“Glad you could make it out.” Daisy grins up at him, her face illuminated by the flashing lights of the carnival, her arms wrapping her cardigan around her for warmth in the cool spring evening.
If Riley’s being honest, he doesn’t exactly feel like he should have come out. There’s something really weird about seeing high school friends after being away from home for a year, and even weirder to be walking around the May carnival seeing people who are actually still in high school having fun. It’s not that he thinks he’s above it, it’s just that...college had been so different. So amazing. And Riley’s been depressed at the prospect of a summer at home in his small town.
So his reply to Daisy is noncommittal as they head toward the Ferris wheel, twins Alicia and Alexis trailing behind them and whispering to themselves. They seem to be having some sort of urgent conversation, and Alexis looks livid, his cheeks flushed.
Riley’s surprised Alexis joined them tonight. A three-sport athlete in high school, he’d supposedly never had time for Alicia and Daisy and Riley and their ‘nerd stuff.’ He’d never tormented them, sure, and being friends with Alicia had given Daisy and Riley a little protection from the bullies, but Alexis had certainly never stepped up to defend them, either. And yeah, he's cute (hot, built, adorable, Riley's mind happily supplies), but Riley doesn't really have time for some hopeless crush with his academic load.
They’re actually at the same university; Riley on a full needs-based academic ride and Alexis on a baseball scholarship - he’s got an arm that could take him to the big leagues, or at least that’s what the people always said back in high school. The nice thing about their school is that it’s so large, he’s never once seen Alexis on campus, not that he’d been looking. Given that Alexis is pitching for the university’s baseball team, and they have a strong chance of going to the College World Series next month, Riley’s surprised that Alexis isn’t hanging out with all of his old athlete buddies. He’d seen a group of them over by the booths still trying to impress high school girls, which, gross. Riley wrinkles his nose and hunches his shoulders as they wait in line for the ride.
Behind him, Alexis and Alicia have stopped arguing; it’s obvious who won by the grin on Alicia’s face and the scowl on Alexis’s. It makes the next few moments of conversation as they wait stilted and awkward.
Finally, they load onto the next available Ferris wheel car, a small four-seater, two people to a bench, with ample open space for looking out over the carnival. As they pile in, Alexis ends up sitting directly across from Riley. At the last second, though, Alicia stands, pulling Daisy with her.
“Oops, girl stuff, need a bathroom, Daisy’s coming with me, enjoy the ride you two!” She says it all in one breath, practically over her shoulder as they run down the platform.
Alexis stands to follow, but then the ride lurches forward, knocking him back to his seat before landing in a smoother gear to move up. “I’m going to kill her,” Alexis whispers, not meant for Riley to hear.
Alexis looks increasingly uncomfortable, his hand gripping the edge of the car as they rise higher.
To break the awkward silence, Riley finally decides to talk. “Team’s doing well. I was at the game against USC a few weeks ago, you were pitching.”
Alexis seems to relax marginally, before the Ferris wheel grinds to a halt to let more people on below and he tenses again. “I blew the lead in the seventh inning, though. At least Riviera came in for the save.”
Riley blinks at this comparative tumult of words, the most Alexis has probably spoken to him since they were in middle school. “Um. I’m afraid we’ve reached the end of my ability to talk baseball stuff.”
That makes Alexis smile a little, at least until he looks out over the side of the car and immediately turns, somehow, both pale and green at the same time. Riley’s eyebrows raise as they near the top and jerk to a halt again.
“You’re afraid of heights.”
“So what, any sane person is afraid of heights. Heights can kill you.”
The panic in Alexis’s voice makes Riley reach out and take his hand, the one that’s nervously clutching at his jeans. “We’re going to be okay, Alexis.”
Alexis doesn’t stop clinging to his fingers, but at least he tears his eyes away from the ground below and looks back at Riley again. “They weren’t okay in Death Note. They weren’t okay in, like, any movie with a Ferris wheel.”
“Okay, but I think we can all agree the anime was better.”
Alexis gives a little laugh, though his fingers are still holding onto Riley’s tightly.
“If you’re afraid of heights, why did you agree to come up on the Ferris wheel?” Riley asks softly.
Alexis meets his eyes. "Alicia told me I owed her.”
“Do you? Whatever it is, it must be huge, this sucks for you, dude.”
“She told me to ‘suck it up, buttercup, woman up, and just do it.’” Alexis gives Riley a smile as he rolls his eyes, his black lashes framing his eyes beautifully. “It was all a set up.”
“A set up for what?”
Alexis looks at Riley as if he’s dumb. And look, Riley was valedictorian. He scored really well on the SAT (although it still annoys him that he didn’t get double 800s). He’s on the honors track at his school, for god’s sake. So he’s a little annoyed at the look Alexis is giving him right now, like he’s missed the most obvious clue in the world.
“What?!” Riley demands, feeling defensive.
Alexis groans dropping Riley’s hand in favor of scrubbing both of his over his face. “Ohmygodohmygodohmygodthisisnothappeningohmygod,” he hears Alexis mumble.
Riley blinks, pulling out his cell phone. “I’m calling Alicia-”
“No, god, don’t.” Alexis groans again. “Fuck. Okay. Fuck.” His hands clench into fists that he grinds into his legs. “Okay, I just- fuck, fuck.”
