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Scar of an angel

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"Hey J. How was the birthday party?"

"It was cool. How was Homecoming?"

"Well, we won."

"That's great."

"What a pity you missed it..."

"Really?"

"Of course, I invited you."

"I miss you a lot, Con."

"I miss you too..."

"I don't believe you anymore."

"Why do you say that?"

"You didn't come back in San Diego only once."

"I told you I had games. But we text each other every evening..."

"It's not the same. And why you decided to play basketball and soccer?""

"... What's going you?"

"I lately feel I lost my boyfriend and my best friend."

"I don't get it, J. Why didn't you just tell me before?  Is, is it because of the pic I sent you?"

"No... Yes... Maybe. I don't understand why you did it. Do you wanna have sex?"

"NO! I just thought you'd like it. The guys of the team, they send that kind of pic to their girlfriend. I'm sorry, J."

"I'm sorry too but I, I think we should..."

 

Connor shook his head to chase away Jude's last words: the memory was still painful. He hadn't noticed that his boyfriend had gradually darkened because he seemed to be be the same boy he loved every time they were lucky enough to talk to each other through a screen. When Jude asked him why he played two sports, he hadn't known what to answer but he knew now: he tried to fill a void. Even if he quickly befriended some nice guys and girls, noone could have taken the place of Jude.

"You okay, son?"

"Yeah, yeah... Actually, I really dunno."

"I can talk to Lena alone: you don't need to come into her office."

Connor stared at his dad: he wasn't used to the new Adam yet. But he had gradually changed over the past year: He met several times Jude's moms who had provided guidance and with whom he had shared his deepest concerns.

"Mr, Mrs Perez, Esteban, Luis" Mrs Adams-Foster said while walking out her office, please take a seat while I talk to Mr Stevens and his son. I won't be long. Then I'll show you around our school."

"Hi Lena."

"Hi Mrs Adams-Foster," Connor said before adding. "Maybe I can show them the school. If you don't mind."

"No," she replied with a disappointed look to him. "I don't mind if Mr and Mrs Perez agree."

"Thank you young man," Luis and Esteban's mother told him while giving her children's schedules before adding smiling. "I think Luis and Esteban don't need us to visit their new school. Boys, we'll see you at home."

"So go. When you're done, you'll take Luis to his History class. By the way, here is your schedule."

"Okay, Mrs Adams-Foster."

Connor looked at his dad who nodded. So he went away with the two boys while taking a look at their timetables.

"Well, who's Luis?... Okay, we shall start with your grade. By the way, I'm Connor. Nice to meet you."

"Nice to meet you too," the two brothers answered back smiling.

He showed Luis' locker first before going around his classes.

"So where do you come from?"

"We're from Tempa."

"Do you play sport?"

"I play baseball," Luis replied.

"Basketball," Esteban answered. "You?"

"I used to play baseball and soccer before leaving with my mom in LA last year and I did football and soccer there. It will only be soccer from now on."

"Why?"

"It's a little complicated... Let's just say, I only played baseball to please my dad; besides, I must admit it was boring and I felt lazy standing around. On the other hand, I've always loved soccer since I was four AND It's fast and mentally challenging."

The three of them kept on talking of this and that before stopping in front of a door.

"Here you are," Connor stated before knocking at the door. "Good morning Ms Lablec, Mrs Adams-Foster asked me to bring a new student."

"Hi and thank you Mr Stevens. By the way, nice to see you back."

He thanked his old teacher and took Esteban to show him the other part of the school.

"If you have any questions," Connor stated when they were done, "don't hesitate. By the way, since we don't have class now, we can have lunch together."

"Yup."

"Besides, I must meet a friend soon. Wait for me, I'll be back."

Connor rushed to the Principal office and knocked at the door.

"Excuse me Mrs Adams-Foster. Dad, can you give me my bag? I'll come after soccer?"

"Okay son," his dad replied while handing him his backpack.

"Connor, two secs. It's so nice to see you back. And please, call me Lena again."

"I'll try." Connor replied while holding back his tears as best he could. "Sorry, I have to go."

As soon as he walked out of her office, he stopped for a little while to wipe his tears and then joined Esteban who was playing with his phone in front of his locker.

"At least, we have a very wide choice of tables," the boy said after buying his food.

"I know a better place," Connor asserted while opening the doors which were going to the back of the school.

"Connie, over here!" A familiar voice immediately exclaimed as soon as they were out of the building.

"Hey D."

"I didn't wait for you anymore," Daria cut him off while grabbing his arm. "Wow! I like your arm. You kept on hitting the gym in LA."

He rolled his eyes: she hadn't changed at all. She still loved flirting with him even after they broke up: Connor came to think she hadn't really moved on and still regretted their relationship somehow. According to Jude, she even told Taylor that she believed they were OTP while they didn't date yet. Even if he had to admit he liked her as a close friend, he never had loved her.

"Who is this guy?" She whispered. "Is he your new...?"

"No, no, I met him while waiting for Mrs Adams-Foster. I just showed him and his little bro our school. By the way, Esteban, Daria; Daria, Esteban."

"Hey handsome," she said with her flirty tone.

"Hey," Esteban replied while trying not to blush.

"Sit down: T and Ryan will be arriving shortly. Connie, come next to me."

"So what do you think of the view?" Connor asked Esteban.

"It's amazing. I never expected to see a school by the ocean."

"I missed this place when I was in LA. Well D, how are things here since I left?"

"I don't have much to say: it's still boring. And you, did you have fun in LA?"

"Yeah, my classmates and my teammates were cool: you can't compare life and school in San Diego and in LA. And, unlike my dad, my mom let me go to parties."

"Did you meet someone?"

"There were some nice people but I couldn't forget..."

"That's why you came back?"

"No," Connor stuttering, "It, it h-hurts but I know i-it's over be-between us..."

"How things are going with your dad now?" Daria inquired to change subject. "I remember I always felt nervous around him - even if he tried to put me at my ease - when we dated."

"You wouldn't recognize him!" Connor exclaimed before adding sighing. "Even if he's not totally comfortable yet."

"Me and T," she said before getting closer and putting her arm around him, "we're here now."

"We barely know each other," Esteban added grinning, "but you can rely on me too."

"Thanks you two. By the way, D, do you know who's the captain of the basketball team?"

"Yup. Why? You won't play soccer or baseball anymore?"

"No. But Esteban's gonna be part of the basketball team..."

"Cool," she cut him off while looking at the new boy. "Don't worry, it's Zero."

"Zero?" Connor and the boy asked simultaneously. "Like the player in "Hit the Floor"?"

"Yeah, he's his biggest fan. His real name is Thiago: he's Ryan's brother. AND he's as sexy as him..."

"Me and him will get along just fine," Esteban exclaimed. "I'm a huge fan. You too, Connor?"

"I don't miss one episode: it's the best series I've ever seen. Besides..."

"Yeah, the girls are bangirls."

Connor and Daria couldn't help but laugh.

"Why do you make fun of me?"

"Let's just say that Connie supports the other team."

Esteban looked at them without understanding what she was talking about.

Connor started watching it with Jude shortly after getting out of the hospital and the two of them immediately became fond of the ship. Jude even began to play basketball with him. It had been the best weeks of his life: he could spend time with his boyfriend without hiding from his dad and he felt that he gradually falled in love with Jude.

He even kept on following the series in LA after the break up: it was his own way to take solace.

"We should do a "Hit The Floor" marathon some night," Esteban suddenly proclaimed. "It's been too long I haven't seen this series..."

Connor hadn't time to answer because of the bell and suddenly felt nervous: he couldn't help but glance around as soon as the first students went out of the building. He wasn't ready to see him again.

"You okay, Connor?" Esteban asked frowning. "You seem..."

"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine. Sorry, I'm feeling a little out of sync: I think I still need to re-acclimate myself. By the way, you're right about the marathon. And call me Con."

"Sure, Con. So give me your phone please."

While his new friend typed him his number, Daria got closer.

"Don't worry," she whispered while putting her hand on his. "I don't think you'll meet him here: he must hang out with some guys on the other side of the school."

"AHEM!"

"Hey T."

"Can I talk to you, Stevens? Follow me. We'll be back soon, babe."

"What's going on, T?" Connor asked looking at Taylor and two boys

"What are you trying to pull now?" She asked after going away from the group. "I hope you're not gonna hurt her again."

"If you're talking about D, I won't. Remember: I'm gay."

"I'm just not sure where you and Jude are right now."

"What do you mean?"

"I didn't tell anyone yet but Jude kissed me a few days after tour break up."

Connor's eyes were wide open by astonishment. Then he remembered what an older boy told him the day Cole had invited them to a party.

"Maybe your boyfriend isn't gay if he doesn't say it."

Was it the reason why Jude broke up with him? So he didn't dare tell him. But he used the word, didn't he? He wondered if Jude wasn't as lost as his sister.

"You must understand why I distrust you both. She's my best friend: I don't want her to delude herself about your relationship once again. I like you, Stevens, and I'm sad for you after what happened with Jude but..."

"Don't worry, T: I won't do it again because I know who I am and the kind of people I like."

"Okay Connor," she said after a few seconds of reflection. "I trust you."

"So you're the famous Connor Stevens," Taylor's boyfriend stated. "Nice to see the best striker of the soccer team. By the way, I'm Ryan and your captain."

"Nice to meet you too but don't exaggerate," he replied blushing a bit and rubbing the back of his head.

"I don't. Ask my bro."

"Ryan's right," a boy who was talking to Esteban said. "We've heard all about you from your teammates."

Connor couldn't help but stare at the boy. He was taller than him, thin but sinewy and graceful; he was tanned, had short black hair, an oval face, strong features, high cheekbones, dark eyes and a pointed nose. And a smile that lighted up a room. Besides, he wore the shirt of the basketball team in school colors, black shorts and sneakers.

"The name's Thiago."

While they had lunch and chichated, Connor could get to know Ryan, his brother and Esteban better and felt that a new and strong friendship was about to rise. Ryan was quite strong-willed and was undeterred by Taylor's cutting remarks who seemed to find the perfect boyfriend whereas Thiago was more retiring even if he knew how to embarrass his brother with some spicy anecdotes. As for Esteban, he seemed to talk at length about sport and series.

The bell suddenly rang. Connor looked at his phone: he was surprised that the hour had passed so quickly.

"See you at practice," Ryan said while getting up with Taylor before adding. "I almost forgot: what are you two doing next? Me and Thiag, we get used to invite our two teams to our parents pizzeria after every vacation."

"I'll be there!" Connor and Esteban said at the same time before looking at each other and bursting out laughing.

Afternoon classes passed very fast in the compagny of Esteban in English and Daria in Calculus.

He had to meet his coach before the training. He greeted some of his teammates while walking past the locker room and knocked at Mr Smith's door.

"Come in, close the door and take a seat," he said behind his desk. "Nice to see you again, Connor."

"Me too, Mr Smith."

"Well, Mrs Adams-Foster explained to me what you wanted to do. It's really brave even if I wouldn't have expected anything different from you, son."

"Thank you Mr Smith!" Connor said smiling widely. "You don't mind if I tell them just before the training?"

"No, I think you're right. Are you nervous?"

"Yes. Even if I know most of them for a long time..."

"Don't worry, I'm supporting you. Go get changed while I'm gathering the team."

Connor went to the locker room where Ryan was the only one left and felt his anxiety escalating again: he didn't dare look at his all new friend while he changed clothes.

"You okay?"

"I guess. As I said to Esteban earlier, I still need to re-acclimate myself."

"Why are you lying, Con? What are you hiding?"

"I must say something important to all of you before we're starting playing. So I asked the coach if I could speak after him."

"Well, take your time and meet us as soon as you are ready."

After a little while, Connor took his courage in both hands, got up and joined his teammates. When he walked into the playfield, the coach had already begun his speech that he absent-mindedly listened to, emotionally engaged by his own. He also felt Ryan's inquiring look.

He got back to reality after someone gave him a gentle nudge in the ribs.

"Come," the coach said, "it's your turn to speak."

"Welcome back, Con!" His teammates called out before he stared speaking.

"Thanks guys! I'm so happy to see you again: I missed you. Even if I liked living and playing in LA, you are always be my close friends..."

They immediately cheered, whistled and a few even sang.

"Calm down," the coach said. "Please Con, go on."

"I, I wanted to tell y-you s-something else," he suddenly stuttered because he knew it was his moment of truth.

He lowered his eyes when he began to hear whispers and felt their heavy look as he remained silent.

"I,I,I'm... I,I'm gay."

As soon as that three words left his mouth, there was a complete silence and all of them stared at each other. Connor didnt like that silence because he didn't know what his teammates thought of - feeling tears in the corner of his eyes - and looked at Mr Smith who made understand to wait for.

Someone came next to him after a long while - according to him - and put a hand on his shoulder. Connor looked up and saw Ryan who was smiling at him.

"Thanks for your honesty, mate. It's really brave but you know what? I don't care. We only know each other since a few hours but, as I told you at lunch, all your teammates only spoke very highly of you. So when the coach told us you were coming back, I was really happy to play with you."

Most of his teammates clapped and whistled while a few of them remained silent.

"Thanks Ryan," Connor said wiping his tears.

He quickly noticed his dad and Lena - Mrs Adams-fosters - who gave him a thumbs up and rolled his eyes while grinning inside.

"It's not over, Con. I warn you: you better not steal me from my girlfriend..."

His new friend didn't have time to finish his sentence: the team bursted out laughing.

"I won't," Connor replied after regaining his composure. "I can't measure up T!"

All of them roared with laughter again.

"Okay guys," their coach said, "back to work. Party's over!"

During training, Connor as well as the team gradually forgot the awkward moment that followed his coming out until they went back to the locker room. If some of his mates didn't care about him, some others didn't while hiding their embarrassment as best as possible. He hoped that those ones get used to it as time went by.

"Okay guys," Ryan suddenly said, it's pizza time!"

While they went out of the gym, he saw his dad waiting for him in front of his car. Connor banged his head with his head: he had forgotten to tell him about the pizzeria. So he rushed towards his dad, explained to him where he was going with the team and handed him his stuff.

"I'm really proud of you," the new Adam said before hugging him.

Connor gasped before gladly accepting his hug.

"I know and I believe you, dad."

"Call me as soon as you were done."

"Sure," Connor replied while going away.

Shortly after, he saw the basketball team coming towards them.

"Let's go!"

There was quite an animated discussion along the way but none of his teammates around Connor raised the subject of his coming out with the basketball team. He didn't know if they respected his privacy or if some of them were embarrassed to talk about it but he was grateful to them somehow.

"MOM, DAD! We're home and we're having guests!" Thiago and Ryan said as soon as they walked into the pizzeria.

"Sit down! Boys, take your friends' orders."

While Ryan and Thiago walked between the tables, Connor took a seat next to Esteban.

"So, do you like your new teammates?"

"Yeah, they are awesome. I believe I will love this school and this year. You?"

"Same. I was a bit afraid to feel out of sync at first but it was okay."

"I think we've got two great leaders."

"You're right; Ryan was incredibly supportive of me today. As well as the other boys and the coach."

Esteban looked at him inquiringly.

"Well," Connor explained to him without wanting to talk about his sexuality. "I thought maybe they could be mad at me because they could feel leaving behind last year. We were a great team. But we are a better one now. By the way, what about your little bro?"

"I saw Luis before going to the basketball court: he already befriended some kid from his Math class."

"Cool!"

While they waited for their orders, Connor made a little bit of small talk with two Esteban's mates. Later, Thiago sat at their table.

"Hey, It's true what Esteban told me at lunch? You're a big fan of Zero?"

"Yeah, I see myself in him a lot: I'm not only a jock even if most girls and boys think I am. Daria dated me because I was popular but she saw another side of me like Taylor and a boy...

He didn't finish his sentence: Jude just walked into the pizzeria with some guys. What happened to him? He had his hair cut really short and his eyes seemed darker and hard; he was very pale and wore dark clothes. He did a bitter face as soon as he recognized him and walked towards him.

"So Mama was right," he said with a brittle and brutal tone. "I didn't want to believe her."

"Hey Jude," Connor told awkward.

"Why did you come back? I thought you liked more LA than me."

Connor didn't reply. He felt Jude's anger - his hatred - and wondered why he was so full of aversion: he was the one who wanted to break up. The boys around the table just looked at them.

"Don't talk to my friend like that!" Esteban said while getting up. "I don't know who you are but..."

"We were close," Connor explained to him while putting a hand on his arm to calm his new friend down.

"You mean VERY CLOSE, Con. I trusted you, you know that? You left me behind."

"You told me I could go to LA, Jude!"

"What's going on here?" Thiago's dad suddenly asked before adding. "I want you to go away. Leave my sons friend alone."

"Who is it?" Thiago and Esteban asked as soon as Jude and his friends were outside.

Connor didn't answer immediately.

"He's Jude Adams-Foster, the younger son of the Principal. He was my best friend before going to live with my mom. He was right: we were very close. We were hanging out all the time together..."

"What happened?"

"We've had kind of hard times, Thiago..."

"Con," Ryan cut him off, call your dad. We'll wait for him outside, okay? I think you need some air."

So Connor and Ryan went out of the building.

"He was your boyfriend, wasn't he? T spoke about two boys she knew very well and she liked a lot. It was you?"

"Yes. I fell in love with J as soon as I saw him even if I didn't understand my feelings..."

"Don't be mad at yourself. I think he's broken: I know what I'm talking about. How long was he in the foster care?"

Connor stared at him.

"Six years. He was six when his parents died."

"I don't know what he told you but it's a living hell in some foster homes."

"Yeah, I know..."

"That's your dad. See you tomorrow. And if you need to talk, don't hesitate, okay?"

"Sure."

Connor felt guilty after hearing Jude's blames: he wondered if he was really right to come home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

A week and a half later

 

"This guy, Hunter," Luis said while walking home between Esteban and Connor, "he's a pretty nice one. We're reading this book, A Wrinkle in... something..."

"Time ?" His brother suggested.

"Huh?"

"A Wrinkle in Time."

"Yeah, that's it. Anyways, I don't get it, it's quite confusing. So he offered me his help."

"You're lucky," Connor said. "You've got yourself a good friend."

"Yup," the kid who radiated happiness answered him.

"I don't recognize him anymore," Esteban confided in while his brother was rushing to the Perez house. "Luis is buddy buddy with this Hunter while they only knew each other for a few days. I mean, that's not like him: it had always been tough for him to make friends."

"You know," Connor told him, remembering his meeting with Jude two years ago, "you can meet someone who will change your world."

"You're right but..."

"Let me give you some advice," Connor kindly insisted while remembering what happened to Jude and Callie's relationships. "Don't be overprotective if you wanna keep his trust. Otherwise, it will ruin your relationship. I saw it."

"Okay," his friends eventually replied. "Thanks Con."

"Mom, dad!" Luis cried after opening the front door. "We're home."

"Welcome sons. Hi Connor."

"Hi Mr Perez."

"I've made you something in the kitchen," he said while the three boys took their shoes off. "Connor, you stay over for dinner, right?"

"I dunno, I wouldn't want to disturb you..."

"You wouldn't. Right boys?"

Esteban and Luis nodded.

"Okay, I'll text my dad: I'm sure he won't mind because he has to work late today."

"So, how was your day?"

"There's a new kid in our grade," Luis said between two bites of his peanut-butter sandwich, "A girl..."

"She's pretty?"

"It's a girl," he replied to his dad, shrugging before adding. "Me and Hunter helped her first because of two older boys who made fun of her. Hunter asked me to go get a teacher while he took the focus."

Luis slightly shook his head.

"I should have stayed. They had shoved him into the lockers when I came back with Mrs Andrea who immediately sent them to the Principal's office. I asked Hunter if he was okay: he smiled at me. But I won't forget what these boys, Blake and Jeremy, did."

"Your friend is really brave to confront these two boys," Connor said to make him forget his frustration (the same one he felt when he hesitated the day the two bullies had made fun of Jude's painted nails). "I know them: they always bully the new ones."

"You're right," Luis approved with a big smile, "he's courageous."

"I'm proud of you, son. And I can't wait to know him.".

"I thought of inviting him to come over on Saturday."

"Well, ask him."

"Thanks dad."

Connor's phone suddenly buzzed.

