbass in that time. Anyway, Big Red was the one with the mic in hand.

“Look, uhm, I came right now because I knew I wouldn’t be able to get to you later; with the show happening, and everything else, we haven’t had time to- catch up”

They had never needed to catch up, because they always knew everything that happened in each other’s lives.

Ricky stared apologetically. “Yeah-”

“There’s, uhm-” Big Red continued. “Something I wanted to say to you, and I’ve been trying to think about the right words to use, but nothing has quite felt right, so, I’m just gonna say it, because we’re friends”

Ricky nodded rapidly. They were both standing up, so Ricky led them both to the couch and they sat down.

“I’m not mad that you have other friends, we’ve always had other friends, but at the end of the day, we were always there together; our friendship was bigger than any other we’d ever had,”

Ricky knew where the conversation was going, and he knew Big Red was one hundred percent right, and he felt terrible for having let so much time pass.

“And I thought it was always going to be that way, but, things changed, I guess”

“Red, can I just-”

“Wait, I ain’t done yet” Big Red stopped him. “It’s not the fact that you found another best friend that’s surprising, it’s the fact that it’s EJ” Big Red said the name with a lot of confusion and concern. “I remember when you hated him; when you and I used to make fun of him, and then you became friends, and I was like ‘Oh, well, I guess they’re over themselves now’, but I never thought that you’d replace me with him

Big Red’s words sounded pretty harsh, and Ricky knew he totally deserved them, because he had been a bad friend.

“When did I stop being your best friend? Your friend, even” Big Red had a mixture of feelings on his face. “What did I do to make you wanna stop being my friend and choosing him over me, to the point where I can’t even see you anymore, because you’re always busy, you’re always with him; to the point where I have to wake up the earliest I have ever woken up and walk here, because there is not another hour I know you’ll see me”

With every word, Big Red’s voice became louder, and his hand movements got more prominent. With every word, Ricky felt shittier and shittier; because he realized how bad of a friend he had been.

After he finished that sentence, he readjusted his shirt, and Ricky watched as he shifted on the couch to recover his position.

“You can talk, now” Big Red signalled with his hand that he was giving him the floor.

Ricky had a lot of things in mind, and there were  lot of things he hadn’t said out loud yet; not even to himself, but he figured that time was as good as any, and if there was anyone who deserved an explanation, it was Big Red; not Nini, not EJ, not anyone, but his best friend. He only hoped his words made any sense once he got them out.

“Okay” He began. “I know what I’ve done” Ricky had a lot of difficulty trying to own up to this big mess. “I know that I’ve been spending all my time with EJ, and that I’ve been dumb and selfish by not including you in this,”

Big Red stopped him. “I don’t want you to include me, I don’t care if I don’t have bro time with EJ, I want you to remember I exist!”

“I know, and I’m sorry, I never wanted to dismiss you, and I am a fucktard for letting it happen, but, what I mean is-” Ricky took a big breath. “I don’t think of EJ as my best friend, you are my best friend, and no one is going to replace you, ever; because you’re the best friend I could ask for”

“I know that, duh” Big Red agreed, that he was the best friend ever. “But then, why are you with him all the time?”

“It’s different- with EJ”

“Different how?”

“Different” Ricky struggled.

“You mean- you’re a masochist? Because the guy is a terrible person, he was to you, and to Nini, and to many people, do you like being treated like shit?”

“He’s not a horrible person, he doesn’t treat me like shit”

“Well, no, not now”

“Yeah, exactly; he changed”

“Well, so what” Big Red dragged the conversation to the original question. “What is it then?”

Ricky really wanted to simply say it. Why couldn’t he?

“Okay, there’s a thing-” Ricky’s breath instantly sped up, so did his words. “EJ and I started hanging out, like normal, it wasn’t anything important, or big- there was nothing, but then, things happened, and other things happened as well, and I didn’t notice, I don’t know how it happened or when it started, but it’s not the same as everyone else, EJ is different- to me; he’s means something different-” Ricky’s words ran.

And Big Red instantly understood.

