“It’s the only part of the night where they can be together, share a moment alone or even speak to each other, and it was often the beginning of a romance blooming!”
Lena’s eyes were sparkling as she told the class about social dances, telling her classmates to let their emotions in, beaming like she hadn’t in quite a while.
Jeff rolled his eyes dramatically, mostly to get a chuckle out of this classmates, but they were all busy focusing on the steps. It wasn’t super easy but it was way more than holding a damn sheet (or as Lena called it, ‘doing laundry’) behind Thea and Isaac for the entirety of the most important performance of their education.
Social dancing meant changing partners quickly, losing them as fast as you won them, reaching from one to the other all the time. Kind of like a pas de deux but with, like, 15 people. Pas de… quinze, maybe.
Jeff’s French wasn’t the best, even though he’d been living in Paris for a couple of years now. You don’t get to leave a boarding school all that often, even with the weekends off. And for some godawful reason, there was barely a French person at this school. Or at least not in his circle of friends.
Lena and Armando were watching them closely and Max had decided to brood in a corner like he often did these days. Not being able to dance while going to a dance school must be the literal horror, and Jeff did not envy him.
Jeff reached for his next dance partner, turned around and stood face to face with Isaac, whose hands were warm, eyes dark, smile slight and feet light as ever. The choreography was almost over, Jeff realized, and he knew there would be no partner change after this. Isaac usually moved with professional distance, only catching his eye when he had to, but somehow, something was different. Jeff was reminded of Lena’s emotional speech about how romantic social dances were, or rather had been – after all, this one was popular in the early 1900s – and how young people rarely got the chance to chat to each other at social gatherings and balls, much less dance or have lingering eye contact or, God forbid, touch. What a time that must have been, Jeff thought. This hyperactive, all-the-wrong-words, too loud, too nosey, and on top of it all gay individual would not have survived a day back then.
He was still holding eye contact with Isaac.
Isaac, who he still couldn’t quite figure out.
Who he still knew relatively little about, even though they were roommates.
Who never did anything wrong and wasn’t even able to take a single wrong step – not in ballet at least.
Who had, Jeff had noticed, the most beautiful smile in the world, but seemed the most distant while dancing. Yes, he was smiling and enjoying himself, but it was for the audience. It wasn’t for anyone in particular. The smiles and laughs he gave Jeff, however – those were genuine. Isaac humored him when no one else did. Jeff could be really over the top with his jokes and he had definitely hurt people in the past, just by not being able to shut the hell up, and despite all he had noticed that his friends’ reactions were often different than he had anticipated. Not all his jokes were fire, he knew that much, but ever since Isaac had allowed him to be his friend, he felt a little more appreciated even when saying something dumb for the sake of making someone laugh. Even if that someone was himself. Most times, however, it was actually Isaac who laughed at it. Genuinely. Even after the third time. And Jeff knew how special that was.
Isaac smiled at him a little, his expression somewhat surprised, like he was seeing Jeff for the first time. Oh god, that smile. Jeff would tell a thousand stupid jokes to see it. His heart stuttered for a second when Isaac took his hands, still executing every step perfectly like the gifted student he was. They turned, circled, stepped around and with each other before ending in a front-to-back-embrace. Jeff wasn’t very religious but he did send a little prayer that Isaac couldn’t feel how much his heart was pounding. It was… a lot.
While everyone else let loose, clapped and joked around as soon as the choreography was over, Jeff reluctantly let go of his roommate.
“Uh… nice, dude,” he said with a nervous laugh and put his fist out to Isaac, who bumped it. He looked relieved not to be the first to have to say something. “That was pretty cool,” he agreed and quickly walked over to his stuff to grab his bottle.
Jeff sighed deeply. What the hell had just happened? And why, he noticed with a glance across the room, was Thea so exasperatedly staring him down?
– – –
This was bad.
This was really, really, really, reallllllly bad.
Jeff’s birthday had been boring, to say the least. It had seemed like no one remembered or knew, despite all the hints he’d been dropping all day. He had even full-on believed Max that he’d rather study for a history test than play video games (what on earth??).
Turns out, they had not forgotten and instead threw him the coolest surprise party ever. Cake, colors, music, and party hats (especially the party hats – even the freaking cake hat?!) – it was all there. His friends, all there. All but one. In all the chaos, Jeff hadn’t even noticed Isaac’s absence or had subconsciously shrugged it off as Not His Thing™. Which he wasn’t entirely wrong about. Parties were not Isaac’s thing at all, but that apparently didn’t mean that he was bad at organising them with enough of Thea’s minions on hand. But how could Jeff have known?
Once again, maybe saying what’s on his mind wasn’t always the best idea. Especially not when the person you’re talking about is right the hell behind you!
Now he was facing a very angry Thea – something you should always try to avoid in your life – and Isaac was nowhere to be seen. Damn, that must have hurt. No one likes to hear that they are gray and boring, even though next to Jeff most people were gray and boring, but that was a whole different subject. Now he really had to set things right.
“Sort it out,” she said and Jeff scrambled to go look for Isaac inside.
He wasn’t hard to find. He’d gone back to their room, taken his hat off and was reading (or pretending to be) a French book on classical ballet when Jeff walked in.
Isaac didn’t even look up.
“Heyyyyyyyy.” Jeff slowly took a few steps into the room and closed the door carefully. “That party out there is really cool, dude, why are you in here?”
Isaac sighed pointedly. “Yeah, the others did a really good job, right?” His voice was dripping with sarcasm. Now it was Jeff’s turn to sigh. Without regard for his friend’s personal space, he flung himself onto Isaac’s bed, right next to him.
“I’m sorry I underestimated you. I really still can’t believe you pulled all that off. Even the cake hat!”
Isaac looked a little less agitated now but still stared at his pages, clearly without reading them. “I had help. Of course I didn’t pull this off alone.”