D: U didn't answer me yet :(

C: I dunno

"We saw her again," Luis added, "while we went out of English class just before lunch. She walked into an empty classroomn and I asked Hunter if we hadn't to go see her."

"Oooh," Esteban teased him, "my baby brother has his first crush..."

"EWWW, NO! We only had a small talk and we lunched together after she thanked us."

"Leave him alone!" Mr Perez cut his older son off with a small smile.

"What's her name?"

"Lisa."

Connor's device hummed again.

D: COOOOOOOOOOOOONNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEE ;(

He couldn't help but smile.

"And you, Esteban?"

"It was an easy day even if I was almost mad at Mr Parker when he talked about lab work. Seriously, who still does assign partners nowadays?"

"He's the only one in Anchor Beach to do that way," Connor explained to him. "I remember hearing Mari complaining about his methods."

"Who's Mari?"

"Do you remember the girl I talked to in the hallway on Wednesday?"

Esteban thought for a minute and then nodded.

Connor had been happy to meet Mariana again that day: she had always been Jude's only sibling. She's the first one to support him. He remembered she was also there the day Jude played hooky to meet his sister Callie and she explained to him that he hadn't to be mad at his boyfriend because the family went through some hardship for a few weeks. She even called him after his break-up.

If he thought of Mariana while being in LA, the names of the other siblings didn't cross his mind. He never liked Jude's biological sister - and Callie evened the score - because she often hurted her brother: she was a selfish sister - according to Connor - who secretly flirted with Brandon and left Jude behind after Stef and Lena's wedding. As for the older sons, he didn't really know them even if Jesus - Mariana's twin brother - always seemed to be mad at him.

"Anyways," Esteban went on, "when I looked across the classroom at the shocked faces of the other ones, I wondered what Mr parker had in store for me. I only hoped I wouldn't be paired with Angie. So, when Zack, the one who was sitting in front of me, handed me Mr Parker's clipboard, I was on t..."

His friend paused.

"I mean," he eventually said, looking away from Connor, "I was relieved to read Esteban Perez and Daria Lincoln."

"You're very lucky," Connor commented while noticing that his friend seemed confused.

He was about to ask him why he was akward all of a sudden when his phone rang once again.

D: Please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please

I forgot how stubborn she was.

"And you, Connor?"

"Same old same old except Ryan's little surprised training this afternoon," he replied before looking at Luis and Esteban.

He relived his day while speaking to the Perez family.

 

At lunch, Ryan gathered the soccer team and told he wanted to do some practice after school.

"Well, we're gonna play five-a-side," he explained a few hours later. "I asked Thiag to come with some basketball shirts since ours aren't dry. He's also gonna take Sean's place who's still sick. It will be shirts against skins, okay? Let's pull straws the names of the captains first."

The winners were Atua and Charlie who then chose their teammates each in turn: Connor and Thiago were part of Atua's team, captain of the skins crew.

 

Connor didn't mention the part of the story in which he couldn't help but look at Thiago when he began to take his shirt off and let his eyes lingering on his chest as unnoticed as possible.

Connor - still under the spell of Thiago's torso - shook his head and resumed his story.

 

"Let's warm up!" Atua and Charlie said.

When they were done, they walked into the soccer field. Connor gave everything he had from the very beginning: he was there as backup as soon as one of his teammates was in trouble. Atua's line-up had to face Charlie and Ryan who were the two best players of the team but Atua was a skilled strategist who could rely on the duet Connor-Joey and the speed of Thiago who was definitely a strong asset. It had been a tight game: Charlie's team beat Atua's one 3-2.

"You are really impressive," Thiago said while sitting next to him.

"Thanks," Connor replied (while savoring every detail of Thiago's chest: his shoulders, his collar bone, his thorax, his toned pecs, his big pink nipples or his amazing six pack for a thin guy).

Connor paused.

"Well," he said after regaining his composure while moping his head and his chest, "it's true I've always loved soccer since I was four but I can't rival your brother."

"Don't be so humble, Con. I don't think Ryan'd be able to counter your strikes without Charlie."

"Atua's right," Ryan confirmed. "If we had played one on one..."

"It's true I like competition - only because I wanna improve - but I can't do it alone. That's why I like soccer: this is a team game. I couldn't give my best without all of you."

"I heard you played another sport before leaving to LA: which one it is?" Ryan's brother asked while nudging him.

Connor lost his words when he felt Thiago's skin against his own.

"Y-Yeah," he eventually answered after a few seconds of silence. "I-I also played baseball before and football when I lived with my mom."

"You're really into sports," Thiago exclaimed impressed.

"I only played baseball to please my dad," he explained blushing. "But I lately thought it was boring and I felt lazy standing around while soccer is fast and mentally challenging. Besides, I was good at it and so that's what I stuck with."

Connor paused again.

"And I wanna thank you all again to show me your support," he added a bit emotionally.

Before Thiago - who looked puzzled at the smiling boys - asked him what he was talking about, Daria and Taylor joined the team.

"Thanks for the view!" Daria said with her usual flirty tone before sitting just behind Connor, "gorgeous guys!"

All the single boys - but Ryan's brother whose face lost all his expressiveness all of a sudden - smiled at her.

"D, please!" Taylor sighed while putting her head on Ryan's shoulder.

"What? I have no right to compliment them on their amazing body?"

The boys - except Thiago once again - laughed out loud.

"You okay, Thiago?" Connor - worried - inquired.

His friend ignored his question. Connor tried to understand why his new friend suddenly mute: so he looked at Ryan who had also noticed the sudden change in his brother's behavior but could only answer him by a shrug.

 

"I also saw this side of him a few times," Esteban couldn't help but cut him off. "

 

From the moment on, Connor absent-mindedly listened to Ryan's comments before losing interest in what was going on around him: he only awakened from his indifference when he was told it was over. Before they left, Ryan had called him.

 

"By the way," Connor said when he had finished his story, "I'm sorry for being late: I was talking to him after the game and I lost track of time."

"Don't be," the two brothers replied while the three boys cleared the table.

When they were done, Esteban and Connor went to the living room while Luis walked out of the kitchen because he needed something in his bedroom.

The three of them put their school stuff and started doing their own homework while helping each other from time to time.

"I'm gonna use the bathroom," Connor said after a while.

"Okay. It's just down the corridor."

While leaving the room, he heard his phone buzzing again and wondered which argument Daria - he was sure it was her again - could have used so that he'd come to a party one of her friends would have the next weekend. He took his time to clear his head, had a small talk with Mr Perez and came back in the living room.

As soon as he set foot in the room, Connor knew something had changed

"What's going on?" He asked Esteban who was looking away from him.

"He's got that face since he accidentally looked at your phone," Luis replied.

"Accidents happen," Connor said to his friend to comfort him before reading Daria's words.

D: There will be many hot boys. U'll have a lot of choices :)))))

He went mute and looked at Esteban. He didn't come out to him yet because he needed to find the right words at the right time to tell him: he didn't forget that they barely knew each other, even if they quickly became friends.

"We, we need to talk," Connor stated when he recovered his ability to speak.

But Esteban remained silent.

"Please, you're my friend..."

"I wanna finish my homework," Esteban cut him off - his eyes on his textbook - before adding after a few seconds of silence. "First."

He heaved a sigh of relief: the boy didn't refuse to speak to him and Connor felt neither anger nor revulsion in his voice. But he was too nervous to focus on his homework.

"Do you need help?" He asked Luis.

"Please, if you don't mind."

"Eighteen," he told him before explaining the operation.

"And this one?"

"You know that. What d' you have to do?"

Luis looked at the page and then turned to him.

"You have to divide by the Y."

"Four?"

"That's it."

Connor felt surprisingly close to Esteban's little brother: it was true that he'd always wanted a sibling.

"I don't get this one."

"C"mon boy. You should know that."

"Ten?"

"Nope. Try again."

"Twelve?"

"No. Fifteen. You should have known that."

"No, YOU should have known that."

"I did."

"No, you didn't."

"I did," Connor retorted while messing his hair up.

Esteban loudly closed his textbook.

Now comes the moment of truth.

Connor saw his friend going into the backyard and silently followed him.

They've been watching... waiting. Esteban seemed torn between anger and something else that Connor couldn't describe. As for him, he couldn't keep still, looked everywhere but his friend and his mouth was dry.

This deafening silence seemed to last like forever.

"You haven't been honest," Esteban finally stated. "I trusted you."

He paused.

"Why?" Esteban finally asked before keeping silent again.

"Why didn't I tell you any of this sooner?"

His friend just nodded.

"I, I've been through so much before and after my coming out: my dad, my best friend, my boyfriend, the ones I trusted more betrayed me. Each in their own way. I felt lost and lonely for a long time."

Connor broke off.

"You lucky straight guy," Connor kept on after a full minute of silence, sighing. "You've never had to wonder why you felt different, why you weren't interested in girls while the ones around couldn't stop talking about them, why you felt something weird inside you when you saw some boys, why you were happy when you met a guy again or sad when you had to leave or why you needed his presence."

"I..."

"Just," Connor cut his friend off. "Just get me through this, please. As I told you earlier, you're my friend. I mean, the first real friend I made since I came back here. I like my teammates, I know them a lot longer than you and we hang out sometimes. But I don't feel so close to them as to you and Luis. Me and you, we get along since the first day. It's been a very long time since I felt so happy. But I immediately remembered my best friend and how strangely complicated it became after my coming out. I didn't want to go through this again."

When he was done, Esteban opened his mouth before closing it instantly as if he was searching for the right words to say. Then he got closer and hugged him tightly: Connor felt relieved.

They stayed like this for a while.

"I promise you won't," his friend eventually stated before adding grinning. "PES? Are you in before dinner?"

"Sure!"

They immediately rushed into the living room, stowed their school stuff, Esteban turned on the TV and Connor the gaming device.

D: Hello? U still there?

"Daria?"

"Yeah, when she wants something..."

Esteban looked away and whispered something. Connor frowned, stared at him and paused the game.

"You like her."

"N-No!"

"That wasn't a question."

"O-Okay. But I dont want to intrude."

"What d' ya mean?"

"W-Well, you t-two are always sneaking around."

"I know, it's a new fixation of her: she told me I was her GBF now. And don't ask me what it means!"

"It means "gay best friend"," Esteban whispered smirking. "He's the closest friend of a hot girl: he's the key to getting that girl."

"How d'ya know that?"

"One of my friends in Tempa dated a girl who was always hanging out with a gay boy. And what's with this "Coria" thing?"

"Where did you hear that?"

"At school. It's on every girl's lips. So?"

"It's the ship name T gave us sarcastically when me and Daria dated," Connor explained before adding grinning. "Since then, she kicks herself: it became the most popular ship name in our grade."

Connor paused.

"Listen, if you wanna go out with her, you have an advantage the other boys don't have."

"What?" Esteban asked, shaking his head.

"I'm Daria's closest friend, right?"

Esteban just nodded.

"Friends like me, we know the most beautiful girls in the world and we're happy to introduce you to them. So I'm on your side as long as you don't hurt her. Okay?"

"Okay."

C: Yeah.

"I hope you are as good at soccer with a controller as you are on the field,"

"Who did say that?"

"Thiago. Since he heard Ryan talking about your skills, he doesn't stop talking about you when you're not around. He's atad sometimes."

Connor looked at him and smiled like an idiot. Then, he pulled off his phone.

C: Can I bring a plus 1?

D: R U already cheating me? :((((((((((((((

C: Maybe. Maybe not. :)

D: Don't U dare hide something. Wanna know all!!!!!

Then the two of them resumed the game until they were called in for dinner which took place in a pleasant atmosphere.

But as Connor felt tired, he texted his dad who honked a few minutes later. He thanked the Perez family and got in the car.

"Hey son, how was your day?"

Connor told him everything.

"I'm sorry," his dad said while remembering the many mistakes he had made. "I hope you can forgive me."

"I already did. Otherwise, I wouldn't have come home."

"Thanks son. You've got very good friends."

"I know even if I'm still afraid of being disappointed..."

"You won't," his dad asserted. "Know i won't let you down anymore. Jude's father, Donald, taught me a lesson that I will always learn. It took so long but..."

Connor looked at him.

"I want my son to be proud of who he is. And I AM."

"I'm proud of you too. You changed in the best way. If only he could do the same."

But Connor remembered his talk with Ryan after the game.

"You have to move on, Con. This boy, Jude, is broken like many foster kids I knew - I am too - because you can't live in the system for that long without losing something. He is the only one who's able to do it."

What if Connor showed him the way? He was there for him from the beginning, right?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The morning after

 

"Hey."

"Hi," his father began to reply before staring at him and asking. "Who are you? And what did you do to my son?"

For a second, Connor wondered what was going on.

"This is the first time you're so classy to go to school."

He didn't understand what his dad was talking about. He had just followed his morning routine: he'd picked up some clean clothes the minute he woke up, then had gone to the bathroom where he jumped in the shower before getting dressed, doing his hair - which had taken him more time, he had to agree - and meeting his dad in the kitchen. Connor stood at the bottom of the stairs and looked into the mirror: he wore a tight white T-shirt under a black shirt, dark grey jeans and black sneakers.

His dad couldn't help but jeeringly tell his hair made him look like Alfalfa. As Connor looked puzzled at him, he took his phone out of his pocket and showed him a black-and-white picture of a young boy whose hair were sleeked close to the scalp, except for an upright strand like an ear of corn on top of his head.

"Don't look at me like that, son. It's not my fault if your hair makes me think of him."

The two of them suddenly bursted out laughing. Even if Connor was still taken aback by his dad's sense of humor because he wasn't used to the new Adam yet, he wouldn't exchange him for anything.

He had to admit that everything wasn't perfect yet because his dad wasn't fully comfortable with his sexuality: Connor felt his apprehensiveness every time his eyes lingered on some boys; he didn't ask any questions about guys he eventually met either. It was a good thing because he remembered that he couldn't stop asking about girls before he dated Daria.

"How about going to the batting cages in the morning?" His dad asked while pouring coffee in two mugs. "It's been a long time since we spent some time there."

"Sure."

Even if Connor told he'd never be part of a baseball team anymore, he knew this sport meant a lot to his father: it was another way to rebuild and stengthen their old father-and-son bonding.

"By the way," he inquired while eating his apple compote, "you still agree that I spend the night at Esteban's Saturday night?"

"Of course, I'm so happy you made a new friend."

"Daaaad, please! He's just a friend and he ain't my kind of guy. Besides, I think he likes D."

"Well, well," his father replied while leaving his mug in the sink, "I said nothing."

"I know you're still new at this but your gay son can be friend with another boy as a straight guy can befriend a girl."

Connor finished to swallow his cereal before eating his yoghurt. After the two of them cleared the table and doing the dishes, he went back to the bathroom to brush his teeth and went upstairs to take his skateboard while his dad read the paper.

"I'll go to the skatepark after school."

"Okay. I might have to work late again tonight: I should be at home around 8."

"I'm gonna be late," Connor suddenly said after looking at his phone. "I'd promised Ryan to see him before class."

"Do you want me to take you to school?"

"I'd love to."

"Don't forget your lunch box and your protein shake in the fridge," his dad said while taking his car keys.

Connor quickly got into the car, nervously fastened his seat belt and tapped on the dashboard.

"Be still, Connor. What happens to you today?"

"Sorry, dad."

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. It was true he had ants in the pants since he got up: he couldn't wait to see Thiago again. And he couldn't stop thinking of the dream he had the previous night.

 

Thiago was part of the LA Devils and had invited his family and some of his friends - Daria, Esteban and Taylor - to attend the opening game. He showed them some of the stadium's wings: the Devils locker-room and the corridor the team took to go into the court.

As soon as everybody was sitting, it was a constant show: an impressive production before the game started with lasers, fireworks and drums, the players entrance, the game itself, mini-games during each time-out and the Devil Girls at half time.

The game was tied until the final whistle: Thiago's team even started to fall back during the last minutes of the game but Zero succeeded to score and the team won. The spectators immediately invaded the court and Connor lost sight of his friends until Thiago met him, grabbed his face and kissed him.

"I luv ya."

"I love you too," Connor managed to reply after taking his breath.

 

Connor couldn't help but blush and smile like an idiot.

"See ya," Connor said as soon as his dad parked before rushing out of the car, heart racing.

Ryan - alone! - who waited for him in front of the school greeted him warmly.

"Sorry for being late."

"Wow, Con!" his friend couldn't help but exclaim after looking him up and down. "You gonna hook up today?"

"Please stop, you sound like my dad," he stated, sighing.

"Who's the lucky one?" Ryan playfully inquired, as if he didn't hear his comment.

"Noone," he quickly replied.

"Done, bro!" Thiago said behind him.

Connor - grinning - turned to him and greeted him.

Ryan's brother opened his mouth but no sound came out of it: he just stared at Connor, could hardly suppress a smirk - Connor enjoyed inside - and then slightly shook his head.

"Hey C-Con," Thiago - blushing slightly - eventually managed to say.

"So what's up, Ryan?" Connor asked while keeping his eye on Ryan's brother.

"Well," he whispered while glancing around them, "me and Tay, we gonna celebrate our first anniversary this weekend and I wanna do something special: it's a treasure hunt. So I gonna handle you three letters that you'll give her - the first one at biology class this afternoon and the other ones at speech and calculus classes tomorrow - without her noticing it."

Connor put his backpack on the ground and slid the letters in it.

"What a great skate!" Thiago exclaimed. "Can I?..."

"Sure, it's the gift of my dad for my last birthday. He asked someone to restore and customize my first board."

"I love the golden painting and the black lightning bolts on the side."

"I'll go skating after school: it's been too long since I really did."

"Why?" Ryan's brother inquired while looking at the board from every angle.

"I was too busy between school, football and soccer in LA. I really missed it."

"So you'll meet the lucky one there?" Ryan - who stuck to it - asked.

"No, I'll go alone."

"Well, ask Thiag. As you like competition, he'll be a great adversary: he's as skilled with a board as with a basketball. And he could teach you some of his own tricks."

"Bro..."

Connor loved - A LOT - Ryan's idea.

"Teach me," he said before adding with his brightest grin. "Thiag sensei, please."

Thiago froze, stared at him and blushed once more.

"O-Okay," he eventually managed to babble, "I, I'll see you at lunch? So-Sorry b-but I have t-to go go now: I wanna t-take my t-textbooks before going t-to history class."

"You too?" Connor - who couldn't believe his luck - asked. "You don't mind if we're going together?"

Ryan's brother - unable to answer - just shook his head.

"See ya later, Ryan."

While the two of them walked into the building, most students stared at Connor and Thiago.

"Why are all of them gawking at us?" Ryan's brother - who had finally regained his composure - inquired.

"What d' ya mean?" Connor - who felt his friend's awkwardness - asked frowning.

"I felt being a circus freak all of a sudden."

"Don't tell me they don't look at you and your team differently."

Connor had never really paid attention to them even if it was somehow flattering - he always was used to people checking him out - because his friends would always be the only ones who really mattered.

"Not like that anyway," Thiago explained while opening his locker. "And that doesn't bother you? Or your girlfriend?"

Connor inquiringly looked at him.

"You know, the girl with curly hair..."

"No," Connor replied a bit tired of clarifying his relationship with Daria. "And D ain't my girlfriend. Well, she used to be but we're just friends now."

"Don't get mad at me. But you two hang out so often that you two look like a couple."

"Sorry if I seemed a bit harsh. Esteban already told me that but it's a bit complicated between me and her."

Thiago looked at him while they passed Jude's "office" whose door was guarded by a senior student.

"Let's say," Connor - who couldn't help but be honest with him - explained, "I wasn't fair with her and I reluctantly hurted her."

"She was your first girlfriend, right? It's normal, Con."

"You don't get it: I dated her under false pretenses."

Connor went silent until they walked into the classroom.

"Shall we sit there?" He asked while showing two tables near the entrance.

Thiago - thoughtful - just nodded.

"Good morning," their teacher said after the students took their place.

"Good morning."

"Since we are going to study Ancient Greece next week," Mr Hills announced after a while, "I'll ask you to pair off so that boys will write about Sparta and girls about Athens. Okay? so, pick a partner. When you will be done, I'll hand you my clipboard and you'll chose a theme."

"Partners?" Thiago asked.

---

"Do you have a...?"

---

"Sure," Connor immediately replied.

---

"No."