“Oh” He was surprised, definitely. Why wouldn’t he be? “You have a crush on EJ?”

At this point, it looked like Big Red wasn’t mad anymore; he was now back at being Ricky’s best friend, who needed him. Big Red got closer to Ricky and he searched for his face.

Ricky stared at him, and with his face, there was nothing else he could show but confirmation.

“Oh, wow” Big Red commented. “That sounds- like it explains a lot, actually”

“And you don’t mind what you went through before? That doesn’t affect you?”

Ricky shook his head. “Not at all”

“Wow” Big Red exhaled one more time.

“But, it’s not a crush” Ricky added; because if he had gotten to that point, he could go fully onto the whole thing, then. “That’s not what it feels like anymore”

“What do you mean?” Big Red furrowed his eyebrows.

Ricky stopped for a second, but he couldn’t back away now. “There’s more, I- feel more”

“Really?” Big Red understood. “So, this has been going on for a long time”

Ricky nodded.

And again, Big Red looked offended. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because I didn’t know, I had no idea” Ricky knew sometimes he could explain what he was intending to perfectly, but he knew his friend could read him fine. “And I haven’t told him, or anyone else”

“Okay” He didn’t push it. “So, you’re gonna tell him?”

Ricky shook his head. “I don’t think so, at least not right now”

“Okay,” The guy still respected everything his friend said.

They fell into silence for a moment, and honestly, Ricky felt a big weight he had been unknowingly carrying on his back, lift up and fade away. And suddenly, he realized how lucky he was to someone like Red in his life.

Ricky stood up, and Big Red did the same.

“Thank you much for coming here” Ricky hugged him. “I know I’m a dumbass, I’m sorry”

“It’s all good” Big Red hugged him back. “Now I know you were blinded by stupid love instead of ditching me, that’s a relief”

 

The day of the show, Ricky actually woke up feeling nervous, which hadn’t happened on his previous performance. Maybe it was the fact that it had been more of an independent project, made almost completely by students with barely any help from the teachers, or maybe it was because of the topics they were covering in it, or maybe it was because he was secretly dying to see Seb’s face when he figured out the show was for him, and he wanted to know what would happen afterwards with Carlos. Or, maybe, it was because he’d get to do those scenes he had practiced many times with EJ, fully dressed in costume and the scenery in place; the music ready to be played, and the story about to come to life. Maybe it was because there was a kiss involved he had actually been looking forward to.

That morning, Ricky made sure he had breakfast with Big Red so they could finally talk, because after that night, he hadn’t realized how much he had missed having his friend around.

They spent the whole day preparing the show, being harassed by Carlos multiple times as he wanted to make sure every box in the list was checked with ink.

At night, before the curtains opened, Ricky ran to EJ, as the first scene was only him. Ricky wished him good luck, and without having planned it, he threw in a comment that made EJ blush a little, and also made himself shook with surprise.

“You’ll do great- perfect, you’ll be perfect, you always are”

EJ hugged Ricky; quickly, but tightly. Ricky was kicked out of stage by the lighting and effects crew leader, and he ran out of the place, leaving room for EJ to shine.

When the time came for the last scene to take place, Ricky tried his best to get into character and stop his own emotions from showing. However, when EJ stood up from the haystack and moved closer to him, he was beginning to lose a little bit of that control he had.

The city is pretty fascinating, too

And when EJ leaned in to kiss Ricky, he felt the imaginary magnetism pulling him in, and he got lost in time for a second; probably enjoying the kiss more than he should’ve had, as an actor.

There had never been a content smile scripted after the kiss, but Ricky hadn’t been able to stop his lips from doing so, which must’ve been contagious, because EJ was smiling, too.

After the curtains closed, and the crowd began cheering like crazy, all that was left to do was for Ricky and EJ to hug, filled with excitement and empowerment after what they had done.

The crew came quickly to the stage, and asked everyone to clear everything as fast as they could, because they were going to open the curtains one last time for Carlos. The guy had never mentioned anything about talking or giving a speech, but when Ricky saw him standing in the middle of the stage with a microphone in his hand, looking completely determined, it made sense.