“It’s perfect. I thought everyone had forgotten my birthday even though I was dropping hints alllll day! I really thought it was gonna be quite depressing.” Jeff bumped his fist into Isaac’s upper arm. He had to reach at an angle, but managed somehow. “Also… I’m sorry I said you’d have made everything dull and gray or whatever. I’m sure that would’ve been very minimalist and cool. I really don’t care as long as the cake tastes good.”
Isaac clearly couldn’t help but smile at that and he put away his book for good. “I’m glad you like it even though I did it.”
“Are you kidding? I like it even more, knowing it was you!”
Aaaand maybe he should stop talking right then and there before he said something stupid and personal and very, very true.
The sound of their friends celebrating outside was barely audible in their bedroom, but it was enough to make Jeff crave more dancing (and cake). Anything to get him out of this way too intimate situation he couldn’t really handle yet.
“I don’t like you being holed up here alone,” Jeff said and rolled headfirst over the end of Isaac’s bed. “Let’s dance!” He held out his hand.
Isaac took it, playfully reluctant, and let himself be dragged out into the yard again. He already looked much happier and everyone cheered when they emerged from the building.
Jeff promised himself there and then never to be this dumb again. But then he was. He just wasn’t able to show Isaac a real sign of affection somehow. Everything just came out wrong all the time.
He never wanted Isaac to be mad at him. Jeff wasn’t competitive like Max, didn’t care that Isaac was a much better dancer than him. Sure, being able to dance the lead sometimes would be cool but Jeff would always have his hip-hop and the BLOK. His Plan A. All those weeks back, he could have laughed at Isaac for all his wrong steps or gotten mad because he’d recorded the BLOK in secret, but instead he had felt inclined to help his new class- and roommate, against his better judgement, and Isaac had actually started to loosen up around him. And this kindness had come back to bite him in the butt in the form of an undeniable attraction towards Isaac, the stupid need to be around him as often as possible, some weird fear of missing out that made it impossible for Jeff to stop looking at him all the time (oh, especially in class). He felt like he was literally losing brain cells whenever he tried to say nice things – or just any things – to him, which made the whole thing even worse. Isaac didn’t understand how any of that was meant to be nice, and just came out wrong, and Jeff totally got it. He was just at a loss for words sometimes. Playing video games with someone isn’t exactly a sign of affection. Neither is telling someone that you can’t stand to be around them.
Jeff had tried many things, but words failed the most. Thea was already at a complete loss with him, had literally said the exact words back to him – “I really like you!” – and even then Jeff had failed to get it. It always looked so easy in movies, someone always stepped in to set you up with your love interest, or a dramatic moment brought you closer together, or a huge misunderstanding made you confess in the spur of the moment. But this wasn’t a movie, it was real life, and it was super hard.
– – –
“I need to ask you something.”
Okay, maybe not the best way to start such an important conversation, but as always Jeff had gone with his gut.
Isaac looked somewhat alarmed but was also too focused on winning their race, eyes fixed on the screen in front of them, viciously pushing buttons.
“You don’t even know what it is!”
“Still no. … Wait, ask me a real question or ask me to do something? Is this more truth or more dare?”
“Uhh, more dare?”
“I, uhh, I mean truth!”
Isaac laughed. “As if!” He overtook Jeff in the last possible moment and won the race. Triumphantly, he turned around. “Okay, I’m listening now. But I might still say no.”
“So you know how Thea dropped out of Dance Off because of the mask thing and all.”
“I sure do.”
“And you know the Dance Off live show is in London…”
“… I mean, it’s really just a train ride away…”
“… wouldn’t it be cool to go back at some point? To visit? After all, you’ve already studied there, y’know, and who doesn’t love a good day trip–”
“Can we get to the point, Jeff?” Isaac looked a little amused but not super taken away by Jeff’s charm, it seemed.
Isaac stopped looking amused and now really started laughing. As if anything about this dilemma was funny?!
“I mean it!!” Jeff pleaded over the sound of Isaac’s laughter. “You’re the best dancer! You know the city! You are the fastest learner around! Also it’ll be super fun, like a road trip with your friends! Only we’re on a train and going on TV and against the school’s rules and Isaac, did I mention so. much. fun??”
He tried getting through the ‘against the rules’ bit as fast as possible, but maybe not fast enough for Isaac to miss it, who immediately shook his head.
“I literally just started here, I’m not gonna be suspended, not now, not with all these important performances around the corner, buddy. I’m sorry.” He squeezed Jeff’s shoulder, got up and attempted to leave, but Jeff was fast, wrapping his arms around Isaac’s waist in a last attempt to convince him.
“Please, this is so important to all of us. You’re my only hope, Obi-Wan.”
Isaac couldn’t help but chuckle at the reference. “You sure this is a life or death situation?”
Jeff nodded against his friend’s sweatshirt. “Absolutely,” he mumbled. “We almost didn’t make it into the show at all, twice, so we’d be stupid if we didn’t at least try to win – now that we’ve gotten a third chance.” He looked up at Isaac. “I swear, I will do anything.”
Isaac seemed to be considering it. Just to give him some space, Jeff slowly retreated and patiently waited for an answer.
“Okay,” Isaac finally said. “Here’s the deal: I gotta go to work now, but it’s really boring and pretty stressful alone so maybe I will consider it if–”, here he made a dramatic pause, “–you work my shift with me today. It’s no light work, I’m telling you this upfront, and I’m not even saying it will make me say yes to the whole thing eventually… but it might help the decision.” He’d started walking toward the boys’ dorm rooms while talking, Jeff on his heels, and almost didn’t even make it to their bedroom door before being crushed into a big hug.
“Thank you thank you thank you!!!” Jeff squealed, way too excited for the fact that he hadn’t been promised anything yet. He let go before Isaac could tell him to back off, squeezing his friend’s shoulders apologetically. “I will not disappoint you. I promise. When do we start?”
Isaac glanced at his watch. “Right now. Get your bike.”
Turns out, it wasn’t at all as easy as Jeff thought it would be.
Turns out, Isaac is actually using this side job delivering food to train. Hard. Core. Cardio.