"Would you be mine?"

"Yes."

---

"Your place or mine?"

---

"Okay. How about come over on Saturday? My mom doesn't like when kids come over: she says they give her a migraine."

---

"Studying at the pizzeria could be cool," his friend explained; " but it could be noisy too."

---

"Yeah, okay. I mean, I have to ask but..."

---

"I got it," Connor replied while thinking of what his dad would say or think when he'd know he'd bring a boy at home. "But I won't be home before noon: my dad wanna take me to the batting cages and we'll get groceries after that. 1 PM?"

---

"Okay, lemme know."

---

"D-Deal," Thiago answered, suddenly blushing again.

"How about choose "Myth & Reality"?" Connor suggested after reading the different themes. "I watched 300 not long ago: it could be helpful, right?"

"S-Sure."

The rest of the period passed too quickly, according to Connor. So, it was with some regret that he had to go to biology class while Thiago joined Esteban. Before walking into the next classroom, he took Ryan's envelope, stood next to Taylor and discreetly slid it into her backpack.

"Hey T."

"Hey."

The two of them had a small talk until the teacher silenced them.

But as time went on, Connor grew nervous: he had promised himself to go see Jude today. So when the bell rang the end of the second period, he was the first one to walk out the classroom, headed to the boy's room and bluntly opened the door.

"Get out of my face!" He said to the senior student who didn't stick around - Connor was a very impressive 15yo boy - before looking at Jude."We need to talk!"

It was the first time he really saw him again: he was slender and very pale, his hair was really short and his eyes had lost their mischievous sparkle.

"What d' ya want, Stevens?" Jude coldly retorted. "I'm a bit busy, right now."

Connor was still taken aback to see his ex-boyfriend as the head of a small traffic - inside the school - while he was the son of the Principal and a cop and wondered what happened to his family so that noone noticed that Jude had gone downhill. He seemed to have taken over Mariana's business - when she stole her twin's pills and sold to some of her classmates - but had diversified his own organization: basically, they could ask him anything if they were willing to pay the price.

"When did you become this?" He asked while shaking his head.

He paused.

"Where's the boy that I fell in love with?"

"He's gone the day you left me behind."

"I didn't. I never bailed on you."

As you did when I invited you.

"You would never leave if you really cared about me," Jude said before lowering his head and turning his back.

"I,I had no idea you were hurt so badly," Connor said while getting closer - he never liked seeing Jude being sad - before stopping dead when he heard him chuckling.

"Don't be so full of yourself, Stevens. You're not that special anymore."

"I won't give up," Connor - stunned - stated while walking out and hearing Jude's joyless laughter. "I never will."

He suddenly felt drained: he barely listened to the teacher and couldn't only wait to get some air. So, when the bell rang the end of the third period, he went out of the building, went to the beach, took his shoes off and walked along the ocean as far as some rocks where he sat.

Jude's words were really unfair and hurt him deeply.

Did he forget I supported him when he didn't want to be labeled? Even if I suffered because I felt he was ashamed of our relationship. Did he forget we almost broke up the day Cole, Callie's friend, invited us to the prom he set up? I was so happy to meet people like us because I finally felt at home and he decided that it wasn't a place for him. I thought his sister was the selfish one but I wonder if he he's not more selfish than her.

He gradually cried before trying to wipe his tears. But in vain.

And the day I finally thought of myself, he gave me his trust and let me go before blaming me a few weeks later. Does he know he's lucky to have parents who understand him while my dad - despite all his so-called efforts - didn't succeed in? Somehow, I was right to be away for awhile because my dad could have changed. But I'm still taken aback that Jude dared say we couldn't be friends anymore. Even if It hurt me a lot when he decided to break up with me.

"What's wrong?" A voice - that brought him back to reality - said behind him.

"What are you doing here, Thiag?"

"Everyone's looking for you. My brother and Taylor didn't see you at lunch. So they asked me, your g... - I mean the girl with curly hair - and Esteban to find you. But they didn't tell us why."

"I went meet Jude."

"Who?"

"The boy who talked to me Monday night."

"Why?" Thiago inquired frowning. "I thought Ryan had warned you about him."

"Yeah but he was my friend: I couldn't - I can't - leave him behind when he needs most help. We went through a lot of things..."

And Connor roughly told him what was said.

"I get it."

Thiago paused.

"Can I sit? Don't worry, I won't lecture you but share a story with you."

Connor just nodded.

"My parents fostered Ryan eight years ago: we quickly got along and we almost became inseparable. But he had to go back to the foster care because of something stupid. He only could come back five months later. Me and my mom, we saw something had changed in him but it was "normal": he had lived in so many foster homes during this period. You must suspect that being bundled as if he was a burden hadn't helped him feel safe. You told Ryan your friend had lived in the system since six years, right?"

"Yes, J had been in seven different schools before Anchor Beach."

"Shortly after Ryan came back, our parents called us and told they started taking steps to adopt him but it would take time: it had been a painful period despite our efforts to comfort him. The second the papers were signed, he was the happiest boy and me the luckiest brother. My parents had still a surprise for him: they got framed his adoption certificate so that he hanged on the wall in front of his bed in our room so that he knew he was Ryan Mora from now on. He still needed time to be really comfortable even if he had anxiety sometimes."

He opened a small bottle of water and took a sip before resuming his story.

"Shortly after, we started playing basketball together but Ryan quickly wanted to play soccer. He gradually became the boy you know now. And Taylor played a large part too - she cares about him - even if it was hard first. He loves her and he knows she loves him back but I saw how fragile this feeling made him too. I hope they'll stay together for a very long time."

He paused again.

"I already knew many foster siblings and their stories are all alike: you can't enter the system without being broken at one time or another. They don't need to be beaten by some foster parents or bullied by biological siblings. They even create a difference between them and us though my mom said it isn't DNA that makes a family. I think they never feel safe."

Thiago looked straight in Connor's eyes.

"The point is, you don't have to feel guilty. Ryan would say you should move on but, as for me, I wouldn't give up. So I'll be there if you need help."

"Thanks," Connor just said because he didn't have the right words to show his gratitude.

"Well, I'll text Ryan. And, as soon as you're feeling better, we'll meet them."

"Okay."

Shortly after, they slowly walked back to the school while having a small talk.

"You okay?" Esteban, Taylor, Ryan and Daria asked frowning as soon as they sat at the table.

"Yeah," Connor replied before turning to Ryan. "You got a great bro."

"I know I'm the luckiest boy on Earth..."

"No, I AM, "lil bro"."

"How do you know what happened?" Connor asked while Daria quietly got closer.

"Jude told us about your meeting just before lunch," Taylor answered while shaking her head. "I don't recognize him anymore."

"Me neither," Daria added. "I never really liked him but..."

"Sorry," Connor couldn't help but say.

"Wished I had broken his face!" Ryan exclaimed while dancing with rage. "But I warned you, right?"

"Easy on him, baby. They were very close.."

"Taylor's right, bro. I felt they were like siblings. You know I'd do everything to help you. So I get him."

"Of course, I get him too but life's in the foster care can destroy you and your loved ones. We're friends, right Con?"

He nodded.

"I'll say it again: move on. It's for your own good."

But Connor was determined to help Jude - despite his friend's words - because it was his duty: it would be a secret between him and Thiago.

"You have our backs," Esteban claimed.

"Thank you."

Shortly after, the bell rang.

"By the way, Con, I almost forgot I had to go see the coach after school but I won't be long."

"Okay, I'll wait for you here."

"See you later," Thiago shouted out while joining his brother.

English and calculus classes passed too slowly, according to Connor who missed Thiago. When the sixth period came to its end, he rushed out of the building, took his board in his locker and sat at their table.

"Excuse me," someone said while he played on his phone. "I'm looking for Mrs Adams-Foster's office."

"This way," he started replying before adding frowning. "I know you: you're Callie's friend. Cole, right?"

"Yes. And you are?" Cole answered while thinking. I remember: her little brother's boyfriend: Connor, right? How you doing?"

"I'm fine. I'll bring you to her."

"Thanks."

"So, what are you doing here? Callie graduated, right?"

"I think so: It's been awhile since I saw her. I still was in the hospital three months ago."

"You're finally done?"

"Yeah, Nicole's definitely gone. I'm finally myself."

"You're handsome!" Connor couldn't help but said after looking him up and down.

"It's the nicest thing I heard since I left the hospital."

Connor couldn't help but blush.

"To answer your question, Connor, I go around San Diego to speak about LGBT's place at school."

While they were coming along a hallway, they ran into Jude's mom.

"Hi Connor."

"Hi Mrs Adams-Foster. Well, I have to go. It was good seeing you again, man."

He slowly returned to the table.

"I wasn't too long?" Thiago inquired when he met him a few minutes later.

"Nope. let's go."

The two of them were walking side by side; their arms touched sometimes: Connor liked feeling his skin and Thiago looked at them awkwardly without moving away for all that.

The skatepark was still empty when they got there: they took the opportunity to warm up.

After a while, Connor posted himself along so that he could watch the course that Thiago took through the park: it's been a long time since he was so enthusiastic. Ryan's brother dropped into the quarter-pipe: the line out of the pipe took him to the edge of the bowl, which was roughly kidney shaped. He gathered speed, banked around the edge of the kidney bowl, then hopped up to a succession of rails that took him out to another series of banks and on to more obstacles. The distance between the area where he exited the kidney bowl and the bank up to the rails was short and at a bit difficult angle. So Thiago got a little air off the lip of the hump coming out of the bowl.

"You are really amazing!" Connor exclaimed after Thiago sat next to him.

"Thanks," he replied while putting the hand on his accidentally.

The two of them stared at each other.

"Sorry," Thiago - blushing - said.

"Why?" Connor asked while getting closer.

"Ahem!"

They looked behind them and saw Jude.

"What are you doing here, J?"

"You wanna talk to me earlier? Let's do it now."

"Why?"

"And why not, Stevens?"

"Wait for me here, Thiag. I won't be long."

"So he is your new boyfriend? He ain't ugly."

"I hope so" Connor thought while turning to Thiago.

Jude also looked at Ryan's brother and maliciously grinned.

"What's he going to think of that?" He asked before throwing himself at Connor's mouth and French kissing Connor.

Connor couldn't help but melt and cry softly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Being round you is driving me crazy  

Connor, who was fighting with all his strength not to give in to his feelings, eventually pushed him back.

“What kind of game is this?” He asked after catching his breath.

But Jude didn’t answer him and looked away.

“Didn’t you torment me enough?”

“You came to me, Stevens! I didn’t ask you!”

He paused.

“I’ll never forgive you for leaving me behind.”

“I didn’t! You said that I could go to LA, right? Unless you forgot your own words? You know I needed some space from my dad. ”

But Jude still remained silent.

“Besides, I promised you I’d come back as soon as he finally started accepting me. And I kept in touch until you broke my heart.”

Connor - tearfully - stopped because he wasn’t be able to speak. He suddenly felt a hand on his shoulder, turned around and saw Thiago who was weakly smiling.

“You still here?” He incredulously asked.

“Yeah, why you ask?” Ryan’s brother replied with a warmer smile. “I told you earlier I’d have your back: you don’t have to be alone to confront him.”

“But… I, I’m sorry: what you just saw hurted you, right?”

“Don’t think about it. You only need to get off your chest right now.”

So Connor turned to Jude who seemed to be torn between anger and something else.

“You weren’t alone either: what about your family, Taylor or Daria?”

“You didn’t get it yet,” Jude said, shaking his head. “My family? Mom and Mama didn’t stop fighting and Cal always gets herself into trouble. Mari? I don’t know what happened to her lately. T and Daria? I don’t care about them: even if they’re nice, they’re just my classmates.”

He looked straight in Connor’s eyes for a while.

“I only needed you.”

Connor was taken aback by his confession and wondered why he didn’t try to hold him when he talked about LA.

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

“I, I had no right to ask you such thing. As I told you in the court while Callie was finally gonna be part of the Adams-Foster family, I wanted you to be happy like her. But, when I saw your empty room, I started wondering what I was gonna do without you by my side.”

He stopped while wiping his tears.

“And, when I met your dad at school later, I finally got it: I wouldn’t see you every day anymore. I was so lost that I let your dad hug me.”

Jude paused again.

“Do you realize?” He asked with a joyless laughter. “Me and Adam, the one who was responsible for your departure? I felt being a character from a bad TV show.”

Despite his feelings, Connor couldn’t help but squeeze out a smile.

“As time went on,” Jude added sighing, “the harder it was for me to confide in someone because Mama, Mom, Mari and Cal had their own problems and I’ve never really been close to Jesus and Brandon.”

“I admit it was a bit complicated with your family - even if I don’t know why you never texted me about them - but I don’t get why you said you didn’t care about Taylor: you two seemed pretty close…”

“Why didn’t I talk to you about my family’s issues?” Jude said angrily. “You didn’t stop speaking about your great life in LA…”

“My great life in LA? What are you saying? I was so far from you. It’s true I tried to kill some time before getting word from you every night. I was so mad at my mom when she was telling me we couldn’t skype…”

“Why did you never come back to see me?”

“I already told you we had trainings. Besides, she wanted me to spend time with my dad so that we could start getting closer again. So she invited him to attend some of my games and trainings. I only wanted to invite you but she didn’t stop talking about the father-and-son bonding. I didn’t want to disappoint her: I was wrong because I disappointed you.”

Connor stopped briefly.

“But when she told me that you could come to the homecoming game, I couldn’t stop counting the days I would see you again. And what did you do the day before? You ruined our reunion!”

He saw Jude looking away again but he wasn’t done yet.

“You’re a selfish brat, exactly like your sister!”

“I’M NOT CALLIE!!!!!”

“Really? Look what your sister did to your family because of Brandon and remember her relationship with Wyatt! I also wonder what happened to AJ!”

He paused again.

“And now,” he stated while trying to wipe his tears, “look what you did to me: you broke up with me because of a picture and you denied our friendship at the same time.”

He stopped once again.

“But you’re right: you’re not like your sister, you’re worse than her and my dad!”

He suddenly dropped on the ground and took refuge in Thiago’s arms when the boy sat next to him.

 

You get what you want cause nothing is sacred

Connor - numb - stared at his laptop long after the screen went black and the green dot beside Jude’s name disappeared. As he gradually clenched his fists, he felt his anger rising. So he got up, rushed to the guest room where his dad slept when he visited him, didn’t knock at the door and walked into the room.

“You must be happy now!” He cried tearfully.

“Son, what are you talking about?”

“What’s going on in here?” His mom inquired, while going out of her room.

“What n-now? J-Jude just b-broke up with me!”

His parents - stunned - looked at each other.

“ALL OF THIS!” Connor added, while looking at his mom. “IT’S BECAUSE OF DAD!!”

“Son…”

“I NEVER WANNA SEE YOU AGAIN!” He cut him off before going back to his room and locking his door.

He threw himself on his bed, put his head under his pillow and then pressed it against his ears when he heard someone knocking at the door.

“LEAVE ME ALONE!!!!!”

A short while later, Connor - exhausted - eventually fell asleep.

When his alarm woke him up the next day, he felt so unfeeling to everything that he absent-mindedly performed his ablutions before going to the kitchen where his mom was waiting for him.

“I made your breakfast,” she said while greeting with a weak smile.

After greeting her back, Connor silently sat and ate without real hunger: he was torn between anger against his dad and misunderstanding about Jude’s reasons. All of this didn’t stop going through his head so that it brought tears to his eyes again. He suddenly felt his mom sitting next to him, getting closer and tightly hugging him: it provided comfort somehow because he wasn’t alone to face it.

“Do you really wanna go to school today?”

“Yes,” he replied after a few seconds of hesitation, “I need some fresh air.”

“So get ready: we’re leaving in five. I have to meet some colleagues before classes.”

“I’m on my way,” he replied while going back to his room to take his school stuff.

The car ride was quiet until they were in sight of the highschool.

“Connie, I’ll be in my office all day. So, if you need to talk, come in.”

As soon as they got out of the car, the two of them went their separate way. Connor was thankful to his mom but he knew she had difficulty understanding his feelings and his sexuality like his dad. Jude - he held back a tear - had wondered one day why he had never really talked about his mom since she left San Diego but Connor explained that she’d never have the instincts to be a mother even if she always supported him. That was why the two of them agreed that he’d stay with his dad while she went to LA because of her job and why she accepted that he’d live with her as long as his dad would be more comfortable with his sexuality.

Connor felt sleepy during the first two periods but he couldn’t close his eyes because he lived his nightmares from the night before again and again. In the least worst one, he didn’t stop running to try to catch Jude who helplessly went away.

“Hey Connor.”

He immediately turned to the voice that sounded so familiar but sighed when he saw who just called out.

“Hey Sarah.”

She was one of the few girls in his grade who wasn’t interested in him. Besides, he liked her - even if they weren’t really close - because she looked like Jude somehow: Connor knew he was selfish but he felt that his boyfriend was by his side. Unfortunately, seeing her today hurted him.

“Ugh! You should see your face: you had a very bad night. What’s wrong?”

“I was given very bad news from San Diego but I don’t want to talk about,” he replied before adding. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be. But if you wanna talk…”

“Thanks.”

After classes, while he went to his mom’s office, Connor walked past the door of the LGBTQ+ club and had a second of hesitation. Even if he was proud of who he was, he had never been curious to push that door but maybe it was time for him to do it because they were the only people he could turn to since his parents - as well as Lena and Stef - hadn’t helped him. He shook his head when he thought of Jude’s moms who could have been the best ones to provide good guidance to them but they had to venture alone in that new territory beyond friendship.

As days went by, Connor was more and more tempted to walk into the classroom until he eventually took the step: he knocked at the door and got in. The room was empty, except for a boy who rolled up his sleeves.

“Hey, can I help you?” The boy asked frowning.

“Hey. To be honest, I ain’t really sure but I hope you will.”

“I’m Sean.”

“I’m…”

“Connor, I know. We have math class together.”

“Need a hand?”

“Yeah, thanks. Will usually helps me but he can’t today. Please, push away these tables while I’m in charge of the chairs.”

When they were done, they had a small talk until Sean’s friends joined them. Connor recognized Sarah among them.

“Soccer,” a blond boy next to her said with a degree of hostility, “you’re in the wrong room: the jocks are in the gym right now…”

“Lœk,” Sean cut him out, “just chill out. Everyone is welcome.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“Sorry for him.”

“It’s cool,” Connor - who was sick of fighting - replied.

“Well, let’s introduce ourselves. Will you be the first one, Connor?”

“Okay but what do you expect me to say?”

“Say what you want.”

“Well,” Connor said after thinking back to Cole’s party. “I’m Connor. I’m from San Diego and I live with my mom. I play soccer and football, I like the beach, skateboarding and video games. And I’m gay.”

All eyes were on him suddenly.

“What?” He asked before pausing. “I got it. It’s true I’m not the stereotyped gay boy: I’m athletic, I don’t act, dress or speak differently than the other jocks and I look like "the boy next door”…

“Yeah,” Sean replied, “you’re right: we’re the first ones who should know that people aren’t what they seem.”

The other boys and girls nodded.

“I’m Sean,” he kept on talking. “I always lived here with my parents. Like you, I love skateboarding and video games. And I’m bi. Who’s next?”

Connor got thus to know Hannah, Clay, Rob, Emma, Camille, Grant and Lisa before Lœk and Sarah finally spoke.

“Sorry for being a dick earlier,” the blond boy said turning to Connor. The name’s Lœk, I’m from Holland and I moved here with my two moms two years ago. you could say I’m a nerd. And I’m gay too.“

"I’m Sarah. I live with my dad, I’m the captain of the cheerlearders and I’m transgender.”

Connor gradually felt comfortable to be amongst them even if he wasn’t ready to talk about his different issues yet but he shared his time between his teammates and his new friends.

 

Eating your words is making me sick

“Come to my office after the training,” his coach told him two and half weeks later.

After taking his shower and getting changed, he knocked at the door.

“Come in, son. Take a seat.”

Connor put his bag down and quietly waited that Mr Atkins spoke even if he knew why he had called him.

“Well,” his coach said while turning off his laptop, “I want you to know you are one of the best players I’ve ever trained.”

“Thanks, coach.”

“But I feel you’re a bit nagging during trainings and games lately and I was told you were slightly too aggressive outside the field too. If something goes wrong, talk about it. I don’t want you to get in trouble because of your behavior.”