When everyone had left the stage, and Carlos was completely alone, the curtains went back up.

“Good evening, everyone. My name is Carlos, and I am the writer of this play-”

Carlos was cut off by the crowd cheering one more time, which made him laugh.

“I just want to thank everyone for coming tonight. This play means so much to me, because it was inspired by a person I care deeply about. I wrote this play for my friend Sebastian,”

EJ and Ricky were hiding behind the curtains, with the rest of the cast, and they were looking through the spaces between the pieces of fabric. When Carlos mentioned Seb, the boys quickly turned to look at him, because they had been really excited to see his reaction.

“Seb,”

Carlos was now talking to him directly.

“When I heard your story, I was amazed that such a good, gentle and beautiful person had gone through all that, and that you managed to survive and become an even better person, I had no words. I wanted to tell you that you inspired me then, and you continue to inspire me every day, so, this show is for you,”

Ricky had been trying to hold back a tear, because he still couldn’t believe Carlos had thought about having that big of a gesture, and that he had been so consistent and determined to bring a beautiful thing to life. Besides, Ricky would be grateful for Carlos, for ever; for giving him the opportunity of a life time.

Ricky peeked through a small hole, and he saw Seb’s face with a smirk on his face, and a few tears covering his cheeks; overflown with the emotion of the moment.

And at that moment, Ricky knew it had been worth it; everything.

 

With a few more weeks left in the school year, things had slowed down a whole lot, especially with the show over. The drama club activities continued, but nothing was official and serious, like the plays had been. Some of the classes had already, somewhat, ended; there was not a lot of homework, there was no studying for exams or preparing for projects; most of those things were already over.

However, there was one thing that was still happening, and everyone was looking forward to it; the junior-senior prom. Ricky had ended up buying a suit for it, right after EJ had convinced him he looked super handsome and hot; which lead to his dad busting his ass, but it was still worth it.

The night of the prom, the boys arrived together in a group, because they had agreed that if they were all single, except for Carlos and Seb, now, and they all still wanted to be all together, they totally could.

And, well, everything went as they had expected it to. There was dancing; a lot of it. There was eating; a lot of that as well, and yeah, they caught sight of some kids trying to sneak in some bottles of alcohol into the table, but Ricky knew, or at least, hoped, that they’d get caught.

The kids danced most of the night. Whatever type of music the DJ was dropping, they’d dance to it.

At some point, the dancing group had separated, and Ricky found that he was dancing alone in front of EJ. Ricky wondered for a second where his friends had run off to, but when he spotted them still dancing around, not very far from them, he realized that maybe Ricky and EJ had been the ones who slowly separated from the rest.

And they did that for hours, until the DJ decided to take a break for a moment and left the party. The drama club had it covered, though; because in the backroom there were some microphones and karaoke machines, so some of them went to set it up.

The room had no more music, but the atmosphere didn’t radiate emptiness or boredom; the kids’ laughter filled up the air perfectly.

Not too long after, Carlos approached Big Red from behind, holding a microphone with his right hand and suggestively handing it to the guy as he moved his eyebrows up and down, inviting him to take it.

“Yes, Red, sing!” Ricky screamed right before he raised his cup filled with punch. Of course, not even at prom, the karaoke would be missing.

 

Naturally, somewhere between sloppy dancing and loud conversations, Ricky and EJ decided it would’ve been best if they went outside to get some fresh, past-midnight air.

Ricky enjoyed the sensation of leaving that loud and lively environment, receiving the cold breeze on his face. Outside the building, the sound of the music couldn’t be heard with clarity, and it could be perceived better as a vibration on the ground and a thud in his eardrums.

Ricky and EJ slowly walked to the green area of the school; where students would lay down to talk to their friends or do homework; some would even take naps on the grass in between, or during, classes; and that night, it looked different; it was dark, but magically illuminated by the lights on the trees and the stars and the moon in the clear sky.

“I’m sitting down” Ricky breathed out and he bent down and sat on the grass. This earned him a hesitant look from EJ, who was obviously doubting the idea.