Jeff had never been more annoyed by the lack of elevators in old Paris buildings. And somehow, no one ordered food from the ground floor. It was up the stairs sixteen times with a stopwatch, with the food and all the while Isaac just laughing at him. If Jeff weren’t so keen on keeping that smile there, he’d have been dead in a ditch somewhere two hours ago. But this was important, not only for their friendship but also for the BLOK. He wouldn’t be a good leader if he didn’t work his ass off for this sometimes. That being said, Armando’s horrible training was tough, but this was tougher.
“You okay there?” Isaac asked, already a flight above him. They’d been on it for almost 4 hours.
Jeff panted hard. He wasn’t really feeling his legs anymore.
“Sure! I’m… so good. Just gonna have a little… lie down here I think,” he yelped, sinking down onto the stairs.
Isaac went back to get him, still smiling. “I guess you don’t need another BLOK member, then. It’s okay… I’ll just make this very last delivery of my shift all by myself…”
This made Jeff get up quicker than he could actually do. Guess fear makes your body push itself even harder than necessity does.
“I was kidding! Let’s go get this last meal on the way!!” he said, maybe a little too loud, and raced Isaac to the apartment door.
Maybe he shouldn’t have. Because opening the door was none other than Mrs. Carré, who definitely should not see any of her students working part-time in a job that includes recklessly cycling through uneven cobblestone streets of Paris, cutting off cars and pedestrians alike, and overworking their legs throughout the whole shift (both pedaling like hell and running up and down stairs). So, this was kinda bad.
Isaac and Jeff froze for a second.
“Why hello, Mr. Chase… Mr. Portier. I barely dare to ask what brings you two here.” She did not look amused.
Jeff saw Isaac opening his mouth, smile wiped off his face, and he looked seriously apologetic, so he cut him off without thinking (as always):
“Hey Mrs. Carré! Fancy meeting you here! Nice digs!!”
She looked at him a little quizzical.
“Anywhoooo… Isaac’s uncle lives in Paris… did you know that?” he improvised quickly.
“Yeah… here to keep an eye on the kid. Anyway, he was supposed to deliver your very delicious Fancy Fresh Café tonight, but he came down with a terrible case of the influenza…pox… yeah that’s totally a thing…” He laughed nervously. Surely she wouldn’t see through that elaborate tale (atrocious lie), right?
“So, Isaac here stepped up to take over his route. And I’m helping him so we can get back to our studies that much sooner. You have a nice night, now!” And with that, he handed her the paper bag with a deep bow, which she took with clear confusion on her face.
Isaac did not object, simply smiled at her sweetly. “It’s really a funny coincidence. Gotta run now. Others are waiting. Bye!!”
Jeff saluted and they double-timed it down the stairs. They’d never gotten to the front door of the building that quickly.
“Holy shit!!!” Isaac was shaking with laughter. “Oh god… how did you even come up with that? I don’t even have an uncle?!”
“Nevermind, we gotta go immediately, Jeff!!”
“My parents are both only children, goddammit Jeff!” Isaac was laughing despite his tone. He jumped on his bike.
“So shift’s over?”
“Shift’s over. Let’s get out of here.”
Jeff was already saddled. “You wanna get pizza?”
“Only the one from my place.”
“Sure. Race you?”
Isaac, for the first time, looked like he did actually break a sweat for once. “Sure… but you know you’re gonna lose.”
Jeff laughed, pushed his pedal down, and off they were.
– – –
“I can’t believe I’m doing this.”
“I can totally believe it!! Just admit you didn’t think I’d actually survive.”
“I admit it, I didn’t think you’d actually survive.”
Jeff gasped. All in jest, of course. They were, finally, on a train to London with all BLOK members present (except Thea, of course). Lena was sitting with Max on the other side of the aisle, the two of them sharing earbuds and holding hands, Bree and Kennedy in front of them and everyone else spread out on the seats around them. Isaac had demanded the window seat, even though clearly it would be harder for him to escape Jeff’s continuous chitchat as Jeff was blocking his only exit. Even without his big crush on him, Jeff would do anything for him right now. They really needed him for Dance Off and he needed to be willing to do it.
“It’s gonna be so cool. A live audience, everyone cheering on everyone even though they’re in rival teams, and we’re gonna end up on TV! It’s actually pretty sad that no one’s gonna know who we are. It would be so much easier if dance crews weren’t literally forbidden at school…” Jeff drifted off. He loved school, but it was so strict that sometimes he wished he’d done something a little easier and… more chill.
“Hence the masks.” Isaac nodded.
“Hence the masks.”
“God, I really hope you’re right. It does sound cool.” Isaac smiled a little and Jeff had to smile, too.
“It is! And even if we don’t win… well, at least we had a cool adventure and got to do what we love! And you totes have the choreography down, dude. I know it.”
Isaac’s smile widened, but he turned to the window quickly when their eyes met for a little too long.
“Just picture it in your head for a while. You wanna listen to the track again?” Jeff got out his phone and offered one earbud to Isaac.
They listened to the track they’d choreographed for, dancing in their seats a little. It would be all good. Isaac was way too good at everything to make any mistakes on stage. About everyone else, he wasn’t even that sure. After the track, Jeff’s music went on shuffle and they continued listening together, discussing, laughing, singing along sometimes, even duetting. It felt good. Jeff wanted to always do this. He should have done this already back when they went to Brussels, even though that journey had been an hour shorter.
Jeff realized he didn’t even cherish sharing a room with Isaac enough. Sure, Max also lived there and they really didn’t have the best relationship (but Jeff felt it changing already, he was sure by the end of the school year they’d all be best friends), but Max wasn’t always with them. Well, now he mostly was, with the leg and all, but still… they were roommates. The best romances happened between unsuspecting roommates, didn’t they?
Jeff sighed to himself. He didn’t really know if Isaac liked him back. Maybe he should chew off Thea’s ear about that, she always seemed to have an answer for stuff like that.
Isaac was looking out at the English countryside (already?!), giving Jeff the chance to stare at him under the pretense of looking out the window as well. His skin was so flawless. His lashes so thick. His lips so damn kissable. It was really unfair.