“Sorry, coach. It’s true I’m thick-skinned recently. I’ll try to calm down.”

Connor wasn’t sure if he could manage to find peace because he was mad at his mom who was trying to do everything so that he made up with his dad: he had suspected nothing until he saw Adam in the bleachers last Saturday. As soon as the three of them came home, Connor couldn’t help but say harsh words - which he immediately regretted - to his parents but he still was terribly hurt and felt betrayed by his mom. He had spent all Sunday at the beach, at the skatepark and in the playground where he shooted hoops and only went home late at night. His parents had worried but Connor didn’t care: he immediately went to bed without saying a word to them.

As days went by, he became gloomy. So Sarah, Sean, Lœk and his teammates worried too: they tried to get him talking.

“Why don’t you speak to us?” Sarah asked him insistently, while the both of them had lunch. “Why don’t you just speak to me?”

The two boys left Sarah and him alone.

“I’m your friend.”

“You won’t understand,” Connor eventually replied.

“You’re right, I won’t if you don’t give me the chance.”

“You don’t get it: you remind me of my boyfriend who just broke with me…”

“Ew, rude!”

Connor - puzzled - looked at her before opening his eyes wide.

“No, no, no,” he babbled. “Sorry, sorry, I misspoke: I talked about your personality. I’ll never offend you.”

“I forgive you,” Sarah said with a wide smile before frowning again. “That’s why you told me you were given bad news.”

He just nodded.

“Don’t bear this burden by yourself.”

“You don’t get it,” he repeated, shaking his head. “I don’t even get it why he did it.”

Sarah brought him aside.

“You know what, talk to me as if I were your ex: tell me everything you have on your heart.”

He looked up and told her everything he couldnt have said to Jude. When he was done, he lowered his head.

“I was bad for him,” He whispered after a while brfore adding. “I was bad for him, wasn’t I?”

She didn’t answer him but got closer and hugged him.

“To be honest, I can’t really answer your question even if I don’t think so. Maybe we know each other for a short while but I trust you.”

“Thank you, Sarah.”

“What are you doing with this freak, Connor?”

He turned to the voice and recognized the goalie from his soccer team.

"What did you just say, Mark?" He asked coldly. "Apologize to her."

"No way."

"I won't repeat again: do it right now!" He told him in a menacing way.

There was no way Connor was letting him offend Sarah who already had to endure some pretty tough issues without peole like Mark making her more uncomfortable. Even if Connor was unable to understand what was going on in Sarah's head, he knew her dilemma somehow: he remembered how tough it had been for him when he got the emotions he felt for Jude were different than the ones he had for his other friends and his teammates.

He knew Sarah didn't need closed minded people but only supportive ones.

"Why are you sticking up for this monster?" Mark stuttered.

Mark's last word was the last straw for him: he lunged at the boy who fell. Then the two of them rolled on the ground for a little while before Connor sat on his chest.

"So you give up?"

But Mark wasn't done: he pushed Connor away before standing up and going back on the attack. The two of them only stopped when a teacher separated them.

 

It's all about the things you're expecting me to be

"I'm sorry to have got you into this," Connor whispered to Sarah while he was waiting for the Principal with his parents, Sarah's dad,Mark and his relatives.

"Don't be: you're a true friend. Even if you should have avoided the fight..."

"I know but I've never liked bullies."

Adam frowned but Connor glared at him who fastly looked away: there was no way he let his dad frighten him again.

The door's office opened.

"Come in," Mrs Beltram said.

The three families greeted her and sat on the chairs.

"Well, I wanted to see all of you because I was told the case wasn't only a fight between two students. Who's going to talk first? Mr Stevens? Mr Priest? Ms Atkins?"

"I will, Mrs Beltram. I wanted to apologize first: I got upset but Mark shouldn't have offended Sarah."

"What do you mean?"

"Well," Connor replied to her without speaking about his personal stuff in front of the adults. "While me and Sarah had a small talk, Mark came to us and said some harsh words to her..."

He went quiet but the Principal - after waiting patiently for a little while - asked him to keep on telling his side of the story.

"Be specific: what words did your teammate use?"

He looked at Sarah and silently asked to forgive him. She weakly smiled and nodded.

"He called her freak and monster", Connor whispered because the words hurted him.

"Louder, please."

After he repeated the words, Mrs Beltram turned to Mark who lowered his head.

"Is it true?"

Connor's teammate didn't answer her.

"I'm talking to you, Mr Priest. So..."

"I won't deny: I suddenly felt angry..."

"Mr Priest, we don't tolerate fights here but we tolerate much less this kind of offend against someone who doesn't deserve it. You're lucky Mr Atkins and his daughter don't sue you."

Mrs Beltram paused.

"However, I want to hear you apologizing to her first. Then you have to know you're excluded for a week. Besides, you won't be able to train or play with the team for a month. I hope it will be a lesson to you. Now, I want to talk to Mr Stevens and his parents alone. So you can leave."

Mr Atkins, Sarah, Mark and his relatives said goodbye to the Principal and left the office.

"Well," she told Connor, "as for you, you will be excluded for three days - it's our rule - but you won't be off the team."

"Thank you, Mrs Beltram."

"Wait," she cut him off while opening his laptop, "I'm not done."

She paused again.

"You're a good student without trouble until now. But, after talking with your teachers, it seems your behavior has changed lately and we can't explain what happens to you. So, help us, please."

He didn't answer and lowered his head.

"Nora," his mom said after a few minutes of silence, "you have to understand what our son went through these past months. Because of us, I must admit. He suffered through our divorce first, we didn't listen to him either..."

"How do you say that?" His dad cut her off. "You left us. You're not the one who had to endure..."

Connor couldn't help but laugh bitterly. All eyes were on him.

"Don't do that again, please. It's always been about you!"

"No, you're wrong, son."

"Really? You always wanted the perfect son, the popular jock who'd date girls, the one that you'd be proud of because he'd be a great baseball player. Well, listen: I won't. I'm just me."

"But I'm proud of you."

"Don't make me laugh! Do you remember what you told me when Jude's moms invited us for Father's Day? No? So listen to your own words: "I have no problem with the fact that Jude doesn't want his dad to know about you and him". You even added "the fewer people know the better"."

His dad looked at him and his face turned pale.

"You've never accepted me! I overheard you and Lena at the hospital when you said you didn't want your son to be gay. But I am. I'm not into girls and I hurted a nice girl because of YOU. It's because of YOU I left my boyfriend behind me: I couldn't bear your comments or your looks anymore. And it's because of YOU I've lost Jude."

His dad looked away and lowered his head.

"I'm so sorry," he eventually said. "I can't believe I hurted you so much..."

He got up and left the office...

 

That's all right I (will be) okay

"Con?"

Thiago's voice brought him back to present time.

"..."

"Let's get your mind off it, shall we?"

Thiago was right: he had suffered enough and had to move on.

Connor got up and couldn't help but give a peck on his cheek. He looked behind him, saw that Jude seemed lost and sad. So he hoped his former friend would accept his help some day. As for him, he wouldn't let it go but he knew now: Jude had to make the first move. Maybe they could make up as he did with his dad even if it had been a very long and rough road.

"Thanks, Thiag."

"You're welcome," Ryan's brother replied before adding, stuttering and blushing. "Y-You ma-matter t-to me. A lot."

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Jude - bewildered - watched them go away, brushed his lips and felt tears building up.

 

*******

 

"You're going home?"

"I dunno. I don't think so: my dad won't be back until 8. I'll just take a ride."

"I could come with you..."

"Sure."

They immediately jumped on their boards, rolled down Grand Avenue, passed in front of the fire station, followed the ocean as far as Palisades Park where he sat on a bench. That short ride had begun to clear his head and he knew that the ocean view - and Thiago next to him - would fully straighten him: this is where he took refuge when things were bad with his dad or Jude.

"How d'ya feel?" Ryan's brother inquired after a while.

"A bit better. It's been kind of an intense day but you were right: I needed to speak my peace. Thanks."

"You're welcome," he said before adding shyly. "I know something that will cheer you up.You know Chiara's, I guess? I'll buy you a very special ice cream."

"Is it a date?" Connor playfully asked.

"Yeah," he replied, blushing. "Let's call it a date."

It's wasn't far. So they stew their boards and took a walk while having a small talk: they turned on Emerald Street, passed in front of Anchor Beach and its playfield where the baseball team trained, then turned left on Mission Boulevard before coming to small parking lot.

"It's been awhile since I set foot here," Connor stated while looking at the facade of the ice cream bar. "I invited J, the baseball and the soccer teams a few days before leaving to LA. I thought it was the best way to say goodbye."

"You had to foot the bill!"

"I didn't," he maliciously corrected Thiago. " My dad did!"

They immediately bursted out laughing. They had still tears in the eyes when they walked into Chiara's which wasn't crowded yet.

"What is your favorite flavor?" Ryan's brother asked while they stood in line.

"I like a lot Butter Pecan because of its smooth vanilla, its slight buttery flavor and its pecans."

"You're right: it's pretty good. But the one you'll taste will put a big smile on your face again."

He paused.

"I miss it so much," Thiago whispered. "I don't remember seeing such smile before: It gives me such happiness that it spread like sunlight over all the hours of the day."

Connor couldn't help but blush: Jude had never told him such words.

"Sorry if I made you uncomfortable but it's true."

"I'm not," he said with an awkward smile. "It feels good to hear such nice words."

"You'll hear more each day," Thiago promised him before turning to the ice cream woman. "Two Lucumice, please."

Connor quizzically looked at him.

"It's made from a fruit called lucuma," Ryan's brother explained while taking their order. "It's okay if it means anything to you: the fruit only grows in the Andes but it's very popular in my birth country. As I told ya earlier, it's really helpful after a bad day: you can trust abuelita."

"How about sitting there?" Connor asked while showing a table away from the other customers.

"Sure."

"So you're from Peru."

"Yup, I was born in Paita like my dad: it's in the far northern of the country."

"I thought you came from Brazil because of your first name. It's Portuguese, right?"

"Yeah, my mom and her parents lived in a Brazilian town called Rio... something, near the borders of Bolivia and Peru. They had to run away because of paramilitary groups. After a while, they came to Paita: while my maternal grandfather was working on a fishing boat, avo made and repaired nets like the other women. This is how she met abuelita: they quickly got along."

Connor was so enthralled by the story of Thiago's family that he didn't eat his ice cream - it was nevertheless tasteful! - anymore. Ryan's brother told how his dad - a helpless romantic - fell in love with his mom and why he decided that the whole name of their first child - Thiago Mora - would be the combination of his Brazilian and Peruvian origins. Then he spoke about their will to live in the United States - because they wanted to raise their baby in the best conditions - and what they went through beforebeing accepted as true American citizens. He also told about the day Ryan visited his new grandparents while he never knew his birth family.

"I love saying Thiago", Connor couldn't help but say when he was done. "It's mild and sweet like this ice cream."

Ryan's got so flustered that he was unable to put two words together.

"W-What ab-bout you?" He asked after regaining his composure as best as he could.

"I was born and I lived here but I needed to move to LA for awhile. But I think T already told ya."

"She did. Why?"

Thiago suddenly gasped.

"Sorry, I shouldn't have asked."

"Don't be. I carried this inside me for too long. It almost drove me crazy when J broke up with me. Fortunately, I met some friends who were really helpful."

He paused, sighing.

"As you know now I'm gay and me and J... Anyway, the two of us went through a lot. Mainly because of my dad. And, just when everything was finally rolling, he ruined it once again, So I thought me and my dad needed some space but I didn't have the courage to tell J I gonna live with my mom for awhile."

He looked up.

"Don't believe my dad is homophobic: he's just the stereotypical manly man who had strong views. It's his only fault - it's a big one - but he loves me. I don't think I don't matter to him: otherwise, he wouldn't do everything to get my custody when my mom left us. Life wasn't easy on him then: he needed some strength to support a teen on his own."

Thiago quietly put his hand on Connor's who liked feeling its softness and its warmth.

"I'm not mad at my mom either: she always cared about me but she never had the mother instinct."

Ryan's brother gripped tighter his hand.

"I've no complaints. I always lived with my birth family unlike Ryan; my mom didn't die in a crash and my dad wasn't in jail like J; I wasn't shuttled from a foster home to another for years like them; I feel good in my body unlike a friend of mine in LA and I always had friendly looks unlike you and your parents."

"I think you're wrong when you're suggesting you suffered less than me, Ryan, Jude and your other friend," Thiago told him, looking straight in his eyes. "You're braver than you believe."

"You're nice. All right, enough about me."

Ryan's brother nodded. So they talked about this and that and they gradually realized they had things in common: they weren't just jokes who liked sport like some of theirmates and friends because both of them had the soul of an artist - Connor liked playing guitar and Thiago drew in his spare time -, they loved reading comic books, watched series and played video games like any teenager.

While they got to know each other, the ice cream bar gradually filled up. Connor recognized Esteban's brother who talked to a brown-haired boy and some girls from the cheerleader team who seemed to eye at them greedily. He hoped that Luis saw him before the girls approached their table but the kid looked all around except in his direction. If he'd been alone, he wouldn't mind wasting time with these girls but he remembered Thiago's comment.

"Hey hotties, why are you alone? Need compagny?"

Connor wasn't wrong: Ryan's brother became nervous.

"Sorry, we're waiting for friends. See you next time. Luis! Over here."

While the disappointed girls reluctantly met their friends, Thiago silently thanked him.

"By the way," he added, "I want us t-to be quiet. Just the t-two of us, I mean."

"OKay, as soon as we're done here, we'll go to my place: I don't live very far. And, as I said earlier, my dad won't be home until late. So..."

Connor hoped Ryan's brother didn't misinterpret his words.

"Hey Con."

"Hey," Connor said before making introductions. "Thiago, here's Esteban's brother, your teammate. Luis, here's the captain of your brother."

"Hi. Con, here's my friend Hunter. Hunt, Here's the famous Connor Stevens."

"So nice to meet you!" The brown-haired boy said while shaking his hand vigorously. "I'm your biggest fan."

Connor - awkward and amused - rubbed his neck while Luis rolled his eyes.

"Please, sit down."

"We don't want to bother you."

"You don't. Right, Thiago?"

"Course not," he replied while the brown-haired boy sat next to him.

"So, how was practice?"

"It went well. Right, Hunt?"

"Yeah but I can't wait for our first game. I need some real action."

The brown-haired boy got into a long monologue about baseball. Connor listened to him because he liked his excitement which reminded him of his own before his dad ruined his pleasure to play. He also noticed that Hunter seemed unable to take his eye off him: he saw all the guenine awe of the young boy but he didn't mind because It changed the petty jealousy of some boys and the hungry look of some girls. However, he felt that Luis seemed a bit angry and wondered what upset him.

When the young boy was done, the four of them kept having a small talk - what relaxed Luis - until Connor and Thiago finished their ice creams, waved goodbye to the young boys and they went out of the ice cream bar and took a walk during which Ryan's brother teased him about Hunter.

"Don't make fun of him," Connor gently warned him.

Thiago quizzically looked at him.

"I was told yesterday," he explained with a malicious smile, "someone had quietly attended soccer practices for some time now."

"Okay," Ryan's brother - blushing - said, "I won't make fun of him anymore. But it's Ryan's fault... first. I never heard him talking so much about one of his teammates because he's a hard guy to impress: you piqued my interest so I decided to see for myself."

He paused.

"Since then I'm addicted to you."

While they walked, their arms touched from time to time. Connor felt a pleasant chill every time they brushed and didn't want it to stop.

"Here we are," Connor stated when they finally were in front of his house. "Welcome to my home."

He unlocked the door, walked in and took off his backpack and his shoes.

"How about I show you around?"

Thiago nodded. So they went into the kitchen, then passed through the living room before going upstairs where Connor inviting Ryan's brother into his room.

"You've quite the collection of games and comic books!"

"Do you wanna play? Just pick one while I'll get some drinks."

He quicky came down, grabbed some juices and sodas and came up. While walking into his room, he saw Thiago going through an old issue of Young Avengers.

"You remind me of Teddy a lot with your sandy hair, your hazel eyes and your muscles," he stated while showing a full page of Hulkling fighting some villains.

"J told me that too: he was his biggest fan. We went to Comiccon every year and he always dragged some bundles or a Collector's Edition of Young Avengers or Hulkling and Wiccan. "

Connor also remembered the day Taylor had invited them to her 14th birthday party: it was a costume one. So Jude wanted them to dress as Hulkling and Wiccan: he had even suggested to paint Connor's body. Jude's hands on his chest and his back had given him very pleasant shivers and Connor wouldn't want his boyfriend to stop. He made a hit at the party: a lot of girls and a few boys didn't stop staring at him. But Jude showed them that he was his and only his and Connor asked Taylor if she could put We found love by Boyce Avenue so that they slow danced: he had been the happiest boy that day.

"Con, you okay?" Thiago inquired frowning.

"Sorry," he replied while holding back some tears. "But I think about it: there are similarities between you and Teddy: he's the son of A Skrull and a Kree, he doesn't live on his native planet and he likes a boy."

"You're right," Thiago said blushing again. "He likes a hot guy."

Connor litterally crimson.

"As for me," he added after regaining his composure, "if I were a comic character, I'd be the last Robin Damian Wayne."

Ryan's brother - raising his eyebrows - looked at him.

"I like his various sides," he explained. "He was a killer raised by his mother first before gradually humanizing because of Batman. That's also why I liked the first seasons of Dexter. There are complex characters. By the way, did you pick a game?"

Thiago nodded, threw a controlled at him, switched on the TV and the gaming console: Connor was pleasantly surprised to watch the logo of one of his favorite games. The two of them quickly got hooked: they teased, nudged and distracted each other. But Connor also noticed that Ryan's brother glanced at him from time to time and felt his eyes lingering on his body but, as soon as he turned to him, the boy looked away.

"How about ordering some food?" He blurted after a while because he wanted Thiago to stay longer.

"Sure. I'll text my parents."

"What do you wanna eat? Look at this menu."

"I trust you," Thiago said while putting his controller. "Where's the bathroom?"

"Take the side door on your left."

While he phoned to the restaurant, Connor heard the water running and some lappings: he could imagine him looking at the mirror and asking himself a bunch of questions. When Ryan's brother finally came back, he sat on the floor, took his controller and quietly waited for him to resume the game.

"I dream of you all day long," Thiago revealed all of a sudden.

Connor put his controller again, stood up, sat on his bed and tapped it to invite to do likewise.

"And I don't even talk about my nights!" He added with an awkward laughter while sitting next to him. "You're the first boy who has an effect on me... No, I should say you're the first one to have this effect on me."

He paused.

"You're filling a void I wasn't conscious of. I like my brother and my friends but I don't miss them as much as you."

Connor remained silent.

"It even went weirder when I saw you shirtless," he whispered. "I shouldn't say that but, when we played, I couldn't help but stare at your chest and your back and I wanted to touch them and feel your arms, your pecs, your six-pack, your trapeze muscle..."

He suddenly seemed unable to keep talking. So Connor extended his arm, brought him closer and Thiago put his head on his shoulder.

"All of this is so new."

"I know, I know: I'd been there. But you don't have to be scared..."

"I'm not. Not really."

"I'll be there for you."

The two of them stayed like that for awhile: Connor listened to his breathing, felt his body against his and smelt his body odour.

"I had promised myself that I would never have a crush on a boy anymore after what happened between me and J: it's been too tough. But I saw you and..."

"I'm happy to help you too somehow," Ryan's brother - who looked up and smiled widely - stated.

They went silent until the deliver rang. After Connor paid him and put their order on the kitchen table, they took the same position and he started singing quietly the chorus of an old song his dad often listened to.

 

Once the stone

You're crawling under

Is lifted off your shoulders

Once the cloud that's raining

Over your head disappears

The noise that you'll hear

Is the crashing of Hollow Years.

 

When his dad finally came home and saw them asleep in each other's arms, he couldn't help but smile kindly: Connor seemed to regain peace. He swore himself to do everything he could so that his son kept it as long as possible.

 

*******

 

Jude, sitting on his bed, watched photos scrolling on the screen of his phone until he stared at one: Connor was dressed as Hulkling. He zoomed in and his fingers slowly caressed his bare chest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The next Monday

 

"Tio," Thiago playfully teased Ryan. "I don't get that someone like you who are so skilled in the soccer field are so untalented with a controller."

