3. At the Cinema
"DC is obviously far superior to Marvel!"
"Jonah, have you lost brain cells overnight or something?" Andi checked.
"Evidently, he never had them in the first place," Buffy cut in, her mouth agape with horror at his words of utter betrayal.
"Cyrus, what do you think?"
Cyrus' head shot up at Jonah's invitation for him to participate in the conversation. Ever the diplomat, he glanced around the room in an attempt to gauge everybody's feelings on the matter. When he made eye contact with TJ, he was greeted with a shy smile and a little shrug. It had been two weeks since they'd been mistaken as a couple at the park, but it was taboo; they never discussed it, or the first time it happened, come to think of it. He supposed it made their friendship weird and awkward whenever somebody suggested that they were dating or should date, and Goodman valued his friendship with TJ more than pursuing his mental fantasies of going on dates with him, holding his hand and even kissing him. Perhaps this was because he knew it to be a fruitless endeavor. Why bother aiming for a goal you could never reach?
Jolted out of his thoughts by Marty reminding him that he had not yet spoken, he deliberated over his words for a while.
"I think that, although I do respect DC and all, Marvel is the superior company. I'm sorry to say it. By the way, did y'all know that Miles Morales is Jewish? Isn't that so cool? I thought it was awesome when they revealed that, though I suppose you would know that if you'd read the comics, wouldn't you, so maybe that means I'm not such a big fan, or not as big of a fan as I make myself out to be. I don't know. I mean, a Jewish Spiderman? Yes, just yes! Believe me, I am loving the representation, it's g-"
"Cyrus, man, stop it already. There's no need to make everything about representation, I don't understand why it's so important to you. Why should it matter? People are people, at the end of the day! Talk about some crap. Damn." Marty accompanied this with a shake of his head. "Some people these days, I swear to God. Chill out."
An unattractive beetroot color was the closest shade to describe the former's face at that moment. He wasn't angry at Marty, per se, but more at himself for letting it go too far, for focusing on himself and his own kind of representation which was entirely selfish-Marty's interruption had served as a stark reminder of this. Walker was there. What about him and his representation in regards to Miles Morales? That mattered just as much, didn't it, if not more. Yet here he was, being a stupid selfish prick in the way he always was.
TJ's first curled at his side and he looped his other arm around his close friend's shoulder in a defensive manner. "What the actual hell, Marty? He's just passionate about the representation in the movie. So what? He's allowed to be. Freedom of speech, remember? Cutting in was rude and unnecessary. Cyrus doesn't deserve to be treated like that, and yes, I know that he can stand up for himself-but he won't. I know he won't because he'll feel guilty and blame himself because of something you said. Because of you!" The guy punctuated his sentence by pointing his finger at Marty in a dramatic fashion. Marty, whose face vaguely resembled a tomato now, flipped him off.
"Listen here you little-" Out of nowhere, Buffy stepped back, her hands in the air. "Whoa, TJ. Marty. Chill out. We're talking about movies here. Marty, you shouldn't have been rude to him. Cyrus, you don't deserve that off my boyfriend here, I'm sorry. That was rude and uncalled for. As for you, TJ, you really shouldn't be pointing fingers at anyone considering how you used to treat others, no matter how admirable it is that you're defending my best friend. You did have some good, valid points, all the same-I'll give you that. Representation matters."
"Will you explain to Mr Party over here why it matters?" Cyrus queried, finding his voice again.
Buffy nodded. "Of course." Cyrus felt a hand on his shoulder. Andi.
"Ignore him, he can be a real ignorant asshole sometimes."
"Is Marty from the Party due his period, by any chance?" Amber stated, laughing.
"You gonna call out on that one?" Cyrus challenged Andi. She nodded, explaining no menace was meant towards trans girls, and Cyrus explained that even if not everything is about politics, offensive 'jokes' usually took things too far.
"I love Miles Morales," Walker reassured him with a warm smile. "I've always loved Spiderman, but to see someone who looks like me as him on the silver screen? It's empowering. Really, it is." He nodded along and listened, conscious of the green- eyed boy stood near him. Soon enough, it was time to walk into the movie and most of his friends had gone ahead without him.