Jeff decided he needed to do something about it rather sooner than later. If they won. What would be more perfect than a celebratory hug… and possibly a kiss? They always made it look so easy on TV. Then again, as a viewer you always knew both sides have been pining for each other since forever. In real life, you could never know for sure. Also, kissing someone without a warning seemed a little extreme. And on TV, too! No, this was a stupid, stupid idea. He first had to find out if Isaac liked him back.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the winner of this year’s Dance Off is…”
Jeff was freakishly excited. They’d given it their all, taken off their masks for the first time, Lena had been super good, Isaac had not taken one wrong step and the judges had really seemed to love it. But it all came down to this morning.
“Ooooh,” the judge with the envelope said. “All the way from Paris, Lena and Jeff’s BLOK!”
Wait… that was them! They’d won!!
Everybody started cheering and Jeff didn’t even know where to look first. He saw Lena and Max hugging tightly. He looked at her, proud as hell, and said, “I officially declare the BLOK yours!”
“It’s ours,” she beamed, at both of them, and took Jeff by the hand to lead him to the judges.
Jeff was still stunned. “You’re the best, L,” he said.
When he finally got to hold the award, it wasn’t even particularly pretty or big, but it was a lifetime achievement. This was just the beginning. They’d not only made it onto the show, but even won without a Dance Off alumna in their group, they’d done it all by themselves!
He looked up just in time to see Isaac officially losing his shit right on the dance floor, giving a little extra dance number.
“This is the greatest day of my life!!” he declared, taking off his hat, whooping once more for good measure.
Well, that was certainly more emotion than anyone of them had ever seen him show before. Shit, this was so good. Jeff pulled him into the tightest hug he could bring up right now. Still overwhelmed with emotions, the pride, the relief, the joy, the satisfaction, the overall love that was palpable in the room from all sides – he’d never felt like this before. He’d done a couple of competitions back in Canada, he’s had a close-knit group of friends and all that, but not like this.
Lena was standing with Bree and Kennedy, looking at them teary-eyed and he gave her a thumbs-up over Isaac’s shoulder. That was really all he could manage. He hugged Isaac a little tighter, if possible, and felt his friend, crush, whatever the hell this was, squeeze back and nuzzle into his shoulder.
“I’m so proud of us,” Isaac said, barely audible over the cheers and the music that had now set in. Cameras were probably not rolling anymore. “Of you, Jeff.” Isaac pushed back a little to look up at him. “You’ve done so well, mate.” He was smiling ear to ear.
“So did you!! I mean– we barely needed to rehearse? My legs still hurt a little from that delivery training but was it worth it?”
“It was so worth it. Isaac–” Jeff shook his head “–there’s literally no one I respect more than you. How you continue to push yourself is inspiring. I just… God, I lo–”
“Hey guys!!” came Max’s voice from behind Isaac. Oh yeah… here was a friend he hadn’t hugged yet. Totally cool to just break up Jeff’s little declaration like that. Maybe this was… better, even? Maybe this wasn’t at all a good place to get all emotional about silly things like liking someone? Surely there was a better time and place for it all. Soon-ish?
Jeff and Isaac parted to pull Max in a group hug. The first of many, Jeff hoped. Max pulled away to look at the trophy.
“It sure is gonna look nice in our room,” he smirked. “I mean, we all did our part.”
“Wait, you’re not gonna let Lena have it?,” Jeff asked, a little incredulous.
“Oh, I mean… you can fight her for it but I’m sure if you ask nicely she’s gonna let you have it.” He was already turning around to her again, as if he was missing out on something if he wasn’t by her side literally all the time. Him and Max would have never been a real thing, Jeff realized. And that realization? It didn’t even hurt. Not anymore. He let Max leave.
“It is a little small, isn’t it?,” Isaac said next to him, trophy in hand, looking at it intently.
“Isaac! This is already international, this is as good as it gets!”
“Oh I know, I was kidding.” He looked back up at Jeff. “Also… thanks for what you said earlier. It might look really easy being this perfect at everything all the time, but you know I was really bad at hiphop and first and it bugged me soooo so much. I’d never be here if it wasn’t for you, you know?”
“Oh, stop it,” Jeff said and rolled his eyes. He did feel himself blushing really hard though and hoped the colorful party lights would conceal it a little. “If you weren’t instantly good at everything we’d both never be here because we’d still be missing a BLOK member!”
“That’s also true. Let’s just say we both brought out the best in each other,” Isaac suggested but immediately looked sheepish about it.
“Yeah we did.” And because he couldn’t help himself, Jeff pulled Isaac into another hug, this time foregoing the one-arm-up-one-arm-down-diagonal-bro-hug completely and just wrapping his arms around Isaac’s waist as tightly as possible (or well, as tightly as socially acceptable if it shouldn’t look too desperate). And because he felt extremely daring, he did all that under Isaac’s leather coat. Isaac hugged back immediately, threw his arms around Jeff’s neck and held him close by the back of his head. He was on tiptoes. He didn’t have to be, Jeff wasn’t that much taller than him, and Jeff really shouldn’t think about how if they kissed right now, he wouldn’t even have to bend down. He really, really shouldn’t. He forced himself to squeeze his eyes shut and just enjoy the moment while it lasted.
They did the crazy thing and took the last train back to Paris instead of staying a night. They were already gonna be in the biggest trouble imaginable for A) going at all and B) taking off their masks on international television. They didn’t need to illegally stay out of boarding school during the night on top of that. Not that any hotel would let a bunch of foreign 16-year-olds stay in a room without their parents’ permission.
All of this made them end up slumped in two train compartments, snacks and energy drinks all over the place, backpacks stuffed in the overhead shelves, legs tangled, armrests folded down to maximize the space, music as loud as they could have it without angry glares from the conductor passing through the corridor outside at times.
The trophy had found a special place on top of the only little fold-out table in the compartment and Jeff’s phone was blowing up with congratulatory texts from his family, friends at home, a handful of Instagram followers and Thea (because of course he had spread the news immediately). His battery was pretty low though, so he mostly kept it out of reach to not drain it completely.