His brother glared at him.

"Watch and learn. I'll score with my eyes closed."

As soon as he shut his eyes closed, Thiago heard Connor chuckling. What made him giggle too.

"You never succeeded in defeating me since we started playing this. I don't see anything right now but I know I'll win."

He paused.

"To be honest, it's embarrassing. I mean, I'm ashamed for you. I wonder if we're really brothers sometimes."

He felt Ryan's anger rising, knew that he was going to lose his cool and made mistakes.

"Aaaaaaaaaaaand GOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAl!"

Even as his brother was going to throw his controller, Thiago's phone buzzed. He unpocketed it, looked at the screen and smiled.

C: CONGRATS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! <3

Connor knew how to make his day perfect.

"Easy, tio. It's not over yet: you still gonna need your controller."

Thiago heard his brother taking a deep breath and the two of them resumed the game until he received a mail of support from Connor. He amusedly saw Ryan trying to look at the screen of his phone.

"Why do you get all in your head instead of keeping your eyes on the ball?" He warned him.

C:<3 <3 <3 <3 <3

No sooner his brother had heard Thiago's device buzzing, he turned to the four boys sitting on the couch but Connor had enough time to hide his own phone.

"Bro," his brother grumbled while he focused on the game again, "Shuddup and breathe otherwise you'll get brain damage."

"How many times do I have to tell ya?" he replied, shaking his head. "If I can talk and run while keeping up with you in practice, then on game day - if I stop talking right when things get serious - I'll have an advantage. Like swimmers who shave their legs right before competition."

He paused again.

"I already talked about advantages, right?" He asked, turning to his friends behind him.

Esteban, the twins, Connor nooded and his brother loudly sighed.

"Well, tio, let's do it again. If you wanna win, you gotta have an advantage. But it comes in all kinds of shapes. So ask yourself - again - what you've got your opponent doesn't have."

"Please, bro..."

"Okay."

C: Arigatai, sensei.

Thiago chortled, while Ryan turned to the couch again and looked alternately to the boys before staring at Connor who raised his eyebrows and shrugged. His brother - disappointed - focused on the game again.

"Well, where was I?... Oh, yeah! When you challenge yourself, your body compensates. But if you take the easy way, you'll get weak. You know about compensation, right?"

"It's like, when you put your socks in your underwear. Right?"

"Ouch!" Thiago replied, while showing his naked ankles. "You saw through me!"

Then all the boys bursted out laughing.

C: U CRACK ME UP!

Thiago just glanced at his phone while his brother glared at Connor who hadn't had enough time to hide his device. So he looked back at Ryan with his puppy dog eyes before lowering his head. Thiago refrained with great difficulty not to rush to him and embrace him. He couldn't resist such Connor's look and wanted to cuddle him.

"The screen, tio! The screen! Otherwise you gonna complain I cheated."

His brother pressed every button but didn't manage to stop his course and Thiago scored the winning goal. Ryan immediately dropped his controller right away and their friends applauded to thank them for the amazing show.

"Well, who wants a drink?... One... Three... Four and five. Okay, I'll be right back."

While he was in the kitchen, he heard his friends commenting the game and his brother grumbling and couldn't help but blush when Connor talked about his tactics. He decided to challenge him.

"Me and you, Castanho! Pick the teams and the stadium."

Then Connor frowned, stared at him with his amazing hazel eyes and Thiago - whose heart loudly pounded in his chest - thought his legs would give out.

"Sure," he replied with a smile which made him melt.

After regaining his composure, Thiago handed the drinks and went back to his seat.

"Don't dare look and smile at me like that during the game!" He whispered.

"Deal!" Connor said with his desarming smile.

Thiago let him warm up a bit before starting the game. He quickly opened the score after only a few minutes - despite Connor's good defensive job - and dominated the game until halftime. But he stayed focused because he knew that Connor wouldn't forgive him any fault.

"Your dad warned me that you were very competitive."

"Like father, like son."

Thiago heard some pride in his words. Which contrasted with what Taylor and Daria told one day about Connor's relationship with his dad. When he had come face to Mr Stevens on Thursday, he immediately remembered the rough comments of the two girls but met a completely different man. It was true he had been abrupt from time to time but Connor had described him as a manly man so he was warned. In fact Thiago had a good time with Connor - who was a bit tense first but gradually relaxed - and his dad: they - obviously - talked about sports like baseball, soccer and basketball but also movies and music and Adam - he wanted Thiago to call him like that - asked some questions about his life and his future. And, toward the end of the evening, Adam had improvised a little piece of music with Connor's guitar. Later, Connor told him his dad had taught him how to play guitar.

"Let's get back to play!"

Connor went on the offensive: he attacked frontally first before trying side attacks but Thiago didn't let it go.

"Did you already lose your nerves?"

But Connor didn't reply and just smirked.

"Do not underestimate him," Ryan warned Thiago.

After a while, he got that Connor used various techniques to find his weak spot: he was a great opponent and tactician. The more time went by, the harder it was for him to contain his attacks but he had to stay focused otherwise Connor would get the upper hand. What he managed to do in the last minutes of the game. But Connor scored the egalizing goal right before the final whistle. Ryan and the other boys immediately congratulated them.

"Parabéns, Castanho! It's quite a game!"

"Well," Ryan suggested, "let's go downstairs to grab something to eat. I'm so hungry. Aren't you?"

All the boys nodded. While Esteban, the twins and his brother were already going downstairs, Thiago and Connor lingered in the living room, pleading to clean the coffee table and the couch.

"What did you call me earlier?" Connor inquired after being sure they were alone.

Thiago didn't answer him but blushed.

"I really like the sound of it," he added while carrying throwing four bottles in the trash can.

"Y-You have amazing hazel eyes," Thiago eventually said, "Você tem olhos castanhos surpreendentes."

"Castanhos," Connor repeated many times while getting close to him and before whispering to his ears. "I love the nickname and its meaning."

Thiago shivered and gave him a peck on his lips. Then he stepped back but Connor placed his arms on his shoulders, put him close to him again so that their foreheads touched and he kissed him on his lips.

"Bro? Con?" They heard Ryan at the bottom of the stairs. "What are you doing? Don't tell me you decided to clean the whole apartment."

"We're coming!"

"I'm much better off here," Connor said, smiling against his lips.

"Sure."

But they reluctantly moved away from each other when they heard his brother going upstairs. Even as he reached the last step, his phone rang, he looked at the screen and beamed: Thiago instantly knew that Taylor was on the line because she was the only one who make Ryan smile like that. Connor's device buzzed too shortly after: he unpocketed it, read the mail and texted back. No sooner had he sent it that he received a new one which he answered just as quickly under Ryan's amused eye.

"What?" Connor inquired, looking up.

"Nothing," his brother replied, still smirking. "Let's hurry, the others are waiting for us."

The three of them - Thiago and Connor whose arms touched  were side-by-side - quickly went downstairs and joined their friends at their usual table; Connor sat next to Esteban and Thiago and his brother were in front of them and next to the twins. Whilst everybody was talking about this and that, Thiago noticed that Connor didn't stop glancing at the entrance door: he seemed to be waiting for someone. After a while, he saw Connor smiling, nodding and gently elbowing Esteban who looked up and suddenly blushed. So Thiago turned to the entrance door and spotted Daria.

"I asked her to come by," he said smiling. "I hope you don't mind."

"Hey."

"D," Connor said while standing up to let her sit down between Esteban and him, "I'm glad you made it."

"I wasn't going to say no," she replied before grumbling. "It's been a while since we hung out: you only think of soccer and boys now..."

Daria suddenly cupped her hands over her mouth and started apologizing but Connor shook his head and smiled.

"Don't worry, everybody here knows I'm gay. Besides, I have nothing to hide to my friends. By the way, you already know Ryan, Thiago and Esteban but let me introduce Ivory and Isaiah from the basketball team to you."

The three of them greeted each other.

"So, how was your weekend, D?"

"It went well, despite a change of plan. I though of hanging out with T but I had forgotten the two lovebirds celebrated their first anniversary. So I went shopping with Lauren. By the way, you still agree to come to her party?"

"Sure," he replied smirking. "How can I say no after the billions of texts you sent on Wednesday? I'm a man of my word."

"What about yours? She asked without paying attention to his sassy comment.

"I was pretty busy. Me and my dad went to the batting cages: it's been so long since I set foot there and we had fun."

"Really?"

"I told you he had changed. Well, he still has difficulty believing that I can be friends with straight guys but he'll come around. But until then, I tease him from time to time when we get to the store and I run into a hot boy. I love how awkward he is if my eyes lingers a little too much on him..."

"You savage!" Esteban exclaimed while his friends laughed.

As for Thiago, he pretended to crack up with them but he didn't like what he just heard. He saw Connor frowning before apologizing silently and also noticed that Daria had caught the looks between them.

"Then, me and Thiago, we spent the afternoon working on our history project."

"I wish I'd seen your dad's face!" Daria - smirking - commented. "You might have gotten him up in your grill all the time."

"No," Thiago said, "he let us work in Con's room. He just came there once to suggest us to take a break in the kitchen: he had made us sandwiches."

"You're kidding me!"

"No, Daria. Me, Connor and Adam talked a bit in the meantime."

"You call him Adam?"

"He told me to call him like this. He was good to me."

Then Thiago, Connor and Esteban told her about their viewing party.

"So," she eventually said, "you couldn't spend some time with your new guy?"

Connor frowned and Thiago moved a bit on the booth.

"What are you talking about? Which new guy?"

Everyone was suddenly focused on Connor.

"Please, don't play dumb with me. I saw you talking to this boy many times since Thursday."

She sighed.

"I'm talking about the guy with brown curly hair. I saw him today again: he was speaking with Mrs Adams-Foster."

Connor bursted out laughing and Thiago felt relaxed.

"He's not my boyfriend," he explained after regaining his composure. "Besides, he's straight: the name's Cole, he's friend with the sister of J, both of them were in Girls United..."

"Don't make fun of me: he's a guy and he was in a girls band?"

"Yup. He's a trans boy. I met him at the beach a few years ago when he invited me and J to that prom party we talked about. Do you remember?"

Daria nodded after a little while.

"We kept in touch until I left to LA. And I met him again on Thursday by chance."

"He's the guy you were talking to when me and Thiago went out the gymnasium earlier?" Ryan inquired.

Connor nodded.

"He's here to work on special events with Lena - I mean, Mrs Adams-Foster - who wants students who didn't come out yet to feel safe in school. So she asked Cole for help: he's part of The Children of Ganymede which is a LGBTQ+ organisation. Every time we meet, he tells me about their various projects."

"It seems really great."

"It will be."

"Well," Daria gently cut him off, "that doesn't tell me who's your new guy."

"What makes you say that I've got a boyfriend?"

"Please, Connie, don't tell me you already forgot the text you sent me. The one about your plus one for the party?"

Connor didn't answer her and glanced at Thiago who slightly blushed.

"Besides, you're not really yourself lately. It reminds me of when you and Jude..."

She couldn't finish her sentence because of Thiago: he couldn't help but glare at her as soon as she mentioned Jude's name before looking at Connor who had lowered his head. He so was mad at that girl: how dared she claim to be Connor's best friend while rubbing salt in his wounds? She knew what he had went through because of him. Thiago had witnessed it on Thursday and had promised himself he would do everything to protect Connor so that he didn't have to relive it.

"You okay, Castanho?"

"Yeah," he whispered while holding back his tears.

"I should think twice before opening my mouth sometimes," Daria admitted before hugging him.

Thiago felt a sudden wiff of jealousy.

"Well," she said after a while, "it doesn't tell me who's your new boyfriend. But I'm sure you're hung up on that boy."

Thiago - who restrained from blushing - heard Connor sighing loudly.

"Boys," she added, "don't tell me you didn't notice that he wasn't himself lately."

"Now you say it," Esteban pointed out, "he was quiet at lunch today and looked around him as if he was waiting for someone."

"Not only today!" Ryan stated. "He'd been a little bit off at practice on Friday too. I have had to rebuke him sometimes."

Connor rubbed his neck and apologized.

"You're not the only one to do it," Esteban added. "Mr Gibbons caught him daydreaming many times this morning."

"So, who is he?"

"Sorry, can't tell you yet."

"C'mon, dude..."

Thiago was quiet, noticed that Daria kept her eyes on him as if she waited for him to react in a way or another and wondered if she knew something about Connor and him. He remembered that Connor told him he shouldn't trust appearances with Daria: she was smarter than he thought and she was Taylor's closest friend.

"Sorry again," Connor lied to his friends. "But I'm not gonna jinx it."

"What's going on here?" Mr Mora - who was carrying their orders - inquired when he saw their sour faces.

"Con found someone," Ryan grumbled, "but he doesn't want to tell their name."

"So what? Why you wanna know so much, son? It's his own business, not yours."

"Papi's right, tio. Con only needs our support. He'll tell us sooner or later."

Thiago saw Daria smirking.

"Yeah, you're right. Sorry, Con."

"Enjoy your pizzas, chicos and chica."

All of them thanked him before starting eating. Connor suggested Daria to share his pizza but, when she saw what was in it, she rolled her eyes in disgust and turned to Esteban who was pleased to share his own.

"What's in yours?" Thiago - curious - inquired him.

"I asked your dad if he can put lucuma instead of mango," Connor replied with a weird smile. "I think I'm addicted to this fruit now."

"So?"

"Better than mango or pineapple! Wanna taste it?"

Daria smirked again but Thiago didn't really pay attention to her.

"Amazing!" he said after gobbling up the slice of pizza Connor gave him under the amazed eyes of his brother and his friends. "Would never think of."

Everyone stared at him while trying not to burst into laughter when he stole a second one.

"You make me thirsty..."

Connor and Daria choked after hearing him.

"I mean," Thiago corrected when he got that he had talked out loud, "these slices made me thirsty."

So he stood up - pleading to get some drinks - and quickly moved away. Connor really made him lose his mind but he had to pull himself together. Lost in his thoughts, he didn't hear someone coming up behind him.

"You were pretty straight."

"No, Con, I'd say I was pretty gay."

The two of them immediately chuckled before Connor became serious again.

"Sorry about earlier: I didn't want to upset you. I only did it to taunt my dad."

"Don't be. As I already told you, I'm still trying to wrap my brain around all of this, even if I know your feelings for me."

"You sneaky little puppies!" Daria suddenly whispered. "I wasn't sure you guys got some kind of a thing going. I wasn't wrong."

Thiago instantly went crimson before turning to her who stared at Connor.

"Connie! Why do you steal the hottest boys from me?"

"I don't mean to!" Connor replied with his amazing smile. "I'm a magnet for boys, what can I tell you."

He paused.

"Anyway, some of them - like Esteban - are only interested in girls. Will know why. Right, Shiny?"

Thiago looked and smiled at him before nodding.

"So, how long you guys are together?"

"I'd say since Saturday. But don't tell anyone, please..."

"Why, Con? You both are so cute."

"It's a bit complicated because of Ryan," he replied before explaining to her. "It would be so much easier if I didn't fall in love with one of his friends or one of our teammates."

Thiago's eyes suddenly went wide, blushed but said nothing. He wasn't really sure he heard him right.

"I wouldn't want him to believe that I stole his brother from him: they're so close. So we don't want to rush things: we think he needs time to..."

"I got it. But he's not Jude."

"Maybe but I lost him as a friend. So I don't want to lose Ryan too..."

Connor's phone cut him off. Thiago couldn't help but look at the screen because he suddenly got a weird vibe.

JudiCon: I'M SO SORRY. TEXT ME BACK, PLEASE.

 

Chapter Text

Later in Thiago's room

 

His head on Thiago's chest, Connor kept looking at the screen of his phone.

"I dunno what to do," he stated, sighing.

Thiago said nothing, leaned, kissed his forehead while Connor - who had reached a hand up - was playing with his hair.

"Isn't that what you wanted?" He reluctantly asked. "He finally realized he was wrong."

"Maybe it's too late: he hurt me so much when he broke up with me but he did much more at the skatepark the other day."

I got that you weren't really over him when he kissed you. I know it's normal because you had a thing. A complicated but long one. I'm sure I'm no match.

But Thiago couldn't tell him that: it would be selfish, even if he loved Connor. The only thing he could do was support him. Whomever he chose. So he played some music and the two of them cuddled until Connor had to come home. Thiago wanted to keep embracing him and shivered when he left his arms: he liked his body heat and suddenly felt empty.

"Ma will take you home."

"No, thanks. I need to walk: it'll clear my head."

"Wait," Thiago told him before kissing Connor who kissed him back, a smile on his lips. "Let me walk you to the door."

The two of them slowly went downstairs and Thiago - on the doorstep - watched Connor go until he disappeared into the night. Then he went back to his room where his brother was waiting for him.

"Is he okay? He was very quiet after getting some drinks."

"I dunno. All I know is that Jude drives him up the wall," Thiago sighed.

"What d' ya mean?"

"Do you remember what I witnessed on Thursday?"

Ryan nodded.

"He texted Connor earlier and apologized to him."

"It's good, right?"

"I really dunno," he repeated. "I thought he was about to break down. If you had seen Connor at the skatepark..."

"He means to you, right? Be careful: don't be stuck between the two of them."

I already am.

"Yeah, you're right: I care about him as much as about you. And don't worry, tio. I've had a lot of practice."

"Sorry," Ryan said while lowering his head.

"Please," he stated while hugging him, "don't do that again. I regret nothing. We're brothers: that's all I care about."

His brother still needed a little reassurance from time to time: Thiago thought he had to do it because he was the older brother. He knew Ryan would keep struggling against his issues every day of his life, despite the love of everyone who mattered to him.

 

The morning after

 

C: Hey, Shiny. Can't wait 2 see U at lunch <3

T: Hey, Castanho. Me neither. <3 <3 <3

They kept texting about this and that - without mentioning Jude - until the door between his room and Ryan's opened.

"Bro, wake u..." His brother yelled, while walking in.

He didn't finish his sentence, then looked at Thiago's phone and smiled.

"You're up early today," he added before inquiring. "Who's the one who succeeded in doing so?"

Thiago couldn't help but blush.

"You've been holding out on me now," he pretended to grumble before jumping on the bed to take Thiago's device.

The two of them fought hard for a little while but Thiago had got the upper hand as usual. He was all the more determined not to make it easy because he knew Ryan wasn't still ready to hear the truth. Even if he seemed to get used to the closeness between Thiago and Connor.

"I give up," Ryan stated, while putting his hands up and before trying again.

When they were done, they bursted out laughing.

"Hijos," their dad said, passing in front of Thiago's room, "as soon as you're done playing, go wash up and get dressed. We'll have breakfast in fifteen minutes."

The two of them were clean and well-dressed in no time.

"Wow, querido!" Their mom exclaimed when Thiago walked into the kitchen. "What happens to you? All your jerseys are already dirty?"

He had decided to wear a dark shirt, grey pants and black sneakers: he wanted to please Connor.

"No," he replied upset. "But I don't still have to wear the same clothes. I could change the way I dress from time to time. Right?"

"Evidentemente. I don't usually get to see this much of you all at once. You're so handsome, querido."

Thiago frowned when Ryan whispered something into their mother's ear.

"Really, son? Well, what's her name?"

"What name?" He asked while glaring at his brother.

"I think it's Daria, Tay's best friend."

"Awwwwwwwwwwww," their mom couldn't help but say.

And Thiago roared with laughter under the dumbfounded eyes of the two of them.

"I don't think so," he explained after regaining his composure. "She gonna date Esteban, if all goes well..."

"But, but I saw how she was yesterday night: she kept her eyes on you and she even caught you when you and Con were in the queue. I thought she asked you out."

"Maybe she asked your friend Connor out," their mom suggested.

"She wouldn't," they replied with one voice before Ryan explained to her. "They already dated a few years ago."

"Doesn't mean she can't."

"Besides, he told us he was interested in someone else."

Thiago managed not to flush.

"You and Con really go together," Ryan grumbled.

"W-Why d-do you say that?" He asked too quickly.

He suddenly felt his mom's stare but pretended not to pay attention to it.

"I mean, you two like the little secrets. First, Con doesn't want to tell us about his new bo... crush. And now you!"