"Wait!" Cyrus took his wallet out of his pocket and began fumbling about for his money. "I'm getting some candy floss." TJ volunteered to stay behind. Great, spending more alone time with his crush definitely wouldn't help his feelings for him grow.
"In fact, I'll get a bucket of candyfloss myself," TJ decided as they stood there in line, waiting to be served.
"Hello, sir, what will you be having today?" He sounded vaguely bored.
"Uhh...." He hadn't thought it through. Oops. He turned to the boy behind him. "What are you having?"
"Bubblegum-flavored candyfloss. Tell you what, you buy that, I'll get us a bucket of popcorn to share."
"Don't you want your own food?"
He waved it off. "I'm fine. Besides, I'm not even that hungry." Cyrus felt himself melt internally at his friend's kind act.
"If you insist."
With that being said, he turned around and ordered his candyfloss, TJ ordering popcorn right after him. The cashier, a dude in his early thirties, smiled at them after charging TJ.
"It's sweet that you make decisions like that together as a couple, my girlfriend Roxanne and I are constantly bickering over that sort of thing. Bit petty, if you ask me, but there you go."
Cyrus paled. For goodness' sake. Was this seriously happening again? "Oh, um, uh-" He stammered, before his crush rescued him by answering instead.
"You have the wrong end of the stick, we're not an item. We're friends. Just friends."
Cyrus nodded along, feeling like an idiot. "Yeah, we are. You're mistaken. Sorry." The man smiled tightly, his embarrassment obvious.
"Right. My apologies, I misread the situation. Have a good day!"
"You too!" Cyrus called as TJ practically dragged him away from the food booth.
"What are you playing at?" He hissed. "Don't scowl at me like that, you get what I'm about it."
"No, I really don't. What do you mean? I was being friendly." You should try it some time, he though bitterly, but did not vocalize his thoughts out loud as he would only regret doing so.
"He'll get the wrong idea!"
"You were the one who grabbed my arm two seconds ago, and who wrapped your arm around my shoulder after Marty had a go at me."
He wasn't wrong, TJ contemplated. In fact, if anyone was making it obvious, it was himself. "Yeah, fair enough. I see your point, I'm sorry. It's getting repetitive and awkward, is all."
Cyrus laughed, his eyes sparkling like diamonds. Cyrus Goodman was more precious than any diamond, to TJ Kippen, as he gazed at him. "I'll say."
"It is, but what's so shameful about the concept of us dating?"
"Nothing! Nothing at all, I don't want people thinking the wrong thing, though. Do you understand that?"
"Sure. What I don't understand is why you're being so controlling." TJ massaged his head in a way suggestive of him being stressed.
"I didn't mean to me. Please, can we go in here with our mutual friends and enjoy this movie? I'll try not to do that, I'm aware it probably makes you anxious."
"Fine. And, uh, thanks for the popcorn."
His laurel eyes widened like a character in a comic book or cartoon show. "The WHAT sorry?"
"The popcorn. What did you think I said?"
"Never mind, it's no-"
"TJ KIPPEN! Get your head out of the gutter, Mister!" Cyrus teased, nudging the boy.
"Okay," He smirked. "I'll try my best."
"Good, good. Let's not speak a word about someone assuming we're a thing, yeah?"
"Yeah," TJ said, finding the role reversal comical. "It won't happen again. It can't, not after the third time."
Of course, he would soon be proven wrong by the universe, which, needless to say, was setting them up to be humiliated two more times before all of the feelings it reminded the two boys of would finally come bubbling to the surface and come to a head.
4. At School
On the following Monday, the captain of the Basketball Team was nowhere to be seen; he'd allegedly been ill with the cold on Sunday and was suffering from the same ailment today. Despite this excuse, several people weren't buying it. 'Several' meant Andi Mack, Buffy Driscoll, Cyrus Goodman, Marty from the Party and Jonah Beck.