“Guys, I have to tell you something,” Lena piped up after some time. She was sitting with her legs draped over Max’s lap and was actually folding origami cranes out of the pages of the onboard Metropolitan magazine. She looked up into curious faces, but didn’t seem happy at all.
“I should have told you before, before we were on, or even at all, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it!!” She was visibly distressed and Max grabbed her hand to calm her down.
“What is it, L?” Jeff asked. The situation looked dire. Lena was almost crying.
“Before we had to go on, I got a call from an unknown number and picked up because I thought it was Ines and… it doesn’t matter, it wasn’t her, it was Mrs. Carré! I have no idea how she got my number but… but she said if any of us went out there on stage we would all be suspended! I’m so sorry, I just couldn’t let it happen. I will set it right, I swear! None of this is your fault, it’s all mine!”
“Oh shit…,” Jeff whispered while the rest sat in stunned silence.
“I’m so so sorry,” Lena whimpered again. “I–I told you it was Thea and I lied to you and I’m so sorry, in that moment I just didn’t realize how bad it would be! It wasn’t even about the masks… we’d have been suspended either way and maybe taking them off helped us win. But I need you to know that we have to face the consequences once we’re back at school. You’re all my friends and I love you,” she looked around the compartment, “and I will fix this, I swear. Mrs. Carré can suspend me all she wants as long as you guys can stay, I don’t care!”
“Lena…” Max pulled her close and held her. “It’s the fault of all of us. We came here by our own will and I don’t think anyone would have pulled out so shortly before we were on, even if we had known.”
“You weren’t even on,” Isaac said to him, a little accusingly. “As far as she knows you’re not even with us today.”
Max shook his head. “She will know that I am eventually. Even if I have to tell her myself. I was thinking about dropping out anyway, might as well get suspended, innit?”
“Don’t say stuff like that!” Lena sat up indignantly. “You’re gonna stay. You’re a great choreographer. Once you let me help you, of course.” She was already smiling again. “I didn’t want to lie to you any longer, you guys, I hope you can forgive me!”
Jeff and Isaac sighed simultaneously, making each other laugh, but eventually no one could be angry at the one Lena Grisky for very long.
“I just hope I don’t get deported,” Jeff said, actually as a joke, but then he started to really think about it. Was that even possible? Did he have to get a job really fast to be able to stay? Did he even want to stay in Paris if it wasn’t for his dance career? Was he even ready to leave? Now that he had a crush that might actually develop into something bigger? Wasn’t this just the worst possible timing ever?
“I for sure am not going to Paris right now just to pack my bags and move back to London again!” Isaac said decisively. “What a waste of time!”
“You’re not going,” Jeff said just as decisively and put his hand on Isaac’s. “None of us is.” He looked around the compartment, but found himself being drawn to Isaac’s eyes again. Isaac smiled at him softly, but it didn’t reach the eyes. Jeff squeezed his hand harder. “I mean it.”
“God, I know. We’re just gonna do our best once we get back.” Isaac squeezed back, then hesitated. “Well, maybe once we got some sleep…?”
Everyone else agreed. Still, with Lena’s confession, the delirious joy had passed and all that was left was weariness from the day and anxiety about what they had to face.
Jeff fell asleep, presumably on Isaac’s shoulder, because he was the one who woke him up gently to tell him they’d be back in Paris soon. Whose face was way too close to Jeff’s tired eyes. Who kindly offered him the last of his energy drink to survive the rest of the way to the school. Who got their bags down from the shelves, held the door open, made sure everyone in the group was leaving with them, did a headcount, kept the trophy safe and did his best to herd them all into the dark corridors of the school undetected.
A changed man.
– – –
“O.M.G! We’re in 1983!”
Lena and Ines looked extremely alarmed. Granted, they did just run through some very weird tunnels that had some crazy special effects, but this took the cake. Jeff looked around. He was definitely standing on the steps of the Opera, nothing new here, just the people looked a little more… colorful? The hair a little bigger? The billboards… did say Summer 1983 Collection but that couldn’t be real, could it?
“Is this a joke?” Isaac mumbled, looking wary.
“I don’t know?” Jeff was stumped. A little louder, he asked the girls: “Is this still the escape room we talked about?”
Ines turned to him exasperatedly. “No, it’s not!! We have so much to tell you… but now is not the time.”
“When is it ever?” Jeff sighed. People really didn’t tell him a lot these days. First that super famous pop star Henri just waltzed into their already very special performance, then Ines was back after weeks and weeks of basically having gone missing saying she had to ‘save Lena’, then some Lady Of Darkness showed up, Max didn’t manage to come with them here for some godawful reason and now they walked straight into a Back To The Future escape room game? None of this made any sense to Jeff. Not to mention the bomb that Ines dropped on them saying Lena was from 1905. Whatever the heck that was supposed to mean.
“Girls,” Isaac said, turning to Lena and Ines, “you gotta tell us what the hell is going on.”
Lena shrugged desperately. “If only I knew… someone must have blown us out of the portal before we got to 2019.”
Isaac looked exasperated now. “Please. I’m not even joking anymore. Where are we? And when are we? And why are we?”
Jeff nodded. “We’d really love some answers. If you’re not giving them to me now, I’d like to go and watch him.” He pointed at a breakdancer nearby, whose boombox was playing Michael Jackson and who already had a few people’s attention.
“Okay.” Lena sighed. “Maybe you better sit down for this, because it’s a long story and I’m not even sure I understand all of it. Here goes nothing…”
Jeff had never had a migraine before but he was pretty sure he was about to have one. He understood history much better than, say, maths, but time travel stumped him completely. Especially with quantum physics thrown in. All he really knew for sure that there was a good reason Lena was so adorably odd and at times very old-school. Not only was she royalty, she was also a real freakin’ time traveler!
“Wait, now that we’re here, do you think we could go watch Return Of The Jedi in the cinema???” Jeff was about to lose his mind again.