“Come on, the grass won’t ruin your suit” Ricky shook his head and tried to convince EJ.

The guy hesitated a second more, but then he shook the thought away by laughing in a defeated way. This made Ricky smile widely at him. EJ bend his legs down, pulling the fabric of his trousers up so they could fold properly, and he sat down at a ninety-degree angle, next to Ricky.

“So, this thing is almost over,” EJ commented when he was fully settled on the ground.

“Yes, it is” Ricky nodded and smiled.

“What did you think?”

“About what?”

“About the dance,” EJ smiled softly.

Ricky didn’t answer for a second. He leaned his back on the trunk of one of the illuminated trees, and his shiny eyes were staring into EJ’s. In the darkness of the land and the coolness of the air, being there, alone with EJ, everything felt nice; conversation was smooth, their words felt silky; EJ’s eyes on him made him feel feathery.

“It was fun” He answered with his smile still there and his head leaned back on the trunk. “What do you think?”

“I think it was okay”

“Okay?”

“Yeah, in my opinion, there wasn’t enough lighting and spotlights” EJ mocked himself.

“You mean those colourful multiple spotlights that fall on you from different angles of the dance floor and make people look super-hot?” Ricky playfully added.

EJ laughed with his wide smile. “Yeah,”

Ricky didn’t respond until a few seconds later, because he took the time to stare at EJ, because he wanted to.

“But you don’t need them” Ricky didn’t hesitate. “You still look smoking hot without them”

“Really?” EJ asked him playfully, and Ricky nodded with a smile.

“And what else?” EJ asked.

“About what?”

“About the dance,” EJ smiled softly once again.

When EJ said that last thing, there was something that did come to his mind; about the dance. There had been a lot of moments where Ricky had had fun, he laughed a lot with his friends and EJ, he ate some snacks, he drank some punch, he danced some more, but he was always staring at EJ.

And when they danced together, Ricky found it hard not to stare at his lips, admiring how soft and smooth they looked; remembering how amazing they had felt on his own lips; wondering if they would feel the same if he kissed them again, and he knew that EJ was thinking about the same thing, because he was doing the same thing.

And that was the first thing that he thought about, and now he couldn’t get it out of his head.

“It hasn’t finished” Ricky pointed out, a little more serious this time.

“No, it hasn’t” EJ responded.

Ricky stared at him a bit more, and he swore he could feel his body telling him what to do, instead of his brain doing the reasoning instead. Ricky smiled again, in a soft, delicate kind of way, and without building it up; with no warning and no questions asked, Ricky finally went for it.

Ricky leaned in, letting go of the trunk of the tree, and he let his lips touch EJ’s, like he had desiring all night.

At first, it was simple; it was like the times they had kissed before, like they had practiced for the show. Both of them leaned in to the same side they had done before, and the touch was almost identical to how they had done it on stage.

Ricky let go, and it hadn’t been until then when it hit him.

They were not on stage; they were not practicing nor rehearsing anything. If was them- alone, sitting on the grass, and there was nobody there; no music, no stage, no public. And it had felt better than it had then.

With their faces still close together, their foreheads pressed against each other, EJ lifted up his arms and he grabbed Ricky’s cheek, letting himself glide his hand through his face until he reached the back of his head. Ricky felt the firm grip, and it was almost giving him a queue for doing the same thing, so he lifted up his own arm, and he grabbed EJ’s face the same way.

And like the same magnetism he had felt countless time before, but he had refused to acknowledge, his lips felt completely drawn to EJ’s again; and Ricky was too far gone to refuse to let them do it one more time; so, he gave in and he let himself do what felt right instead.

Their lips met again, and that time, it was different; EJ met him with such enthusiasm that Ricky was sure his body was melting, but at the same time, he felt strong and ready to go. Their lips moved with each other this time, making up for the lack of it in their past encounters.

There were too many things going on at that moment in Ricky’s head, and as he went through all of them, he realized there was not one thing he wanted to complain about.