"He did seem off to me on Saturday," Buffy mused, perceptive as ever. "Not ill off, though. More like off in the way he was acting."
"Yeah, I've noticed that." Andi said.
"He doesn't seem like the type to get ill easily," Jonah pointed out. The others nodded along while Goodman stood there, frozen on the spot. His loyalties lay more towards his closest friends; it would only be the right thing to tell them, yet he'd promised his crush he wouldn't.
"Maybe he's still angry about Saturday?"
"What do you mean, Marty?"
"When he was defending you because of what I said to you."
"About that. You still haven't apologized to me."
Marty shrugged. "What I said wasn't right, which I am sorry for, but I'm not sorry for having an opinion. Freedom of speech is a constitutional right."
Cyrus sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose in despair, being his usual dramatic self.f "I never said freedom of speech wasn't important. It most certainly is, but within reason, I'd say. Like how they do things in the UK, where you have a lot of freedom of speech, but saying certain things can get you into trouble with the law, it's classified as 'hate speech'."
"We're not in the UK, so leave it." Buffy told him, shocking him into silence. It was natural that she would defend her boyfriend-but over her best friend? Seriously? Meanwhile, Andi and Jonah stood there, torn.
"Whatever, this is about TJ, not me. I'm really worried about him, if you must know."
"Of course you are. I wonder why that is?" Buffy glared at her boyfriend the second the words tumbled out his mouth, but it was too late to take them back.
"What are you implying?"
"Don't play dumb. You know what I'm implying, Goodman. Good luck with your little crush." He slammed his locker and stormed off. Andi spoke first.
"Buffy, what the HELL is wrong with him?"
She stood there and bit her lip, not sure how to articulate this. "He was recently kicked off the running team. Also, he's failing most of his subjects, except for Gym Class and Biology."
"No excuse for being horrible," Jonah said. Andi folded her arms.
"Exactly." She turned to her other best friend. "Cy, what do you think of this?"
"If I'd known, I would never have argued with him."
"It's too late."
"You think I don't know that?" Andi focused too hard on her phone, not used to her two best friends fighting. Jonah stared off into distance.
"Oh look, there's Walker! See you guys later!" After saying this, he proceeded to rush over to his signficant other.
"Have fun with TJ, seeing as you seem to enjoy hanging around him so much these days." Her words sounded snarky and bitter.
Cyrus' heart was beating hard. Wait, was Buffy jealous of his crush and how often they were hanging out with each other? They were friends, he had a right to worry about the guy. His recent behaviour had been nothing short of odd and uncharacteristic of him. If Cyrus Goodman didn't know what was up, nobody else stood a chance-except maybe for Mr and Mrs Kippen. Not all children were close with their parents, come to think of it-it was probable that the Kippen parents were unaware of how their son was being around his friends. People were different around their friends versus their family, too. Great. That meant possibly only the Not-So-Scary-Basketball-Guy knew what was wrong. If only he could find it in himself to open up to his peers, but no. Apparently not.
Abruptly, he was broken out his thoughts by the bell ringing, symbolizing the start of lessons; this would have to wait. After saying two rushed goodbyes to his best friends, he rushed off to class.
Tuesday, which was the following day, greeted him with a punch to the face-there his crush stood, looking as fit as a fiddle, stood talking to a pretty girl at his locker (which was opposite Cyrus'). Desperately attempting to ignore the flare of jealousy this sight had ignited, he picked his books up from his locker, deposited them onto his bag, and messaged Amber. She was wise, she understood the situation perfectly.
. He may or may not have called her for an hour to discuss it with her. She'd agreed to getting one of her gay male friends to pretend to flirt with him (seeing as TJ was already aware that Cyrus was gay and Amber was a lesbian). Leo Candor (what an ironic last name for what was going down, he observed) strolled over. They already knew each other-Leo did theater, and Cyrus wrote scripts for them.
"Hey, Goodman. How's things going?"
"They're good, they're good. Been busy?"