Ryan paused. Thiago didn't like his look.

"Come to think of it..."

He paused again while Thiago felt more and more nervous.

"Since you are so close," his brother carefully made his thought, "finding who they are should be easy enough for you, right?"

"Why do you care so much?" Thiago asked before adding. "I feel that Taylor rubbs off on you a lot."

Thiago couldn't help but laugh out loud after seeing his face. Which allowed him to hide his own embarrassment.

"Here, here, what's the row?" Their dad inquired before looking Thiago up and down. "WOW! Is it a special day, hijo?"

"Not you too!" Thiago exclaimed.

Their dad raised his eyebrows but said nothing and sat at the kitchen table. Then everyone talked about what they have done the day before.

"Hurry up, queridos!" their mom said when they had finished their breakfast, "I'm the one taking you at school today."

The three of them got in the car a few minutes later and she dropped them off shortly before the first bell. So Thiago had to rush to his locker to take his books of algebra and physics for the two first periods: it wasn't his two favorite classes but he was with the twins Ivory and Isaiah so time should flow by quickly. Then he went to the classroom, greeted his friends, sat and focused on what Mrs Lee had to say about equation. But, after a while, he got bored and started drawing something in his notebook. When he finally laid his eyes on his sketch, he slightly blushed, looked around him and hid the sheet with his hand. Even when Connor wasn't there, he was never far away: he had drawn his eyes.

"Why are you hiding it?" Ivory asked while lifting Thiago's hand. "It's awesome."

He paused.

"I know these eyes," he stated before adding with a smirk, "but where did I already see them?"

"Just yesterday," Isaiah - on the other side - replied with the same smirk.

Thiago immediately turned to him.

"Bud," Isaiah kept whispering, "look up ahead. I don't know why you're so surprised: it can't be said that you two aren't exactly subtle."

"So true," his twin confirmed. "I wonder why..."

"Gents," Mrs Lee stated, "be quiet, please."

"Sorry, Mrs Lee."

"Don't worry," Ivory whispered, "zipped it."

Thiago weakly smiled at them. The twins were his oldest friends - they'd known each other since kindergarten - and he could trust them to keep his secrets.

It had only five minutes remained before the second period when there was a knock at the door and a student gave a note to their teacher.

"Mr Mora, Mr Newton! Mrs Adams-Foster are waiting for you in the meeting room."

Thiago - while glancing at the twins - and, Louis Newton, the captain of the baseball team, began to stow their stuff but Mrs Lee said that their classmates would care of them: they looked at each other and went out of the classroom. By passing in front of Ryan's classroom, he saw his brother standing up too and got ready to walk out of the room, so he stopped, couldn't help but grin at Connor - sitting near the door - who immediately smiled back and he waited for Ryan.

As the two of them went near the meeting room, they noted that the leaders of all teams were there.

"What does Mrs Adams-Foster want?" Thiago heard Danielle, the head of the cheerleaders, asking Sam, her boyfriend and the captain of the football team.

But he didn't have time to answer her: the door opened and the Principal invited them to come into the room. They sat on the chairs placed at their disposal and quietly waited for her speech.

"Welcome to all of you."

She paused.

"First of all, I want to introduce Cole to you: he's part of an organization which will set up various events for the school..."

Thiago already stopped listening to Mrs Adams-Foster: he knew what she was going to tell them and turned to his brother who seemed to share his enthusiasm.

"Ryan, Thiago?" She suddenly asked, frowning. "You're still with us?"

"Sorry, Mrs Adams-Foster. Our friend Con told what you were trying to do: we would be really happy to help you..."

The Principal stared at them.

"I like your eagerness," she firmly said, while smiling. "But pay attention to my words, please."

"You're right, Mrs Adams-Foster. Sorry again."

So they quietly listened to her speech and Cole's remarks. When they were done, she asked them to find ideas.

"We could set up a sorta senior prom," Danielle suggested.

"Nice but how could it be different?"

She shrugged. Thiago didn't like her nor Sam: they were so full of themselves. Connor recently told him that the two of them had always been jealous of Coria, the ship name Taylor gave him and Daria when he pretended to date her a few years ago. Danielle and Sam had done everything to draw attention, but in vain, because Coria was the most popular couple in middle school, even after they broke up.

"How about we vote for any couple - straight, gay, transgender - to be the "king" and the "queen" of the event?" Thiago proposed.

"Nice," Mrs Adams-Foster stated. "What do you think?"

Everybody nodded.

"How about we dress up the way we want too?" Corey, the captain of the baseball team, suggested.

"What do you mean?"

"My cousin is genderfluid: she wears boys' clothes sometimes. And if there are trans boys, trans girls or genderqueer, no one will have fun of them."

Everybody nodded again. The Principal and Cole listened to other suggestions until it was time for the break. So the two of them thanked them and released them but Thiago, his brother and some other students helped them to put back the room together. The two of them took advantage to talk to Cole and apologize to Mrs Adams-Foster once again.

The third and the fourth periods quickly went by. No sooner had Thiago heard the bell that he quickly went out of the classroom to wait for Connor at his locker. He couldn't help but grin when he saw him walking down the hallway.

"I just couldn't wait for you," he immediately explained. "I missed you so much."

He gulped - badly needed to kiss Connor - but he didn't dare do it because they weren't alone.

"Enough is enough!" He suddenly exploded. "I'm tired of hiding the truth from Ryan and I want my family and our friends to know we're together."

He paused.

"I have nothing to fear with you by my side, right?"

Connor kissed his cheek.

"What was that?" He asked, blushing.

"Just a kiss to give you greater confidence."

So they took a tray at the entrance of the cafeteria, put their lunch bags, walked across the room, went out of the building - their arms occasionally touching - and headed to the table where all their friends were already there. They didn't sit to face each other - as usual - but side by side under the amazed of eyes of Ryan, Taylor and Esteban. They also noticed that Daria smirked.

"So you didn't tell us yet why Mrs Adams-Foster wanted to meet you," Taylor asked Ryan after they resumed their converation.

"Sorry, but I wanted to wait for Con: this is about him somehow."

Connor - frowning - looked at his brother.

"Don't worry," Thiago reassured him, while putting his hand on his forearm without paying attention. "You gonna like."

When he noticed it, he nevertheless didn't remove it but squeezed harder Connor's forearm and looked at Ryan whose eyes had gone wide. As well as their friends', except for Daria whose smirk was bigger.

"Go," he added without getting flustered, "tell him, tio. Me and Con have good news too."

But his brother seemed unable to say a single word and looked at their fingers intertwined first, then at Thiago and finally at Connor.

"You JERK!" Thiago heard his brother with a menacing voice. "You've made a fool out of me."

"Tio, calm down, please!"

"Do not get in the middle, bro. It's between me and him."

"Babe," Taylor told him.

"Ryan!" Thiago began to say before noticing his smirk.

"You should see the look on your faces," his brother stated before laughing out loud.

"You dummy!" Taylor exclaimed, while gently punching his arm.

"Ouch! It's not nice, Tay."

"Your fault!" She replied before kissing him.

"Why didn't you tell us this before?" Ryan - serious again - inquired. "This didn't happen today, right?"

"Right," Connor began to justify. "We just, we didn't want to..."

"Stop, I know the drill. You don't trust me enough..."

"No, it's not that."

Ryan raised his hand and Connor was silent.

"I got it. But let me tell you I'm not Jude. I've still issues but I've got friends - like you, Con - and the bestest girlfriend who are here to support me. I also gave Thiago a hard time but I'll never turn my back on you. In fact, I began to think Thiago would never meet someone."

He smirked and paused.

"It's true we barely know each other, Con. But I believe that my brother found the best boyfriend in San Diego. So, congrats to you both."

He raised his water bottle - quickly imitated by Taylor, Daria and Esteban.

"I'm so proud of my GBF," Daria stated, pretending to wipe her tears. "Even if you steal the hottest boys..."

Esteban lowered his head. Which Daria noticed so she whispered something in his ears before putting her head on his shoulder. Thiago saw that Connor couldn't help but smile: his plan had worked out.

While they continued their discussion, they ate until Thiago heard a voice which made Connor shiver.

"Can I talk to you?"

Connor turned around and his smile immediately vanished. Thiago felt that he crushed his hand.

"In private," the boy added.

"If you have something to say," Connor replied, shaking his head, "you can do it in front of them. Just know that I don't have to answer you."

"I get it."

Jude sighed and paused.

"I made a terrible mistake when I kicked you out of my life. I'd begun to realize it until... until now. I,I thought it would be easier if I cut all ties with you but it hurts so much..."

He wiped his tears before resuming his explanation.

"You're right: I'm as selfish as Cal... That day, I've lost the most important person of my life. I've got another friend, Tom, but, every time I was with him, it reminded me how you mattered to me. And I hurt him too."

He paused again.

"I don't deserve to have a friend..."

"Don't talk nonsense," Ryan suddenly exclaimed. "I know what you feel: I've been there myself. Sorry, Con, but I couldn't let him say such things."

Connor didn't answer him. So his brother kept talking to Jude.

"I know how hard it is to be in and out of foster homes for so many years. You start caring about your foster family and you have to leave it. You're just a frigging nuisance for others."

Ryan clenched his fists so tightly that his fingers went white. Thiago - who had already heard his story so many times - had great difficulty of holding back his tears.

"I never knew my parents. And you?"

Jude looked at him and shook his head.

"You lucky. At least, you never had the impression that no one wanted you. When I was finally adopted, I was so happy that I thought past was past. I was wrong, it's true. But I know my family will always support me. As well as the guys around here. I can't turn my back on them, I have no right to do it. I would be no one without them."

He paused again.

"I'm sure that Con never would have left you behind. Even if you two had some arguments from time to time. It's true I barely know him, as I already said. All I know is that he makes Thiago happy."

"You're right," Jude shyly said. "I just hope he'll be able to forgive me one day."

Connor suddenly let go of Thiago's hand and hit the table with his fist. Everyone startled.

"Do you realize how you hurt me?" He asked while standing up to face Jude. "I trusted you. I LOVED you. I was there as soon as you needed me. It's true you have issues because of your past: it was very hard sometimes but I never gave up. But it seemed it was never enough for you: you made it even more difficult. As if what we went through didn't matter. Why couldn't we get some rest after that? I was so happy when my dad started accepting me and you immediately ruined it as if you were ashamed of US...?"

He was unable to keep talking and went away. Thiago was about to follow him but his brother declared he was going to talk to him. He couldn't help but glare at Jude. Connor was right: all that boy could do was ruin other people's lives.

Thiago couldn't stay one more second near that boy otherwise he would hit him: he never have felt such hatred. He needed to calm down even if he didn't know what it would be efficient. So he moved away and wandered around the school for a while until he saw the twins shooting hoops. He walked over to them.

"Hey!"

"Hey," Isaiah replied before asking frowning. "What are you doing here? Something's wrong?"

"I don't want to talk about it."

They didn't insist because they knew he would confide sooner or later and passed the ball to him.

Chapter Text

Thiago stared at the ball for a short while before giving it back at Isaiah.

"I gotta go!"

Why did I listen to Ryan like a fool? Connor is my boyfriend: he needs me right now.

So he looked for them around the school before walking into the building where he found Connor and Ryan debating against the lockers. He firmly walked up to them - while noticing that Connor's face lightened up as soon as he saw him and felt that some of his boyfriend's current problems went away - and took place behind him: he put his head on his shoulder and embraced him tightly because he quickly got that Connor felt more secure when their bodies touched. By the way, he carefully listened to his brother

"I hope you got it," Ryan finally stated. "Now it's up to you: either you're giving him another chance, or you're not. Whatever you decide, me, your clingy boyfriend - as well as Tay, Daria and Esteban - will support you."

As soon as his brother stopped talking, Thiago cupped Connor's head and deeply kissed him.

"Ugh, gross!" Ryan - pretending to be sickened - exclaimed before adding with a smirk. "Get a room."

"Or we can wait till tonight. Right, Castanho?"

Connor went crimson straight away.

"You pervert!" His brother blurted out.

"What's the matter with you ejaculating like that?" Thiago asked sneering.

"I don't want to hear more," Ryan stated, covering up his ears.

Connor and Thiago immediately burst into laughter.

"You're impossible today, bro!" He said, moving away. "You coming or not?"

Thiago inquiringly looked at Connor who slightly shook his head.

"No, we'll stay here."

"Do you think he can really change?" Connor asked after Ryan was out of sight.

"It turns out he did. You don't think his intentions towards you are sincere?"

"To be honest," he replied after a slight hesitation, "I don't know what to believe since I met him again. he was so mad at me a few days ago and now..."

"I'm not trying to defend him but what he went through since the death of his mom makes him insecure. I've seen it with Ryan who knew neither of his birth parents: he had to learn by himself what a dad and a mom were. He's got a tue dad, a true mom and a true brother now and all those who had fun of him because he had been an abandoned child dealt with me: he's never been my foster bro."

"I got it but it's been so hard sometimes. Even when everything seemed fine."

Connor paused.

"When Cole invited us to his gay dance, I was pretty nervous but I forgot everything as soon as I saw Jude in his suit: he was so handsome. I got that I loved him, even if we didn't tell each other the three words yet."

Thiago saw him blushing suddenly.

"I'm sorry: I shouldn't talk about my ex in front of you."

Thiago couldn't help but kiss his cheek.

"Don't worry about me: I know he was once someone in your life. So, go on."

Connor stared at him, beamed and kissed him back.

"I love you," he blurted before going crimson.

Thiago's eyes went wide and reddened too. Both of them remained silent for awhile. Finally, the bell rang but neither of them moved, even when the other students went to their lockers. Then they eventually stood up.

"W-Well, s-see you after p-pratice."

"What? You won't attend it... Why?"

Thiago saw Connor's disappointment.

"Ryan's rule, remember? No girlfriends! So, no boyfriend either."

"Maybe you can alter his decision," he suggested with his puppy's eyes.

"Sorry, I won't, even if I'd love to. But you'll play your first real game on Saturday morning, right?"

"Please, I'll be good and I'll only focus on practice. I swear!"

Thiago had great difficulty resisting Connor's hazel eyes but he had to because he respected his brother far too much when it came to soccer.

"Sorry again, Castanho. But I don't think so."

He paused.

"I have something for you," he said before kissing him. "I'll be with you until we'll meet again."

Everybody was staring at them but they didn't care. Anyway, they had nothing to be ashamed: many boys and girls were kissing each other in the hallway all day. And if someone had something to say, it was well known that Thiago had no guile even if he was a quiet boy.

"I can't wait to see you after practice. By the way, I almost forgot: my dad is picking me up. So, we'll get a room at my place..."

Thiago burst into laughter.

"I'll tell Ryan later: he doesn't need to buy earplugs."

He went with Connor to his classroom where Daria, Esteban and Taylor were talking to each other. Ryan's girlfriend obviously couldn't help but make a sassy comment as soon as she saw them. Connor and Thiago stayed in the doorway because they had no desire to part but they had to when the bell rang twice. So Connor rushed to his own classroom.

Time went by very quickly: after classes, Thiago went to the library where he got through a few books under the guidance of his art teacher. He needed to improve his drawing skills because he wanted to surprise Connor.

I love you.

He immediately looked up. How could he have forgotten the three words Connor said earlier? It was true he had been so surprised that he had been unable to say something but he also hoped he hadn't hurt his feelings. At the same time, Thiago was still lost: all these things were so new to him, even if he knew he had strong feelings for Connor. But he promised himself he showed Connor that he cared for him as soon as they met after practice.

After a while, he left the library, slowly went to the sport fields and sat down against the fence of the baseball field.

"I thought you didn't like her," a voice he knew suddenly said.

He looked up and saw Esteban's brother and his friend.

"So I changed my mind," Luis retorted.

"You only love her because I said I do."

"No," Luis replied before adding after a slight hesitation. "That's not it."

He paused.

"Doesn't matter. She doesn't like you: she likes me."

"Yeah, whatever... I thought we were friends. But I guess I was wrong."

With this, the boy moved away without a glance at Luis who didn't take his eyes off him. Then he shook his head, looked down and slowly walked away.

A few minutes later, Taylor joined him and sat down next to him. They were silent for awhile: even if they knew each other and they shared classes, they weren't really close.

"Hey, what are you reading?"

"Hey," he replied, showing the cover and the title. "Just an art book."

"You interested in art?" She asked surprised.

"I've always been. I wanna go to Art College after graduation."

Taylor looked a bit surprised.

"You're such a surprising boy."

Thiago raised his eyebrows.

"I must stop judging people," she said in a low voice. "I'm not good at it."

He closed his book and turned to her: he felt like she was going to tell him something important.

"I was always wrong about Connor since I met him."

She sighed and paused.

"First, I thought Jude had a crush on Connor without knowing that the two of them were sharing the same feelings. So, I wanted to help him so that he could spend more time with Connor. And the result was that he was shot by my dad..."

Thiago's eyes suddenly went wide and his heart started racing.

"Ask him: he'll tell you the whole story. Anyway, when I told some girls about them because I thought Connor was the one who didn't want to come out, I made my second mistake. You must understand..."

Thiago's hand came up and she went silent for a little while. But she wasn't done.

"I cursed Connor when they broke up because I thought he left Jude behind. I saw how broken he was so I comforted him. I was wrong once more because I only listened to Jude's side of the story."

Thiago was suddenly mad at her. She wasn't the girl his brother always talked about: he was told that she was very thoughtful and she didn't believe in prejudice. So He wondered why she trusted Jude so much. But he quickly pulled himself together and got why she had been on his side: she had to have a crush on him, even if she knew well he couldn't return the feelings.

Love's blind, they say. And some emotions can be a major obstacle to see the truth. Besides, such feelings messed with me too. I don't think straight since I saw Connor.

As soon as he said the word straight, he burst into laughter.

"What?" Taylor - taken aback - asked.

"Don't mind."

She went silent for awhile, while glancing at him from time to time.

"I been thinking a lot about what Jude said to Connor. I ain't sure that your boyfriend must trust him again. Maybe I'm tough on him - Jude's still my friend - but..."

Thiago looked surprised: he didn't expect they shared the same doubts.

"Don't worry, just trust Connor. And, if anything goes wrong, we're here to help both of them. Jude's not mean: he's just confused, sad and upset like Ryan sometimes. We'll show him the way before he hurts Connor's feelings again."

"You're so right," she replied, smiling.

Then they talked about anything and everything until the soccer team got out of the locker room.

"Sorry for being late," his brother said before kissing Taylor. "I just wanna make sure all of us are on point."

"Hey, I missed you. I think I could use a little comfort."

"Come here," Thiago told him before giving a peck on his lips.

"That's all?" His boyfriend asked, looking at him with his puppy eyes.

"You want more?"

Connor nodded strongly.

"Close your eyes, tio."

As soon as Thiago said these words, he leaned over Connor and deeply kissed him. Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw Jude who sadly looked their way before walking away.

"By the way," he said laughing, "you won't need earplugs tonight."

Then he took Connor's hand, squeezed it, said goodbye and went to the parking lot where Adam had to wait for them. Thiago beamed: nothing mattered when he was with him.

While they were turning the corner of the gymnasium, they saw Connor's father: his back was turned and he was phoning, leaning against his car.

"Hi, dad."

"Hi," he said without turning. "Sorry, I'll call you later. my son's here."

"You don't mind if Thiago's coming home with us?" Connor asked with a pinch of anxiety.

"No," Mr Stevens replied with a broad smile. "Of course not. Nice to see you, Thiago."

Thiago felt that his boyfriend heaved a sigh of relief inside. He hadn't known the man when Connor had come out but he was sure he wouldn't like him. Now, Connor's father seemed relaxed and happy to see Thiago: Mr Stevens had a broad smile.

"Me too, Mr Stevens."

"Please, call me Adam. I already told you."

"Okay, Adam. How was your day?"

"It was just routine. What about yours?"

"Nothing special either," Connor hastened to say.

"What? We told my brother and our friends we were dating!"

Adam slightly frowned and Connor immediately looked down.

"They were amazing," Thiago stated to break the silence who started to make him uncomfortable. "But I'm not surprised because we care for each other."

"I'm really happy for you," the man said before opening his arms to hug them.

While Thiago accepted his embrace with a little embarrassment, he felt Connor stiffening before relaxing almost immediately.