“It’s not gonna be released until December,” Isaac said. “Also, I don’t think we have any recent currency to buy anything. There’s a lot of problems here. I really wanna go home right now.” He looked around extremely uncomfortably.
“At least we don’t stand out with our… Jackson Pollock drip-style outfits,” Jeff said and put an arm around him. Every little cheering up helped, surely.
Isaac didn’t seem to agree. “I stand out here more than ever, Jeff,” he said quietly. “Pollock or not.”
Jeff understood. He squeezed him a little tighter. “It’s gonna be alright. We’ll be back home soon. Right?” he added with a glance at the girls.
“I can’t say. I need a clear head to work. Let’s go to the roof,” Ines said with no explanation whatsoever and got up from the steps.
And it’s not like Jeff wouldn’t have expected the girls to just know how to get up to the Opera’s roof – at this point he was sure they just knew everything about the building, somehow. Sure, if it had a time-and-space-defying portal in the backstage area, it might as well just have a Magic Mail Brick™ on the roof and a permanently unlocked door that leads to it. What’s to question?
However, when they arrived, Jeff was a little stunned. The view was breathtaking – Jeff had never seen Paris from this angle before. The city laid out before him, funky music drifting up to them from the streets, the air was so much cleaner and the sun had begun to creep towards the horizon a little. Not enough to be unsettling, given their limited timeframe to figure out what was going on, but enough to be nice to look at.
“They really never lock the door?” Isaac asked, looking way more relaxed now. This place felt safe, somewhat.
“Not in the past 115 years at least!” It sounded like a joke but Lena was not in the mood for jokes at all. She still looked very frantic. “I don’t know what to do… I usually come here to calm down and write letters, but I don’t know what even happened.” To Ines, she said: “Do you think if I wrote to Henri now it would even arrive? Or would it just come out… I don’t know, in the 1870s or something??”
Ines shook her head. “I don’t know. The least you can do is try. I’m beginning to think someone created a time rift while we were making the jump. But that would only work if someone had both timepieces…”
Jeff had already stopped listening. Yes, he wanted to go home, but he also didn’t want to jump into this whole weird time-travel thing. His brain might explode if he thought about it too hard. Instead, he joined Isaac, who had climbed higher onto the outer walls and was looking at the city before him.
“Careful,” Jeff said. “It’s pretty high.” He sat down instead, which seemed only a tiny bit safer. Isaac lowered himself, too.
“I don’t know what we’re doing here,” he mumbled. “But the view is pretty nice.”
“It’s so neat. I mean, I think I’ve only ever seen the city from up high when I was on top of the Eiffel Tower. But at what cost? The stairs almost killed me as much as your delivery service cardio workout. Almost.”
Isaac smiled a little. “You survived.” He looked over. “And I’m so proud of you.”
Jeff knew it was a joke but it still made him blush.
Stupid, stupid crush.
“Well, it was worth it. Maybe more worth than getting a look at Paris over about 100 other people’s heads and cameras.”
“Yeah,” Isaac said. “You got a look at back alleys and people’s house corridors! Nothing really beats that.” He didn’t sound serious about it, though.
“I actually meant… you know, it was the reason for going on Dance Off.”
“Did you… did you just forget about it?”
Isaac laughed sheepishly. “I might have?? Oh my god.”
“What if we start forgetting things because that portal fucked up our brains?” Jeff mused but immediately regretted having said it out loud.
“I’m gonna lose my mind,” Isaac mumbled, and then, louder: “I’m scared enough as it is!!!”
Jeff flinched. “Shit, I’m… I’m sorry. Okay? I’m trying to cope with this somehow. I guess joking isn’t the best mechanism.”
Isaac sighed, the deepest sigh. “No, it’s not.”
They turned around. Lena and Ines had stopped arguing in the background and had come to them.
“I have an idea what might have happened, but I’ll have to visit a certain place in town to find out. I know it’s overwhelming down there… and we might not find you again if we separate any other way, so would it be okay for you guys to stay here until we come back?” Ines explained. “I swear, we’ll be as quick as possible.”
“Only for you to travel back alone?” Isaac stood up. “No way. We’re coming with you.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Lena piped up. “And we’re your friends. We’d never travel back without you! I promise!”
She looked at Jeff and he knew 100% that she wasn’t lying. Lena was a very bad liar, and she was honest about this.
Jeff tugged at Isaac’s pants lightly. “They’re right,” he said. “I know myself, I’d just get lost because I get way too excited. Plus, we don’t know the mystery place.”
Isaac looked down at him. He looked almost angry.
“You said yourself that you don’t feel entirely safe down there,” Jeff added. “And I promise I won’t be too annoying!!”
Isaac’s frown softened. He came down to a crouch and put a hand on Jeff’s shoulder to steady himself. “I don’t think you’re annoying.”
He looked back at the girls, then at the sun behind them. “Okay, you have until sunset. I really don’t want to spend the night here.”
“Portal day is only one day. We’re on a very limited timeframe anyway. We have to get back today or we might n-,” Ines started explaining, but Lena cut her off.
“-yeah, we can do it! We gotta go quick, come on!!”
Isaac didn’t need to know they might be stuck here forever, Jeff thought. It might make his anxiety about their situation go completely off the charts.
Lena and Ines disappeared through the permanently unlocked door, leaving the boys to themselves.
As Jeff realized this, his heart skipped a beat. He’d never really been alone with Isaac pretty much since his birthday. There’d always been people around, Max in the dorm room, people on the streets, their friends on the train, classmates during rehearsal and anytime they ate, people in the foyer while they were playing video games. To be completely left alone with Isaac on a rooftop in a different timeline, in the city they loved so much, with hours stretching before them, was something else.
Isaac himself didn’t seem to think about it too much. He sat down next to Jeff properly again.
“I hope your wondrous magician’s top hat of a brain has many ideas to distract me,” he said and looked at Jeff.
“That is a very nice compliment, thank you.” Jeff thought about it for a second. “I have seven white bunnies, a lot of glitter and a bouquet of fake roses in here. But I might come up with something real.”