"Oh, you know, just thinking about cute boys?" Cyrus let out a giggle, and felt a pair of eyes on him. He hoped it was the right one.
"A magician never tells their secrets."
"Cute boys aren't magic, they're angels." At this, Leo raised an eyebrow.
"I think you know who."
"You might have to tell me." Leo teased, punching him in the arm. A pair of eyes was burning a hole into the back of his head, he could sense-this gaze was probably intense. It was TJ. Instinct told him this. He was about to progress the discussion they were having, but thought better of it as he saw Leo tense up-Leo was facing TJ's direction, and he was not. Sensing a situation coming on, he whispered, 'good luck' into Cyrus' ears, winked at him and walked off. He smiled to himself, daring to have hope (God forbid) and think that his crush may be interested in him.
"Hey," a voice uttered from behind him, sending shivers down his spine. He turned around and feigned surprise.
"Hey, Teej! I didn't notice you there. You're back from the dead!" The person who had approached him scowled and crossed his arms, not taking a liking to the joke.
"Hmm. So, are you two hanging out now?" His voice was oozing with jealousy.
Quick. Think, think, think. Thinking on his feet had never been Cyrus Goodman's most upstanding quality, but hey, here he was. "Theater, you know?" TJ nodded, looking slightly unconvinced. To be fair, it wasn't a complete lie. He tapped TJ on the chest. "Hey! I wanted to ask you something. Where were you yesterday?"
Kippen scowled. "What are you on about? I was at home, sick."
"Sick of being mistaken as my boyfriend, you mean?"
"Shh! Keep your voice down, for God's sake! Someone could overhear you and come to the wrong conclusions."
"What is so bad about people thinking we're together? I understand it makes you uncomfortable. But you seem embarrassed by me, so it's most likely for the best if-" the smaller boy's voice cracked-"if, for now, we don't hang out. Then it won't happen again."
Even he himself could not believe what was being said. Nausea threatened to overtake him, but he remained composed. In the meantime, TJ looked horrified at this suggestion. "Wait, that's not what I meant!"
Cyrus couldn't meet his eyes. "I think it's for the best. It's clear you're very conscious of your reputation, and I'd hate to taint that for you."
"Oh, so you're going to drop me like that because you think it's for the best? Or is it because it's convenient for you? You don't want to be mixed up with me because why hang out with me when you've got a guy you're interested in?"
"You and him. Leon."
"It's Leo," Cyrus corrected him quietly.
"Right, him. Leo. Perfect. Abandon one of your closest friends because you've got a boyfriend now-"
"Leo's not my boyfriend, we were talking. That's it. I don't know why you care anyway, when you're so adamant that we're not together. It's like you're jealous or something."
Crap, he'd been found out. Those words were like a punch to the stomach. TJ swallowed. "Of course not. You deserve to be happy."
"You're a hypocrite regardless, because you were talking to this girl-"
"Maria Walsh. She was asking me about our Spanish project. Stop acting like a jealous boyfriend!"
"What? I’m not," Cyrus scoffed, as if the mere suggestion of being jealous of a girl talking to the person whom he liked was ridiculous or absurd. Or the concept of dating him (which it kind of was, in his head) "As if I would be jealous of someone who I suspected was flirting with you. In fact, I would be happy for you."
"Of course, I would! I doubt the sentiment is shared, though."
"I would be happy for you!"
"Okay, well if I was like-'I'm dating Leo now', how would you react?"
"I would be happy for you!" TJ repeated, out of frustration.
"No, you wouldn't."
"Why don't you believe me?"
"Fine! I do, I do believe you, you'd be happy for me, and I for you." Tears filled his eyes, and his voice softened. "Why are we arguing, Teej?"
"I don't know," came a reply a few seconds later, but not before he'd wiped his sleeve across his face. "I'm sorry that I ever let my ego get in the way of our friendship. Arguing isn't the way to resolve all this."
Cyrus nodded. "Which is exactly why I suggested we see a little less of each other. Of course, it's not what I want to do, but what we might need to do. I mean, we're arguing like an old married couple. If that couple had some issues they were going through. Friends shouldn't be arguing like that. It's not a healthy resolution to the problem."