"Now get in the car."

Thiago and Connor quietly sat in the backseat.

"Well," Mr Stevens - looking at them nervously - asked after a little while, "You were late. What happened?"

"Do not blame Con," Thiago explained so that his boyfriend could relax. "My brother's getting very nervous every time his team must face a serious one. Besides, he's kinda perfectionist."

"Ryan's your brother?"

"Can't you see the resemblance?" He couldn't help but reply laughing, while hoping that Mr Stevens wouldn't be upset.

Connor's father inquiringly looked at him, unable to decide whether he was serious or he was messing with him. So he explained that his parents had adopted Ryan but he also said that DNA didn't make a family.

"Yeah, you're right: only love does."

Connor looked surprised.

"What, son? Lena finally succeeded in teaching me another lesson."

He immediately relaxed, took Thiago 's hand, squeezed it and grinned. And Thiago noticed his all-teary eyes so he put his head on his shoulder. The rest of the way was quiet and casual. When they got there, Connor and Thiago rushed out of the car but his dad called on them before walking into the house.

"Do NOT forget the number one rule if you're going to your room."

"Don't worry, dad. The door stays open."

Thiago inquiringly looked at him.

"Don't mind: I'll tell you later. I just wanna be with you alone for awhile. As I told you, I missed you."

So they quickly went upstairs and Connor left the door half-open before sitting on his bed next to him.

"I'm sorry for earlier," he said, lowering his head.

Thiago stared at him.

"I mean, I still have trouble with my dad's new behavior: it's really weird to see him so... affectionate. I still remember too well how he was when Lena told him that Anchor Beach knew about me and Jude. I was afraid that he reacted the same way."

He paused and looked away.

"But I don't want you to be uncomfortable."

"Don't worry: I know you two have a complicated story. And don't think it's easier for me: I hardly know the words to tell my parents. But I don't want to hide myself anymore: I'm not ashamed of... loving you."

That's it, I said it. No, I think so: it's not just kiss or cuddle. My heart's racing every time I see him and I feel a huge void when we must part. But above all, I feel so good with him and he makes me forget all my troubles.

Connor looked at him and immediately beamed.

"Listen," he said while lying on his bed and dragging him, "now that Ryan's on our side, we'll be able to find a way."

"Well, how d' ya feel?"

His boyfriend inquiringly looked at him.

"About Jude?"

"I really dunno. I'd love to find my best friend: I miss him. And, at the same time, he's not the one I knew anymore. I ain't sure to know this new Jude."

He paused.

"I'm lost: I don't know what is in his mind now. Before, we were an open book for each other..."

"Come here," Thiago said, pulling him close.

Then they stopped talking and cuddled until Mr Stevens knocked at the door. So they fastly sat.

"Just wanna know if you need anything."

"I don't think so... Oh yes, can you help us with our lecture?"

"Course. I'm waiting for you in the kitchen."

"Thanks, dad."

"Thank you, Mr Stevens."

"Adam, just Adam."

Then he went downstairs while the two of them reordered their hair and their clothes and looked for their work. When they considered themselves ready, they went downstairs and explained to him what he had to do. Connor's father carefully listened to them before they started to read their lecture. When they were done, he gave them some advice.

"Don't forget it's an oral lecture so don't be with your nose stuck in your handwritings: you must be comfortable without sounding like you're reciting. On the other hand, you're good with words and I know what you're talking about without giving some additional explanations."

"Thanks again, dad. We can do it again?"

"Sure. But before that, I'll order something to eat. I expect you to stay, Thiago."

Thiago nodded and then called his parents.

"Ask them when we're bringing you home."

"No," he said on his phone, "Okay, papi. Mr Stevens, my dad wanna talk to you."

"Well, just put him on the phone. Hi, Sir."

Connor and Thiago quietly looked at him.

"No, no, he doesn't bother me: they're working on their lecture right now. And they still need some time so I suggest your son to have dinner with us. If you don't mind."

Mr Stevens repeatedly nodded before saying goodbye and handing the phone to him.

"I must bring you before 9."

While waiting for their order, the two of them worked on the lecture again.

"It's much better. Congrats! Don't hesitate to glance at your writings from time to time."

A while later, someone knocked at the door, Connor's father took his wallet and then brought their food.

"Well, how's your own practice, Thiago? You'll also face a serious team this week, according to Connor."

"I think we're ready. But I'll know tomorrow, Mr Stev... er, Adam."

Connor's father and him kept talking about various things. As for Connor, he was quiet and alternately looked at his dad and his boyfriend: he seemed happy. While Connor and Thiago were eating, they cheerfully played footsie under the table. And Mr Stevens stared at hem with a huge smile on his face.

"By the way, when are you playing your game?"

Connor and Thiago looked at each other.

"What, son? You've got a boyfriend: I must support him too. Besides, it's been awhile since I saw a basketball game. And, after everything you told me about him, I wouldn't miss it."

Connor immediately blushed and didn't dare look at him. So Thiago - without a second thought - turned to him and kissed his cheek before glancing at his father who didn't blink and kept smiling.

"I hope you don't mind, Thiago."

"Be there on Friday. 5 PM."

Unfortunately, time went by too quickly, according to him. He had to come home.

"Know that you'll always be welcomed," Adam told him, taking him aside. "You make Connor very happy: I want the best for him. And you are. I hope he'll forgive me someday."

"I think he already did, Mr Stev... Adam."

"You're nice. But I've hurted him so bad."

"What's done is done: you can't change the past. Look straight ahead."

Mr Stevens didn't have time to say something: Connor - who had forgotten his phone in his room - went downstairs. Thiago immediately noticed that something was wrong: he silently questioned him but his boyfriend made him clear that he wouldn't talk about it in front of his father. Connor unpocketed his phone and showed him a text from Jude.

Chapter Text

The next day

 

Connor couldn't wait until classes were over to see Thiago again: they hadn't had lunch together and they quickly bumped into each other only once today. So, as soon as the bell rang, he rushed to the basketball court: as he got closer to the gymnasium, his smile was steadily increasing. After looking inside, he sat down next to the entrance door and looked at his phone.

A few minutes later, he heard some girls having a lively discussion before they lowered their voice as soon as they saw him. He quickly noticed that one of them didn't stop glancing at him before turning to her friends and whispering. The other girls immediately sighed loudly.

His phone suddenly buzzed. So he looked at the screen and he couldn't help but smile as soon as he saw Sarah's name on the screen. It's been two weeks since they talked to each other: they promised themselselves to skype last weekend but they couldn't find the time.

"Hey, how's my girl doing?"

No sooner had he said these few words than the girls - not far from him - turned their inquiring eyes to him while Sarah chuckled. He missed her as well as Sean and Lœk but he hoped to spend a weekend in LA soon.

"I'm good. No, I'm fine: I'm finally done with the personality tests."

"I'm very happy for you. When will you know the results?"

"Thanks. I have to wait a few weeks before knowing if the doctors will agree but I'm hopeful."

"You're right. Besides, you're a hard girl to say no to."

"Stop, playboy, you'll make me blush."

Connor couldn't help but laugh.

"How was school?"

"It went well, even if it's not the same without you. We miss you."

"I miss all of you too but I belong here."

"Yeah, I know. Well, how about you?"

So he told her what happened these past two weeks: feeling safe at home, seeing his old friends again and meeting new ones.

"All my teammates were awesome when I announced I was gay. I was a bit nervous but I thought what Sean told me the day we met. Course there was some awkward silence before Ryan, our captain, hugged me. Since then, he's one of my closest friend."

"See? You must always listen to Sean: he's talking sense."

"And..."

"Yes?"

"And I met someone."

"Really?"

"Really. I never thought I'd fall in love with another boy after what I went through last year but I was wrong. My heart raced as soon as I saw Thiago..."

"Thiago?"

"Yup, his family's from Peru. I knew so little about him, except he was Ryan's brother. But I gave it a try and it worked!"

"Lucky you!" Sarah exclaimed after watching the photo he sent her. "Hope I'll meet him some day to thank him."

"Why?"

"You sound so happy. I guess he has something to do with. You recovered with difficulty from your breakup, despite everything you told us to reassure us. But I heard your sadness from time to time. And now I don't hear it anymore."

"You're right: he makes me very happy. Besides, we're on the same wavelength and we have nothing to hide."

Connor paused and smiled.

"Even my dad likes him. The two of them seem to be really getting along great. I would be almost jealous if I wasn't so happy."

"Well, everything goes well so I guess you and Jude could make up..."

He left room for a deafening silence.

"Con? Con? Something's wrong with Jude?"

"Do you remember what he told me when he broke up with me?" He eventually replied.

"Yeah. He said you weren't the friend he met anymore."

"I could say the same thing to him. I don't recognize him anymore."

"What do you mean?"

"As I already told you, you and Jude have roughly the same character. But he's so bitter now. When I wanted to talk to him, he was downright rude and put all the blame on me. I suddenly felt guilty leaving to LA while he still needed me."

"You're wrong: you had to put some distance between you and your dad. And it worked, right? He's changed. Anyway, you and Jude still kept in touch so, if he wanted to confide in you, he could do it. But he didn't. Instead, he just dumped you the day you two were gonna spend some time together."

Sarah paused and Connor heard her taking a deep breath.

"Someone who really cares about you doesn't act that way, even if he's got severe issues. I've got too: you witnessed it..."

Connor remembered that moment too well: the two of them were doing their homework when he heard Sarah starting to sniff loudly.

 

He looked up and frowned at her

"I'm sick!" She blurted, looking at him. "I'm so sick, C-Con! S-So sick of acting like a s-stereotype of a womanly girl... I, I just w-want people to c-consider me as a true girl... I,I know y-you're n-not one of them..."

He got up, sat next to her and carefully listened to her.

"I, I just wanna feel happy the way I am. I'm a GIRL, not a boy! Why they don't get it?... It's so unfair!!!!"

Then she was too emotional to speak so he tightly hugged her before she burst into tears against his chest. Connor felt so helpless.

"Sometimes," she continued. "Sometimes, I wonder if what I'm d-doing now is worth it... It t-takes up a lot of m-my energy and my t-time. I'm s-so scared that n-nothing will change, despite all m-my efforts... Will, will I like me eventually? I don't know because..."

He couldn't help but cringe.

"Don't say that! If I can like the girl in my arms, why you couldn't like her too?"

"I don't even know if i'm able to accept myself like that..."

She immediately looked up at him. Then he helped her get up and the two of them stood up in front of the mirror.

"Raise your eyes and look at yourself."

She shook her head.

"Please."

Connor saw her making an enormous effort and opened her eyes. He knew that she hated her reflection but he had to show her who she really was.

"You know who I see? I see a beautiful young girl with amazing dark eyes and hair with a smile that lights up a juice bar. Tell me who can say no to you? Did you notice the looks of the boys when you walk down the hall when you wear your outfit? It's not disgust. No, you make them quite an impression. Believe me, I know what it is: girls stare at me the same way."

"B-But what will they say or do when they'll know?

"Sure they'll talk but they'll just say you don't have a big bust. You know what?"

He paused and grinned.

"I don't like girls with a big one..."

He heard Sarah chuckling between two sobs and smiled.

"You're not into girls," she said with a weak smile.

"Okay, you make a good point. But you are nevertheless an amazing one. Anyone who says otherwise will have to deal with me. You're my girl."

Her smile gradually grew while Connor gently wiped her tears.

 

"You were so nice that day," she said with a tremorous voice. "You've been patient and you did everything you could to comfort me. And it worked."

"I wasn't gonna give up on you. You're the most beautiful girl I know: you don't deserve what it happens to you so I'll always be by your side as soon as you need me."

"Thanks again, Con."

"You're welcome."

They kept talking until Sarah had to go home so they promised to recall as early as possible. No sooner had he hung up than someone texted him: he loudly sighed and shook his head after reading Jude's text.

JudiCon: I miss U so much.

Jude thought he was that naive? Did he believe that Connor forgot his harsh words? He couldn't help but laugh bitterly.

"You okay?"

"Yeah," he replied to Daria. "I just read Jude's last text."

Then he handed his phone so that she could read it too.

"Did he realize what he wrote?" Connor inquired.

But Daria didn't answer him: she seemed to think of something. After a while, she sat next to him and took a deep breath.

"I can't agree with Ryan when he said that Jude was broken. He's lost too. You were his anchor."

"What do you mean?"

"Do you remember the essay he wrote?"

"You're speaking about What Anchor Beach means to me? I remember: he didn't stop looking at me."

"I've lately thought about it: I'm sure it was directed at you too. You were his first real - and only - friend as long as you lived here so he got some stability but, when you left..."

"... He had you, T and his new family."

"Sure but his feelings for you were stronger: when he wasn't with his family, he hanged out with you. I don't think me or T really mattered to him."

She paused.

"I'll tell you something but keep it for yourself."

Connor nodded. She looked around them as if she feared someone could hear her.

"Shortly after you two broke up..."

"I didn't," he couldn't help but cut her off. "HE DID!"

"Well, shortly after he broke up with you, Jude dated T..."

Connor's eyes went wide: he misunderstood her, right? Jude had never been into girls either. He remembered the day that Maddie had invited him to go to the movies.

 

"... I mean, do you like her?" Connor nervously asked him.

Jude took a while to answer him as if he balanced the pros and the cons.

"No... No. Not like that."

 

Even when he hid his new relationship with Connor, he always said no to the girls who wanted to date him. So he didn't get his reaction.

"Obviously, it didn't work... Like us."

She immediately lowered her head. Connor felt sorry for her: he hurt her so much when he pretended that he liked her, even if he knew inside himself he wouldn't be able to like her like that.

"A few weeks later, T - who saw how sad Jude was - introduced him to a gay boy she knew. I can't quite remember his name... Noe, Nolan or something like that. Anyway, he was a nice boy and me and T thought they were a good match..."

She immediately stopped talking and looked away.

"Sorry..."

"Don't be. It had to happen."

"But Jude wasn't really interested in him," she eventually resumed her story. "I think he was actually mad at her."

She paused again.

"Until T found you came to visit your dad. He rushed to her and looked at your FB page. I thought I saw his face light up before fading away almost immediately. So I looked at the screen: you grinned next to a brown-haired boy..."

"Yeah, I took a pic with one of my new friends, Sean, that I met at the LGBTQ+ club in my new school: I needed to change my profile pic after what went through with Jude. You'd like him if you've got nothing against bi boys. He's the first one who helped me to move on and we're still closed."

"Anyway," Daria said, continuing her story, "the morning after, he dated the boy, Noel or Norman. The boy didn't even know it before T congratulated them after watching Jude's FB page. As for me, I was really confused..."

"There's nothing to understand," Connor coldly stated. "I'm starting to know that new Jude: I think he was just jealous after watching my new pic without finding out who was Sean. So he decided that that boy would be a perfect boyfriend even if he didn't really like him."

"I think you're right: they were often hanging out and I felt like Jude forced himself to hug his new boy, especially when me and T were there. I talked to him once: he told me he felt like he dated two different Jude. I wanted to comfort him so I spoke about his boyfriend and you so that Jude might need some time to move on. I wasn't really sure I believed my own words. It was then that Jude started smoking weed. I don't know if his new boyfriend dragged him into this but Jude seemed to be addicted. After a while, he was high most of the time and he made no secret of it after a while."

She paused again.

"I gradually became distant and I turned to other friends. T also drifted apart, especially after she met Ryan. It was love at first sight between the two of them. As for me, I was still single: I was almost jealous of my best friend..."

"Hey," Thiago said, "sorry for being late. Timothy wanted to speak to us: it lasted longer than I thought."

Connor immediately stood up and kissed him on his cheek while Daria and Esteban was making out.

"I missed you," he whispered.

"Me too. I couldn't wait to see you again. By the way, could you me a favor?"

"Course."

"I'll explain to you while waiting for the others."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

"I need you to put together the best team so that we'll be able to face our next adversaries."

"You know I barely know the rules?" Connor asked surprised.

"That's not the point: it's just practice. I remember how you played the other day: you were very responsive, while being a team player. AND you backed Ryan into a corner many times: that was quite a performance."

"Thanks but why don't you do it yourself?"

"They know how I play: I can't surprise them, unlike you."

"Deal," Connor replied after a while.

"Thanks," Thiago said, pecking his cheek. "Go get dressed, Casthanho."

He couldn't help but blush when he heard his nickname. Then he quickly went to the locker room with the outfit Thiago just gave him, met the team who inquiringly looked at him and greeted them. He hastened to undress and put on shorts, jersey and shoes before going to the court where he listened to Thiago's directives. At first, he was going to team up with Esteban - who would give him some advice just in case - and three other guys to face the twins and their teammates.

Right from the beginning, Isaiah and Ivory put pressure on Connor and, without the support of Esteban, he couldn't have kept up with them. But he gradually noticed some flaws in their play and exploited them so that the twins quickly corrected them because they were really smart. From time to time, he also glanced at Thiago who was grinning at him. Connor didn't forget his teammates whose strenghts and weaknesses he checked out too: he took his role very seriously and didn't want to disappoint his boyfriend.

After a while, Thiago suggested a break so that he had a little talk with his team. So Connor took the opportunity to cool off in the bathroom: he hadn't taken it easy but he had fun. He took off the jersey, splashed with cold water on his face, looked at the mirror and smiled at his reflection: he was really happy.

"Ready to play again?" Two voices asked.

"Yup," Connor replied, turning to the twins.

"By the way," Isaiah said, putting a his hand on on Connor's shoulders, "congrats for succeeding in standing up to us: you gave us a very hard time at the end. I confessed that it didn't sound convincing at first but I was wrong. We've had to rethink our game: we can't afford to rest on our laurels anymore."

"So thanks to you," Ivory added with a smile. "I hope you'll do the same now."

They kept talking while going back to the court. While Thiago was giving his last instructions, Connor glanced at the bleachers: he saw the band of girls sitting at the very top with some boys and Daria - a little lower - who waved at him next to Esteban's brother.

"I think it's time for me to make my move now," Thiago said smirking. "Playtime's over, Castanho."

"Well," Connor replies smirking back, "we'll see."

He already felt the adrenalin rush because he wanted to face his boyfriend so badly. But he hadn't to forget that he wasn't alone: he was part of a team. Besides, Thiago wanted him to strengthen the basketball team before confronting their next adversaries.

Two minutes after the start of the game, Thiago - using a dunk - made the first two points. A few minutes later, Connor's team asked for its first time-out after conceding nine points. Later, Isaiah came so close to lose the ball to the advantage of Esteban but got away and scored his first two points. After Thiago's big shot, Ivory made a basket when there was a fault near the circle: he converted his bonus throw. A few seconds later, Thiago cut across the restricted arc and scored because Connor who was too late made a mistake. A few minutes later, Connor managed to score too after Isaiah's lay-up. Esteban took the ball very quickly and gained his two free throws. Ivory finally notched up a few seconds before the end of the first quarter.

The two teams kept fighting hard during the two next quarters. Connor - exhausted and all sweaty by the end of the third quarter - sat down on a bench, didn't pay attention to the whistles from the bleachers when he took off his jersey, moped his forehead, his chest and his back and drank a little water.

"Ready to play again?" Ivory asked him. "We still have one more quarter."

So Connor got up and joined his team.

"I think you forgot your jersey on the bench," Isaiah noted.

"I didn't," he replied smirking. "It's deliberate. Remember what Thiago said about advantages the other day."

"I got it: you wanna undermine your boyfriend. Smart move."

"Besides, let's have some fun!"

"Everyone's ready?" Thiago - whose back was turned - inquired before going mute and all red as soon as he saw Connor.

All eyes - except for the twins and Esteban who kept from laughing - were on the two of them.

"It's not fair," he eventually said after regaining his composure.

"What?" Connor asked, playing innocent.

"That!" Thiago replied, showing his bare chest.

"It doesn't take a lot for you to lose focus."

"You wanna play this game, Castanho?"

So the last quarter turned to a seductive game between the two of them which was a real hoot to watch for the little crowd in the bleachers. Thiago didn't hesitate to shadow him so that their skins touched from time to time. Which gave Connor goose bumps. But neither forgot the competition: the game was close until the last minute and Thiago's team only won by two points.

"Everybody hit the shower," Thiago stated after giving his last advice.

So Connor sat in the bleachers next to Luis and Daria.