Isaac laughed. Properly. “Hit me.”
“What, like in Fight Club?”
“No?!” Isaac looked perplexed. “With your ideas!”
Now Jeff laughed. A laugh of relief, somewhat, even though he didn’t really think Isaac actually wanted to fight him.
“I’d actually love to dance up here,” Jeff said, the first thing that came to mind. “Lena said she did sometimes and it made her feel something… I dunno.”
Isaac beamed now. “Let’s do it!” He stood up. Almost oddly eager to do something. He skidded down the tilted tiles and landed on the main part of the roof. Definitely a safer option than trying to dance right at the edge, where they could fall at any moment. Jeff ran down the tiles to join him and they looked for the biggest space the roof allowed.
“We have no music, though,” Jeff said.
“We can hum.”
“Do we just…” He was about to ask ‘dance whatever?’ but Isaac already started humming their Carte Blanche music and thus answered his question.
Jeff had rehearsed the female part with Isaac, too, back when they were practicing for the show, mostly because they’d been practicing their solo anyway and he’d wanted Isaac to be able to bring out his absolute best (and after all, Max had selfishly choreographed the hardest parts specifically for Isaac). So he had volunteered to practice the female parts as well. So now, they danced like they had in rehearsal: all pas de deux, all lifts, all floor parts, only the floor was… roof. And not expensive wooden flooring made for rolling around on sometimes. And so it came to be that Jeff kind of messed up the part where he was supposed to do half a handstand with his hands on each side of Isaac’s head. Isaac tried to prop him up in the last second just as he was supposed to do, but Jeff still collapsed on top of him.
“Shit, I’m so sorry… ow… oww,” Jeff groaned. Whatever the roof surface was made out of, it had scratched his elbow and lower arm enough to burn pretty hard. He sat up.
Isaac only laughed, still lying on the floor. Heartily, like he hadn’t just been crushed by his friend during an especially tricky dance part.
“Why are you laughing?” Jeff asked, studying his scratches. They felt way worse than they looked.
“Because this whole situation is so ridiculous!!” Isaac was still chuckling, maybe deliriously so, but he stopped when he saw Jeff’s injury.
“Oh no…” He also sat up. “Are you okay?”
“Tis but a scratch,” Jeff said.
Isaac smiled. “As long as you can joke about it, it should be alright. You should get those dirt grains off, though. Can I–?” He touched Jeff’s arm lightly, careful not to touch the burning marks.
Jeff let him.
Isaac gently blew on it, making some of the grains fall off already, and carefully ran his fingers over the skin to get the rest off.
Jeff almost didn’t feel the pain anymore, he was much too focused on how it made him feel. Because it made him feel a lot, it made him feel so much, it’s almost like he didn’t know a person could feel this much. In the late afternoon light, in the silence, in the exhaustion, in the solitude, it all came together so much more intensely.
“Good as new,” Isaac said quietly and released Jeff’s arm that he’d been holding by the wrist. He must have felt the pulse going absolutely off the rails.
“Thanks.” Jeff’s heart was still beating like crazy.
“The rest of the choreography was pretty good, though.”
“Yeah, I think we did okay.”
“Do you think our audience liked it, though?”
Isaac pointed over to the edge of the roof, where two pigeons were perched, looking curiously at them. Jeff laughed. “I bet they loved it more than Mrs. Carré did.”
“I think she really came around to love it,” Isaac mused. Jeff agreed. She seemed pretty happy with it when she came to see them after the show.
They were still sitting on the ground, legs tangled, a pile of limbs in their wide pants. Looking at pigeons. Sometimes at each other. Then into thin air, as if this wasn’t super awkward.
Eventually, Isaac stood up.
“You know, I don’t think I say this enough,” he said while wandering off, so Jeff had to get up too and follow him, “but this semester wouldn’t have been the same without you.” They turned the corner and walked up to where Lena had sat before, a wider part of wall facing the opera’s skylights on one side and the city on the other. “I’m good at hiding it, but I was really nervous all the time. I just wanted to be the best so no one had a reason to be mean to me. I know I have faults, I just didn’t want anyone else to know.”
Isaac sighed, glanced at Jeff, and looked out at the other rooftops. They both rested their thighs against the warm stone. Jeff let him talk. Contrary to popular belief, he sometimes did know when to shut up.
And Isaac continued. “You, however… you just don’t care. You just let go and it still all works out for you. Miraculously. That really impressed me, you know. I don’t know if I ever told you that.”
Jeff shook his head.
“Well, I’m telling you now, then. Better late than never.” Isaac laughed a little. “You really showed me how to let go, you know. And I think it made me happier, in a way. Knowing I still have worth even if I’m not training 24/7. Knowing I can still nail the hardest choreo Max could ever think of without giving up my social life. I even had fun? Made friends? Kept up a popular social media account? Had a job? All of it, and it made me feel better than ever before.” He was looking softly at Jeff now. The early evening light caught on his beautiful dark skin, perfect like a painting that had taken days to get the lighting right on, warm like he was glowing. And maybe, just maybe Jeff imagined a blush creeping high onto his cheeks. Maybe it was the sun. Maybe his brain was still recovering from the time jump. Maybe he was just completely and utterly in love.
Yeah. Yeah. He definitely was. And that’s what he should be telling Isaac, right now, but instead he said: “I care.”
He swallowed. “You said I don’t care but I do. I care so much. About everyone.” And because Jeff was very good at not knowing when to shut up, he continued: “People have told me that before. Yeah, I am funny and silly and a little annoying sometimes but only because I care too much. I just want everyone to be happy, even if it means taking a step back and letting others get all the good roles and stuff. Maybe I care a little less about becoming an elite dancer, making company and all that, but… but… I do my best when other people’s success is depending on it. And I have fun while doing so. That’s what’s important to me, you know?”
Isaac nodded quickly. His eyes had gotten bigger with every sentence. He put a hand on Jeff’s shoulder. “I’m so sorry if it sounded like I thought you didn’t care enough! I just–” he fiddled with Jeff’s collar, “I just meant you’re not super obsessed with what others think of you – unlike me – and that’s an enormous virtue. I wish I was more like that. Really. I think… maybe I am now. At least a little. Thanks to you.”