EJ’s lips felt smooth; it was easy to slide against them. The kiss tasted as delicious as his favourite meal in his favourite place in the world. The way EJ held on to his head and he would tangle his fingers inside his curls was simply dazzling, but he was already used to feeling comfort from EJ’s touch, so that wasn’t all that surprising.

If he had known what kissing EJ like this was like, he would’ve done it sooner.

Ricky felt like he could’ve continued sitting there kissing EJ all night long, but there had been a moment he had to pull away to catch his breath, which is funny, because it had never happened to him before; he had read everywhere  that such thing and he had heard it from people; that sometimes they’d have to gasp for air after a kiss, but he hadn’t understood it; until now. Ultimately, when he did, he took the chance to lean back and take a look at the guy’s face, and he didn’t think he’d ever seen his eyes gleam in that way.

What happened right after- wasn’t exactly different, perhaps there was another kiss, and maybe it had been a bit more heated than the last one, but nothing else.

What happened way after that, that’s important.

Ricky and EJ didn’t talk about it immediately; they went back inside and joined their friends until the dance was officially over and the people who were still there were asked to leave. Most of their friends asked EJ to give them a ride home, so that’s what he did. With EJ on the wheel, Ricky in the passenger’s seat, and Carlos, Seb, Ashlyn, Big Red and Gina squeezed in the back rows of EJ’s big automobile, they spent the next hour taking everyone home.

When EJ dropped Big Red home, Ricky stepped out of the car, because he had wanted to tell something important to him- because he really couldn’t hold it.

“I just kissed EJ” Ricky let out as soon as they were far enough from the car and no one could hear them.

“What?!” Big Red whispered-yelled; his eyes widened as much as the guy could. “What happened?”

“Nothing yet, we haven’t talked about it”

“You have to, you don’t want any time to pass,”

“Won’t I look desperate?”

“Of course not, it’s not like you just met him two nights ago and you’re proposing to him so you can get away from your home life”

“What?” Ricky asked, clearly confused.

“I don’t know, I’ve been watching a lot of Netflix films lately” Big Red dismissed his own comment. “But no, you won’t look desperate, a lot has happened between you, it’s about time” They shared smiled.

“I’ll just have to find a way to like EJ,” He shrugged.

Ricky gave him an excited smile and said goodbye to his friend, not before he asked Ricky to share every single detail of whatever happened next as soon as he could.

 

The last person to drop off at their respective home was, clearly, Ricky. However, instead of leaving the car and thanking him for the ride, he stayed right there, and he took advantage of the fact that they were alone, and used it as his opportunity; it was now or never.

“Can I ask you something?”

EJ turned to face him, and giving him those eyes and that smile he had clearly picked up on how much Ricky loved, he nodded. “Whatever you want”

Ricky smiled. “When did you stop wanting to be with Nini?”

EJ was a little shocked, considering it was probably not what he was expecting to come out of Ricky’s mouth, and that they hadn’t talked about Nini and their feud in a long while, but he answered anyway.

“I guess- right after she broke up with me”

“Really?” Ricky had to ask, because comparing it to his own answer, he couldn’t relate.

“I mean, I already knew things were ending even before she ended it, and I saw how much she didn’t enjoy my company,” EJ laughed now, something he wouldn’t have been able to do at that time. “And I didn’t feel like fighting it, I guess maybe I didn’t want to be with her if she didn’t want to be with me”

Ricky was surprised, in some way.

“Why do you ask?”

“It’s just that- we never talked about that part, and sometimes I- wondered if you still hoped you’d get back together one day”

This time, EJ waited before he came up with something else to say.

“And why were you wondering that?”

Ricky saw a hint of something else in EJ’s voice and the way he smiled; it had a new energy of banter mixed with proposition and tease.

For a moment, Ricky considered answering that question right away, but he had a lot of other things he wanted to say and he didn’t want their conversation to end like that just yet.

“Wait, I have something else I want to ask you”

“Okay, go ahead”

Ricky went for it. “How do you feel about me?”

EJ wasn’t expecting it to turn around on him, and he was also not giving up that easily. “I think that’s what I was asking you,”

“But I want you to answer first”

“Well, what If I want you to say it first?”