“Alexis, what the fuck, dude?” Riley unlocks his phone, freaked out now. He hasn’t seen Alexis this upset since he’d fallen on the blacktop playing kickball in 3rd grade and made mincemeat out of his knee.
Alexis reaches out, covering Riley’s phone before he can find Alicia’s number. “Okay, listen. Just. This means nothing, and I expect nothing, and you’re not even fucking- look, Riley, you’re so fucking smart, so I know this will mean nothing to you. I’ll mean nothing to you, and that’s okay.” He takes a deep breath, looking determinedly at the floor. “My stupid sister set me up in this stupid fucking situation because she’s tired of hearing about the crush I’ve had on your since elementary school.”
Silence descends as they hang near the top, their car swaying gently in the wind. Riley’s glad he’s sitting down, because he’s fairly sure his legs would have collapsed otherwise, but Alexis’s confession has him reeling from the same type of vertigo Alexis must feel.
Across from him, Alexis is curling in on himself, which looks weird considering his athletic build. He peers over the side of the car and cringes. “Do you think I could make it, jumping?”
The question pops Riley out of his shock, and he reaches for Alexis’s arm, pulling him over to his side. “What the fuck, Alexis? You’re not jumping. We’re- we’re just going to figure this out, okay? Breathe with me.”
It’s obvious Alexis is still in panic mode, from the height, from his confession. His breaths are shaky as Riley leads him through them. It doesn’t help that they’re still up here, hanging at the very peak of the Ferris wheel. Riley has no idea what the hold up is but he’d like to see Alexis safely to the ground.
When Alexis’s breath is calmer, Riley whispers, “You’re gay? Or pan or something?”
“Or something, I guess,” Alexis says with a sigh. “I don’t know. I like you.”
“Okay.” Riley tries to keep his voice easy and relaxed. “It’s okay.”
“Sorry I dumped that all on you, man. I didn’t mean to-”
“You didn’t want me to know?”
Alexis snorts, his body still leaning in to Riley’s. “You’re- you’re Riley, and I’m me. Why would I want you to know?”
“What do you mean by that?” Tentatively, Riley takes his hand again, sliding their fingers together. It makes Alexis stiffen before relaxing once more with a deep breath.
“You’re so smart, Riley, and it’s so easy for you. You’ve been running mental laps around the rest of us since kindergarten. I’m just an idiot who knows how to throw a ball. Why would you ever want a dumb jock?”
Riley traces over Alexis’s knuckles with his thumb. “Can’t be too smart if I didn’t notice you, huh?”
Alexis looks over at him, a tentative smile lifting just the tips of his lips. “It’s not like I was obvious.”
But Riley can think of a dozen weird times in the past with Alexis, starting in seventh grade when Riley had come out and Alexis had started distancing himself. “Is this why you stopped being my friend?”
Alexis’s color drains again, and just when he’d started getting some of it back. “I- you- when I had a crush on you before, it was all safe because it was never possible, you know? But then you came out and...then there was the possibility that you’d actually look my way and say ‘fuck that,’ you know?”
“You really hurt me,” Riley says quietly.
“I’m sorry. I’m- I don’t have an excuse.” Alexis hangs his head, but his hand is still firmly clutched in Riley’s.
“Sounds like maybe I hurt you too, unintentionally. We could, uh, start over?”
Hope lights up Alexis’s eyes, and Riley’s so taken by it his breath catches in his chest. “Really?”
“When do you have to get back to school for games? I could go with you, maybe. Take the train back. Not like I have anything but time right now.”
It’s four hours in an enclosed space with Alexis, but at least they’d be on the ground, Riley muses. Plus, it’s plenty of time to figure out what they might have, together. Funny, how they ended up at the same school. Which… “Wait, did you follow me to school?”
“Uh...yes?” Alexis says tentatively, his cheeks flaming flags of dark red. “I mean, I had a couple of offers, but…”
“But I didn’t see you, all year.”
“You didn’t?” Alexis deflates. “We had Bio 101 together this spring.”
“That class had 300 people in it…” But Riley feels dumb. Then again, he’s apparently not the one that’s been hyper-focused on his crush. “Okay, never mind that. Starting over. With all of the information on the table this time.”
Alexis nods, looking slightly less embarrassed and sick.
“Are you out to your team? Do I need to be, like, secretive?”
“There are a couple of guys that know, but no. No more secrets, starting over, right?” He looks determined. “If that ruins my MLB prospects, fuck ‘em.”
The car lurches forward then, taking them into the downward section of the rotation. The movement jars Alexis into Riley’s body, where he clutches at Riley’s arm.
“You really don’t like heights, huh? Your sister is an asshole.” Riley steadies him, wrapping an arm around his waist and holding him more tightly.
“This is good, though, right?” Alexis opens an eye peering over the side, and shuts it immediately, going pale. “But, uh, let’s never do this again.”
It’s weird, feeling protective over a guy with enough muscles to make him feel inadequate, but here Riley is. He wraps Alexis up a little better, his lips ending up by Alexis’s ear. “Just breathe with me.”
Feeling Alexis relax against him is gratifying in a way Riley normally only finds academic work. When they finally make it off the Ferris wheel at the bottom and walk away to find the girls, Alexis’s hand is still firmly gripped in Riley’s.