“Thanks– I mean you’re welcome– I mean… I’m not good at this.” Jeff sighed. Put his hand over Isaac’s on his own chest carefully. That’s how far it had secretly slid. “It really means a lot. Hearing that you think of me like that. You know. It’s, uh, neat.”
Isaac chuckled. His hand didn’t move from under Jeff’s, but something changed about him. “Neat. You’re neat.” He was grinning now. Their serious conversation had reached its end, apparently.
“You’re, like, so much neater though,” Jeff played along.
“Not nearly as neat as you!”
“Open any dictionary and you’ll find your face under neat.”
“Actually you’ll find my face under perfect but yeah, maybe both.”
“If there’s like, a positive dictionary with all the good words, they’d just all be you, let’s be real.”
Now, Isaac really blushed. “Okay, that’s enough now,” he said, but he looked positively charmed. “Where would your face be in that very book?”
Jeff sighed dramatically. “I’d be the author, silly.”
“You look really good in this light.” Isaac looked stunned at himself for dropping such a bomb completely out of context. “I’m s–”
“–No! You also… look really good in this light. Like you’re glowing.” Jeff nodded. He was glad they apparently just threw things like this at each others’ heads now. Just showering each other with compliments. This was something he could do. He was even pretty good at it. Not necessarily when it was directed at a crush, but… that could change.
“I mean, you always look good,” Jeff said. “Even in the mornings. How do you do it?”
Isaac laughed, almost a giggle. “I woke up like this?” he choked.
Jeff, having abandoned all walls he’d built to keep Isaac at arm’s length, at a friendly distance, reached out. Cupped Isaac’s sun-kissed cheek and ran his thumb over it.
Isaac’s skin was warm and soft and felt so right under his fingers. He leaned into Jeff’s touch slightly, eyes fluttering close for a moment. Jeff stepped closer, to a reasonable distance to be holding the boy of his dreams like this (very close). He’d not always enjoyed being really tall, but Isaac was almost the same height, perfectly built to be kissed without hassle.
Isaac opened his eyes again, shiny like dark amber, deep and beautiful and full of a million questions (none of them uttered).
Jeff swallowed. “Isaac… can I… can–”
Isaac was already nodding. “Please,” he said, voice no more than a whisper. “Please, Jeff–”
Sliding his hand from Isaac’s cheek to grab his neck as gently as he could, Jeff pulled him closer and kissed his name off Isaac’s perfect lips. For a second, Isaac seemed to be frozen in place, but then he kissed back, both hands finding Jeff’s collar this time. He pulled him in, the rest of his body inching closer, too, until they were snug. Jeff’s heart threatened to jump right out of his chest and he broke the kiss to get a little breath. Breathing was hard now. Adrenaline and a thousand other hormones were overspilling inside his body. He had never felt like this before. Isaac was warm against him, his breathing just as heavy. A little smile playing around his lips. They were still so close. Jeff brought both his arms around Isaac’s neck, just as he felt arms loop around his waist.
“Thank you,” Isaac whispered and kissed him again. Slow. Sincere. Open. Jeff melted into it, putting his all into the kiss, every emotion he’d felt for the past couple of months. All his love and adoration, all his pining and yearning.
When they parted for a breath, the sky had gone from orange to pink. Jeff could look at Isaac for hours, he realized. And maybe he would even be allowed to in the future, without it being weird.
“You probably figured it out already,” Jeff said, eyes locked with Isaac, “but dude, I’ve liked you for a long time. Like, looong. Probably longer than I realized myself. But I… thought you should know?”
Isaac smiled widely, his ridiculously white teeth exposed, and he brought one hand up to run his fingers over Jeff’s jaw. Gently, like it could break.
“I wasn’t sure up until you said the dictionary thing, to be honest.” He laughed. “You’re a really bad liar but pretty good at keeping things to yourself. So maybe I should have just asked and would have gotten my answer much faster.”
Jeff thought about this. He would have had the hardest time trying to come up with something that screamed I don’t like you like that when in reality he did like him like that.
“God, you’re so right. It would have been absolute chaos.” Jeff nodded. “This is so much better. But I’d really rather be home right now. And with home I mean school. You know. I’d rather be in the dorm. God, I’m rambling!!”
Isaac smiled wider, if possible, and looking at him, Jeff didn’t know how he could not have figured it out sooner. It was so clear, just from the way he looked at him, just how infatuated he was with Jeff.
Isaac leaned in and softly kissed his cheek. “I like it,” he said against his skin, making Jeff shudder. “You’re so cute when you’re rambling. ‘He came down with the influenza pox!’,” Isaac said in a mock voice and a really bad Canadian accent. “Only you could come up with that.”
“I saved your ass, okay?”
“You sure did.”
Isaac glanced at the sky and got visibly more nervous. It was going from pink to a dangerous shade of purple already.
“It’s getting really dark.” Isaac looked at him, alarmed. “I really don’t want to stay here forever.”
“We won’t. They’ll be back soon. They promised.”
And they were. Merely 10 minutes after, the door on the other side of the roof swung open and Lena came running to them in a frenzy. She looked like she’d run a half marathon.
“I ran all the way from the clock shop,” she gasped.
“The clock shop?”
“The clock shop,” she nodded, bracing her hands on her knees.
Jeff and Isaac had parted quickly as they heard the door.
“It’s a place where time stands still, and Ines has figured out what happened. I’ll… I’ll tell you on the way.” She was breathing heavily. “But we gotta go now. We have to get back before portal day is over.”
The boys didn’t need to be told twice. They followed her off the roof, down the stairs inside the Opera and into the street.
And if they were holding hands, well, maybe they just didn’t want each other to get lost on the way. And if Lena noticed, she didn’t say so. Soon, they’d all be back in 2019 safely.
But for now, three teenagers were running through Paris of 1983.
A girl from 1905 and two boys in love.