TJ considered these words and weighed them up. Cyrus was a very wise person-having four parents who were all involved with psychology and asking people how they felt all the time must help someone gain that sort of knowledge. He hated arguing with his crush, and just wanted it to stop already. It was toxic, arguing in the way that they did-anyone with half of a brain could pick up on that. Not to mention, the boy he was falling for didn't understand how much affection he held towards him. If they were together, in the way that everyone assumed they were, this would make the relationship very difficult. God, he wished they were together-minus the arguments. Maybe occasional bickering at the most. Arguing could be healthy, but not like this. Yet, the thought of being wrenched apart from Cyrus, for the third time in his life, it hurt his heart more than he could ever articulate to anybody-it crushed him. So, that was why they called it a crush, was it?
"I know, but the thought of being away from you-it hurts me. A lot."
For some reason, his crush looked surprised at this. "It does?"
This was what drove TJ to tears. "Of course, Underdog. Are you serious? Your smile brightens any room you walk into. You are one of the kindest and most caring people I know-no, scratch that. You're the most caring person I know. You're funny, and fun, and there's nobody else I'd rather be misconstrued as being in a relationship, and this includes the most objectively attractive people in school, I would still choose you. Always."
Sobbing now, Cyrus flung his arms around TJ, who patted him on the back. "I'm sorry," he kept whispering. "I'm so sorry. I hope you know that it's the same here."
"We're both a bit of a mess now, aren't we?" They laughed. Several tissues and one agreement that they would still see each other, but for less time a day, it happened again. To seal the deal, they shook hands, but one of them-it could not be said who-held on to the other's song for a short while longer than was socially acceptable. At this moment, Gus, who was headed towards Math (lessons were starting in a minute or two; the teenagers had arrived at school early), spotted them together and that's when they were mistaken for being a couple for the fourth time.
"Aw, you two are adorable together! You make such a great couple." He beamed at them, all wholesome and friendly.
"JESUS CHRIST, WE'RE NOT TOGETHER!" Alarmed from being shouted out, Gus let out a mouse squeak and scurried off to his lesson.
"Wait, Gus!" Cyrus called out. The bespectacled redhead stopped in his path. "What he meant was, sorry but you are mistaken. We are not in a relationship with each other. I apologize for his lack of manners."
"Um, yeah, sorry for being rude to you, Gus. Have a good day."
"Bye, have a great day!"
"You too!" The boy called back to brown eyed boy, sounding perplexed.
"Damn, I need to work on my temper. Sorry, Cy."
Cyrus smiled at him; kindness visible in his eyes. "It's no problem. We should get going now, we don't want to be late for class, do we?"
"No, I suppose not. Mrs Advil hates me enough already." They started walking-they were down the same corridor, enabling them to walk to class together.
"My chemistry teacher."
"That's a funny name."
"Yeah, it is."
"Why would she hate you?"
He shrugged. "I'm shit at science, I guess."
Goodman fake gasped. "Mr Kippen! Language!"
"English," he muttered as they reached the right corridor. Behind his hand, his friend stifled a giggle and he resisted the urge to kiss him right then and there.
"I'll see you later?"
"After school, maybe. Your idea was a good one, Underdog."
"I'm glad to hear it. I take it we shall not speak of you-know-what?" Funny, it had even gone as far as turning into another inside joke, the occurrence was that frequent.
"Yes, we shall not speak of you know what," TJ concluded with a mega-watt grin that made Cyrus' stomach do somersaults. "Bye, see you later!"
"Goodbye! I'll see you after school!"
They waved at one another, the basketball player disappeared to the other end of the corridor, and that was that. They would spend fifteen minutes a day together at school, sometimes less time, occasionally more. For the most part, their plan worked and people stopped thinking they were together. Until three weeks later, anyway, when the perpetrators would not be strangers or vaguely acquainted classmates, but their very own friends, and would be the last time they were ever mistaken as a couple.