“You said I could ask you whatever I wanted, so you go first”

EJ showed a sign of defeat in his own game, but not in a way that showed he has mad; not at all. Therefore, with a sigh and a smile, he turned to his side, which was not easily smooth, as they were in his car, and he spoke first. “Okay”

Ricky hadn’t actually thought he was going to win, but now he was all up for hearing EJ.

“I don’t hate you, like I used to, in fact, I really like you, but like- I really like you- but no, it’s more than that, you know?” He knew. “I really- really- really like you”

“You really really really like me?” Ricky teased him, making EJ jump on his own words.

“I’m not the best at this, okay? You know words aren’t my best attribute” EJ tried to defend himself. “Can’t you just feel sympathy for me and see what I’m trying to say?”

Ricky was smiling widely at this point. “No, I can’t do that” Because he still wanted EJ to say it first.

“Okay, but if I become a mess you’ll need to fix it”

“You know I will, I just- want you to hear you say it” Ricky softened his own voice so EJ knew he wasn’t just trying to make him suffer.

“Okay,” EJ tried again.

“You became the friend I never had, because you were always there for me, you even stayed when I was an asshole and I don’t know how you put up with that, but you did, and I don’t think I deserved it, but you still gave me a chance, and sometimes I can’t believe you’re the person that you are, but-” EJ changed to a more serious expression. “I realized I didn’t want you to be just my friend, because you were everything I needed, and I never wanted to lose you, so I tried to become a better version of myself so I couldn’t ruin what we had, and I realized that no one had ever made me want to do that before, and I knew that it was different this time- I wasn’t thinking of you as just my friend, but something more-”

“Yeah, me too”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah”

They stared at each other for a while, just smiling at each other and falling into the realization that this was finally happening.

“Your turn”

Ricky laughed at the way EJ was still not letting it go.

“Yeah, same thing” He still found it in himself to have energy for one last tease.

EJ acted offended for a second, and he lifted himself up from the seat to lean closer to Ricky. “Hey, you can’t do that! If I’m first, you’re second, that’s the rule”

Ricky laughed, and he got ready for what he was going to say.

“You say that I helped you, but I don’t think you realize how much you helped me, to feel better about myself; you know you’re the star of the show, and you shared that with me and you showed how to shine on my own, and all I want is to share that back with you, because if there’s something I like more than performing is performing with you, and that’s simply because I like being with you, and I also don’t want that to go away, but not in a friends kind of way”

“Yeah” EJ agreed.

The staring continued.

“So, what do we do now?” EJ asked.

“Do you think we should stop being friends?”

“I don’t want to stop being friends,”

“Yeah, me neither”

“But I think, if it’s what you want, we can be friends, but we can also be- something else”

“Like-” Ricky tried to speed things up.

“Yeah, like-” EJ did as well.

“Boyfriends?” Ricky said it, and he hadn’t realized the emotions he would feel when he said it out loud, and the way EJ would feel when he heard it.

“If you’d like-”

“Yeah” Ricky replied instantly. “If you want”

“Yes, that’s what I want”

Ricky was speechless for a second, a bit unaware of the reality of what had just went down.

“Okay,”

“Okay” EJ repeated. “Should we- kiss now?”

“Do you want to kiss me?”

“When do I not want to kiss you?”

And like that, Ricky leaned in once again, making his lips fall on EJ’s in fucking finally perfect sanity. It hadn’t been as passionate, and nowhere near as comfortable, because they were in a car, and there were limitations to how much he could move. Regardless, EJ accepted the kiss with content and ignored the times his body bumped with the stick, or the wheel, or the bottle on the cup holder.

When they separated, Ricky slid back into his seat.

“Well, uhm” He began. “Thank you for bringing me home”

“Anytime” EJ smiled, still as breathless as they had both been. “See you tomorrow?”

“Of course,” Ricky smiled like an idiot this time, and looking at EJ, he decided he could maybe kiss him one more time before he stepped out of the car.

 

And that’s the story of how EJ Caswell and Ricky Bowen went from idiots to idiots in love.