"You stink!" She exclaimed, holding her nose. "Go to the shower!"

"Yeah, but not right now."

"Why?"

"I don't want them to be embarrassed if..."

"I get it."

Daria and Connor talked about anything and everything until they were interupted by Esteban.

"What you doing?"

"I'm just waiting that the team is coming out of the changing room."

His friend inquiringly looked at him.

"You know: naked boys and me..."

"What about your boyfriend?"

"They know him for quite some time..."

"But he's dating you now," Esteban objected. "And I didn't notice any embarrassment so..."

"Still..."

"Okay, You won't go shower alone. I'll wait with you."

"Thanks but you don't have to."

"I insist. Unless..."

"No," Connor replied laughing. "You're safe."

"You are too nice," Esteban stated, pretending to be offensed.

"How dare you!" Daria exclaimed, punching Connor's shoulder gently. "However, I wish your teammates would hurry up: I don't know which one of you two reeks of most. So be nice, go and sit farther."

Then the three of them burst in laughter, while Luis kept being silent. To Connor's atonishment.

As soon as the boys left the changing room, Connor and Esteban rushed to the shower: they couldn't bear their own scent anymore. Then they got dressed very quickly and joined Daria, Luis and Thiago who were waiting for them outside the gymnasium.

"Thanks again," Ryan's brother said, taking his hand and kissing it. "I expected nothing less from you."

"You're welcome. Besides, I had fun."

"Well," his boyfriend suggested whispering, "come over and we'll have more fun."

Connor couldn't help but blush: Thiago got more and more dirty but it wasn't unpleasant. Their bond was stronger than the one he had with Jude: Connor got that it had only been a one-way thing. His ex showed that he didn't know how to love someone else but himself.

"Your proposition is very tempting but I promised Esteban to come over."

"Your loss, you just blew a GREAT thing, Castahno."

"Get a room!" Daria cut him off, pretending to be mad at them.

"I told him there was mine," Thiago replied, "but he still wanted to come over your boyfriend's house."

Daria and Esteban couldn't help but burst in laughter when they saw Thiago's sad face: he never got confused. It was one of many things that Connor loved in him.

"Well, see you tomorrow."

"See ya," Connor replied kissing Thiago before going away with Daria, Esteban and Luis.

"One of you already read Master of the Flies?" Daria inquired while the four of them were heading to the Perez house. "Timothy wanted us to study that novel."

"You mean Lord of the Flies?" Connor corrected her.

"Yeah, that's it."

"I did last year. Our teacher showed us the movie too. I loved both."

"So's what about?"

"It's about a group of British boys stranded on an uninhabited island and their attempt to govern themselves."

"I feel like it will be boring. You'll help me, honey?"

"Sure," Esteban replied, kissing her cheek.

"What's wrong with your brother?" Connor suddenly whispered. "I've never seen him so quiet."

"To be honest," his friend answered, while walking into his house, "I dunno. He's been like this since yesterday. But every time I try to talk to him, he shuts down."

"Welcome sons. Hi, Daria. Nice to see you again, Connor. It's been a while since you came."

"Hi, Mr Perez. Been busy because of our next game."

"As usual, I've made you something in the kitchen."

"Thanks," Esteban, Daria and Connor replied while Luis went into the living room.

"¿No tienes hambre?" He asked to his youngest child.

Luis just shook his head and put his textbooks on the table. Mr Perez kept his worried eyes on him for a while before turning to the three other teenagers who told him about their day. When they were done, they joined Luis and helped each other as soon as one of them needed some advice. After a while, Luis - snorting - left the room and Connor decided to follow him outside because he felt that Esteban and Daria wanted some privacy.

The two of them silently worked for a while until Esteban's brother threw his pen. So Connor looked up, got up, picked up it and gave it back to him.

"What's wrong with that exercice? Need a little help?"

"Nothing," Luis eventually replied. "I can't just focus on it because of her."

Connor inquirinly looked at him - wondering why he was mad at Daria - but didn't say anything and just waited that the boy gave some explanation. So he focused on his homeworks again, while glancing at him from time to time.

"Me and Hunt," Esteban's brother said after a full minute of silence, "we had a fight..."

Connor looked up but Luis didn't finish his sentence.

"I still don't get it," he added after a little while.

He paused. So the boy didn't talk about Daria but he had to refer to a girl of his grade. Connor smiled: it was just an affair of the heart.

"She seems to be interested in Hunt. The two of them got closer gradually... And I didn't like that."

He paused again, looking at Connor.

"So I asked her out. Hunt found out and asked why I'd done that. I just told him that I liked her. But, but it's not true: I don't like her. And Hunt thinks I betrayed our friendship."

"That happens. That's totally normal: you're just jealous."

Luis frowned.

"Everybody gets jealous when your closest friend gets a girlfriend. Everybody."

"But I don't think I'm jealous about... her."

Connor stayed silent while the boy opened his mouth before closing it immediately.

"When," Luis asked him - after a while - before lowering his head as if he was ashamed of his own question, "when did you know you were gay?"

Connor found the best way to answer him without trying to influence him. Luis needed answers but Connor knew that the boy was the only one who could answer himself.

"Listen, as I told you, everyone gets jealous: it doesn't mean you're gay. The best thing you can do right now is to apologize to your friend. If you really care about him, you owe him the truth."

"But, but I can't tell him I l-like him like, like that."

"I didn't say such a thing, Luis. I just told you that he deserved to know the truth: you don't want him to date her because you're afraid of losing his friendship."

Esteban's brother immediatelyunpocketed his phone and texted Hunter. Then he couldn't keep his eyes off the screen until it buzzed. His eyes lighted up as soon as he had read his friend's answer.

"He agrees to see me before class. I can't believe it. Thanks, Con."

"You're welcome. But the most difficult part is ahead."

Luis kept staring at him.

"What?"

"If, if what I told you was true, would you help me to tell my dad and my mom?"

"Don't tear yourself up about it."

Luis stayed focused on him.

"Listen, you can safely count on Esteban's support, right?"

Luis nodded but it might not be enough for the boy.

"Well, I'll be by your side but on the only condition that your parents will agree."

Luis - radiating - thanked him again and got back to work. Connor hoped he hadn't gotten himself in too deep and he could honour his promise. He shook his head: he wasn't worrying for no reason because Luis and Esteban's parents were really nice.

"I'm done. Can you check my homeworks? I'd ask Ban but I feel like he's too busy right now."

Connor looked through the window of the living room: the lovebirds had given up their own works and were cuddling. He couldn't help but smile: he was glad that Daria seemed to enjoy Esteban's company. No sooner had he thought of her than she raised her head: she was beaming. Then Connor dove back into his homeworks until Esteban suggested they could watch a show before dinner. He accepted enthusiastically, packed up his textbooks, went and sat on the couch next to Daria.

After a while, Mrs Perez called them in for dinner.

"What did you do to Luis?" Esteban asked discreetly.

"Nothing."

"Please, don't play me. I feel like I found my annoying brother again."

"Let just say: it were matters of heart..."

"It must have been that girl: I guess that he and Hunter competed for her. I noticed the two of them didn't talk anymore since yesterday."

Connor didn't answer anything and sat at the kitchen table.

"Well," Mrs Perez inquired, "how was your day?"

Everyone - even Luis - told about their day again and then talked about this and that until it was time for Connor to go home.

"Will I take you back?" Mr Perez asked him.

"No thanks, I feel like walking this evening. Good night, everyone."

While he went out of the house, he turned on his phone that didn't stop buzzing. Thiago had left him, like, over twenty texts and some pictures. As soon as he watched and read them, he called his boyfriend. The two of them didn't stop talking until he walked into his street and saw his dad  who was smoking in front of their house.

"I'll call you later. Dad, I thought you promised me to stop."

"Please, son. Only one. So how was your day?"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Friday evening 

 

"Hi, Mr Stevens."

"Hi, Ryan. You can sit over there: Lena let me "book" these seats just for your band and the ones next to me are for your parents and Esteban's family. By the way, call me Adam. Your brother already does."

"Thanks Mrs Adams-Foster," Thiago's sibling said turning to the Principal sitting next to a blond woman, "and Mr... I mean Adam."

"You're welcome," the two of them replied in unison before smiling.

"Come and join us," Taylor told Jude who was next to Mrs Adams-Foster.

"I don't think I'm welcome," he answered after looking at Adam and Daria who seemed upset but didn't say anything.

"Me and Ryan are inviting you," she replied making some room next to her. "Right, babe?"

While he nodded, he saw Esteban's parents, his own, Connor who was carrying banners, Luis and another boy at the base of the bleachers.

"Con," he shouted, tapping the seat next to him, "over here!"

"Sorry for being late," Connor answered when he finally joined him. "Luis and Hunter needed some help: they made some flags so that we can cheer our basketball team."

"Nice work!" Ryan commented while unrolling one of them and handing a few ones to Taylor and Jude.

As soon as Connor noticed the presence of his ex, he frowned and stared at Ryan who explained the situation in his ear. Ryan's friend just sighed but didn't say anything like his dad and Daria, so he prefered to ignore him and turn to Daria, Esteban's brother and the other boy.

"You played very well yesterday," he said to the two boys. "Sad that you lost: you should have won...."

"Don't tell me," Hunter cut him off. "I'm still mad."

"Don't be," Luis told his friend. "I'm disappointed too but you heard Con: we did a good job. So the rest wasn't in our hands."

"Right," Connor agreed. "You learned your lesson."

"I've a good teacher," Esteban's brother replied with a wide smile.

"What d'ya mean?" Hunter - whose eyes went from one to another - inquired.

"We had fun and we didn't make big mistakes."

"Yeah, you're right."

"By the way, Hunter, congrats on succeeding in mastering my best shot. It couldn't have been easy."

"That's not all he did," Luis hastened to add. "He improved it and even created some alternative ones."

"At first, I didn't think I could until I teamed up with Luis: he knows how to motivate me."

"I feel like you two have a special bond: while you were playing, I noticed you didn't communicate with gestures like your teammates. You've got a precious asset so don't ruin it."

Ryan noticed that Jude - who seemed to listen to the conversation between Connor and the two boys - lowered his head and closed his eyes after hearing Connor's advice.

"What's wrong?" Taylor inquired as soon as she noted that he was staring at his feet.

"No-Nothing."

"Jude, you promised me to be true to me again. Did you already forget it?"

"N-No, of course not. It just hurts me

After a while, Thiago's team stepped onto the court. So everyone on their bleachers got up and applauded them enthusiastically. While they aligned themselves, his brother looked around and then bluntly nodded with a large grin as soon as he saw Connor who smiled back. While their opponents entered the court in their turn, Esteban whispered in Thiago's ear something that made him blush immediately. Ryan couldn't help but smirk because it was so rare to see his brother embarrassed. He should thank Connor some day.

As soon as the game started, tensions were high both on the court and in the bleachers. Except for Thiago and Connor who had the same smile.

"Son, why do I feel like your hermanito isn't focused today?" Their dad asked worried.

"You're wrong, dad. Don't make the same mistake than the opposite team does right now: it's gonna regret it. I don't say it'll be an easy game because it's a really tough one."

"And what makes you say that? I don't know much about basketball but it seems that there's some soft spots in their area. I think their opponents saw them."

"You're wrong again: it's just a trick. Thiago's defense is almost perfect."

"How do you know that? Basketball isn't soccer."

"You're right but I already used these tactics," Ryan replied before turning to Connor with a smile. "To be more specific, it was Con's idea. I feel like Thiago adapted them: don't forget he's a great tactician."

"I didn't knew you and Chico are so close," Mr Mora told Connor.

"Querido," his wife cut him off while looking at Connor with a large and warm smile, "it's true you don't know the whole story."

Connor couldn't help but blush: he was sure that she knew what kind of relationship he had with Thiago.

"Mum is more perceptive than dad," Ryan whispered. "I think she knew for quite some time."

"I never miss a thing about my boys," she added with the same smile. "Right, meu bebé?"

"Please, mum, I'm sixteen now. But you're right: never. You quickly knew about me and Tay. And I forgot: you've got good ears!"

"I've never seen Thiago so happy since he knows you, Connor. If he is, so am I."

"What's with all the secrecy?" Her husband suddenly asked.

"Nothing, querido. It's just chit chat."

Connor smiled back to Mrs Mora and felt relieved: he was glad that Thiago's mother was on their side. His concerns alleviated at least in part, he could focus on the game again.

After a first quarter under the sign of observation, the tough part was about to start. Ryan was right: the opponent team was strong and responsive but Thiago, Esteban and the twins succeeded in maintaining pressure without revealing all their assets. By the end of the second quarter, there were only two points that separated the two teams. It seemed that the halftime was welcome for both.

"Who's hungry or thirsty?" Connor asked while getting up and looking at everyone.

He counted the hands up before his eyes lingered on the boy next to Taylor who was staring at his feet as soon as .

"What about you, Jude?"

His ex raised surprised eyes and whispered something.

"Dad? Do you mind if...?"

"Of course not," he replied while unpocketing his wallet. "Lena? Stef? Want anything? It's on me."

"Thanks, Adam. Two iced coffees, please. Jude, go with Connor."

So Jude got up too.

"Papi," Luis asked, "can I help Connor?"

"Si," Mr Perez answered.

"Well," Connor told Esteban's brother while the three of them went down the bleachers, "I see that you and Hunter could have finally made up."

"Yeah, thanks to you. I apologized and we talked: he even admitted that he wasn't into her either. But he didn't want me to go out with her."

He paused before getting closer so that Jude didn't hear him.

"Do you think...?"

But Connor didn't let him finish his question.

"Be still," he warned him, while glaring at Jude. " You're getting the feeling its mutual and you'll find out later that he betrayed you."

Jude clenched his fists at first before lowering his head so that Connor didn't see his tears. It still hurt him too but didn't he deserve that pain and his disdain? He had found someone who got him more than anyone else - including Callie - after all these years, a friend he could count on and a boyfriend who needed his love: he was finally happy. And he just threw it away because he had been selfish. And if he hadn't been so stubborn, he could have kept his boyfriend: it would have been just a misadventure.

But Jude knew it was over now. Connor had found someone he could really trust: he had to admit that Thiago - despite his feelings - was a better boyfriend than he'd ever been. What it mattered now was Connor's happiness. And maybe they could be friends again.

"I feel like you're not talking about me," Luis stated while they jumped into line.

"Sorry, you're right. I thought I was over it but..."

"Listen," Esteban's brother said to change the subject. "I wish you'd coach sometimes: we're dying to improve. How do you feel about that?"

"Easy, Luis. I'm pretty rusty now."

"Please, please, please, PLEASE!"

Connor ordered before answering.

"Okay, Luis. I'll do it if you care about this."

The server handed them three trays after Jude paid him.

"THANKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

While they were about to go back to their seats, a hand gently put on Connor's shoulder who couldn't help but grin while turning to his boyfriend.

"You shouldn't be with your teammates in the locker room?"

"Maybe but I wanted to see you right now: I couldn't wait til the game was finished."

Thiago then gave him a quick peck on his cheek.

"Yuuuuck!" Luis stated with a sour face. "Gross! You're as cheesy as Ban and Maddie..."

Connor and Thiago couldn't help but laugh.

"Well, what do you think of the game so far?"

"You're doing a good job against them. Your brother's right: they're tough but I think you'll be able to give them a hard time. Right, Luis?"

"I think so. Ban was a good player but I feel like he's a better one now."

"You're right: he's as good as Isaiah and Ivory. To answer your question, Castanhos, I think we already succeeded in undermining them but we can't ease the pressure until the game's finished."

He paused before asking them.

"Whose idea was it to make those flags? We love them!"

"It's me and Hunt!!!!" Luis exclaimed proudly.

"Thanks so much!" Thiago replied while ruffling his hair.

"I think it's time to go back," Connor told him.

"You're right," Thiago said before giving another peck to his boyfriend and rushing into the locker room.

Connor - after watching Thiago as far as the locker room - couldn't help but look up and saw Mrs Mora who waved at him with her large smile. So he waved back before wondering if he should tell Thiago about his mother but he thought he could warn him just before he'd join all of them after the game.

"Sorry to keep you waiting," he told Luis and Jude.

Connor was so glad to be able to talk with Thiago that he didn't notice the sickened look of Mr Perez.

"Luis, Hunter, come and sit down next to us."

Luis alternatively looked at his parents and his friend who just shrugged before getting up.

"Papi, why?"

"Don't argue!" His dad said angrily.

So Luis - reluctantly - and Hunter switched seats. Connor then turned to Ryan who shrugged like Hunter had done before.

"Esteban's dad is like that since he came back after looking for Luis because he had forgotten something."

"Weird. We didn't see him. You sure that he wanted to talk to him?"

"Sure."

Connor - puzzled - turned his head to Mr Perez who glared at him before watching the game again.

Thiago's team took the advantage since the start of the third quarter: their opponents seemed to be swamped. Connor recognized some of his tactics that the team had greatly improved and couldn't help but smile proudly. Despite the other team was confused, it didn't give up. Tensions were higher by the end of the third quarter. But Thiago's team did the final blow a few minutes before the end of the fourth quarter. Thiago had left the field open for Esteban, the twins and even his fourth teammate - Connor had forgotten the name - so that their opponents were more undermined. Anchor beach's bleachers exulted: the team won by five points.

Everyone rushed to the team.

"Congrats to all of you!" Lena said when the calm was restored. "You did an awesome job and you both put on a show."

Connor took Thiago's hand and squeezed it while the team surrounded them. But the good spirits quickly ended as soon as Mr Perez caught Esteban and dragged him away.

"Stay away from these two disgusting things!" He exclaimed while Esteban and Luis looked at their dad horrified. "I don't want you to hang out with my sons anymore."

Everyone went mute and looked at the Perez family and the two boys who were holding hands. Everybody were clearly in shock and didn't know how to react until Esteban dropped his dad's hand.

"What's gotten into you? How dare you cuss my friends out!!!!"

"They're not your friends! They're just perverts!!!!!"

Connor felt like he was watching an unreal scene while noticing that Stef was brewing inside and Lena was trying to calm her down.

"Please," he said before being cutting him off coldly.

"Don't talk to me, filthy monster!"

Speechless because of the ruthlessness of the words, Connor felt tears: he knew this man who had been so kind every time he was coming over to his house but would never believe he could have so harsh words. While he lowered his head, he heard someone - Jude!!!! - who called out Mr Perez rudely.

"You got no right to call Con a monster!!!!"

"How dare you insult my son!" Adam said angrily before going to him with his clenched fists. "He's a sweet boy who's been through too much in his young life."

Meanwhile, Ryan, Taylor, Daria, Jude, Esteban - who managed to join them - and the basketball team took place behind Connor and Thiago and put their hands on their shoulders. Right behind the line of their friends, stood Mr and Mrs Mora, Lena and Stef and some other people.

"Mr and Mrs Perez," Lena told them as calmly as possible because she was upset too. "I beg you to leave."

"Right! Come, Esteban! NOW!!!"

"No, I won't."

"Please," Lena said to him Esteban, "do as your father says..."

"NO," he replied with tears in his eyes, "I WON'T!!!!! No one's gonna make me do it."

Daria then got closer before grabbing his waist. So Mr Perez went out of the building, dragging behind him Luis who was followed by his friend.

"Son," Adam said while hugging Connor, "I betrayed you again. Can you forgive me?"

"You don't," Stef intervened. "All of us have been taken by surprise. I'm sure Connor is proud of you. Right, Connor?"

"Course," he answered while hugging back. "You were awesome, dad..."

But he was unable to finish his sentence, he broke down.

"I'm here," he added while tapping his back softly. "Let it out."

As for Thiago, he was standing between his two parents: he was torn between sadness and anger.

"Thiago, come here: I think Connor needs you too. Do you agree, Mr and Mrs Mora?"

"Claro," the woman immediately replied. "I mean of course. Go, filhinho. Someone needs you right now."

He hesitated a bit, looked at his dad who smiled at him and went to Connor and Adam who moved away before his son tightened his embrace.

"No, stay. Please."

So Adam kissed Connor's hair while opening his arms so that he welcomed Thiago. The other people decided to leave.

Jude couldn't help but stare at the three of them and felt a huge void inside. But he was determined: no one was going to hurt Connor anymore because he would be his guardian angel.