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Make me love myself so that I might love you

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The door jingles when Jay opens it, and they’re immediately met with the musky smell that comes with the dorm rooms of college boys. They tread into the room cautiously, noticing that their roommate’s living space is clean and tidy, and immediately they see the stack of psychology textbooks on the bedside drawer and the colour-coordinated rug and bedsheets. The dorm walls are a dirty off-white in the worst way, and the grimy walls don’t help the anxiety bubbling up in their chest. They walk over to their side of the room, and their stomach drops - the mattress is filthy, stripped bare of anything even vaguely resembling bedsheets, and there are rips and tears on every possible surface. The desk looks like it’s older than the building, and the building has ivy on the walls and stains from sources Jay would rather not know. It’s dusty when they swipe their hand across the patterned wood, and they wince as they feel the tug of a splinter. Despite all the painfully revolting nuances about the room, they feel a sense of calm - it’s nice to finally be able to settle in one place for the entirety of the 2005-2006 school year. Plus, they’re not too worried about the overall repulsiveness of the dorm; they have plenty of time to fix it and make it theirs. The only problem? They still haven’t met their roommate.

***

Tim wakes up with a start, breathing heavily and trying to remember that the screeching throughout the room is their alarm and that they’re out of the hospital, there’s nothing in the shadows, the Thing isn’t watching them anymore, it never was, because it is not real and-

He gasps, blindly reaching out to their bedside for the familiar orange bottle, and sighs when he’s swallowed two baby blue pills. Apparently, today is one of those days, the days when his blood becomes honey and his muscles turn into lead and his brain manages to convince him that when he hesitates before crossing a road is the only favour he’ll ever do for the world.

He winces when his binder digs into the bruises on his ribs, ignoring the pain like every other time and slipping on the clothes he set aside on their chair the day before. The first day of college and he couldn’t be less prepared if he’d tried.

***

Jay adjusts their white-knuckled grip on the straps of their backpack as they walk through the hallways of the college they’ve spent three (lonely) weeks at, head down as if they could just disappear if they made themselves as small as possible. Avoiding any kind of attention, content- no, not just content, determined to only drift through the crowds of people without interacting with anyone is how they intend to spend the year. You’re only here to graduate, you’re only here to graduate, you’re only here to-

They mumble an apology without looking at the person who barreled into them, more concerned with picking up their papers and getting to class on time, but the person (who Jay is getting pretty annoyed at by this point) taps their shoulder and says, “Hey, aren’t you in my film class?”

Jay nods, too confused to process the situation, and the person grins. “Sweet. I’m Alex Kralie, and I think we have the same class next, so come with me and I’ll show you a shortcut I found. What’s your name?”

“Uh, Jay- Jay Merrick, and I’d rather go by myself, thank you,” Jay replies, still reeling from the person (Alex, his brain supplies) actually talking to them. Disappointment flashes across Alex’s face, so brief that Jay can’t be sure if they imagined it, but then he lights up again.
“Yeah, see the time? It’s gonna take you at least five minutes to get to class the normal way, and as you might have noticed, we’ve only got two left. Sorry, pretty boy, but it’s either me or Mr. Smith’s angry face, and call me biased, but I think you’d better come with me.” 

Jay sighs, shaking their head, and decidedly ignores the heat that flushes their cheeks and settles in their chest.

***

“So, you live in the dorms, huh? Which room?” Timothy Wright asks later that day, and Jay (pretty, lovely Jay Merrick) turns to face him. 

“Room 27. Why, do you?” 

“Wait, what? Room 27, second floor?” Another one of Alex’s friends, Brian Thomas, questions, sitting up a little straighter and seemingly vibrating with energy. Jay looks over to Alex himself, and there’s a smile forming on his face. Alex is relieved when he sees that even Tim appears to be excited, a slight tug on the corners of his mouth betraying his stoic expression, and he makes a mental note to thank his lucky stars that he’s got such wonderful friends that support him and his stupid, impulsive decisions. 

“Yes?” They answer, though a guarded, cautious expression and the uplift of their tone suggest a question rather than a statement. Alex’s smile grows into a full-fledged toothy grin.

I live in room 27 on the second floor, that’s why,” Brian says while Tim and Alex laugh.

“That’s awesome, you know that? God, I knew there was a reason I liked you,” Alex says with an incredulous shake of his head, unable to believe his luck. He’s been eyeing Jay for a few days now, talking to another human being as perfect as Jay too intimidating for him to attempt, but Brian had grabbed his shoulders, stared into his eyes, and whispered, “No,” when Alex had been explaining why interaction with Jay was impossible, so when the opportunity arose, he took it. He can’t help but be glad he did, when Tim’s raising his eyebrows at him, and Brian’s giving him that look that Alex has come to know means “I told you, didn’t I?” and he shoots both of them a grateful smile, as well as a slightly apologetic one for doubting his friends. 

***

“Well, I’ll see you around?” Jay asks after a few hours of talking and just getting to know everyone, their voice hopeful and scared, and Tim waves.

“See you around,” Alex confirms, closing the door behind Brian and Jay, and collapses on the couch next to Brian. 

“You’re in real deep, Alex Anderson,” Tim says sagely, an amused smile gracing his features, and Alex groans into the pillow where he’s buried his face. 

“I know.” 

“They’re a good person to be in deep for.” 

“... I know.”